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The rise of renter nation

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 17, 2010 07:54 AM

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Don't feel like taking a ride on this roller coaster of a real estate market? Opting to rent, at least for now, instead of buying?

If so, you are not alone, according to a new survey of thousands of renters and homeowners across the nation by Fannie Mae.

Two key stats: The number of those who plan to continue to rent rose to nearly 60 percent from 54 percent at the start of 2010, while those planning to choose the apartment living over homeownership when it comes to their next move hit 33 percent, a 10 percent jump over the same time period.

The young and mobile are leading the way here - the homeownership rate among those 25 to 29 has plunged 11 percent from the bubble years.

Still, whether we see a longer-term, sizable shift towards renting - where it is seen as a viable, welcome option even for those with the means to buy - remains to be seen.

Certainly, the demographics seem to be promising.

Married couples, the bedrock - OK sorry for the corny phrase - of the homeownership market, continue to drop in numbers. Just about half of the country now is married, down from 56 percent in 1990.

But a more enduring tilt towards renting also depends on whether apartment living actually gains some cachet of its own. Right now, it is too often considered simply a rest stop on the highway to owning.

In fact, the same survey finds the dream of homeownership largely still intact, despite a daily drum beat of bad news about skyrocketing foreclosures, short sales and "strategic defaults."

Of those surveyed, 51 percent said the housing mess had not diminished their long-term interest in buying rather than renting. In fact, 27 percent said they were more likely to buy now.

Beyond the lack of cachet, there are some more practical barriers here as well.

The good news is that we are about to see a surge in apartment construction across Greater Boston, from a new rental high-rise proposed for the Prudential Center to a number of new apartment complexes in the suburbs. Banks have decided apartments are a safe bet, compared to condo and office towers.

But many of these new apartment developments look like the typical, cookie cutter new rentals that are always popping up from time to time. We are mainly talking about one and two bedrooms pitched to the young or childless.

There is just not the same selection in the rental market as there when it comes to buying a home, even in the perpetually overpriced and inventory starved Boston area.

For now, buying still trumps renting. But watch out, because renter nation is on the rise.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About boston real estate now
Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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