Most coverage of the "buy vs rent" debate in North American popular financial media (see here for an example) frames the debate as a simple dichotomy: either renting an apartment (i.e. renting a unit in a multi-unit building owned by a landlord), or buying a single-family house on its own plot, likely with the aid of a mortgage on the property. Generally, the tradeoff is "mobility vs. privacy":
- Renting provides mobility and is easier to manage financially, but is seen as costing privacy and security,
- while given sound financials, homebuying provides a more private and secure living situation, and gives you a long-term stake in the property market in an area, but makes TCO trickier to calculate (especially for "fixer upper" houses), and forces you into a more difficult position if you need to relocate.
However, this is actually a false dichotomy -- it collapses the "buy vs. rent" axis with the "single-family vs. multi-family" axis, when they are really rather orthogonal to each other: buying a unit in a multi-unit building is quite possible in many urban areas with active condominium markets, and on the other side of the coin, many houses in urban and inner-suburban areas are not owner-occupied, but rental houses, owned by largely-local (at this point in time -- there is some consolidation of the residential single-family landlord world in some markets, though) landlords and typically rented to long-term tenants on a month-to-month basis.
Why is it that these options are ignored in North American discussions of "buy vs. rent"? It seems that adding these options in gives a far more complete and nuanced picture of the situation:
- condominiums can provide a degree of property-market vestment in urban areas too dense for single-family housing,
- while renting a house can provide a degree of privacy and solitude for those whose life situation prevents them from putting a long-term stake in any given parcel of property.
Yet, writers seem content with the oversimplified form of the debate, only occasionally mentioning condos in passing and basically excluding renting a house right off the bat.