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Is it Better to Buy or Rent? The Experts Weigh In


With a lively sports scene, abundant art museums, incredible health systems and plentiful education options, it’s no wonder people choose to live in Pittsburgh and its surrounding communities. The University of Pittsburgh’s most recent regional quality of life survey found that 68 percent of the city’s residents rate Pittsburgh as either an excellent or very good place to live.


Many of Pittsburgh’s new residents start by renting a home or apartment rather than buying property. According to reports from WalletHub, renter-occupied households make up 50 percent of the total housing units in the city. Of those rental households, 74 percent of the total housing units are single-family homes.


With the real estate market continuing to deliver unprecedented price increases, bidding wars and rising remodeling costs, it should come as no surprise that the rental market has its own challenges. According to a study by rentcafe.com, Pittsburgh’s monthly rental rates have increased by six percent year over year. The study also noted that the median price for an 810 sq. ft. apartment was $1,427 per month. Of course, these statistics fluctuate from neighborhood to neighborhood. The age and condition of rental properties also plays a significant role in current rental rates.


“Monthly rental rates are the highest they’ve ever been,” said Charles “Chuck” Pupich, general manager of RPI Property Management. “There’s also a limited amount of rentals available.”


Pupich attributes these issues to several factors. “People are upgrading,” he explained. “They’re seeking more amenities within the rental units, and that contributes to the increase in rental rates along with the current rise in the price of materials for new construction and improvements.”


Yet that doesn’t seem to deter the continuing influx of renters to the city. According to reports from WalletHub, Pittsburgh ranks as one of the top 50 cities around the country for renters. The city also received high ratings for many of the points rental property investors are looking for, including affordability, quality of life and activity in the rental market.

Recognized as a liveable and likeable city, Pittsburgh presents an attractive option for those seeking to leave larger, more expensive metropolitan areas across the country—a trend noted throughout the pandemic and beyond.


For those currently living in rental units along with newcomers to the city, is it better to rent or buy? “If you’re just arriving in Pittsburgh and not sure how long you’ll live here, renting might make sense,” said Julie Snider of Achieve Realty. “But if you plan to stay more than a year, buying is generally the best option.”


Having recently helped clients transition from being tenants to becoming homeowners, Snider noted some of the advantages. “Their monthly mortgage payment is less than the rent they were paying for an apartment, they’re getting a bigger living space and they have free parking,” she explained.


Despite the numbers that suggest buying may prove better than renting, there will always be residents who prefer or need to rent for various reasons. For those individuals, Pupich speaks to the challenges of the current competitive rental market.


“Expect to be screened,” he said. “You need a solid credit score—typically 700 or higher—and a clean background check to be considered for most rental properties.” And with today’s technology, screening is much easier than in the past.


Although most of the pandemic-induced programs developed to assist renters have ended, there are still programs available for those struggling to find adequate housing. The housing department at the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh accepts rental assistance referrals from Allegheny Link, which can be reached at 1-866-730-2368. Programs are offered for both families and individuals who are currently homeless, facing eviction or seeking assistance with moving to a new location.

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