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Blessed by the Potato » Updated Rent-vs-Buy Calculator

Updated Rent-vs-Buy Calculator

March 8th, 2014 by Potato

Thanks to some discussions with people (and Redditors) I have updated the rent-vs-buy investment method calculator (aka the ultimate rent-vs-buy comparison tool for Canadians). You can see the spreadsheet in Google Drive here (and save a copy to your own Google Drive or download in various spreadsheet formats) or click here to download it in Excel format.

Please see the original page for instructions, and the follow-up discussions: part 1 on things to consider and discussion questions, and part 2 on the sensitivity to various inputs changing.

If you haven’t seen this before, it’s a very detailed and customizable rent-vs-buy calculator. It assumes that all else being equal, you can compare apples-to-apples options for your shelter. If buying costs more, the renter will save the difference in monthly cash flow and invest it. It allows you to model a change in interest rates over time (specifying a rate for years 1-5, 5-10, and 10+), includes the effect of transaction fees, house price appreciation, taxes on the renter’s investments, and most importantly: investment returns that compound over time.

What’s new:

  • The default mortgage rate is now 3.49%, the lowest big-bank 5-year fixed rate my rate-comparing friends at ratesupermarket.ca were able to find. With the move to a 5-year fixed (the most common option chosen) I’ve updated the back-end mortgage calculations to account for the bizarre 6-month compounding of fixed mortgages in Canada.
  • The CMHC charges have been updated for the recently announced changes (though those won’t take effect for another month).
  • The summary box (scroll over to the right) now also says how much the buying case wins by (in the event that it does) so you don’t have to look down at the full results table.
  • The default comparison has been updated. I’ve just spent a quick half hour searching for comparable listings and found many exact — same unit — apples-to-apples comparisons, and Toronto’s price-to-rent is easily over 240X right now1.




I have been asked about creating a space for fudge factors (in particular, to model the case where the owner gets a roommate or rents out a basement/secondary suite2) and I have not included that and do not feel persuaded to. Having such a field would just invite non-comparable comparisons (like comparing renting a full house to owning half of one with a call option on the rest). It’s a spreadsheet, so it’s not hard to account for such cash flows (for instance, just over-write the maintenance fee column with a combination of increased maintenance fees from being a landlord and a negative cash cost item for the rent income), and I would much prefer you think deeply about it by doing it manually than just jumping ahead to the fudge cell to justify buying.

1. I was overly fair to the buying case before and renting was still better — a point that was lost on many. The comparison now starts with one such matched pair (in North York). Renting now totally blows buying out of the water. I don’t want to belabour the Toronto housing bubble issue too much (I’d rather people focus on the usefulness of the tool and try it out for their own purposes without getting distracted by my situation), but it’s not even close guys. And I’m still being too fair by being at the bottom of the range — many of the condos that were “only” 240X had maintenance fees of ~1.4-1.5%, vs the sheet’s default of 1.1%, and those condo fees don’t even cover all maintenance/upkeep needs.
2. I already had a short post on this topic, but in brief: if it doesn’t make sense to rent out a whole house, how does renting out half of one suddenly become financial genius?

Update: Etienne (who was featured by Garth Turner recently) emailed me with the fix for a minor bug: the CMHC premium was being applied to the whole house value rather than just the loan value. Fixed as of March 15, 2014. The magnitude of the error depends on the downpayment; for example with 5% down it made the mortgage 0.15% too large, for 10% down it was 0.24% too large.

2 Responses to “Updated Rent-vs-Buy Calculator”

  1. Michael James Says:

    I like it. I’m going to use it to help show a friend that his daughter isn’t making the mistake of her life by renting instead of buying.

    I noticed that the results are quite sensitive to the assumed investment return. So, in some housing markets it may be better to buy a house for forced savings if you would otherwise pay 3% MERs on your savings (or just spend more). In hotter real estate markets (like Toronto), it’s hard to tinker with the numbers to make owning make sense financially.

  2. Potato Says:

    Thanks Michael. I believe the results are even more sensitive to the assumed forward house price appreciation — if you plug in 15.7% from the latest TREB report then there’s almost no scenario to make renting equal that… but then that rate just can’t continue for very long into the future.

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