10 best cities to rent rather than own a house

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Susan Meyer

Senior Editorial Manager

  • Licensed Insurance Agent — Property and Casualty

Susan is a licensed insurance agent and has worked as a writer and editor for over 10 years across a number of industries. She has worked at The Zebr…

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Ross Martin

Insurance Writer

  • 4+ years in the Insurance Industry

Ross joined The Zebra as a writer and researcher in 2019. He specializes in writing insurance content to help shoppers make informed decisions.

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The best cities for renters

The cost of living has risen dramatically over the last year, with overall U.S. inflation increasing by 8.6% in May 2022. Housing is a major contributing factor to these increases, with both rent and home sales prices on an upward trajectory. Some cities, however, are faring better than others, especially when considering the rental market over the real estate market. 

The Zebra looked at the 50 most populous American cities to find which ones are better for renting instead of buying. We analyzed three main data points in our search:

  • Price-to-rent ratio: This takes the median home value and divides it by the median annualized rent. The higher the ratio, the more cost-effective it is to rent than to buy.
  • Price of rent compared to median income: This finds cities where rent accounts for a lower portion of income, making it easier to afford other expenses.  
  • Mortgage Affordability Index: This index ranks cities by the cost of buying a home compared to income on a scale of one to 10. A higher index score reveals cities where it’s more expensive to buy.

Read on to discover the top cities for affordable renting and see if you recognize your own hometown or other favorite places.

#1: Austin, Texas

Austin ranks as our top city to rent largely thanks to rent accounting for a smaller portion of the median household income, which comes in at around $57,000. The average two-bedroom apartment costs $1,766 a month. The mortgage affordability index is at a 9, nearly the highest score possible, meaning it's much more expensive to buy in Texas's capital. 

Austin by the numbers

  • Price-to-rent ratio: 16.04
  • Rent compared to median income: 37%
  • Mortgage Affordability Index: 9

#2: Salt Lake City, Utah

Rent in Salt Lake City accounts for an average of 41% of a family’s income, placing it in the top five for this category. Home values are also rising fast, with a Mortgage Affordability Index score of 8. The price-to-rent ratio is also high at 18.07, meaning that the average sales price of $335,000 is much more expensive than what you would spend on rent.

Salt Lake City by the numbers

  • Price-to-rent ratio: 18.07
  • Rent compared to median income: 41%
  • Mortgage Affordability Index: 9

#3: Virginia Beach, Virginia (tied)

Virginia Beach ties for third place as one of the cheapest cities to rent rather than buy. Both mortgage and rent prices are lower here, but median household income is as well at just under $36,000 per year. So while rent takes up 45% of that budget, a family is likely to spend even more on a mortgage if they were to buy now.

Virginia Beach by the numbers

  • Price-to-rent ratio: 15.31
  • Rent compared to median income: 45%
  • Mortgage Affordability Index: 9

#3: Raleigh, North Carolina (tied)

Raleigh has one of the starkest contrasts between home sales prices and rents, with a price-to-rent ratio of 18.75. Rent takes up just 42% of income, while the Mortgage Affordability Index is less volatile than other cities with a score of 6.

Raleigh by the numbers

  • Price-to-rent ratio: 18.75
  • Rent compared to median income: 42%
  • Mortgage Affordability Index: 6

#3: San Jose, California (tied)

Tied for third is San Jose, where the median home sales price is $1.1 million. That places the city in first place for the highest price-to-rent ratio where it’s definitely cheaper to rent for many people. Still, the average rent accounts for 61% of the median income, making it an expensive place for housing in general.

San Jose by the numbers

  • Price-to-rent ratio: 27.10
  • Rent compared to median income: 61%
  • Mortgage Affordability Index: 10

#6: Richmond, Virginia

The gap between the prices of buying and renting is smaller in Richmond, VA, with a price-to-rent-ratio of 14.33. However, rents in Richmond only account for 40% of the median income, leaving more cash to spend elsewhere. Plus, the city’s Mortgage Affordability Index score of 7 is above average.

Richmond by the numbers

  • Price-to-rent ratio: 14.33
  • Rent compared to median income: 40%
  • Mortgage Affordability Index: 7

#7: Riverside-San Bernardino, California

The Riverside-San Bernardino area is another place where there’s a large gap between home prices and rent. This fact is emphasized by the area’s Mortgage Affordability score of 10 — the highest possible score on the index. The downside of renting, however, is that the median income is comparatively low, with the average rent accounting for 77% of the $27,000 average median income.

Riverside-San Bernardino by the numbers

  • Price-to-rent ratio: 18.71
  • Rent compared to median income: 77%
  • Mortgage Affordability Index: 10

#8: Las Vegas, Nevada

Las Vegas’s price-to-rent ratio is an attractive number at 18.51 for those wishing to rent an apartment in the city. While the Mortgage Affordability Index score is at a 7, rent takes up 55% of the median income. The good news is that Nevada is one of just nine states with no income tax, so there is a little extra room to save each year.

Las Vegas by the numbers

  • Price-to-rent ratio: 18.51
  • Rent compared to median income: 55%
  • Mortgage Affordability Index: 7

#9: Portland, Oregon

The average home sales price in Portland is $420,000 while the average rent is over $2,300 per month. That gives the city a decent price-to-rent ratio of 14.77. Rent does take up 58% of the median income, but that’s less than many people would spend on a house, since the Mortgage Affordability score is 9.

Portland by the numbers

  • Price-to-rent ratio: 14.77
  • Rent compared to median income: 58%
  • Mortgage Affordability Index: 9

#10: Hartford, Connecticut (tied)

Hartford ties for last place as one of our best cities for renting compared to buying. The price-to-rent ratio is in the top 10, indicating there are some savings to enjoy by renting. Plus, the city has one of the lowest rent-to-income ratios, making it easier to afford an apartment in Hartford.

Hartford by the numbers

  • Price-to-rent ratio: 15.52
  • Rent compared to median income: 42%
  • Mortgage Affordability Index: 4

#10: Sacramento, California (tied)

Sacramento has high housing costs, with the average home priced at $446,000. That makes mortgage affordability low, with an Index score of 8. The reason Sacremento doesn't score higher on this list is that while rent prices are lower, the median household income is just around $40,000 so it will take a higher percentage to afford the average rental price of $2,100 per month.

Sacramento by the numbers

  • Price-to-rent ratio: 17.68
  • Rent compared to median income: 63%
  • Mortgage Affordability Index: 8

If you're in the market for renters insurance, feel free to give us a call! Our friendly in-house agents will compare rates from multiple insurers and find you the best policy at the best price.

Prefer an online option? Get a quote from our friends at Lemonade! While not a comparison platform, they're well-known for their easy-to-use app, streamlined claims process, and personalized, flexible coverage.

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The Zebra pulled three data points to analyze the top 50 MSAs (by population) in the U.S. related to rent, mortgage, and income: 

  • Price-to-rent ratio (Median home price from Kiplinger and median rent for 2-bedroom apartment from Rent.com and Zumper)
  • Price of rent compared to median income (Median income from DQYDJ)
  • Mortgage Affordability Index (Kiplinger)