Rent vs. Own

As I’ve mentioned many times (because I’m just so proud of it), my husband and I live with my parents. We moved in with them in August 2011 (after just over a year of renting a bedroom in a friend’s house) to pay down debt. We’re at the point now where we feel like our debt is under control enough that we think the financial benefits of living here aren’t worth the mental headaches – long commutes, living in an entertainment desert, with a lack of true privacy and a place to call our own. Plus there is the worry that this is becoming a crutch. So, we’re ready and able to move out. Because of where we work and what we like to do with our free time, we’re looking at moving into Chicago proper. (Right now we live in the south suburbs.)

We started talking to a couple mortgage lenders to gauge where we are, and while we likely would be approved for a mortgage, would it be one that would afford us a worthy place? Somewhere worth staying for 5-10 or more years? Somewhere we could live with a tiny human? (That’s my sly way of saying we may have children at some point, and uh, you gotta put those things somewhere.)

Or would we be better off renting a cheap place for a year or two while we further pay off debt and save up a down payment and hopefully figure out a way to boost our yearly income – all of which could contribute to a more attractive mortgage?

I know I’m not the first person to weigh the odds of renting versus owning and this will be an extremely amateur take on things, but when it comes to our situation …


Yes, owning your own place is the “smart” decision in the long run. And right now, the sticker price of monthly mortgage payments compared to monthly rent on similar properties makes the mortgage look like a steal. However, I’ve noticed that those sticker prices assume a 20% down payment. Um, haha. Also, those don’t include taxes, assessments, insurance and other fees. Suddenly, mortgages don’t look so “cheap.”

The other issue is if we hold out a little longer, could we afford a nicer place? If we’re buying, we want to make sure it is a place worth buying. There are places I would rent long before I would ever buy them.


Renting gives you flexibility – if we change our minds on what we thought we wanted in terms of space and amenities or neighborhood, we can pack up and move to a new place. The Sailor has never lived in Chicago proper, and I haven’t in nine years, so it’ll be good to familiarize ourselves more intimately with the various neighborhoods.

And I like the idea of someone else fixing stuff that breaks, clearing the snow, mowing the grass, etc. That’s worth something. (Hence the cost of “assessments” for condos.)

So, renting is starting to look like the more appealing option for us right now. Since it’s only temporary, I would settle for a 1-bedroom (although we’re starting our search looking at 2-bedrooms) in a slightly less attractive neighborhood (although we’re starting with the more attractive neighborhoods we can afford) as long as it is accessible to public transit and I can safely head out the door for a solo run.

What do you think? 


Like I said, it’s been nine years since I’ve lived in Chicago-proper … I still have that striped body pillow (sleep with it every night), blue husband pillow (leaning on it right now) and that purple sarong/toga/window treatment.

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39 Comments on “Rent vs. Own”

  1. I love that you call it Chicago proper too!
    I rent right now, and have a little one. Works fine, plus we can move if we want to get to a better school in the area or just need a change. But I would eventually like to own.

  2. I’m right there with you, Maggie. My husband and I still rent in Chicago because a.) we weren’t quite sure where we wanted to live once we had kids, and b.) we didn’t feel the want/need to buy a place in the suburbs just because that was the “smart” thing to do. Renting gave us a ton of flexibility, and now that we are with child and ready to buy, we don’t have to worry about selling something and can move when the time is right for us. So, this is my really long way of saying that it sounds like you’re making a great choice for you and your husband, and I wish you lots of luck! I am excited you’ll be in Chicago, too. We used to live in Bucktown, and LOVED it. I also really love Andersonville and Roscoe Village, though I am not sure what the prices are these days. Good luck!

    1. I feel like having been in the suburbs for so long, it seemed like EVERYONE buys (because that’s what you do in the suburbs), so I felt this pressure like we had to buy and kept hearing that renting = throwing your money away. So I’m glad to hear from people who are renting to realize it’s a perfectly common – and sometimes better – option.

      1. You might be throwing your money away renting, but we’re currently throwing our money away owning because the house was bought before the market collapsed. With how volatile the real estate market has been in the last 7, or whatever, years, I’m not entirely conviced buying is necessarily the “safe” “smart” choice it used to be.

