Posted Friday, Sept. 14, 2012, at 10:20 AM
The above is a Trulia map generated by this handy calculator which compares the annual cost of renting a house versus buying one in a variety of markets. I set it to the relatively pessimistic expectation that you can only get a 4.5% thirty year mortgage, assumed you're in the 15% tax bracket so the home mortgage interest deduction isn't a huge factor, and that you're not committed to staying put any longer than five years. The upshot is that buying is cheaper basically everywhere. Under those assumptions it's only a bit cheaper most places—to save real money you need a higher tax bracket or a more favorable mortgage—but it's definitely cheaper.
In the real world, I doubt we'll see a surge in homeownership.
For starters, a lot of people are now locked out of credit markets. But what's more, anecdotally most of the creditworthy renters in their late-twenties or early-thirties who I know are now totally paranoid about buying a place. This is the number one cognitive malady of investors. If prices go up, people hear about lots of people making huge returns and want to buy into a market. If the market crashes, instead of hunting for bargains people find themeselves haunted by nightmare stories.
But the upshot is that if you've got the money or the credit and the inclination, you can probably make a lot of money in the landlording industry. Buy a house and turn around and rent it out at a profit. Or even better, build a house and turn around and rent it out at a profit. It's true that there are plenty of vacant homes in the Inland Empire or the suburbs of Las Vegas, but locations aren't fungible. Appropriate monetary policy should help foster an increase in house-building, and municipalities with above-average house prices could help the process along with pro-density regulations.
That said assuming that you're not looking to get into the house-building industry, you should be taking a good hard look at whether you couldn't be saving money by owning.