The price-to-rent ratio (PTR ratio) is a simple valuation metric with several valuable applications. In its simplest form, the PTR ratio can help identify affordable living arrangements. However, at its pinnacle, the PTR ratio can become an invaluable investor tool to identify numerous opportunities in a given marketplace. How you decide to use it is up to you, but this simple ratio isn’t without its own shortcomings. To truly benefit from using the PTR ratio, you must not only know how to calculate it yourself, but you must familiarize yourself with what it can and can’t do. The following will provide you with everything you need to know about using the price-to-rent ratio and how to maximize its utility with respect to unique investments.
What Is The Price-To-Rent Ratio?
The price-to-rent ratio is a metric that identifies the more affordable option between owning a home and renting in a respective community for a year. The aptly named PTR ratio allows prospective buyers and renters to evaluate two different variables with a single equation. In comparing an area’s median home value with its average annual rental rate, buyers and renters are rewarded with a single metric which may suggest the most affordable living arrangements (relatively speaking). As a result, the PTR ratio is one of the most common tools people use to determine whether to buy or rent in a given neighborhood.
It is worth noting, however, that the PTR ratio serves more than a single purpose. In particular, the metric may be reverse engineered to identify the best places for investors to buy rental properties. Lower-priced neighborhoods tend to see more rental demand than their higher-priced counterparts. In determining the most objectively affordable areas to rent a home, investors may narrow in on a subject property with inherent demand.
Conversely, price-to-rent ratios which suggest it is more affordable to own a home, may reveal valuable opportunities for opportunistic investors. If for nothing else, the competitive nature of today’s market will relegate many potential buyers to the renter pool. Buyers who cannot make a purchase (based solely on the volume of competition in today’s market) will be forced to rent, despite having the financial means to close on a property. That means more renters are more likely to enter the rental market with increased savings. Investors with rental properties in higher-priced neighborhoods may simultaneously benefit from increased demand and cash flow.
When all is said and done, the price-to-rent ratio is a valuation tool. The variables the metric accounts for are only as valuable as the due diligence buyers, renters, and investors back them up with.
[ Interested in owning rental properties that pay you monthly? Register for our FREE online real estate class to learn how to start building a rental property portfolio of your own. ]
How To Calculate Price-To-Rent Ratio
Calculating the price-to-rent ratio isn’t nearly as complicated as many people make it out to be. In fact, the equation is relatively simple. All inquiring minds need to make their price-to-rent ratio calculation are two variables: the median home value in a given area and the average amount it costs to rent a comparable home in the same neighborhood for one year. Nest, apply each variable to the following equation:
Median Home Value/Annual Rental Rate
Calculating the price-to-rent ratio is that simple. Dividing the median home value by the amount it costs to rent a comparable home for 12 months will result in the price-to-rent ratio in a given neighborhood.
What Is A Good Price-To-Rent Ratio?
Every price-to-rent ratio calculation will result in a decimal which can be translated in one of three ways:
15 & Under: A price-to-rent ratio of 15 or less suggests it is more affordable to buy than rent.
16-20: A price-to-rent ratio between 16 and 20 suggests it may be better to rent than buy.
21 & Higher: A price-to-rent ratio of 21 or more suggests it’s better to rent than buy.
It is important to note that the PTR ratio has its limitations. Not only is it intended to compare renting and owning over a single year, but it also doesn’t account for several important variables, not the least of which are outlined below.
Low Rate & Flat Rents
One of the single greatest deficiencies of the PTR ratio is its failure to account for current interest rates. At the very least, interest rates are one of the most expensive variables to account for in homeownership, and the PTR ratio ignores them. Not only can monthly mortgage obligations vary dramatically based on their specific amortization, but the rate itself won’t factor into the comparison. As a result, the PTR ratio fails to consider one of the largest payment indicators, which can skew the answer one way or another.
Buyers, renters, and investors also need to be aware of the differences between the microeconomic and macroeconomics of rental properties. Over short periods of time, rental rates may fluctuate dramatically. However, when you take a step back and look at the macroeconomic picture, the last decade will reveal rental prices have remained relatively stagnant. In comparison, home values have risen exponentially. Therefore, the price-to-rent ratio will ultimately depend on what time of the year it is calculated, as rents tend to increase in the spring and summer months. Even the difference of a few months could throw off an entire calculation over the course of a year.
Last but certainly not least is the absence of “the cost of living” variable. The price-to-rent ratio is supposed to unveil the most affordable option between buying and renting. Still, the cost of living in a respective area can greatly influence whether or not owning or renting is more affordable. Both owning and renting come with additional costs, none of which are accounted for in the price-to-rent ratio.
Example Of The Price-To-Rent Ratio
Let’s say, for example, someone is trying to determine whether it’s more affordable to rent or own in San Diego. The average home sales price in San Diego is currently about $778,550, and the median rent price is somewhere in the neighborhood of $2,364/month.
