Many potential homebuyers sitting on the fence

How do you know what's best for you - to buy or rent - as the 2009 real estate season opens?

Software worker Adam Bradley, 38, is taking the plunge. He's opened escrow on a 4-year-old Elk Grove home that the bank had repossessed from the previous owner.

"The net cost is probably no more than I'm currently paying for rent, and it's a huge yard and closer to a park," he said.

Bradley decided to buy when his landlord raised the rent.

Other would-be buyers are holding back. With uncertainty in the larger economy widespread and statewide unemployment well above 10 percent, Rahul Ranade and Meeta Lele are sitting out the market for now – even though all signs point to a buyer's market.

"It's quite tempting but I think it will be at least two or three years more," said Ranade, a civil engineer in his 30s who rents with his architect wife in Land Park.

Eyeing a real estate landscape still recovering from the excesses of the recent housing boom, the two believe time is on their side.

Buying vs. renting: It's a huge issue this year for young singles and couples, for new arrivals to Sacramento from Florida and Chicago, for the divorced and for renters of all stripes wondering if it's finally time - and if it's finally safe - to commit to a mortgage.

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