Buying real estate continues to be cheaper than renting in the vast majority of major U.S. cities, according to a quarterly rent vs. buy index from real estate search and marketing site Trulia.

The index compared the median list price and the median annualized rent on a two-bedroom apartment, condominium or townhouse in the country’s 50 most populous cities. According to the index, the cost of buying was less than renting in 37 of the 50 cities (74 percent) as of July 1, 2011. About the same share, 78 percent, favored buying over renting in Trulia’s last index report, released in April.

Trulia defines total costs of homeownership to include “mortgage principal and interest, property taxes, hazard insurance, closing costs at time of purchase and ongoing (homeowners association) dues and private mortgage insurance, where applicable. It also includes an offset for the tax advantages of homeownership, including mortgage interest, property tax and closing cost deductions.”

“Many aspiring homeowners are on the fence about renting and buying in today’s market. Should they take advantage of falling home prices and low borrowing costs, or should they continue to rent until the economy stabilizes?” said Ken Shuman, spokesman for Trulia, in a statement.

“Price alone should never be the sole factor in deciding to purchase a home. Instead, buyers should first ask themselves if they plan to live in the home for at least seven to 10 years, could make monthly payments on the house, and have enough cash in the bank for a down payment and an additional six to eight months worth of mortgage payments.”

“If you can answer ‘yes’ to each of these questions, then the cost of buying a home definitely outweighs renting in most cities.”

Top 10 cities to buy vs. rent:
1.    Las Vegas
2.    Detroit
3 .   Mesa
4 .   Fresno
5.    Arlington
6.    Sacramento
7.    Phoenix
8.    Jacksonville
9.    San Antonio
10.    Tulsa
Source: Trulia

According to the index, renting was much cheaper than buying in six cities: New York; Fort Worth, Texas; Omaha, Neb.; Seattle; San Francisco; and Kansas City.

Top 10 cities to rent vs. buy:
1.  New York
2. Fort Worth
3.   Omaha
4.   San Francisco
5.  Seattle
6.   Kansas City
7.   Portland
8.   Los Angeles
9.   Boston
10.   Memphis
Source: Trulia

Most foreclosure hot spots saw their price-to-rent ratios drop in the first half of this year, with Detroit seeing the biggest decline, at 39 percent. Miami, however, was an exception. “A mini buying boom created by foreign investors and foreclosure freezes have caused (Miami’s) price-to-rent ratio to jump by 112 percent: from 6 in January to 13 in July,” Trulia said.

Article by Inman News, Tuesday, August 16, 2011