Is it cheaper to rent a place to live? Or buy? A lot depends on where you live.
Until the housing collapse in 2007, conventional wisdom held that buying was a no-brainer: Home prices never went down, the tax code offered generous savings to buyers and homeownership amounted to a kind of forced savings.
Now, as the housing market stages an uneven recovery, the decision to buy a home is no longer a slam dunk.
"You have a lot of folks out there who got burned by the housing crisis and they may not have desire to buy," said RealtyTrac Vice President Daren Blomquist.
The collapse of housing prices also upended the idea that buying a home is a sure-fire investment. In fact, over much of the last three decades, you would have come out ahead renting, according to a 2011 study.
"Our study disputes the commonly accepted wisdom in the United States that renting is always 'throwing away money,'" said Ken Johnson, a Florida International University fellow and one of the study's authors. "If renters exercise disciplined investing over time, they can be more successful in accumulating wealth than those who own a home."
That's a big "if." But the study also found that there have been exceptions when buyers end up better off financially.
In most parts of the county, that's true today. But not everywhere.
An analysis of home prices and rents by RealtyTrac found that in more than 90 percent of the counties it looked at, the average rent is higher than the cost of buying a median-priced home. The exceptions are in the handful of highest-priced housing markets in the country—places like San Francisco, New York and Arlington, Va. (The list also includes some out-of-the-way housing hot spots like Teton County, Wyo. and Gallatin County, Mont.)
On the other extreme, renters come out way behind in places like Baltimore, where the average renter pays $1,600 a month—roughly 3.6 times the cost of buying a median-priced home. Other high-rent counties include Clayton, Ga. (where rents are 4.5 times the cost of buying) and Wayne, Mich., (4.8 times the cost of buying.)