Since the PTR ratio accounts for annual rental rates, the first thing to do is multiply the monthly rental rate by 12 months. In doing so, the annual rent rate comes out to $28,368 ($2,364 x 12 months). Next, divide the median home value by the annual rental rate ($778,550 / $28,368). The answer will reveal a price-to-rent ratio of 27.44. With the PTR ratio in hand, all that’s left to do is translate the answer. At 27.44, San Diego’s PTR ratio suggests it is more affordable to rent than buy. Anything over 20, in fact, suggests it is more affordable to rent a home.
How Investors Use the Price-To-Rent Ratio
On the surface, the price-to-rent ratio is a simple metric used to tell investors how appealing a neighborhood may be to invest in. Beneath the surface, however, a price-to-rent ratio can reveal a lot about a property and how to approach it. Consequently, investors should know what to do with a property once they know its price-to-rent ratio. At the very least, real estate entrepreneur should familiarize themselves with investing in three types of markets:
High Price-To-Rent Ratios
Moderate Price-To-Rent Ratios
Low Price-To-Rent Ratios
Investing In High Price-To-Rent Ratio Properties
From an investor’s perspective, the San Diego example could suggest an opportunity to buy. Though the 27.44 price-to-rent ratio is on the higher end, investors need to consider more than property cost. A high price-to-rent ratio can signal high demand, low vacancies, and consistent rental income. These factors can all translate to a strong capitalization rate, and in turn, a strong return on investment.
While investors should not depend entirely on a high price-to-rent ratio when analyzing potential markets, there is an important lesson here. A high ratio area does not automatically mean investors should walk away, in fact a high ratio should instead signal it’s time to take a closer look. These are generally areas with a price-to-rent ratio above 20 (in today’s markets, some ratios are currently well above 30). Overall, if you are able to find the right purchase price investing in a high ratio market could be a lucrative strategy.
Investing In Moderate Price-To-Rent Ratio Properties
Moderate price-to-rent ratio properties can be a strong alternative to high ratio markets. These properties can offer many of the same benefits, such as consistent demand, while also going for lower purchase prices overall. Investors who cannot break into the competitive markets associated with high price-to-rent ratios, may find they are better able to secure an investment in moderate areas.
A moderate price-to-rent ratio is generally between 16 and 20, though it depends on who you ask. A great example is Charlotte, NC, which has a price-to-rent ratio of about 16.92. In Charlotte, the average rent is roughly $1,693, and the rental market continues to increase annually. Investors may find great deals in many moderate price-to-rent ratio areas, just remember to consider other factors as well.
Investing In Low Price-To-Rent Ratio Properties
A common strategy in real estate investing is to go for markets with a low price-to-rent ratio. After all, these areas typically have lower prices and higher rents. A low price-to-rent ratio is one under 16, but as housing prices across the country continue to rise so do PTR ratios.
Many low price-to-ratio properties can signal a high return on investment, but always use this calculation with other figures. And remember, if you only search for low price-to-rent ratio properties you could miss out on some of the perks listed above.
Where To Find Price-To-Rent Ratio Information
Price-to-rent ratios are in constant flux, as home values and rents are subject to daily volatility. As a result, a comprehensive collection of price-to-rent ratios doesn’t exist. Instead, it is better to attempt the calculation yourself; that way, you are assured a more accurate answer.
Those intent on learning how to calculate the price-to-rent ratio will first need to know where to look. Fortunately, the information isn’t hard to find; simply visit any of the online real estate valuation sites made available to the public. Zillow and RedFin both provide searchable databases for locating home values in a given area.
Finding a neighborhood’s median home value on each site is as simple as following these steps:
Zillow: Finding the median home value on Zillow is as simple as going to the site’s research page. At the top of the page is a section dedicated to the Zillow Home Value Index (ZHVI). The ZHVI provides visitors with a seasonally adjusted measure of an area’s typical home value. To find the neighborhood you are looking for, simply click the “download” button in the Home Value category. Doing so will bring up a list of all the metropolitan areas Zillow has housing data on. To find the most recent home value information of the city you are looking for, find the desired city and scroll all the way over to the right (where the most recent data is). The list is updated monthly, so be sure to use the most recent information.
