What makes a comfortable, functional family home?
An eat-in kitchen that doubles as homework central could be Priority One. Or, maybe it’s a spare bedroom for a grandparent or a backyard that tops the “must-have” list.
While the desired features vary, thousands of families now share one requirement: They want a landlord, not a mortgage.
Traditionally, by the time parents reached “their mid-30s or so, they begin to transition to homeownership,” observes Ryan Severino, senior economist at the Reis. Inc., a real estate data firm based in New York.
The housing downturn has upended tradition, and now many families “who would have considered purchasing a home are choosing to rent,” Severino notes. Further, some households that previously owned now are renting, he adds.
But, can a rental satisfy the requirements a family has for a home? Experts say the rental landscape is changing, and families have more choice. Here, advice for families on finding a rental:
The Benefits of a Financially Comfortable Home
Owning a home is a goal for many parents, perhaps because they sense what many studies have shown: Children tend to do better in school when they live in a home that’s owned.
David Barker, a finance professor at the University of Iowa, and Eric Miller of the Congressional Budget Office, studied those studies.
“We found that once you control for things like the wealth of the family, then homeownership itself is not statistically significant,” Barker says.
“When a family that lives in housing that is affordable – whether it’s rented or not – that’s linked with better school outcomes.”
All the better, Barker adds, “if a family can afford to rent in a good school district.”
Once they move, families should plan to stay a couple of years or more because that stability is correlated with better school performance, says Barker.
The New Supply of Single-Family Rentals
The foreclosure crisis has left thousands of homes empty, but now many companies around the country are buying up those properties, renovating them and then renting them to families, says Chris Clothier, of Memphis Invest, one such firm that rents homes in the Dallas and Memphis areas.
“Many of the families who find our rentals discover them simply by driving by and seeing a sign” Clothier says. “The know and want the neighborhood.”
In some areas, single-family rentals aren’t listed on the multiple listing services used by real estate agents, adds Raylene Lewis, of Century 21 in College Station, Texas. “Find a real estate agent who really knows what is going on in the neighborhood, and who will have ties with property management firms which can alert them to rentals,” she advises.
The Importance of Neighborhood
In a recent survey of 1,000 parents, the website Rent.com found that “the safety of the neighborhood and the quality of the school system” overwhelmingly ranked as the top priority in what they sought in a rental, explains Christina Aragon, director of strategy at Rent.com. Further, the survey found that parents likely make trade-offs between single-family and multifamily options based on whether they can meet their bigger priorities of safety, education and affordability.
The Maintenance-Free Appeal
A yard might be stereotypical of the a home, many parents, particularly single parents, prefer a patch of grass that’s maintained by others, says Lewis.
More large apartment complexes are beginning to incorporate open spaces with play equipment, notes Cindy Harvey, of Kephart Architects, a Denver design community planning firm.
Although three-bedroom apartments still are relatively rare in large complexes, more projects are adding these larger units with families in mind, adds Harvey.