CORRECTION: Montgomery is Alabama’s capital city. A previous version of this story included incorrect information.
Owning a home beats renting one in several important ways, common wisdom dictates, starting with the fact that homeowners pay down their own mortgage, rather than someone else’s.
But home ownership feels out of reach to many Americans in 2023, thanks to a historic alignment of high mortgage rates and high sales prices.
Surprisingly, real estate analysts can still point to a few large cities where owning a home remains cheaper than renting.
We’re not talking about San Francisco or New York, where home ownership comes at a hefty premium. These are cities with home prices low enough, even now, that the average monthly mortgage payment is lower than the typical monthly rent in the same city.
In a recent report that analyzed the 50 largest metropolitan areas, Redfin identified only four where it’s still cheaper to buy than rent.
Economists at Realtor.com did their own analysis and came up with five places where owning is cheaper than renting.
“The housing market is challenging,” said Danielle Hale, chief economist at Realtor.com.
One big reason is mortgage rates. The average rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage now stands at 6.7 percent, after years of historically low rates, according to federal data; rates had hovered below 5 percent for most of the last decade.
Though home prices have fallen some in response to rising rates, but they remain high. The median sales price soared from $322,600 in early 2020 to $479,500 in late 2022 before ticking down to $436,800 this year.
Another reason the housing market remains tight is “that we haven’t been building enough homes,” Hale said. “We just haven’t kept pace with the number of households that have formed.”
The national housing shortage “makes it challenging whether you want to rent or buy,” she said.
There aren’t many bargains in the rental market. The median asking rent passed $2,000 for the first time in 2022. The figure now stands at $1,995, according to Redfin.
Hale expects rents to inch down later this year. “I don’t want to oversell the relief for renters,” she said, “but it’s a step in the right direction.”
Daryl Fairweather, chief economist at Redfin, sees some relief ahead for homebuyers, too, but maybe not until next year.
“I think mortgage rates will come back down,” she said. “I think inflation is what’s driving the ship right now, and inflation seems to be abating.”
Fairweather predicts interest rates will retreat to around 5 percent by the end of 2024, “and that should be enough to juice the housing market.”
The dizzying math of high interest rates and high purchase prices makes owning much costlier than renting in most large U.S. cities. One extreme example is Austin, Texas, where even a starter home will cost the buyer about $3,700 per month, according to Realtor.com. Monthly rents there average about $1,650.
Cities with affordable starter homes in 2023 tend to be “smaller metro areas,” Hale said. “They tend to have higher ownership rates and a smaller rental stock.”
They are mostly inland cities, with real estate markets that did not experience “the huge run-up in prices that you tend to see in a lot of coastal markets that can put homebuying out of reach,” she said.
Here are nine cities where owning remains cheaper than renting, tagged by analysts at Realtor.com or Redfin. Oddly enough, no city appears on both lists. The reason seems to lie in different methodologies, which are probably a bit too esoteric to detail here.
Homebuyers in Memphis can save hundreds of dollars per month over renters, even with sale prices surging, according to Realtor.com. The median monthly cost for first-time homebuyers in Memphis is only $847, compared to a median monthly rent of $1,258.
New apartments in Memphis “rent for a lot of money,” said Joe Spake, a broker at InCity Realty in Memphis, speaking in the Realtor.com report. A $1,600 monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment “isn’t out of the ordinary.”
Owning a home in Philadelphia costs 7 percent less, on average, than renting one, according to Redfin. Monthly rents average about $2,000 in Philly, while monthly mortgage costs average $1,869.
Home seekers will save $350 per month by purchasing a starter home in Pittsburgh rather than renting one, according to Realtor.com. The median monthly rent is $1,445, while a mortgage costs $1,097.
“This anchor city of the Rust Belt saw significant out-migration after the steel industry receded in the late 20th century, leading to overall real estate stagnation,” Realtor.com reports. “But unlike some other urban metro cores, it’s seen a revitalization—and gentrification—of its downtown.”
Owning a home in Cleveland is 4 percent cheaper than renting one, according to Redfin. The median mortgage cost is $1,730, while the median rent is $1,800.
Alabama’s largest metropolitan area remains affordable for homebuyers, even in a tough market, according to Realtor.com. Monthly costs for a starter home fall just under $900; rental costs average about $1,150 per month.
Home ownership is cheaper than renting in America’s fourth-largest city, according to Redfin, by a margin of 1 percent. Median rents and mortgage costs both fall in the $2,300-$2,400 range.
A starter home costs 34 percent more in St. Louis now than just one year ago, according to Realtor.com. Nonetheless, “mortgage payments are still a hair cheaper than renting.” Monthly rents average $1,211 in St. Louis, compared to $1,128 in monthly costs for buyers.
Baltimore, too, is cheaper for buyers than renters by only a hair. “It pencils out to a monthly median savings of about $65,” Realtor.com reports.
With interest rates rising, “I’ve had a lot of potential buyers leave the market,” said Jason Lerner, vice president at George Mason Mortgage in Baltimore, speaking in the report. Yet, as demand slackens, sellers are more willing to negotiate on price.
The Motor City offers the nation’s best relative value for people seeking to own rather than rent, according to Redfin. Buying in Detroit is 24 percent cheaper than renting: Monthly mortgage costs average around $1,300, while monthly rents run about $1,700.
For anyone deciding whether to rent or buy, a lot depends on how long the house-hunter plans to remain in the dwelling. Yes, homeownership builds home equity, but a buyer who sells after a year or two won’t build much of it.
A homebuyer should plan to stay put for at least five years, as a rule of thumb, Fairweather said. “I would say five years is long enough to make sure, if you do have to sell, your equity is going to cover your real estate fees.”
Hale agrees, and she urges prospective buyers to check out Realtor.com’s rent-or-buy calculator.