From the WSJ:
Climbing rents for apartments are combining with a continued decline in home prices to push once-reluctant home buyers into finally taking the plunge, say economists and real-estate agents, helping what appears to be a good start to the housing industry’s all-important spring selling season.
Although increased buying activity from investors and second-home purchasers are also factors behind the recent pickup in home sales, real-estate agents say they are fielding more calls from anxious tenants complaining about rising rents.
“The rental market has been incredibly hot,” said Ronald Peltier, chief executive of HomeServices of America Inc., which owns real-estate brokerages in 21 states. He says rising rents, coupled with slumping home prices and interest rates near record lows, are boosting demand for homes at entry-level prices.
Average apartment rents rose by 2.7% last year while the national vacancy rate dropped below 5% for the first time since 2001, according to a quarterly survey to be released Wednesday by Reis Inc., REIS a real-estate research firm.
Such increases are one reason why analysts at Zelman & Associates believe 2012 will be the first year since 2005 when the share of apartment renters that moves out to buy a house increases from the previous year. “The equation of renting versus owning is becoming much more favorable for owning,” said Ivy Zelman, the firm’s chief executive.
Nishu Sood, a housing analyst with Deutsche Bank DBK.XE who tracks housing costs, says that, historically, the cost to rent an apartment has been about 10% lower than the after-tax cost of owning a home. That rental discount began to fall in 2010 and disappeared entirely last year. By the end of 2011, Mr. Sood’s research found that the cost to rent an apartment was about 15% higher than the cost to own a home. Conditions are “overwhelming in the favor of buying now. It is unequivocal,” he said.
And for some renters, the housing crisis has shaken their desire to become owners. “If I was going to buy, I feel like I would be just in the same problem that other homeowners are having with the market,” said Laurel Slutsky, 24, who just renewed the one-year lease on her Chicago two-bedroom.
“Right now, all my friends and I are hopping around neighborhoods, and I don’t see the benefit in buying and staying in one place.”