The 98 Best Markets for House Hacking in 2022

As home prices and the cost of rent hit all-time highs, many Americans are wondering what living arrangement is best for their financial future—to rent or buy? For many, neither looks particularly appealing. 

As of May 2022, housing prices are up about 14% year-over-year and up 45% from May 2019. Combined with rising interest rates, the average mortgage payment for a homebuyer purchasing a median-priced home in June 2022 has increased a staggering 48% over last year.

Normally, in a climate like this, people priced out of the housing market would turn to the rental market as their best option, but that offers little relief. According to Redfin, rents are up about 15% year-over-year, and bidding wars for rentals are becoming increasingly common. 

So which is better, renting or buying? The answer largely depends on your personal situation, and plenty of calculators on the internet offer to help you assess the question for yourself. 

However, I find the traditional rent vs. buy analysis discussion and tools lacking, as they present a false dichotomy. Buying and renting aren’t your only options. “House hacking” is a third living arrangement and is a viable and attractive alternative for millions of Americans looking to save on their housing expenses. 

To help demonstrate this point, I have made a free excel calculator that you can download here to run a personalized analysis. I’ve also conducted a thorough analysis of the largest 98 markets in the U.S. to measure the actual dollar impact of house hacking versus alternative living arrangements (traditional renting or buying).

Below I will provide substantial data to showcase the benefits of house hacking. I’ll start with a brief overview of house hacking, walk through how my analysis works, and provide data on some of the best markets in the country. 

Intro to House Hacking 

House hacking is another term for an “owner-occupied real estate investment.” Basically, the investor buys a rental property, lives in one part of the property, and rents out the remaining parts. 

This can take two forms: 

  1. Small multifamily properties. The investor purchases a two, three, or four-unit property, lives in one unit, and rents out the remaining units. 
  2. Single-family properties. The investor purchases a single-family home, lives in one bedroom, and rents out the remaining bedrooms. 

House hacking is a unique living arrangement because it combines many of the benefits of homeownership with the benefits of rental property investing. Some of the primary benefits are: 

  1. Taking advantage of owner-occupied financing. In the world of mortgages, properties with four units or fewer are considered residential properties. As long as the investor lives in the property, they are eligible for owner-occupied financing—which comes with one of the lowest interest rates of any loan. Furthermore, these types of properties can qualify for an FHA loan, which means the investor can put as little as 3.5% down and buy up to four units. 
  2. House hacking deals can make money in a variety of ways. Some house hacks will cashflow, which is excellent. But, even if they don’t, the tax savings, loan pay-down, and potential for appreciation typically help boost the investor’s net worth more than renting or traditional homeownership. 
  3. House hacking is an excellent way to learn the real estate business. Having house hacked for many years myself, I can confidently say there is no better way to learn the property management side of the real estate investing industry than by living in your own investment. You’ll become a master at working with your tenants, managing maintenance and repair, and spotting value-add opportunities.

These are just a few of the benefits. To learn more about house hacking, check out this article

Of course, this living arrangement isn’t for everyone. You need money to put down and save maintenance reserves, and not everyone wants to share walls. Again, having done this myself, sharing walls is not a big deal, especially if you consider the significant benefits house hacking can have on your long-term finances. 

House Hacking Analysis 

To quantify and demonstrate the impact of house hacking, I built a free calculator you can download here. I then took the median home prices and the median rent for 98 of the biggest U.S. cities to measure how beneficial house hacking is and in what markets it makes the most sense. 

As I mentioned above, this analysis depends heavily on your own personal situation, so to compare the 98 markets, I had to make some assumptions, which are summarized as follows: 

  • The investor has the cash needed for the down payment and any required reserves
  • 30-year fixed rate mortgage at a 6% interest rate 
  • The rent paid as a renter and the rent generated as a house-hacker equals the median rent in a given city (this best simulates buying a duplex and renting out one unit).  
  • A median-priced home is purchased in the given city
  • In the rental scenario, the would-be down payment (the money retained by not making a down payment) is invested into the stock market or other return-generating investment. In reality, not all people would do this. 
  • I made some general expense assumptions which you can see in the images in the next section

I also make one last big assumption: the investor stays in the chosen living arrangement for the next 30 years. I know this is unlikely, but it’s the best way to run the analysis. Many house hackers ultimately refinance their house-hack, turn it into a traditional investment property, and then purchase another property. For those who intend to pursue that strategy, you can safely assume that it will make house hacking even more beneficial than my calculations show. 

With those assumptions, I ran two scenarios: 20% down and 10% down (with a 1% private mortgage insurance (PMI) payment). 

20% Down Analysis: 

Even with interest rates rising to 6%, the average house hacker will see a positive boost to their net worth in just 5.8 years, and that’s with relatively conservative assumptions, which you can see below. Keep in mind that this and all of the data in this section are the averages for the country. As you’ll see later, the benefits vary significantly from city to city. 

house hacking analysis with 20% downpayment
Housing hacking analysis with a 20% downpayment

House Hacking vs. Renting 

Over 10 years, the average house hacker will have a net worth $104k greater than the average renter and a 30-year hold period that grows to more than $1.1M. As I said above, it’s unlikely anyone actually house hacks the same property for 30 years, but this exercise shows the power of house hacking as opposed to renting when it comes to increasing your net worth. 

  • Net Worth Breakeven H.H. Benefit: 5.8 years 
  • Net Worth 5-year H.H. Benefit: -$7,400
  • Net Worth 10-year H.H. Benefit: $104,000
  • Net Worth 30-year HH Benefit: $1,104,900

In addition to measuring the impact of house hacking on net worth, I also examined how the investor’s “cash outlay” is impacted. This is a measure of how much cash you’ll have in your bank account, factoring in the down payment. 

