Study: Renters Have More Regrets Than Homeowners

Written by
David Mully
Read Time: 6 minutes

Owning a home and sending payments to your mortgage lender each month can be tough. That mortgage bill is probably the biggest

expense you face, and maintaining a home is no inexpensive task. You can easily spend thousands of dollars a year should your hot water heater burst, furnace conk out or roof start leaking. And if you are paying off an adjustable-rate mortgage, you might be watching mortgage rates closely to make sure your monthly mortgage payment doesn’t rise too much.

But if a new survey by real estate site Zillow is to be believed, those who rent instead of own might be under even more stress.

The Zillow Housing Aspirations Report, released earlier this year, found that renters have more regrets about their housing than do homeowners and mortgage holders.

So next time you spend hours pulling weeds from your backyard or you must calculate the cost of waterproofing that leaky basement, remember one thing: Renters don't feel sorry for you at all.

Regrets? More than a few

According to Zillow's report, 45 percent of renters regret renting instead of buying a home. The report found that just 8 percent of homeowners regret buying instead of renting. This means that renters are more than five times more likely to regret their housing situation than are homeowners.

Of course, this doesn't mean that owning a home and paying a mortgage is always pleasant. If you buy the wrong house, or spend too much on a home, you might find owning your own residence to be a chore. You might have as many, if not more, regrets than the average renter.

If you want to be a happy homeowner, then, it's important to avoid some of the bigger mistakes of buying a home and applying for a mortgage.

Don’t spend so much that building equity is a struggle

The Zillow survey found that 52 percent of renters regret not being able to build equity. Equity is the difference between what your home is worth and what you owe on your mortgage. If you owe $150,000 on your home and it is worth $225,000, you have $75,000 worth of equity.

You can then borrow against that equity in the form of home equity loans or home equity lines of credit. You can use the money from these products to pay down credit card debt with high interest rates, cover the cost of your children's college tuition or pay for major home improvements.

To build equity quickly, though, you need to avoid overspending. If you spend too much on your home upfront, possibly spending more than it is worth, you'll struggle to build equity in a timely manner. The best way to build equity quickly is to buy a home at a fair price. Then, as you make your mortgage payments each month, you can steadily reduce what you owe, building equity. If your home increases in value, you'll build equity quicker, too. If you overspend, your home will have to increase in value at a quicker pace for you to build that equity.

Don't buy too much home

Renters also told Zillow that they wished their apartments were larger, with 40 percent saying that their homes were too small. Only 21 percent of owners said the same thing.

No one wants to buy a home that is too small. But buying one that is too large, and, therefore, too expensive, can cause even more problems.

Luke Babich, co-founder of chief strategy officer and co-founder of St. Louis-based online real estate company Clever Real Estate, said that buying the biggest home possible can be tempting. But it can also be expensive. Maintaining a large home isn't cheap. And that big maintenance budget could be a drain on your finances.

"Many first-time buyers get caught up in the excitement of owning a new home," Babich said. "I know a lot of buyers get excited about large homes without realizing how much extra they'll have to spend on property taxes, maintenance and furnishings."

Clever Real Estate recently published a study showing that the average U.S. homeowner spends more than $13,000 on maintaining their homes, property taxes and insurance.

"Be conscience of what you can afford," Babich said. "Getting approved for a home loan doesn't necessarily mean you'll be able to afford the monthly payments plus the cost of homeownership."

Before buying a home, create a household budget listing your monthly expenses and incomes. This will tell you how much money you can afford to spend on a mortgage each month. Don't be tempted to break this budget to buy a bigger home that costs too much.

Homes cost more than you think

Mark Cianciulli, real estate agent and co-founder of Los Angeles' The CREM Group, said that purchasing a home is often more expensive than consumers think. Sure, there's the home's price tag and the down payment. But buyers also have to pay the closing costs that their mortgage lenders or other third-party providers charge.

Cianciulli said that lenders and others might charge buyers for title policies, escrow fees, loan origination fees, appraisals, recording fees and property inspection costs. Buyers might also underestimate the costs after they buy a home, including property taxes, homeowners' insurance, mortgage insurance and general maintenance.

"Buyers are constantly underestimating the cost to purchase a home as well as the cost of ongoing homeownership," Cianciulli said. "There is no way to prevent having to pay for at least some of these costs."

Struggling to pay your mortgage each month is no fun. You'll become what is known as house-poor, meaning that you are spending too much of your monthly income on your mortgage payment and housing costs. What's smarter is to buy a home that fits comfortably within your budget.

Renovating can pay off -- but be careful

Another big chunk of renters -- 52 percent -- said that they regretted not being able to customize or improve their rentals. That's not a problem homeowners face. They can renovate or customize their homes as often as they like.

Be careful, though, when buying a home. It can be tempting, again, to purchase a residence that needs serious renovations if it comes with a lower price tag. But be aware of how costly renovations can be. The amount you spend on renovating a home could easily outweigh the price tag savings on a fixer-upper.

Dan Meyer, co-founder and chief executive officer of Pocketdoor, a San Mateo, California-based company that provides online applications to help homeowners manage renovation projects, recommends that buyers be realistic about how much their renovations might cost.

Part of this means planning for the unexpected.

"Make sure you set aside enough cash to cover expected costs and unexpected costs," Meyer said. "About half of renovations go over budget, so be prepared for what you will find when you open walls or apply for building permits."

Meyer said that this could mean delaying or paring back the scope of improvements you make on your home.

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