        1. I have some friends who are or were in the same boat. These were the same friends who told us years ago (when we moved into an apartment in 2006) that we should buy. They aren’t really putting on that pressure anymore.

  3. I’m afraid I don’t have any real advice to give, although I feel your pain. I, too, am living with parents (my fiance’s parents), which can get tough after a while. The benefit to owning is that your monthly payments are (ideally) going to something that’s building equity, but the down payment for a home can be tough to come by. Maybe find an apartment that’s cheap enough so that you can live on your own but still have money to save away for a down payment, if that’s an option. Good luck finding a new place to live!

    1. That’s the plan! Find something below our budget so we have money leftover each month to further pay down debt and start socking away a down payment.

  4. You’ve got everything about owning right – monthly mortgages do *seem* cheaper than rent, but in the end it’ll probably be more than what you’d pay to rent. That’s how it worked for us – we didn’t put 20% down, and until you do pay off 20% of the principal, you have to pay for Private Mortgage Insurance, which is about $100/month. There’s also whatever down payment you can muster, closing costs (ours were a few thousand), property taxes (which are included in our monthly payment), homeowner’s insurance, and assessments if you’re in a condo.

    Um, but despite all of that, we couldn’t pass up our condo. We got a good deal on it, and could conceivably see having at least one tiny human here, so we moved in with a 5-7 year plan. But plenty of people rent. The other 3 units in our building are renters, and the guy downstairs is turning 40 next week and still has no problem with renting. Definitely wait until you can afford to buy a place that you love! I’m curious – what neighborhoods are you looking at now?

    1. So far we’ve looked at or will look at apartments in Ukrainian Village, Wrigleyville, Roscoe Village and Ravenswood. The Ukrainian Village one had weird low ceilings and was immediately ruled out; we’re looking at the other three today and tomorrow. We’re not picky about a specific neighborhood, just “safe” and convenient to public transit. I’d prefer not to be too far from the Loop though.

      1. Of course I’m partial to Ravenswood, but Roscoe Village is really cute too! We looked at a few places there, I love how much is right there along Roscoe. Good luck!

        1. Thanks! Of course every time I look at an apartment on a map, I’m like “Oh! So and so lives in this neighborhood! Robert, we’ll have friends nearby!” His response of course is “oh, one of your nerdy runner friends?” like he is so hip or something. Haha.

          1. Haha, Bob does that too “oh, another blogger or something?” But there’s nerdy runners in and around every neighborhood! Gosh, and you’d be so close to Half Acre, which is even more important than friends! 🙂

          2. I rent in Ravenswood and love it here. Love running in this area. I rent from Hayes Properties.

  5. This is exciting! I love real estate talk. Right now we’re renting a 2br in Wicker Park (actually, we’re moving on July 1) and it’s very affordable (although, I’m from NYC so I’m not super familiar with what constitutes “affordable” here). We’re planning to rent one more time before buying something. It’s very important to me to be able to put down 20% to avoid various taxes and fees. I also used this calculator:

    Also, I want to really-truly love my first home, so it’s worth it to me to take more time to buy the perfect place than buy something before I’m ready and then feel an itch to move after only a few years.

    1. I’ve been playing around with that calculator! Yay math.

      I’m with you, I don’t want to settle for a “starter home” that ends up being a huge headache that we sell after 5 years. I’d really love if when we do buy, it’s big enough to raise 2-3 kids.

  6. We are renting, pay a lot to live in a great building in an even better location less than a mile walking distance from both of our places of work. (And half a mile from the lake) We have a gym, a pool and a rec area with grills. I’m sure we could find something cheaper, but it wouldn’t have the amenities and we would end up paying for a gym, and public transport.

    It sounds like you’re making a good decision to rent but also feel out options for buying. We struggle with buying something because we do not want to raise a child in the city and moving to the burbs would never be an option. So buying something and then moving in a few years could spell major disaster.

    1. I’m curious – why don’t you want to raise kids in the city? I always assumed we’d raise kids in the suburbs, but we’ve been talking a lot about raising them in the city, and the realities of it, and we’re starting to prefer that option. There are some nice residential neighborhoods that seem ideal.

      Or have you looked at some of the closer suburbs that still feel urban? Like Oak Park or Evanston? You’d still be off an L.

