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To buy or to rent? Here's an excerpt from the assignment that McMaster University geography professor Richard Harris gave his fourth year urban housing class on buying a home versus renting.

(Read Rob Carrick's take: Why Canada's cult of home ownership is in trouble)

Recognizing that you are soon to receive a prestigious BA in Geography from McMaster, you have just been offered an attractive job in another Canadian city. The company will be offering substantial on-the-job training and requires you to agree to work for them for at least five years. Suitably impressed, a rich aunt has offered to give you a sum of money equivalent to the 20 per cent down-payment on the average-priced house in that city.

You will be taking up your new job next September. But there are two conditions. Your aunt wants to know that you are sensible person who will make good use of her generous gift. She wants you to prepare a written answer to the following question. When you move, will you purchase a home or will you rent, in the latter case investing the gift in a secure guaranteed investment certificate that earns 2 per cent interest? She wants you to justify your choice.

When Prof. Harris gave this assignment last year, a majority of students said they would buy. This year, renting was the most popular choice. Here are edited excerpts from some of the completed assignments:

David Stobbe for The Globe and Mail

Natalie Sagar: Buy in Saskatoon

“I have decided that given a 20 per cent down payment, I would like to purchase a house in Saskatoon, rather than rent. Saskatoon is one of Canada’s most affordable cities with homeowner costs one of the fourth lowest among Canadian cities. Saskatoon homeowners only pay an average of 20 per cent of pre-tax household income on housing, while the national average is almost 32 per cent.”

Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail

Wajiha Saeed: Rent in Vancouver

“Why would I pick renting instead of buying? Renting a home can be cheaper because I don’t have to worry about property tax, managing my home and many other hidden and unexpected problems. Renting is more accessible than owning a home. As a homeowner, I am taking the risk of the economy crashing, but as a renter I don’t have to worry about the market crashing or paying mortgages.”

Gloria Nieto for The Globe and Mail

Eliza Jackson: Rent in Toronto

“There are many personal considerations that are reflected in my desire to rent and not own. The first is the contractual nature of my employment. With guaranteed employment for only five years, I may not have the resources at the end of that term to afford my home or I may relocate, either by choice or by constraint. While I could always sell my home at this point, it would cost me money and time to do so, whereas a rental is much easier to leave.”

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Nicole Harding: Buy an income property in St. Catharines, Ont.

“Although renting in St. Catharines appears to be more economical then buying, there are other options available. An income property, for instance, has the potential to supplement the costs of owning a home, while allowing me to invest in an important source of asset accumulation. Therefore, this could allow me to afford a home, gaining a higher return on investment than renting could in the long-run.”

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Maggie Gee: Rent in Ottawa

“Buying a house would be a good investment, especially when I know I can afford a substantial down payment and my guaranteed income for at least five years could cover my mortgage payments. Mortgage interest rates are also at an all-time low right now, making it a good time to buy. However, now is not the right time for me to be making such a huge financial commitment. First of all, I do not know exactly where I will be when the five years I have committed to this company is up. Once I have figured out exactly where I want to be career-wise, and maybe once I am married and the idea of starting a family seems realistic, both of which will somewhat anchor me to a location, I may become more interested in purchasing a home.”
Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail

Kirsten Eaton: Rent in Ottawa

“Since interest rates and home prices are rising quickly, but my income is not, I don’t see buying a house to be a feasible or sustainable investment at this point in my life.”
Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail

Michael Ayalew: Rent in Ottawa

“While there are numerous costs and variables in the rent versus buy debate…it makes more sense for an employed male in his early twenties to rent a residence rather than purchase over a five-year time period.”
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