Best Buy vs. Rent Calculator Ever? Interactive & Fully Customizable

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There are a plethora of buy vs. rent calculators out there, but virtually all of them make at least some fixed assumptions. They might assume that you could invest the difference between renting and buying in the stock market at 8% return while you disagree, or they might assume that your property tax rate is 3% when it is only 0.5%.

The New York Times already had a pretty good one, but their new Buy vs. Rent calculator is the most interactive, user-friendly, fully customizable version that I have ever seen. Here are the factors that it lets you adjust:

  • Home details (price, length of ownership)
  • Mortgage details (rate, downpayment size, length)
  • Future growth rates (Home price appreciation rate, rent appreciation rate, overall inflation rate, investment return rate)
  • Taxes (Property tax rate, your marginal income tax rate)
  • Transaction costs (closing costs on purchase, commission paid on selling)
  • Costs of homeownership (maintenance, HOA fees, utilities covered by landlord, homeowner’s insurance)
  • Costs of renting (security deposit, broker’s fee, renter’s insurance)

If I could find a flaw with the calculator, it would be that you now have the power to tweak your assumptions to reach your desired answer of renting or buying. “Well, if I adjust investment return a bit higher, and I reduce the commission to sell with a discount real estate agent, and stay in there a couple extra years… we should buy!”

Of course, an accompanying NYT article points out that buying a home isn’t all about the numbers.

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  1. AdirondackJack says

    Great calculator! Thanks for sharing. Sliders are touchy. Might be nice if they also allowed for direct input of numbers for each field.

  2. i know, FWP, but it doesn’t allow you to account for the fact that as income increases not all of the interest and property taxes are deductible

  3. I like the calculator because it reminds you of a lot of the little fees or costs for both renting and buying.

    On the other hand, the three biggest factors are how long you will stay, change in housing prices, and return on stocks. These are 3 things that are very difficult to predict! Like you said, you can make the calculator tell you whatever you want by changing these 3 variables.

  4. I agree with you that the degree of customization is both a strength and a weakness, in that you can potentially rig the numbers to give the outcome you want! One thing that biases the calculator in favor of buying, and potentially the biggest pitfall, is the “home price growth rate” – the default is set at 3%, which is incredibly optimistic in the short term. I think people can easily get in trouble with that assumption, and would be better off assuming zero price change at the most.

  5. I’m a little late to the conversation here (sorry), but one of the intangible benefits of owning a home is that ANY calculator wouldn’t account for is the fact that it’s YOURS. That means as long as you make your mortgage payments you can never get kicked out. I have had many of friends and family that got 30, 60, 90 day notices that said, “Sorry, you have to leave. I’m selling the place.” Then you are forced with a pretty major expense of moving your stuff to another rental property, paying a new security deposit, and dealing with the headache of cleaning the old one.

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