      1. The public schools are my biggest concern. (Since we don’t have 30k a year for private school) I need to do more research to see if there are good schools. Moving to the burbs isn’t for us since we work in the loop- and because we have no family out there. We’re really not 100% in love with Chicago, we like it now, but had to move here for L’s job. I really enjoyed St Charles, but we figure if we are moving to the burbs, we would move to a place we know like NH or even back to California.

        And not sure which hoods you’re looking at, but we are in printers row/south loop and it has a load of restaurants and is very close to the lake. We enjoy it a lot. 🙂

        1. Yeah, I think the schools are the trickiest part. But I figure, you don’t really need to stress about that until high school, MAYBE junior high, and considering we don’t have kids, we’re over a decade away from that. But I do know people who were raised in Chicago and went through the public schools (even high school) and who are currently raising their kids in Chicago, and they are all turning out OK. The magnet high schools sound awesome, although it’s not guaranteed your kid would get in.

          1. I’m actually most concerned with the elementary years because that’s when kids minds are being wired for thought processes/right wrong, etx- I feel super strong about this because my brother and I couldn’t be more different and I’ve analyzed at great length why he is a non functioning member of society and I am. And the root of it goes back to when he was younger (although hanging with thugs in HS didn’t help either)

            And I’m sure people who go to public schools here can end up ok. 🙂 those magnet schools do sound cool if the kid gets in. Just absolutely scares me to think of my future kid ending up like my anything we could do to prevent that, I would (My mom also could have done more in my opinion…)

        2. There are good districts in the city! The Bell (which I think includes Roscoe Village) and Coonley (where I live) districts are good, and my co-worker just moved her family to Sauganash (Peterson & I-94) for the schools.

  7. I think the old saying that “Renting is like throwing your money away” comes from people that have never moved out of their parents’ house to their own place. Renting really is a great option when you’re in that “in-between” phase in your life. You know it isn’t permanent, but it is better than the alternative. There really are great deals on a rental places if you can find one that works for you.. while also deciding if you want to own in the city, or suburbs, and which suburb. Those are some big decisions and the additional time for the research is something you may be happy you did down the road.

    When Chris and I were looking at houses, we got something on the conservative side of our range. Considering taxes went up dramatically a year after owning it (like $200 per month), I was VERY glad we stayed on the conservative side as we didn’t anticipate that huge of a jump. Taxes haven’t increased much since our first year and we’ve made adjustments with larger income and cutting back in other places.

    I’m sure you and the Sailor will find out what works best for you and it is smart to take your time and weigh all the options!

    1. I think renting will also give us a good idea for what we can actually afford when it comes to a mortgage. Some of those online calculators suggest pretty high values, and even the monthly payments they come out to seem way too high. I feel like after a year and a half of not paying rent or bills or groceries, I’ve completely forgotten how much of my paycheck that stuff actually takes.

      Also, I agree with you on the “renting is throwing money away” coming from people who moved from their parents house into their own house. Because now that you mention it, that’s who says that to us.

  8. W/r/t the “throwing money away” bit, unless you plan on living in the place you own for like 10 years or more, you are mostly only paying interest to the bank, as the interest is frontloaded. That’s money you’ll never see again. With all the money you pay every month that you don’t pay as a renter (actual mortgage, interest to the bank, assessments, taxes, homeowner’s insurance), only a small fraction of it goes towards your equity during the first 5-10 years because you pay interest first.

    We bought over three years ago and we don’t have much more equity in it now than we did at purchase (especially because we refinanced). Also there are lots of substantial costs when you sell a place. So the only way we will get more money than our down payment back in the end is if we sell it for more than we bought it for. It’s absolutely a myth that renting is “throwing money away”.

    1. Thanks for the comment! I know you’ve spent a lot of time looking into this 🙂 Also, now that Robert works in real estate and is studying for his license, he’s started saying the same thing. Buying is only worth it if you’ll be there for a looooong time. And we’re not ready to make that kind of commitment.

        1. We’ve looked at or will look at places in Ukrainian Village, Wrigleyville, Roscoe Village and Ravenswood this week. I pretty much look at any apartment listing that meets our price (2 BR for $1200 or less) that is within walking distance of an L stop, in a “safe” area, and not too long of a ride to the Loop. So, Blue Line up to Logan Square, Brown Line up to Western, Red Line up to Irving Park, Green Line out to Ashland. I think if we come up short looking in those places, we’ll look at Edgewater and Rogers Park too.

