We create reliable measures of the cost of owning and the cost of renting that enable us to compare the level of rents and ownership costs across MSAs. We show that households can predict whether renting or owning will end up being less expensive ex post. This exercise is more robust than trying to predict house price changes or housing returns because much of that uncertainty is inframarginal in the optimal own/rent decision, which depends only on the which tenure mode is cheaper. We show that households can profitably time the home ownership decision. Using several simple trading rules, we estimate that households can save as much as 50 percent of annual rental costs over a five-year period by timing the decision of when to buy a home. The potential savings varies across cities.
Timing the Housing Market with Cindy Soo, Mimeo, March 30, 2013