How to Know When Renting Is the Best Option
Let’s take a trip back into the past and stop in 2006. If you asked anyone you encountered whether buying a home was a good idea, they’d answer yes, unequivocally. They might look at you a little funny for even asking, and that’s not just because you’re transcribing their answers on your futuristic-looking tablet (can you believe the iPad didn’t even exist then?).
Your notes on their answers might look something like this:
- Buying a home is the ticket to the middle class!
- Homeownership is the key to the American Dream!
- Renters are just throwing away their money each month!
Membership in the renter class carried a more negative stigma than it does today. Why? Because homeownership was ingrained into the American Dream , while renting was considered a transient state: a place for young adults, college students, recent graduates, betrothed couples, and those in-between marriages.
But renting is breaking the mold. More and more people realize that, in some situations, it can be better than buying a home (especially in a sellers' market like we're currently seeing). And because of that, it’s becoming more widely accepted. Let's take a look at when it makes sense to rent vs. buy a home.
1) You’re not ready for a big commitment.
A study conducted by the National Association of Realtors showed that the average American home buyer lived in their home for 13 years. Yes, 13 years. To military families, that’s a foreign idea. Most of us live in a home for two to three years before we PCS to a new location.
But homeownership for two to three years leaves us wondering if a handful of years is long enough for the property to grow in appreciation or enough time to sufficiently cover the home buying closing costs and selling costs, let alone turn a profit when it’s time to sell.
Conversely, renting grants you freedom. Rental contracts are short-term, all things considered, and allow you the independence and freedom to move with ease or change things up with a new home with a written notice — that’s it. There’s no gearing up for a home sale or converting the property into a rental. It’s pointing to a piece of paper and saying bye-bye.
2) You don’t want to be responsible for home maintenance and repairs.
Guess what you don’t have to worry about when you’re a renter? Major repairs, maintenance, and updates. Renting a home leaves the homeownership burden on the landlord, not you. So, when something goes wrong (and it will), it’s not your financial responsibility to fix (hallelujah!) — unless you caused the damage, of course.
Can you think of a time when this is especially appreciated? Perhaps when the active duty spouse is deployed, and the parent at home doesn’t have to figure out how to juggle watching the kids and making a home repair they know nothing about — because Murphy's Law, right?
3) You want no part of the landlord life.
If Uncle Sam says move (which in our world is quite often) and you can’t sell, then you’re stuck as a military landlord (not a bad gig, but it’s not for everyone).
If you can’t sell, then as a military family, you’ll likely struggle to get financing for your next property. The cost of your home will remain the same, but your Basic Housing Allowance (BAH) fluctuates with every duty station. So let’s say that you can’t sell your current home in San Diego, then you PCS to a low-cost-of-living area like North Carolina, and your BAH decreases. Now, with one smaller housing allowance, you’re attempting to maintain two homes financially.
Now you’re an accidental landlord, hoping and praying that you keep a renter in the property to offset the mortgage, maintenance costs, and property manager fees. It can and has been done. Many people choose this life as a means to create a passive income and financially prepare for the future. But it’s one thing to be an intentional landlord and another entirely to fall into it.
On top of that, it can be way more challenging to qualify for a VA Home Loan when your money supports another property that doesn’t have a history of rental income. Learn more:
- Home Financing Options for Military and Veteran Home Buyers
- Common Mistakes that First-Time Home Buyers Make
4) When it’s less expensive to rent than buy at your location.
Yes, renting is often considered more expensive than buying. Mortgages are nearly always cheaper than monthly rent (the landlord has to make money somehow) — that’s how the idea that renting is throwing your money away became popular opinion. But this isn’t always the case. Take a look at:
- Breaking Down the Finances of Renting a Home
- How Much Rent Can I Afford?
- Does Your Credit Score Matter When Renting a Home?
- How to Rent a Home with a Bad Credit Score
In big cities like Boston, San Francisco, New York City, Chicago, and more, monthly rent is often cheaper than a monthly mortgage. The point is, it’s not a black and white statement that homeownership is less expensive than renting, because it depends on your location, mortgage rates, property tax, the condition of the home (indicating level of work it needs), HOA fees, and more.
If you’re only buying a home because you’re still stuck in the conventional wisdom of the early 2000s, then reconsider whether homeownership is the best option for your military family at this particular duty station and in this particular housing market. We know that homeownership helped some enter the middle class over the past few decades, since, for some people, paying a mortgage functioned as a forced savings account.
If you’re buying to save, then do yourself a favor and save. Rent a smaller, cheaper home and build a comfortable nest egg for your military family. Use it for the down payment on your forever home when you do eventually retire.
Remember, you can always revisit this decision in two to three years when it comes time to PCS. You aren’t stuck renting forever!
Ready to find your next home? Good news, as MilitaryByOwner has both houses for rent and homes for sale ready to help you start your next house hunt!
Originally written by Karina Gafford. Updated and expanded by Danielle Keech.