Home Research Room for Doubt: Trading Rent for An Equal Mortgage Doesn’t Mean More Living Space
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Room for Doubt: Trading Rent for An Equal Mortgage Doesn’t Mean More Living Space

If renters bought a home and paid a mortgage equal to their current rent, that amount would secure less than 1,000 square feet in 63 large U.S. cities.

by Andra Hopulele
  • Aspiring homebuyers who want to trade their monthly rent for a monthly mortgage of the exact same amount (complete with property taxes and homeowners insurance) in big cities on the East and West coasts — but also in many Sunbelt cities — might be in for a shock: In 63 large urban hubs in these regions, a rent-to-mortgage swap would translate to (much) less than 1,000 square feet.
  • California dominates this infamous list with 16 of the 63 cities located in the Golden State.
  • What’s more, a mortgage equal to their current rent would get potential buyers in Fremont, CA; San Francisco and San Jose, CA less than 600 square feet — the least of all the large cities.
  • On the flipside, renters could afford 1,000 to 1,462 square feet in 35 large cities — many of them in Midwestern states like Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin — but also, surprisingly, on the East coast in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and Florida.
  • Only Detroit and Cleveland renters could get more than 2,000 square feet of living space if they became homeowners and replaced their rent with a mortgage of an equal amount.

Buying a home and paying a mortgage means owners can build equity and leave an inheritance. However, when adding up the monthly mortgage payments, home insurance and property taxes, many renters could be left feeling like renting is not just the best option, but the only option.

And the money might not be the worst part: In the majority of America’s largest cities, renters who would be willing to swap the monthly rent for a monthly mortgage (with all the property taxes and homeowners insurance costs included) could get less than 1,000 square feet for their effort.

So, to see how much home renters could afford, we assumed a 20% down payment was covered and calculated the amount of living space that renters could get if they didn’t make any changes in their monthly budget. Looking at average rents and prices per square foot across the U.S., Point2 analysts uncovered the good, the bad and the ugly.


The Good: Renters Willing to Pay a Mortgage Equal to the Local Average Rent Could Get 2,000+ Sq. Ft. in Detroit & Cleveland

The average rent in eight other cities could secure 1,200 – 1,500 sq. ft.

As expected, Detroit leads the way when it comes to lower home prices and, therefore, more abundant living space. Boasting the lowest price per square foot of the 100 largest U.S. cities, Motor City offers plenty of space and housing opportunities for those willing to bet on the area’s revival.

And, due to additions like Stellantis’ Mack Assembly complex, General Motors’ Factory Zero and a new Amazon distribution center, it seems safe to say that increasingly more people are willing to make this bet on Detroit’s future.


Cleveland is the only other big city where renters could replace their rent with a mortgage and be able to secure, on average, more than 2,000 square feet. Just like Detroit, Cleveland may have one of the lowest prices per square foot of living space, but the average rent here is not among the lowest. This makes for a good combination for renters who want to become owners as transitioning from a monthly rent to a similar mortgage could secure plenty of space.

Philadelphia, PA; Baltimore, MD; Fort Wayne, IN and Chesapeake, VA are next in line: The typical renters here could all secure more living space if they became homeowners. However, it's Toledo, OH that's the Goldilocks city: Here, the average rent and price per square foot are just right, allowing aspiring buyers the most space for the least money. If the average $881 rent is transformed into a mortgage, the newly minted homeowners could benefit from 1,231 square feet.

And, although the average rent differs greatly in Milwaukee, WI; Orlando, FL and Indianapolis, IN, these three cities are at a tie due to the differences in price per square foot. A mortgage equal to the average rent in these cities would buy a decent 1,215 square feet for renters willing to take the plunge.


The Bad: In a Staggering 63 Cities, a Mortgage Equal to the Average Rent Would Secure Less Than 1,000 Sq. Ft.

Renters in Fremont, CA; Honolulu, HI; San Francisco, CA and San Jose, CA drew the shortest sticks: Average rents here could only buy a meager 500 to 600 sq. ft.

There may be some cities where average rents and prices per square foot are just right and making the move to homeownership looks like a real win. However, there's a much longer list of cities where the amount of money that renters pay for the average rent wouldn't buy much home at all.


With average rents above $3,000 and even $4,000, New York City, NY (click here to go straight to the NYC section); Boston, MA; Jersey City, NJ; San Francisco, CA and Irvine, CA have the highest rents. So, if renters were to pay a $3,000- or $4,000-mortgage, those amounts could secure plenty of elbow room, right? Not really.

