Is renting throwing away money?

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I came across a good article from Robb Engen[1] comparing the cost of ownership vs. the cost of renting.

Most people tackle the rent vs. buy problem incorrectly by framing it as the cost of monthly rent versus the cost of a monthly mortgage payment. Others argue that a better comparison looks at the true cost of home ownership, which not only includes the mortgage payment but also things like property taxes, insurance, and maintenance.

However, according to PWL Capital’s Ben Felix, neither argument paints a truly fair comparison of rent vs. buy. What you need to look at the total unrecoverable costs in each scenario.

For example, a monthly rent payment is a total unrecoverable cost – an expense that does nothing to improve the renter’s net worth. A mortgage payment, on the other hand, only has partial unrecoverable costs – the interest paid on the mortgage. The other portion reduces your mortgage amount and therefore increases your net worth.

A winning point for home ownership, right? Not so fast.

We need to add up all of those additional costs that a home owner bears like property taxes, insurance and maintenance, plus any upfront money spent on a down payment, land transfer tax, title insurance, home inspection, etc. to close on the home.

There’s also an opportunity cost on the down payment and other closing costs. That money could have been invested instead of putting towards buying a home.

Rent vs. Buy: They did the Math with a renter in Toronto who’s paying $2,000 a month to rent a 575-square-foot condo. The same condo is listed for $449,000.

To purchase the condo our renter would need to put down 5 percent, or $23,450, plus add another $17,062 to the mortgage due to CMHC insurance (required on all mortgages with down payments of less than 20 percent), for a total mortgage amount of $443,612.

Our upfront costs are not done, however, as we need to add in land transfer taxes of $10,910, lawyers fees of $1,000, title insurance of $449, plus a home inspection for $500.

Total upfront costs = $36,309. The opportunity cost of this amount in 25 years at 6 percent a year = $155,834.

Now let’s look at the unrecoverable monthly costs. The mortgage is amortized over 25 years and has an interest rate of 3.50 percent. Of that payment, $1,200 goes towards interest. Then we have property taxes coming in at $375 per month, and we’ll also add the difference between home insurance and tenant insurance, which is $40 per month. We also need to add expected maintenance costs, which they estimated at 1 percent of the property value per year, or $375 per month.

Total unrecoverable monthly = $1,990

The unrecoverable costs for the renter and homeowner are nearly identical. The total monthly payment for the homeowner, including property taxes, insurance, and maintenance, is $3,005. Just $1,015 of that is building equity in the home. So, back to the rent vs. buy argument.

Rent and Invest the Difference

We have to assume our renter has an extra $1,015 available in their cash flow each month to invest. What are the expected returns for a 60/40 balanced investment portfolio over 25 years – maybe 6 percent?

$1,015 per month invested for 25 years at 6 percent per year = $686,627. Add the opportunity cost of the down payment and other upfront expenses and you’d have a portfolio worth more than $842,000.

Historically, many people would be surprised to learn that the return on real estate has been closer to inflation. Certainly with the run-up in home prices over the last two decades one should not expect significant gains from this asset class moving forward.

So the expected future value of the $449,000 condo in 25 years at 2 percent growth per year is $736,600.

Final thoughts

Is renting really a waste of money? Hardly. This is just one example showing how to frame the rent vs. buy comparison, but you can make a strong case for renting and investing the difference of the true cost of home ownership. Plus, we didn’t even get into the opportunity cost of the homeowner forgoing RRSP and TFSA contributions due to the higher cost of home ownership.

Who comes out ahead in this case? Clearly it’s our renter, who invested steadily for 25 years and ends up with a portfolio of $842,000. That’s compared to our homeowner who has a mortgage-free home in 25 years worth $736,600.

The next time you hear an argument that renting is throwing away money, stop and consider things like unrecoverable costs and the true cost of home ownership before drawing your own conclusion.

 

[1] Boomer and Echo website, November 22nd, 2018.

 

 

The information contained in this article was prepared by Sylvain Lapointe, an investment advisor with PEAK Securities Inc., and was obtained from sources we deem to be reliable; however, we cannot guarantee that such information is complete. The author may not be held accountable for any financial decision a reader may make based on this content. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of PEAK Securities Inc. PEAK Securities Inc. is a member of the Canadian Investor Protection Fund.

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