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I am considering purchasing a piece of real estate in a major metropolitan area in the US, to avoid spending money on rent. However I'm not sure if I want to stay in this city forever and might move out to another state in X years.

For how long do you need to commit to staying in one city to make the investment of buying a house/condo worth it? In theory you don't need to commit at all as you can always rent out your property and leave the city with no losses, but perhaps I'm missing the bigger picture?

  • Add up the new costs and expenses less rent, etc. saved and project a home appreciation price and time line. Renting is the second evaluation. – Bob Baerker May 7 at 17:11
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  • @NuclearWang in that question OP wants to stay in the house forever – JonathanReez May 7 at 17:16
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    @JonathanReez Nowhere does the OP say that, and you will see that the accepted answer deals with exactly the question of how long one plans to own the house. If the OP wanted to stay in the house forever, resale/investment value of the house would be irrelevant. – Nuclear Wang May 7 at 17:22
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    @NuclearWang I wouldn't say his question is a duplicate. The other question is generic...is renting or buying better. Jonathan's question focuses on the break even point for renting or buying in a major metropolitan area. Very different. – Better Budget May 7 at 19:51
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There isn't an exact amount of time, because so many factors can change this from person to person, from place to place, etc.

However, I was in this exact situation about a year ago and solved it by considering as many factors as possible. Here is a list of several factors you should consider...

  • Expected real-estate growth (I used the national average of about 3%)
  • Expected investment growth (I used the historical average of about 7%)
  • How long you expect to stay in the area (I wasn't sure how long I would stay in it, so I considered it for every month over the first 3 years)
  • The cost for the home (including costs when you resell the house someday)
  • The cost for rent
  • Expected cost of owning a home (taxes, maintenance, etc.)
  • Let's say your rent is $1500, but your mortgage would be $2000 (roughly $500 to principle and $1500 to interest over the first couple years). If you just rented and invested the $500, would this change the situation?
  • Any other factors that could be specific to your situation (for me, I had a signing bonus that I could consider investing or placing toward a home downpayment)

I'm a software engineer, so I wrote a small program that considered all these factors for me. You can also do it via excel, or just with pen and paper. I live in the Philladelphia area. With all these factors considered, the break even point was roughly 2 years. If I lived in this area for less than 2 years, I should rent. Otherwise, I should buy.

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    "The cost for rent" You should also consider how much rent will rise. A (fixed-rate) mortgage effectively freezes your "rent." – Kevin May 7 at 20:15
  • Cost to buy/sell (closing costs, realtor fees). Those should be factored in, and would typically result in a period longer than 2 years (6-8% cost to sell being average). – Hart CO May 7 at 20:32

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