Taking a “Rent-first” Approach: Should I Try Before I Buy in a New Town?​

Mar 10, 2015

More so than anywhere else in the U.S., NYC is a renter-friendly city. Across the country, about 1 in 3 households is rented—in New York City it’s close to 70%, with three-fourths of the housing stock being rentals.

That said, it’s no surprise many prospective home buyers coming from Manhattan or Brooklyn are comfortable with the idea of renting, and consider taking a similar “try before you buy” approach to life in the suburbs. There are certainly pros to renting in a town your family is heavily favoring, from getting a no-commitment lay of the land, the schools and the overall community—but, likewise, there are some serious drawbacks to taking this approach.

PRO: You’ll get to try before you buy

Explore the downtown. Stroll the farmer’s market. Enroll your kids in the local schools, meet the parents and get to know the district. Sign up for sports teams, Girl Scouts, gymnastics and ballet. Spend your weekends exploring, the way “real” locals do—except without a mortgage. This is the major pro to renting—you’ll be able to dive into a community in a way taking the “weekend warrior” approach won’t afford you.

PRO: You’ll be able to make a move without a hefty down payment

Many families opt to keep renting to ensure they have sufficient time to save for the right house. Renting, of course, doesn’t require the same level of upfront cash—usually 1-2 months rent, plus a security deposit—as buying, and enables families to keep saving at a similar rate as they would in the city, but while jumpstarting their new suburban lives.

CON: Desirable rentals can be few and far between

Unlike the city with, literally, millions of rentals spanning the size, price and location spectrum, the majority of suburban homes in this area are primary residences. As a result, the perfect rental might not be so easy to find and secure as it is within city limits.

CON: You’ll still need to—and furnish ahouse

A major expense that comes with moving to the suburbs is, of course, moving, as well as furnishing a much larger space. Whether you’re buying or renting, those costs are more or less fixed. However, if your plan is to purchase in that town—or test drive another—in the next year or two, the furnishing piece can be a pricey proposition, as what “works” in one house may not in the next. That can mean furnishing two homes in a very short period of time, not to mention the added headache, hassle and expense of theactualmove.

CON: One town, multiple schools

While your desired town may feed into one high school or, even, middle school, chances are there are multiple elementary schools. If you’ve got young children, an in-town move could still mean a new school, new sports teams, new after school activities and new childcare. Many parents opt to make a move to the suburbs in preschool or kindergarten, but the move from school to school—evenwithinthe same town—can be just as challenging as hopping from the city to the suburbs between or during school years.

PRO—thenCON: You love your rental home

Great news—you love your rental home, and are thrilled with the immediate and extended community, the neighbors, the schools…the list goes on and on. Pro!

But then there’s the lurking con: it’s time to move. Chances are, you don’t plan on renting forever—but if you’ve fallen in love with your rental home, that can be a real hurdle in your long-term house hunt. You may not find something that’s exactly the same as the place you’ve temporarily called home, or may not even find something in the neighborhood you’ve come to love so much. And that can derail your future search.

Ultimately, there are plenty of pros and cons to renting before you buy in the ‘burbs. Only you know what’s right for your family and your finances—but be sure to weigh the pros and cons before making a decision. It could mean an extra year or two in the city, or moving forward on a “starter” house—or it could mean forging ahead with your purchase planorwith a rental!

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