To Rent, or to Buy? That is the (San Francisco Bay Area) question...
Updated: Mar 13, 2021
As a relocation consultant with clients from all parts of the world, one question that I often get is “should I rent or buy in the San Francisco Bay Area?” While this question may not have been common a decade ago, today’s market realities give Bay Area newcomers more pause for thought these days. Whether you choose to rent or buy, the Bay Area housing market is one of the most expensive in the world, and there are many factors that affect your decision beyond the math. If you plan to reside here for at least four years, it may make more sense to buy but, depending on the season you enter the market and availability of housing stock for sale, it may make more sense to rent for a while. Those decisions are best made with an experienced, local, and neutral perspective designed to keep your best interest at the heart of the equation.
As Bay Area rents continue to rise, numerous articles and websites have opined on this subject, discussing multiple factors like price-to-rent ratios and the tax benefits of buying a home. There are numerous authoritative resources to help you here, so do your research. By all means, understanding the math should be your first step to see if buying pencils out versus renting. However, it definitely shouldn’t be the only thing you consider.
When the Math Isn’t Enough
If you can afford to buy, and the math points to buying as the cheaper option, it doesn’t mean you automatically should. Choosing where we live is a decision that affects every single aspect of our lives, and opting to buy a home is one of the most expensive decisions most people will ever make. Raw numbers are not always enough - what matters most is feeling comfortable with your home, community, and yes, the price you pay for it. Here is where a relocation service such as Move Bay Area - one that advocates for you and your family with a no-pressure approach - can be an invaluable resource for you.
How Rent or Buy Tours in the San Francisco Bay Area can help you.
An on-the-ground look inside homes for rent and sale in your cities of interest is the best way to quickly understand the real estate market in the Bay Area and what your lifestyle would look like should you choose to rent vs. buying a home. Most real estate agents specialize in selling homes in particular pockets of the Bay Area and do not show rental options since they are incentivized to sell homes by their pay structure.
Here is what you can expect to gain from such a tour if you’re weighing buying vs renting:
Quickly get a pulse of the market across housing types and areas. You can search Zillow for months, but nothing compares to seeing all types of housing in person, in one or two days, to really understand what you’re going to pay for. Let our professional team build an itinerary for you based on your needs and both sets of criteria. Simultaneously compare all the costs associated (renting: utilities, parking, amenities; buying: taxes, maintenance, mortgage) and how far your money goes across different parts of the Bay.
No pressure environment. Buying can be an emotional roller coaster that involves agents, lenders, banks. Just showing a slight interest in a house can invite a feeling of extra scrutiny on your life’s finances. With our Rent vs Buy Tours, you’ll be spending your time with relocation experts and vetted real estate agents who will get to know you and advocate for your best interest without pressuring you either way. We will show you the options out there and you decide what is best for you.
See all of the Bay. Real estate agents mostly stick to one general area, but the Bay Area is comprised of 9 different counties, each with a distinct culture and vibe. So unless your heart is completely sold in one city, it makes sense to explore the region. And if you try working with multiple agents, they might not be as motivated to work hard for you since they have less of a chance of making a commission. Move Bay Area works across the entire bay and has created partnerships with select buying agents who understand our approach and share our values designed to uncover the optimal scenario for you, our client.
Get impartial advice from an advocate. As with all our services, we are completely dedicated to you. We never accept rental commissions from anyone so we aren’t inclined to “nudge” a client into certain apartment complexes or properties. Our business model is to find our clients the best fit at the best possible price. Period.
To illustrate this, here are two stories from our own clients. They both came to Move Bay Area feeling conflicted about whether renting or buying was the best decision for them. They used our Rent or Buy Tour service, and here is how it all shook out:
Skylar landed a great job in the financial district of San Francisco with a December start date and only a month to find housing and make the move from New York to San Francisco and contacted us with many questions:
“What are safe neighborhoods in San Francisco that have character and a good commute downtown?”
“Are there certain times of the year that are better to buy a home?”
“I am seriously considering buying a home for investment purposes. Can I rent out a home easily if I were to leave the city?”
“Will my options be better if I rent or if I buy?”
As far as the last question, we like to show rather than tell, since client tastes differ and the market changes so rapidly from week to week and year to year.
After an intake with Skylar, we decided to carve out a two-day Rent or Buy Tour to look at options, engaging one of our rental home finding specialists as well as a local sales agent vetted and contracted by Move Bay Area (we do this so that our clients don’t feel pressure to buy from a sales agent.) We also connected Skylar with a loan officer to meet before the tour so if the math penciled out, a pre-approval was in place. On the first tour day, we showed Skylar eight flats for rent within the set budget in Noe Valley, Mission Dolores, the Castro, Lower Haight, and Hayes Valley. On the second day of the tour, Skylar saw a variety of flats, condos, and townhomes for sale on the southern side of SF. The sales agent added Alamo square and Glen Park to the tour in order to show more options since this was December, and there were fewer homes for sale than during the peak summer season.
While on tour, Skylar saw a charming rental that met all budget requirements, had a garden patio, was on the top floor, and was within a 10-minute walk to the BART (train) station. The flats for sale at the time, while in safe areas and within budget, were further away from BART and did not have the light quality and outdoor space so important to Skylar, who loved to drink tea on the patio to start the morning off each day.
In summary, Skylar viewed fourteen high-quality, vetted rentals and properties for sale in one weekend. With next to no time to make a decision, Move Bay Area’s agile and efficient Rent or Buy Tour helped Skylar make an important life decision in one weekend that normally would take months. The rental hit all the intangible qualities, while the available purchase stock in December fell just a tad short - none motivated Skylar to hit the purchase button right away. So why rent? Sometimes the timing’s just not right and just because you can doesn’t mean you should. The key is having an advocate to help you arrive at an honest decision without the pressure that often comes with the momentum of homebuying.
Claudia and Lee and decided to make the move, along with their two children and Labradoodle, to the Bay Area for Claudia’s new job located in downtown San Francisco. With only a weekend to fly in and secure housing, they enlisted Move Bay Area for a two-day Rent or Buy tour. Coming from abroad, they were unfamiliar with the various cities and neighborhoods that make up the Bay Area. All Claudia and Lee knew for sure was that they wanted a safe suburban area with a good school system and a public transit commute under one hour to the Salesforce Tower.
After an initial consultation to assess their needs, Move Bay Area set up a 2-day Rent or Buy Tour. Although they could afford to buy, their primary concern was finding the right fit for their children with as little disruption as possible; they didn’t want temporary housing only to move again in 3 months. Renting a house for a few years that met most of their families’ needs in the Bay Area seemed like an obvious choice.
The Rent or Buy Tour provided Lee and Claudia with all the information and experience needed to ultimately make their decision with confidence and efficiency. On the first day, we showed them five homes for sale and five homes for rent across four cities north of San Francisco in Marin County. On the next tour day, our agents showed them the same number of homes for rent and sale alongside schools, parks, and downtowns in the East Bay communities of Lafayette, Orinda, and Moraga. Because the buying agent was contracted and carefully vetted through Move Bay Area, Claudia and Lee had the freedom to assess each option without the typical pressures of a client-agent relationship. If they decided to buy that weekend, the agent was there to close the deal. If they decided to rent, our rental agent would help with the application process and securing the rental property they liked the most.