With a new mapping tool released by Hotpads.com, called the rent ratio heat map, users can now quickly and easily determine whether it makes more sense to rent or to buy in a certain area. The tool evaluates each area based on the rent ratio—or ratio of rental pricing to for-sale pricing—and assigns the appropriate heat map color.
While the tool is not perfect, it is a very cool idea that I’m sure will evolve with time. A couple of problems I noted were the comparison properties and the buying costs used to calculate the ratio. In their comparison, they use the number of bedrooms to determine the costs. The problem with this, of course, is that the apartments and other multi-family rentals examined are very different from the homes to which they are being compared. In areas like Manhattan, where single family homes are virtually non-existent, this comparison model makes sense. However, in suburban areas that have a high concentration of single-family homes, things are going to get a little off. Most people in the suburbs would prefer to live in a home rather than an apartment for various reasons. As a result the prices for rental homes tend to be considerably higher than apartments.
Another problem is with the cost they assign to the buy side of the equation. They simply take the cost of the home, but neglect to consider any additional expenses involved in home ownership. This of course includes property taxes, utilities (typically higher than in apartments), maintenance and so on. These costs vary greatly based on which state, and even city, you are in. For example, property taxes in Texas are more than double those in Washington.
This tool is a great idea, and as it evolves and becomes more accurate it will become an incredible resource for people to consult. It is most definitely worth checking out, and you can even use it as a starting block when evaluating neighborhoods, but don’t let it take the place of additional due diligence. This tool is not meant to be the final word on whether a person should actually choose to rent or buy; it is simply meant to be a starting point for them.