RedFin: Those looking to use RedFin need to visit the company’s home page. On the home screen, visitors will be promoted to search for an address, neighborhood, city or ZIP code. Follow the directions and enter the appropriate information. On the next screen, visitors must then locate the “Market Insights” link. Click the “Market Insights” link in the upper right hand corner to be taken to the page with the information you need,
After identifying a respective city’s average home value, the next step is to locate its average rental rate. Not unlike home values, there are a number of sites with the rental information you need. In our experience, however, one of the most comprehensive rental databases can be found at Apartment List. In order to find the rental information you are looking for, follow these steps:
Click the dropdown menu in the top left corner
Scroll down the menu and click “Blog”
Click the “Research” icon at the top of the page
Click the “Data & Rent Estimates” icon at the top of the page
Scroll down to the “Download Report” section
Input the appropriate information in the field (the city or state you desire information about)
Scroll down to the destination you are looking for
Scroll all the way to the right for the most recent rental data pertaining to the destination
Now, compare the home values you found on Zillow or Redfin with the rental rates you have found on Apartment List. With the information in hand, use the simple calculation mentioned above to uncover the price-to-rent ratio you are looking for.
10 Best Cities For Renters By Price-To-Rent Ratio
The price-to-rent ratio gives renters and buyers insight into whether it’s more affordable to rent or buy in a given area. Conversely, it does not identify the cheapest places to rent, but rather where the difference between renting and owning is the greatest. As a result, many of the highest price-to-rent ratios are in states like California, where home price appreciation has greatly outpaced rental rates.
The following list shows which cities are more affordable to rent in, relative to the average sales price. In other words, here’s a list where the discrepancies between rents and sales prices are the greatest across the country:
San Jose, CA: With an average home sale price of $1,261,667 and an average annual rent of $29,929, San Jose’s 42.16 price-to-rent ratio is the highest in the country.
San Francisco, CA: The “Golden Gate City” boasts an average sales price of $1,461,917 and an average annual rental rate of $39,159, which means its 37.34 price-to-rent ratio is second only to San Jose.
Long Beach, CA: With an average home sale price of $757,500 and an average annual rent of $22,798, Long Beach’s PTR is 33.23.
Seattle, WA: With an average home sale price of $780,917 and an average annual rent of $23,569, Seattle’s PTR is 33.13.
Oakland, CA: Like its neighbors in the Bay Area, Oakland’s 31.98 PTR is one of the highest in the country. With an average sales price of $885,167 and an average annual rental rate of $26,683, it is much more affordable to rent in Oakland.
Los Angeles, CA: With an average home sale price of $924,917 and an average annual rent of $29,573, LA’s PTR is 31.28.
Austin, TX: The average sales price in Austin is $567,000. The average annual rental rate is$18,957, which is enough to give the city a price-to-rent ratio of 29.91.
Portland, OR: With an average home sale price of $527,250 and an average annual rent of $19,089, Portland’s price-to-rent ratio is 27.62.
San Diego, CA: With an average home sale price of $778,550 and an average annual rent of $28,372, San Diego’s price-to-rent ratio is 27.44.
Bakersfield: With an average home sale price of $342,833 and an average annual rent of $13,125, Bakersfield’s price-to-rent ratio is 26.12.
Again, this list does not highlight the cheapest cities to rent in, but rather the most affordable cities to rent in relative to local sales prices.
Historical Price-To-Rent Ratio Data
Not unlike the cyclicality of the real estate market itself, national price-to-rent ratios are subject to regular volatility. If for nothing else, ownership and rental affordability are constantly in flux as the market shifts. As home prices increase, owning traditionally becomes less affordable for a period of time. That said, more people start renting once homeownership becomes too expensive. The added attention in the rental market creates competition, which then allows landlords to increase rental rates. Eventually, rental rates start to increase with their home value counterparts; that’s where the market currently is.
Both rents and home values have been increasing for the better part of a decade. As a result, the national price-to-rent ratio is higher than it has been in years. Today, the national housing market’s price-to-rent ratio is about 21.70. Consequently, historic appreciation rates have made it more affordable in most parts of the country to rent than own.
Today’s price-to-rent ratio should come at no surprise. Home prices have increased for more than ten consecutive years. Consequently, the country’s price-to-rent ratio has increased each of the last five years:
Whether you refer to it as the rent-to-price ratio or the price-to-rent ratio, there’s no denying this particular metric’s validity. A simple calculation can reveal if it is more affordable to own or rent a home in a given area within minutes. The applications are invaluable to everyone: renters, owners, and investors can benefit from learning how to calculate the price-to-rent ratio. That said, any resulting ratio is only as strong as the due diligence you are willing to put into the corresponding research. While the price-to-rent ratio is telling, it isn’t without its own flaws. For the price-to-rent ratio to work correctly, you will need to know how to complement its findings and identify its own shortcomings; hopefully, this article will be able to help you do both.
Ready to start taking advantage of the current opportunities in the real estate market?
Maybe you have plenty of capital, an extensive real estate network or great construction skills— but you still aren't sure how to find opportunistic deals. Our new online real estate class, hosted by expert investor Than Merrill, can help you learn how to acquire the best properties and find success in real estate.
Register for our FREE Real Estate Webinar and get started learning how to invest in today's real estate market!