By George McIntire
When it comes to housing in SF, should you rent or buy? For those who can afford to even consider this question right now, there's no easy answer. Although the New York Times new data-journalism vertical The Upshot offers some help making the decision in the article "Rent or Buy? The Math is Changing." The Upshot recently came up with a nifty little calculator that weighs the costs of both decisions using such factors as home price, length of stay, closing costs, maintenance fees, and other issues. Even for those not facing this housing crossroads, it's worth checking out The Upshot's findings, given that housing is arguably the biggest issue facing our city.
The Bay Area, LA, and New York all are mentioned here, due to the fact they all cost an arm, a leg, a nose, an eye, and an ear to live in. “Across much of California and the Northeast, prices are now high enough that the costs of owning a home may outweigh the financial benefits, including the tax break,” writes The Upshot's Neil Irwin.
After this bit of wisdom, The Upshot dedicates a huge chunk of the piece to San Francisco. In the past three years, this city has experienced one of the steepest home price increases in the country, clocking in at 33%! So if your Victorian was worth $900k in 2011, it’s now probably worth $1.2 million. One other interesting point: it's now 20 times more expensive to buy a home then it is to rent the same place for a year – San Francisco experienced the same buy vs. rent ratio back in 2003, two years after the dotcom bubble burst.
The Upshot also concludes that it’s six percent more expensive to buy a home than to rent one with similar qualities here. That’s the number they came up with after factoring in a low mortgage rate, 10% down payment, and the currently very low interest rate. This is nearly the same situation SF was facing in 1999, the peak of the dotcom bubble, and a very different one from that of two years ago, when buying a home in this region was 24% cheaper than renting.
So play around with The Upshot's rent/buy calculator and see where you land in the spectrum. But no matter how fun or informative this exercise may be, we're faced with the same conclusion we've been hearing all too often here: the price of housing in San Francisco is too damn high.