Because of the large 20% down payment in this scenario, the breakeven point for cash outlay is more than twice as long as the net worth breakeven point, at 12.2 years. Keep in mind this doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be spending more on housing each year. In fact, it means the opposite. In many of the years, you’ll generate positive cash flow. If you house hack, it will take 12.2 years on average for you to recoup the cash you spent on your down payment and closing costs through your increased cash flow. But as we’ve covered, the investor is earning returns on appreciation and loan paydown during that period, in addition to cash flow. 

  • Cash Outlay Breakeven HH Benefit: 12.2 years 
  • Cash Outlay 5-year HH Benefit: -$4,200
  • Cash Outlay 10-year HH Benefit: -$1,100
  • Cash Outlay 30-year HH Benefit: $16,400

All told, after 10 years in this scenario, the house-hacker would be more than $100,000 wealthier than the average renter and, after 30 years, would have approximately $1.1M more than the renter. 

House Hacking vs. Buying

When comparing house hacking to traditional homeownership, the impacts are immediate but less pronounced. 

The breakeven point for both cash outlay and net worth is just two years, but the 30-year benefit caps out at $569,000 for net worth and $29,200 for cash outlay. Not as dramatic as the rental comparison, but still an incredible difference in outcomes. 

Here’s a summary of the findings: 

  • Net Worth Breakeven H.H. Benefit: 2 years 
  • Net Worth 5-year H.H. Benefit: $42,000
  • Net Worth 10-year H.H. Benefit: $119,200
  • Net Worth 30-year H.H. Benefit: $568,800
  • Cash Outlay Breakeven HH Benefit: 2 years 
  • Cash Outlay 5-year HH Benefit: $14,200
  • Cash Outlay 10-year HH Benefit: $16,400
  • Cash Outlay 30-year HH Benefit: $29,200

When house hacking instead of traditional homeownership, the positive benefits to both cash outlays and net worth are immediate and translate into about $570,000 in wealth creation over 30 years. 

10% Down Analysis: 

Because many house hackers put less than 20% down on their property, I thought it would be helpful to re-run this scenario by putting 10% down. All other assumptions are the same here, except that a 1% PMI expense is added to the calculation (which happens when you put less than 20% down on a property). 

house hacking analysis with 10% downpayment
Housing hacking analysis with a 10% downpayment

The results from this scenario are still compelling but slightly less so than the 20% down scenario. This is because the investor pays more interest over time and 1% in PMI, which doesn’t go towards the principal or have any positive benefit.

Here are the results for comparing renting against house hacking: 

  • Net Worth Breakeven Average: 8.2 years 
  • Net Worth 5-year H.H. Benefit: -$40,410
  • Net Worth 10-year H.H. Benefit: $38,800
  • Net Worth 30-year H.H. Benefit: $930,000
  • Cash Outlay Breakeven H.H. Benefit:: 15 years 
  • Cash Outlay 5-year HH Benefit: -$11,400
  • Cash Outlay 10-year H.H. Benefit: -$8,300
  • Cash Outlay 30-year H.H. Benefit: $9,200

It takes longer for the breakeven point, but the upside is still huge at about $930k over 30 years. That’s an enormous boost to the investor’s retirement. 

When looking at house hacking against traditional home ownership, the impact is the same as the results above due to the way I created my assumptions.

  • Net Worth Breakeven H.H. Benefit: 2 years 
  • Net Worth 5-year H.H. Benefit: $42,000
  • Net Worth 10-year H.H. Benefit: $119,200
  • Net Worth 30-year H.H. Benefit: $568,800
  • Cash Outlay Breakeven HH Benefit: 2 years 
  • Cash Outlay 5-year HH Benefit: $14,200
  • Cash Outlay 10-year HH Benefit: $16,400
  • Cash Outlay 30-year HH Benefit: $29,200

But the conclusion is the same: house hacking is usually always better than traditional homeownership, at least with the assumptions I am using here. 

Metro Analysis

The above analysis shows the projected outcomes nationally, but the range of outcomes varies based on city. In my analysis using the 20% down scenario, one city (Detroit) had a net worth breakeven in the first year, and two cities tied for last place. Spokane, WA, and Boise, ID, took 11 years to break even. 

So, it’s important to see where your market falls. To help with that, I put this quick chart together that shows the net worth breakeven point for the top 98 markets in the U.S. with the 20% down scenario.  

Of course, if you want to customize this analysis, you can download my calculator for free here

Conclusions

House hacking is an incredible wealth-building tool for those with the ability and desire to do it. 

While it seems like it takes a while for the benefits to pay off, take a look at this graph that shows the net worth benefit of house hacking over time for the median-priced homes and median rent in the U.S. 

net worth impact house hacking
House hacking impact on net worth over 30 years

Notice that while the first few years are closely clustered, the positive benefits of house hacking compound over time and begin to show exponential growth. 

As I said above, it’s unlikely anyone house hacks for 30 years, but I hope this article has conveyed how important your choice of living arrangement is. If you house hack now, you’re almost sure to see a positive benefit to your net worth whether you live in that property long-term or eventually turn it into a traditional rental and move on to another house hack or investment. 

If you’re interested in house hacking, a great first step is connecting to an investor-friendly agent, which you can do for free on BiggerPockets here. 

Have you ever house hacked, or are you considering it now? Let me know in the comments below.

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2022-07-05 16:00:00

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