Personal Finance

The 10 Best Cities for Buying and Renting a Home

Happy couple buying a home in a new city
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Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on SmartAsset.com.

Depending on your circumstances, renting or buying a home can be a smart financial decision.

Homeownership can help you build equity and lower taxes, while renting offers greater flexibility and convenient services.

Keeping this in mind, SmartAsset ranked the 50 largest U.S. cities according to the price-to-rent ratio. This is SmartAsset’s 2021 study on the price-to-rent ratio in the 50 largest U.S. cities. Read the 2020 edition here.

To calculate the price-to-rent ratios for the 50 biggest cities nationwide, we took a look at how the median home value correlates to the median annual rent. Generally, a lower price-to-rent ratio means conditions are more favorable for buying a home and a higher price-to-rent ratio means renting is favorable.

For details on our data sources and how we put all the information together to create our final rankings, check out the data and methodology section at the end.

Following are the cities with the highest price-to-rent ratios — where renting is more favorable than buying. After that, check out the cities where buying makes the most sense.

1. Rent: San Francisco, CA

San Francisco neighborhood.
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San Francisco, California, is the first of three Bay Area cities in the top five of this study.

The median home value in that city is $1,217,500 (the most expensive on this list) and the median annual rent is $23,508 (second-highest after San Jose), putting the price-to-rent ratio at 51.79 (the highest in this study).

2. Rent: Oakland, CA

Oakland, California
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Across the bay from San Francisco, Oakland has the third-highest median home value ($807,600) and the seventh-highest median annual rent ($19,200). This puts the price-to-rent ratio in that city at 42.06.

3. Rent: New York, NY

New York City coastline
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The Big Apple has the ninth-highest median annual rent ($17,796) and the sixth-highest median home value ($680,800). The price-to-rent ratio there is 38.26.

4. Rent: San Jose, CA

San Jose California
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San Jose, California, has the highest median annual rent in the study ($26,676). The median home value ranks second after San Francisco ($999,900), setting the price-to-rent ratio at 37.48.

5. Rent: Los Angeles, CA

Los Angeles
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Los Angeles had the fifth-highest median home value in 2019 ($697,200) and the eighth-highest median annual rent ($18,648). The price-to-rent ratio in L.A. is 37.39.

Next, the cities with the lowest price-to-rent ratio — the places where buying makes the most sense.

1. Buy: Detroit, MI

Detroit, Michigan
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Detroit, Michigan, has the lowest median home value in our study ($58,900) and the fifth-lowest median annual rent ($10,392). That puts its price-to-rent ratio at 5.67.

2. Buy: Memphis, TN

Street scene, Memphis, Tennessee.
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Memphis, Tennessee, has the second-lowest median home value after Detroit ($115,900) and the 10th-lowest median annual rent ($11,076). Its price-to-rent ratio is 10.46.

3. Buy: Milwaukee, WI

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
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Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s price-to-rent ratio is 12.87. It is tied in our list for the third-lowest median home value ($133,600) and has the fourth-lowest median annual rent ($10,380).

4. Buy: El Paso, TX

El Paso Texas neighborhood
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El Paso, Texas, has the third-lowest median annual rent ($10,164) and is tied with Milwaukee for the third-lowest median home value ($133,600). Its price-to-rent ratio is 13.14.

5. Buy: Baltimore, MD

Baltimore, Maryland
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Baltimore, Maryland, has the 14th-lowest median home value ($179,100) and the 19th-lowest median annual rent ($13,080). This makes its price-to-rent ratio 13.69.

Data and Methodology

Man analyzing data on a laptop
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To find the cities in America with the highest and lowest price-to-rent ratios, we looked at the median home values and the median rent for the 50 largest cities in America. We divided the median home value for each city by the median annual rent for the city to calculate the price-to-rent ratio and ranked the cities according to this figure. The city with the highest price-to-rent ratio was the most favorable for renters, and the city with the lowest price-to-rent ratio was the most favorable for homebuyers.

All data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.

We used Trulia’s Rent vs. Buy Index as a guide for specific price-to-rent ratio thresholds: a price-to-rent ratio of 1 to 15 indicates that buying is more favorable, a ratio of 16 to 20 indicates that renting is typically more favorable and a ratio of 21 or more indicates that renting is more favorable.

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