Trulia: Owning Costs 44% Less than Renting

Home price gains may be outpacing increases in rent, but the cost of being a homeowner is still much less than that of a renter, according to Trulia’s Winter 2013 Rent vs. Buy report.

After factoring all cost components including transaction costs, taxes, and opportunity costs, Trulia found buying a home is 44 percent cheaper than renting, down slightly from 46 percent a year ago.

“Although buying a home is still cheaper than renting, the gap is closing,” said Jed Kolko, Trulia’s chief economist. “In 2013, home prices should rise faster than rents, and mortgage rates are likely to rise in the next year as the economy improves. By next year, buying could be more expensive than renting in some housing markets, even for people with the best credit.”

In the last year, asking home prices showed a 7 percent gain compared to a 3.2 percent increase in rents during the same time period, according to data from the real estate site.

Trulia explained low mortgage rates have kept the cost of owning down; for the analysis, a 3.5 percent mortgage rate was assumed.

The San Francisco-based company also revealed that out of the 100 largest metros analyzed, buying was more affordable than renting in all metros.

In some metros, the cost of buying was much less than the national average. The buy-rent gap was the largest in Detroit, where buying costs 70 percent less than renting. For the next four metros in top five, the cost of owning was 63 percent less than renting; the four metros were Dayton and Cleveland in Ohio; Warren, Michigan; and Gary, Indiana.

Although owning was found to be less expensive in all metros, owners in San Francisco averaged the smallest savings at 19 percent, a steep decrease from the 35 percent savings seen in 2012.

If one were to receive a mortgage rate of 4.5 percent, Trulia noted the cost of buying would be just 9 percent cheaper in San Francisco. However, a rate of 4.5 percent would still make buying more affordable than renting in all metros analyzed.

“People who didn’t buy a home last year may have missed the bottom of the market, but they haven’t completely missed the boat,” Kolko added. “Even buyers who can’t get today’s lowest mortgage rates will still find that buying makes more financial sense than renting in nearly all local markets – so long as they can get a mortgage in the first place.”

Other metros where owning may not be as enticing to borrowers based on savings were Honolulu, where the cost of owning is 23 percent cheaper, followed by San Jose (-24 percent), New York (-26 percent) and Albany (-30 percent).

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Property Values are Expected to Continue to Rise

The S&P/Case-Shiller index of property values in 20 cities increased 4.3 percent from October 2011, the biggest 12-month advance since May 2010, the group said today in New York. The median forecast of 30 economists in a Bloomberg survey projected a 4 percent gain.

Property values will probably keep heading higher as record-low mortgage rates, a growing population and an improving economy spur demand for housing. The turnaround in real estate is buoying household confidence and wealth, one reason why consumer spending is improving even as concern mounts that lawmakers will fail to stave off looming tax increases.

“The housing market is definitely starting to recover,” said Ryan Wang, an economist with HSBC Securities USA Inc. in New York, who’s the second-best forecaster of the S&P/Case- Shiller index over the past two years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Higher property values have “added about a trillion dollars to household wealth just since the beginning of this year.”

Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act Future?

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — The clock is ticking on a taxbreak that saves struggling homeowners from paying thousands of dollars to the IRS.

If the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 does not get extended by Congress by the end of the year, homeowners will have to start paying income taxes on the portion of their mortgage that is forgiven in a foreclosure, short sale or principal reduction.

So if you owe $150,000 on your home and it sells for $100,000 in a foreclosure auction, the IRS could tax you on the remaining $50,000. For someone in the 25% tax bracket, that would mean paying $12,500 in taxes on the foreclosure.  Similar taxes would apply for forgiven amounts in short sales and principal reductions.

“People trying to do short sales are freaked out about it,” said Elizabeth Weintraub, a real estate agent in Sacramento, Calif. “They’re telling me they’ll do whatever it takes to close by the end of the year.”

Should the tax break expire, a large number of mortgage borrowers could be affected. More than 50,000 homeowners go through foreclosure each month.Meanwhile, the number of short saleshas tripled over the past three years to a rate of about half a million a year.And, under the terms of the $25 billion foreclosure abuse settlement, roughly one million borrowers may have their mortgage debt lowered through principal reductions over the next couple of years.

“If there ever was a no-brainer in housing policy, this would be it,” said Jaret Seiberg, a policy analyst for Guggenheim Securities.

Yet, Seiberg is skeptical the exemption will get extended. Now that the election is over, he thinks Congress will be heading into a “lame duck” session, with very little legislation moving forward through the end of the year.

In addition, the cost of the exemption could make it a point of contention, he said. The office of Sen. Max Baucus, who heads the finance committee, estimated the cost of a one-year extension at $1.3 billion.

Others disagree. Tom Kolpien, the press secretary forRep. Tom Reed of New York, said Congress will likely act before the end of the year. (Reed is currently pushing for the extension on the House Ways and Means Committee).

“Both parties, both houses of Congress agree it’s good policy and it needs to get done,” said Jamie Gregory, chief lobbyist for the National Association of Realtors, which supports an extension. “The hold up is the process. I’m confident it will get done. I just don’t know how.”

Even if Congress allowed the exemption to expire, not all borrowers withforgiven mortgage debt will take a tax hit. If the debt is discharged in a bankruptcy, no tax is due. And anyone who is insolvent — meaning they have more debt than assets — at the time the debt was forgiven — would not have to pay the tax.