Here’s how long it takes Chicago homeowners to break even on their purchase

by Joe Ward

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Now more than ever, residents of large American cities face a conundrum when deciding whether to rent or buy. Renting is increasingly popular in major markets as housing prices in these desirable areas keep creeping up. Now, Zillow has announced a tool to help people determine how long they would have to own a home in their market for it to be more financially viable than renting.

The online real estate giant has unveiled its “breakeven horizon” feature that shows at what point owning makes more financial sense than renting. Zillow calculates the average up-front costs of owning a home, like a down payment, mortgage, fees and insurance premiums and determines how long one would have to stay in a home to recoup those costs.

Nationwide, it would take two years and one month before it would make sense for someone paying the national median rent to buy a house at the national median value, according to Zillow.

In more expensive cities, the “breakeven horizon” is much longer, as it would take longer to recoup the higher home costs when compared to renting in those markets. But Chicago’s breakeven horizon just barely beats the national average, as it would take two years and two months in a home before it would be more financially viable than renting.

That’s the 25th longest breakeven horizon in the country, Zillow reports. Chicago has a middle-of-the-pack median home value and monthly rent, but it has a shorter breakeven horizon than many other major markets because it’s low home value appreciation. The average home in the area could expect to see a 2.44 percent appreciation per year, one of the lowest appreciation figures in the country.

City Median Breakeven Horizon (yrs) Annual change in Breakeven Horizon Expected home value appreciation Zillow home value index Zillow rent index
Atlanta 1.7 0.38 3.28 $175,800 $1,254
Boston 2.7 -0.02 3.14 $419,900 $2,351
Chicago 2.2 0.22 2.44 $208,400 $1,618
Houston 2.4 0.97 1.54 $174,500 $1,544
Miami 2.7 0.26 0.52 $249,700 $1,849
National Average 2.1 0.41 2.89 $196,500 $1,408