That's because the rent may be too high in these cities, but so is the median home price and the price per square foot. Consequently, renters who want to become homeowners in these coastal urban hubs — which are the most sought-after and desirable cities in the nation — wouldn't get much. In fact, only Jersey City stands out with slightly more space at 920 square feet.

In Fremont, $2,758 worth of rent would only secure 506 square feet of space if renters decided to get a mortgage of precisely that amount. Renters who want to buy a home in Honolulu, HI; San Francisco, CA and San Jose, CA would get mere crumbs, as well: The average rent wouldn't buy more than 600 square feet of space in any of these cities.


The Ugly: Even the Smallest Amount of Space Requires a 20% Down Payment

When a crushing down payment barely moves the needle, it further proves that affordability is quickly eroding

Point2 calculations take into consideration average local rents, home prices and prices per square foot, but they all start from the premise that a 20% down payment has already been covered. This may seem like a huge amount (and it is), but the results of the analysis only reinforce the idea that owning a big enough home is just a dream in increasingly more places.

What's more, the affordability crisis may be exacerbated by the recent slowdown in housing market activity. According to the most recent data, "U.S. existing home sales dropped to a five month-low in June, depressed by a chronic shortage of houses on the market that slowed the pace of decline in annual house prices."

The new trajectory of the housing market has been shaped by many factors but, as this article aptly explains:

"[Owners] aren't listing their homes because they’re not moving out because they’re not buying a home to move into because they don’t want to give up their 3% gift from God."

So, it could be that even the renters who would like to become homeowners and pay a monthly mortgage equal to their current rent might not be able to do so due to lack of inventory.



Spotlight on NYC: If Renters Swapped Their Rent for a Mortgage, How Much Space Would They Get?

The Bronx and Queens renters who make the switch are luckiest; new owners in Manhattan not so much

Like in many other cities, buying a home in NYC might seem pretty dicey at the moment. Although mortgage rates have fallen slightly from last year's peaks, they remain discouragingly high and home prices and inventory are in weird territory, as well.

However, New York City buyers might have another, more stringent issue — space. It's no secret that Big Apple homes are on the small side. And, while this might work for renters (for a while), most buyers prefer to have more room to roam.


For those interested in not spending more on a mortgage than their former rent (while still getting the most space), The Bronx is the answer: Boasting the lowest price per square foot and also the lowest average rent leads to this borough offering the most space for renters who are thinking about switching to homeownership.

And, while 635 square feet of space might not be that big of a home, it's nevertheless the largest home that the average rent can buy. The Bronx — NYC's most affordable borough — is also the city's top choice when it comes to living space.

Queens is next in line with 624 square feet. And, to the surprise of no one, Brooklyn and Manhattan — despite their hefty average rents — only offer 501 and 473 square feet, respectively, for those amounts. That's because, at $915 and $1,393, the price per square foot is the highest of all the boroughs.


Clearly, apartments and homes in NYC are not famous for their spaciousness, and living space is not the city's strong point. But, taking into consideration how many people it houses and how much its residents bring to the area, affordability should be a top priority.

Unfortunately, given the most recent home price and rate trends, affordability doesn't seem to be in the cards, in NYC or any of the big U.S. urban hubs.


Update: In a previous version of this study, the prices per square foot in Brooklyn and Queens were reversed. The article has been updated with the correct data.



  • For this study, we extracted from RentCafe the latest available average rents for the top 100 largest U.S. cities, according to population data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The only exception is Laredo, TX, for which we used the Census ACS 2021 median gross rent.
  • We used median home price data and price per square foot data from Redfin, PropertyShark and Realtor.com.
  • Assuming a 20% down payment was already covered, we calculated how much the monthly mortgage should be so that renters who want to become owners paid an amount equal to their current rent: The new monthly costs would include the mortgage, the property taxes and the homeowners insurance.
  • Taking into consideration the price per square foot in each city, we then calculated how much space renters could afford in their city if they wanted to buy a home and also pay the same monthly amount as their city's average rent.


Fair Use

We encourage and freely grant you permission to reuse, host, or repost the story in this article. When doing so, we only ask that you kindly attribute the authors by linking to Point2Homes.com or this page so that your readers can learn more about this project, the research behind it and its methodology.


For an overview of the real estate market in some of the areas mentioned in this study and other areas of interest, visit the links below:

Austin Real Estate
Chula Vista Real Estate
Miami Real Estate
Atlanta Real Estate
Denver Real Estate
Hialeah Real Estate
Durham Real Estate
Aurora Real Estate
Phoenix Real Estate
Colorado Springs Real Estate
Nashville Real Estate
North Las Vegas Real Estate
Reno Real Estate
Los Angeles Real Estate
Raleigh Real Estate
Plano Real Estate

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