To rent or to buy? That is the question

A major index of home prices in 20 major U.S. cities hit its lowest level since 2002, and 12 of those cities hit a new recession low in March.

Since this time last year, home values in the index -- the Standard & Poor's Case-Shiller index -- have plunged 5.1 percent.

"What's happening," real estate attorney Shari Olefson told CBSA News, "is there's more supply than what can be absorbed. The prices are going down and that's causing adverse feedback because it's causing people to be more fearful of buying."

Plummeting home prices are causing many pondering taking the plunge into the home-buyers' market to ask which makes more sense: buying or renting.

"In 80 percent of the major cities in the country right now," CBS News Business and Economics correspondent Rebecca Jarvis pointed out, citing new numbers from real estate research firm Trulia, "it's actually a better deal to buy a home than it is to rent that very home, in a lot of the places where we've seen foreclosures hit them the hardest, from Detroit to Las Vegas, Phoenix, Miami -- these are places where it makes more sense to own on a month-to-month basis, because you're going to pay less monthly than you would in rent in those cities."

Another reason to buy under current conditions, as opposed to renting, says Jarvis, is that, "Obviously, you see a big discount on (home) prices right now -- 31 percent off since 2006.

" ... In addition to that, mortgage rates are near record lows, 4.6 percent for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage -- it's hard to find a point in time where you could do better than that. And that certainly cuts back on the overall cost of owning a home. At the same time, you just have to do it financially in a good way, in a solid way."

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