By Geoff Williams
When Kathleen Quinn and her husband recently moved from New York City to the Cleveland area, they never even considered renting. Instead, they bought a $293,000 house in the suburb of Avon and could not be happier. "I was done with watching my money fly out the door to a landlord and not getting anything in return for it," Quinn says.
Conventional wisdom says it is better to buy a home than to rent one, and a new study by real estate website Trulia.com shows that is especially true in Ohio. Three cities in the state -- Toledo, Dayton and Cleveland -- made the list of top 10 "no-brainer" markets, where you are almost certain to save more by buying instead of renting, in Trulia's latest "Rent vs. Buy Report."
The main reason these three Ohio cities scored so high on the list is that they fared badly during the housing crisis and are still in the process of rebounding. "People don't expect home prices in%VIRTUAL-pullquote-"I love traveling and doing things outdoors and going to plays and musicals, and I probably couldn't afford to do that in New York City...."% the future to rise as much," says Trulia Chief Economist Jed Kolko. "Therefore, home prices don't get bid up today, in anticipation of prices rising tomorrow."
But Itzhak Ben-David, an associate professor of finance and real estate at Ohio State University, cautions against getting too caught up on lists such as these, as other factors might be at play. "It is possible that Toledo has low prices because people prefer it these days to Columbus, and that Toledo prices will not bounce back as anticipated," he says.
Still, there is no question that homes in Ohio are more affordable than those in many states.
Much of that is due to geography, Kolko says. "Cleveland is next to the lake, but most of Ohio isn't up against water and isn't mountainous, so you can build out in all directions," he says. "It's very different than the Bay area or New York or South Miami. Economists always go back to demand and supply."
Best to Buy: In all 100 top markets surveyed by Trulia in December and January, buying will save consumers more in the long run, the study showed. The other top 10 no-brainer areas are Detroit; Gary, Ind.; Birmingham, Ala.; Kansas City, Mo.; Memphis, Tenn.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; and St. Louis. At the bottom of the list, where it is still advantageous to buy but a much tougher call, are Honolulu; San Jose, San Francisco and Orange County, Calif.; and New York.
While renting is still a smart move for people who expect to stick around less than seven years, Kolko says buying may be the cheaper option in much of Ohio, no matter how short your time there will be. Lindsay Brinkman, a 30-year-old risk management and patient safety coordinator at the Cleveland Clinic, is finding that out. She just relocated to the Cleveland suburbs from Kalida, a small town in the eastern part of the state, with her husband and two small children.
They are renting while they find a buyer for their old house, she says, but the monthly payment of $1,449 for a three-bedroom townhouse seems a lot higher than the mortgages on similar properties, she says. In fact, Kathleen Quinn and her family in Avon are paying $1,000 a month for a mortgage on their four-bedroom, 3½-bath home with a big fenced-in backyard, in a family-friendly neighborhood down the street from an elementary school.
It is a far cry from the $1,300 a month that Quinn, now a 29-year-old Pilates instructor, paid for a studio apartment in New York several years ago. Many other transplants find that their money buys them a much bigger home in Ohio, says Monika Osborn, an agent at Comey & Shepherd Realtors in Cincinnati.
She just helped some clients who were moving from Connecticut to work for a large hospital. They had been living in a small two-bedroom unit and are now buying a house on five acres of land.
Savings can also be rolled over into improving quality of life inside and outside the house. Val Beerbower, a 31-year-old marketing professional in Dayton, finds she has a much bigger budget for entertainment.
"I love traveling and doing things outdoors and going to plays and musicals, and I probably couldn't afford to do that in New York City, making the salary I make now," Beerbower says. "And I still have access to a lot of amenities. Maybe I don't see a show on Broadway, but I can see the same show when it's traveling."
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