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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

You heard her talk about bang for the buck for advertisers, let's talk about bang for the buck for homebuyers. In many communities buying a home is now less expensive than renting. And with the economics tilting in favor of homeownership, once again, many first time buyers are jumping in.

NPR's Wendy Kaufman reports.

WENDY KAUFMAN, BYLINE: After eight years of renting, Kitsy Roberts and her husband Janko Williams are practically giddy about their new home. And like proud parents, they are eager to show it off.

KITSY ROBERTS: OK, so here we are.

KAUFMAN: The living room of this 1920s Bungalow in the city's Central District features a lovely craftsman style fireplace and high ceilings. But their new house also came adorned with chartreuse carpeting and kitchen cabinets of faux pink marble. Roberts and Williams moved in about a month ago and they've been feverishly fixing and renovating ever since.

ROBERTS: And this is our, definitely still-in-process, dining room. And we are trying to, you know, fix the plaster, fill in the cracks, and probably need to replace these windows at some point.

KAUFMAN: People buy homes, especially first homes, for lots of reason. They want more space, a backyard, a sense of privacy and security. And until the housing bubble burst, homeownership was widely viewed as a good investment. Now it may once again look like a sound financial option; at least in many parts of the country where housing prices have stabilized, mortgage interest rates are extremely low and rents are moving sharply higher.

KIM COLAPRETE: If you are in a stable place and you have the financial ability, and you have the wherewithal to be a homeowner, it's kind of like the perfect time to purchase a home.

KAUFMAN: That's Kim Colaprete, part of Team Diva real estate at Coldwell Banker Bank. She helped Roberts and Williams buy their house

The couple, both of them are in their early 30's, had been thinking about taking the plunge into homeownership but they hadn't gotten serious. Then they watched as a house in their favorite neighborhood sold in just a couple of days, and for substantially more than the asking price.

ROBERTS: I mean that was sort of it, that one house; seeing that and being like oh man, we gotta find a real estate agent.

JANKO WILLIAMS: We are going to miss our chance.

ROBERTS: We are going to miss our chance. Yeah.

WILLIAMS: Yeah.

KAUFMAN: Their new home cost $350,000. Their monthly payment is $1680 including taxes and insurance. That's about $250 more than their rent. But they'll get some of that back when they deduct the mortgage interest on their tax return.

ROBERTS: I think, for us, it was just like yeah. I mean, are we going to rent for the rest of our lives and pay into I mean nothing? I mean you're paying for a roof over your head, but after that, you're paying into nothing.

KAUFMAN: Real estate broker Colaprete says she hears the same thing from most of her first time buyers: They are sick of paying rent, especially since rents have been going up.

COLAPRETE: So, they are like this is ridiculous, I can buy something with an interest rate of 3.35 or three and a half, and I've got cash. Why am I giving someone - why am I paying for someone else to have an investment when I can have my own investment and live where I want to live?

STAN HUMPHRIES: The overwhelming factor in any buy/rent consideration is the time horizon itself: How long are you going to be in that house?

KAUFMAN: Stan Humphries is the chief economist for Zillow, an online source of real estate and related data.

HUMPHRIES: If you are going to be in house for 20 years, overwhelmingly in any market right now, you want to buy the house. And conversely, if you're only going to be in the house for one year, you're going to want to rent that house 'cause you're not going to make up for the transactional cost.

KAUFMAN: Those transaction costs can run thousands of dollars.

Historically the so-called break even point, where buying makes more sense than renting, has been about four to five years in many markets. But today, says Humphries, it's often less than three years. Still there are challenges for many would-be homebuyers - obtaining a loan can be difficult. And in places like Seattle, there's a shortage of homes on the market, so there's isn't all that much to choose from.

But Kitsy Roberts found what she was looking for, a cute house in the right neighborhood, for the right price.

ROBERTS: This is pretty neat, you know? It's all ours.

KAUFMAN: Wendy Kaufman, NPR News, Seattle.

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