Monthly house payment on a median-priced home is more affordable than the monthly fair market rent on a three-bedroom property in 76% of the U.S. counties included in the analysis, according to the latest report from RealtyTrac.

The report also ranked the markets with the best — and worst — potential returns on residential rental properties from a real estate investor perspective along with the most affordable — and least affordable — markets for renting from a renter perspective.

“From a purely affordability standpoint, renters who have saved enough to make a 10% down payment are better off buying in the majority of markets across the country,” said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac. “But factors other than affordability are keeping many renters from becoming buyers, a reality that means real estate investors buying residential properties as rentals still have the opportunity to make strong returns in many markets across the country. 

The analysis included 461 counties nationwide with a population of at least 100,000 and sufficient home price, income and rental data. The combined population in the 461 counties analyzed was 217 million. On average across all 461 counties, fair market rents as set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development represented 28% of the estimated median household income, while monthly house payments on a median-priced home — with a 10% down payment and including property taxes, home insurance and mortgage insurance — represented 24% of the estimated median income. 

“Also keep in mind that in some markets buying may be more affordable than renting, but that doesn’t mean buying is truly affordable by traditional standards,” Blomquist added. “In those markets renters are stuck behind a rock and hard place when it comes to deciding whether to try to buy or continue renting.”

There were 351 counties out of the 461 analyzed (76%) where house payments on a median-priced home in the first quarter of 2015 were lower than fair market rents on three-bedroom homes.

Among these 351 counties, there were 56 counties where home prices rose at least 7% compared to a year ago and wages rose at least 3% annually — additional factors that could make owning a home more attractive than renting. Wages were from the most recent weekly wage data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the third quarter of 2014.

Among the 56 counties with most favorable conditions for buying, the most affordable for buying were Bay County, Michigan in the Bay City metro area (11% of median income to make house payments on a median priced-home), Fayette County, Pennsylvania (11%) and Beaver County, Pennsylvania (14%), both in the Pittsburgh metro area, Tazewell County, Illinois in the Peoria metro area (14%), and Butler County, Ohio in the Cincinnati metro area (14%). 

“When considering the financial aspects of renting verses owning within the majority of the Ohio markets, the better financial opportunity is in ownership,” said Michael Mahon, executive vice president at HER Realtors, covering the Ohio housing markets of Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus. “With many markets in Ohio seeing double-digit appreciation year over year, the cost of homeownership and renting will only go up in future years, while purchasing options offer attractive low interest rates for homeowners to stabilize monthly household expenses, while equally building equity within their household investments.

“As wage growth continues to stagnate, those consumers choosing to rent will see more and more of their net wages being devoted to increased housing costs in the future,” Mahon added.

The full report can be read here.