As the old ladies used to say, it's an ill wind that blows no one good, and the hurricane of falling home prices is no exception. Property prices have dropped so much in many areas that owing a home costs only a bit more, and sometimes even less, than the cost of renting.

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BusinessWeek.com recently ranked 20 metro areas where it's almost as cheap to buy a home as it is to rent. They discovered two metros, Detroit and Pittsburgh, where renters actually spend more renting than they would if they bought their homes. The rest of the list included metros where buying was only a little more expensive than renting, included Rochester, N.Y.; Memphis; Tampa; Cleveland; Columbia, S.C.; Dallas; Las Vegas; and Providence. And you KNOW that with home prices in the absolute toilet they should see a very nice recovery over the next decade.

Home ownership costs were calculated assuming a fixed 30-year loan for 100% of the purchase price with no down payment. Of course, FHA financing comes close, and USDA and VA loans do finance 100% of the purchase price. However, most financing available to people with really bad credit requires a substantial upfront investment. And if Businessweek.com had calculated ownership costs assuming a 20% down payment, owning would have been the cheaper choice for ten areas on the list.

New Buyers Have a Golden Opportunity

The housing slump has brought the own-vs.-rent equation back to normal. Sales prices are no longer hitting crazy heights compared to rental prices.

The foreclosure crisis exploded home prices from Reno to Miami. And low interest rates and government help like the $8,000 first-time home buyer federal tax credit are pulling in new buyers who had been priced out of the market. In Tampa, for example, owning a home costs 15% more than renting in the second quarter 2009. But it was 46% more expensive than renting the year before.

Stick Around

Prices may to continue to fall in some areas before appreciating, so buyers should plan to stay put for five to eight years or risk taking a loss.

With the first-time home buyer tax credit expiring and the possibility of interest rate increases, it might pay to act quickly. Get extra help by checking out Rent vs. Buy calculators like the one at www.hsh.com.