Well, that is apparently the conclusion of a recent Deutsche Bank report. I couldn’t find the report online but here are a few snippets from a Fortune piece comparing rents to home prices.
On average, DB [Deutsche Bank] found that families across America were spending about 87% as much to rent as to own in 1999. Hence, they were traditionally willing to pay a premium as homeowners, though not a big one.
But by mid-2006, with the craze in full swing, the figure fell below 60%. At that point, Americans were spending an incredible 66% more to own than to rent. It was far worse in the bubble markets: In Las Vegas, Phoenix and Miami, homeowners were paying twice as much as renters, and in San Francisco and Orange Country, owners’ monthly payments were triple those of their neighbors with leases instead of mortgages.
So how did that happen? During the bubble, rents — the real engine that drives values — were inching along at more or less their usual pace. From 1999 to 2007, apartment rents increased only 32%. But home prices jumped more than three times as fast, around 105%.
DB reckoned that housing prices are more or less reasonable when the ratio returns to its 1999 level. Why 1999? Because the ratio was relatively stable throughout the 1990s, and it was the year the steep rise in prices began in earnest. At the end of the third quarter of 2009, the overall number stood at 83%, meaning renting was just a tad more attractive than owning.
But the picture varies widely from city to city. In 15 of those 53 metro areas, including St Louis, Indianapolis, and remarkably, Phoenix and San Diego, it’s now higher than in 1999, meaning that homeowners’ costs actually dropped versus what renters pay, courtesy of the steep decline in prices. In California’s San Bernadino and Riverside Counties, it now costs 10% less to own than to rent; in 2006, owners paid more than twice as much as renters.
So it looks like in Phoenix today home prices are a better deal compared to rental prices than they were in 1999. But I couldn’t find the full report online so I don’t have the exact numbers.