Apartment buildings in the Fort George neighborhood of New York. About one-third of Americans rent their homes. Credit Elias Williams for The New York Times

So you’re thinking of buying a home, perhaps your very first one. But you wonder whether you might be better off continuing to rent. And you have no idea how to figure out which choice makes more sense for you.

Well, join the club. This is a practical decision involving numbers, to be sure. But when we’re talking about our primary dwelling, it’s also a highly emotional one. Where we live matters, a lot. So this isn’t just a financial choice.

Here at The New York Times, we’ve spent a lot of time chewing over the rent-versus-buy decision, and if you’re numerically inclined, the first place to start is with our calculator on the choice. Even the fact of plugging the numbers in, however, taps into feelings. After all, you’ll need to tell the tool how much you expect housing prices to rise in the future and what sort of return you might get if you kept your down payment money in stocks or bonds instead of spending it on a house. Our mortgage calculator will be useful here, too.

One thing younger buyers sometimes fail to consider is just how effective a forced savings vehicle a mortgage can be. Sure, you may be able to sock away 10 percent or more of your income in retirement accounts now, but how easy will that be when you have growing children or aging parents? And what if you face a job loss, career change or health hiccup? Another non-obvious factor is the volatility of home maintenance costs, since the big bills come along infrequently and are often unpredictable.

While roughly one-third of Americans rent, not all of them do so because they can’t afford to buy. Our story on the happy people who choose to rent is well worth a read to get into their heads. Some of them renovate their rentals to their liking with the blessings of their landlords, while others rent because they fear an expensive purchase decision that they will regret when they inevitably change as people over the years.

Determined to buy anyway but not sure about where? New Yorkers should consult a recent survey on where buying is likely to pay off first. And given that it’s a sellers market again in many parts of the country, everyone else will find our tips for navigating that kind of situation useful.

Good luck, and remember: As much as you may be tempted to rush, there will almost always be another house, even if you miss the one that you think is “the one.”

Source: NYT