Some people have to rent. Like me, in college, when all my meals revolved around some reincarnation of Ramen noodles and warm cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon. I had no business owning a common house fish, let alone something with four walls and a roof.
Some people choose to rent. These people are commonly referred to as "lifestyle renters" -- a phrase which has always felt a bit condescending and defensive to me. As in, "why don't these crazy people understand how fantastic owning property is? It must just be due to their crazy lifestyle. Crazies."
Regardless, one long-time renter-by-choice (and New York Times correspondent, natch) recently saw the light, and jumped into owning a home with vigor. Why did this staunch renter choose to change course? Because a) his life circumstances changed and b) he could finally get a good deal.
From the NYT (password may be required):
"...owning also brings benefits that have nothing to do with money. You can settle into your home, confident that no landlord will kick you out. You can repaint the walls and redo the kitchen. All else being equal, owning seems far preferable to renting.
Knowing all this, my wife and I were willing to buy a house even if it was ultimately going to cost us a bit more than renting. We just weren’t willing to have it cost a lot more than renting." (emphasis mine)
So what did they find? Using a basic ratio that compares a home price to the equivalent rent that would be charged on such a property (see map and data below), the costs of purchasing a home relative to renting are still a wee-bit high, but have come down significantly in the last 18 months and made the environment much more attractive -- attractive enough to the author of the NYT article to take the plunge.