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Big-city dwellers are better off renting than buying a home everywhere, analysis says

Medora Lee

If you live in the big city, it’s officially better to rent than buy a home pretty much anywhere, according to financial products comparison site Bankrate.

The monthly cost of renting across all 50 of the largest metro statistical areas (MSA) is 37% cheaper than buying a typical home, Bankrate said. As of February, the typical monthly mortgage payment of a median-priced home in the U.S. was $2,703, while the typical monthly rent nationally was $1,979.

With such a large gap between what it takes to buy versus renting a home, Americans who are already financially stretched should feel confident they're making the right choice to rent right now, said Bankrate Analyst Alex Gailey.

“For those weighing whether they should rent or buy right now, all signs point to renting as the most cost-effective option in most major U.S. cities,” Gailey said.

Where are the biggest gaps between renting and buying?

In 21 of the 50 largest U.S. metros, the typical monthly cost of owning is at least 50% more expensive than the typical monthly cost of renting. Four of the five top metros with the largest gap are in the West, where the cost of living tends to be higher, Bankrate said.

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  • San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley, California: The average monthly rent is $3,024, while the typical mortgage payment is $8,539 for a 180.7% spread.
  • San Jose-Sunnyvale- Santa Clara, California: Monthly rent is $3,255 on average vs a mortgage payment of $8,539 for a 162.3% gap.
  • Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Washington: The average monthly rent is $2,191, or 125% lower than a mortgage payment of $4,930.
  • Salt Lake City, Utah: Monthly rent of $1,673 is 89% below a typical mortgage payment of $3,161.
  • Austin-Round Rock-Georgetown, Texas: Average monthly rent is $1,753 compared to the average $3,269 mortgage payment for a 86.5% gap.

Where are the smallest gaps between renting and buying?

The Northeast and Midwest, where the cost of living tends to be lower, had the smallest gaps, but it was still cheaper to rent than buy, Bankrate said.

  • Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, Michigan: Typical monthly rent is $1,395, only 2% lower than a mortgage payment of $1,423.
  • Pittsburgh: Monthly rent is $1,415 on average compared with a typical mortgage payment of $1,488 for a 5.1% gap.
  • Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington-Pennsylvania-New Jersey-Delaware-Maryland: A month of rent is $1,829, but a mortgage payment is $1,988 on average for an 8.7% difference.
  • Cleveland-Elyria, Ohio: Monthly rent is $1,377 on average and a mortgage payment is $1,537 for an 11.6% gap.
  • Buffalo-Cheektowaga, New York: Average monthly rent is $1,295, or 20.2% less than the average $1,556 mortgage payment.

How much is that public school worth?Want to live near your state's top schools? Prepare to pay $300,000 more for your house.

A sign advertises an apartment for rent along a row of brownstone townhouses in the Fort Greene neighborhood on June 24, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

So should I rent or buy a home?

It depends on your financial situation.

A recent Bankrate survey found 42% of Americans believe now is a bad time to buy a house.

“If you can’t afford a home in this market, you should put your FOMO aside and keep renting,” Gailey said. Use the time “as an opportunity to keep building your savings, pay down your debt and build wealth in alternative ways, investing in the stock market through a retirement account, for example.”

The best time to buy a home is when you can afford it.

“If you’re financially ready to buy a home − as in you have a down payment saved up, little to no debt and a fully funded emergency fund − then it may be riskier to time the housing market,” Gailey said. “You should date the rate and marry the house. You can always refinance a year or two from now when interest rates are lower.”

Medora Lee is a money, markets, and personal finance reporter at USA TODAY. You can reach her at mjlee@usatoday.com and subscribe to our free Daily Money newsletter for personal finance tips and business news every Monday through Friday.

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