          1. +1 for Edgewater! 147 bus goes down sheridan and express from foster to Michigan ave! total time is like 20 minutes from Glenlake. I’m partial since i live there, but the redline stops are there and its been on the rise with new businesses as well!

          2. Edgewater and Rogers Park certainly have improved since I graduated from Loyola in 2004. I almost don’t recognize it when I drive around campus from Albion to Devon.

          3. Plus, the lakefront path is right there! And Hollywood beach! Not to mention hidden gem food options! Dak, lickity split, taste of peru, ethiopian food, broadway cellars, etc!

            Its great for running! We do a 2 bedroom for 1400 (all utilities includes), but we saw another 2bdr in our building for 1200 after (boo!)

  9. Well, you already know my opinion 🙂 Seriously, though, when we first moved to Chicago I was freaked out about the idea of going from owning back to renting. Turns out it was the best decision we made. There are so many places to live in Chicago proper that trying to commit to one right away without living there first is probably not the smartest decision.

    Also, we lived in the house we bought for 4 years and didn’t make any money on it when we sold it. Even though we’d put money into it by updated almost every room in the house. So, yes, now that real estate doesn’t gain in equity as quickly as it used to you need to be really, really sure that you want to stay in the place you bought.

    1. I especially appreciate your comments know you’ve owned and rented, so you’re definitely not one-sided.

      Also, the whole idea of a “starter” house or fixer-upper … I dunno. I have zero drive to want to dive in and have to fix up everything right off the bat.

  10. One vote for Roscoe Village, I’ve been in Roscoe for about 5 years and it’s a great neighborhood. If you are thinking long term about a little person (cute) Roscoe Village and Lakeview are home to some of the top Chicago public schools if you are within the proper geo boundaries. In Roscoe/Lakeview: Blaine, Hawthorne and Burley are all in the top 10 schools in the city.

    I’ve heard there is a critical shortage of homes for sale right now. Because of the low supply,if you are going to buy- it could be near or over the asking price and the properties sell quickly. Renting would let you save $ to avoid paying the PMI Anne mentioned, try out multiple neighborhoods and settle in.

    Whatever you decided, happy for you guys and your upcoming change of scenery!

      1. Sadly, I think most of the schools are… not great. But if you are lucky enough to be in a zone with a good school, it sure saves a LOT of dough on private schooling!

  11. We rent right now, and I would highly suggest it. Our first year we rented through Parliament Property, and it was okay. I liked our place, but the management wasn’t very personal or accommodating. After our lease was up we looked condo buildings in the area and checked out their classified pages to see if anyone was renting their personal units.

    I think this was the best idea we’ve had since living in the city. Our landlord is so nice, and living in a condo building where most people own is a great bonus. I would highly suggest looking in our building. If you are interested just email me:)

  12. My opinion may be biased bc I live alone. I lived in an apartment for 3 years and now my house for 3 years. As much as I love living in a house, it’s really challenging sometimes and I don’t know how many times I said that I wished I rented a little longer. Maybe the smart thing to do is to rent for maybe a year…but in a little bit, move to house shopping and see what’s out there. If you guys aren’t sure exactly what you would like, renting is a good option. Especially because then you can see how you are spending your money living on your own, paying your rent and whatever other utilities you guys are going to be paying for. Love that you are going to let a little person live with you at some point… lol. jk 🙂

  13. Lol, I love your subtle reproductive plans declaration.

    We own a townhouse in the suburbs. If we move, we plan to rent for at least a year to get a feel for the new locale. We have no plans to spawn anytime soon, though, and don’t use our third bedroom with any frequency. I would gladly trade our spare bedroom for a larger kitchen, but alas, a house is not a tetris game where you can move and paste things.

  14. If I could do it over, I wouldn’t have bought a condo. My association fees have gone up over $100 a month since we moved in. They f’ed up my a/c, they are horrible. I have even thought about walking away. I moved out of Chicago Proper when V was 3 months old. I knew I couldn’t put him in CPS schools.

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