The Fiscal Times had a piece the other day reviving the good old rent vs. buy meme. The new angle was that Zillow has updated its method for comparing the costs of renting and the costs of buying and uses it to produce what it calls a ‘Breakeven Horizon.’ Besides sounding vaguely like the title of an old sci-fi movie, beyond the breakeven horizon is where buying a home makes more sense than renting and in theory the less time to the horizon, the more the market is tilted towards buying.
Now I have to admit I was intrigued with the thought that Zillow had re-examined their methodology because as I have written about earlier, their previous calculation ignored the real costs of maintenance, repairs and saving up for replacing big expensive things like the roof, the furnace and the driveway and that is a pretty big chunk of money over time. Industry figures for repairs and maintenance on single family housing run from one to three percent of the home value. Have a look at the chart* below to see how much a relatively modest 1.5% adds up to over time.
Mike in Milwaukee, WI, that is a great question. Answer: $3,000- 5,000/unit/year. How’s that for an accurate but relatively useless answer? The real question is what is the annual expense per unit of the property you are looking at? If you are a large institutional investor like a REIT looking at national or regional averages like those published in the NAA Annual Survey (See the included charts for results from the 2011 survey) can give you an indication but you can bet the institutional players know their own costs to the penny.
In most larger metros there are also companies who collect and publish apartment surveys showing the areas average rents, occupancy, expenses, etc. One thing to make sure of is that the survey is based on properties similar to yours. There are a number of national companies doing multifamily research but they tend to focus on institutional sized properties 100 units and up so their numbers wouldn’t be comparable for a smaller property. For instance the average property in the NAA survey has about 250 units.