A Homeless Superhero: Could the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man Actually Afford to Live in New York City?

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Spider-Man is undoubtedly one of the world’s most popular superheroes and that may be because he’s relatable to the average person. Sure, Peter Parker (Spider-Man’s everyday alias) has spectacular spider powers, but like anyone else, he sometimes struggles to pay the bills, has difficulty maintaining personal relationships and doesn’t always love his job. 

Because he is so relatable, LendingTree, the nation’s largest online loan marketplace, decided to take a deeper look at our favorite webslinger’s economic situation. Specifically, we wanted to know whether or not Peter Parker could actually afford to rent or buy a home in New York City, where he famously resides. After all, New York is one of the most expensive cities in the world, and unlike Iron Man or Batman, Spider-Man doesn’t have billions of dollars to fall back on when he’s not busy fighting crime. 

To determine how affordable New York City would be to Peter Parker, we looked at three potential amounts of money that he might be earning as a photographer for the Daily Bugle. These earnings are based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and reflect different scenarios that Peter might face, depending on his work environment.

As for where Peter might want to live, the movies and comics aren’t usually very specific about where he resides as an adult, so we just assume that he will own a median-priced home (valued at $413,200) or rent a median-priced apartment (which would cost $1,341 a month) somewhere in the New York metropolitan area.

Key findings

  • Whether he’s looking to rent or buy, Spider-Man is going to have a tough time affording a place unless he’s making more than a median salary. Photographers who earn at the 50th percentile in the New York metro area only bring in $39,840 a year. Assuming he spends no more than 28% of his gross salary on housing costs, this will mean that Peter will end up $611 short if he buys a median-priced home and $411 short if he rents one. 
  • If Spider-Man manages to increase his earnings up to the 75th percentile, then his housing situation becomes a little easier to manage. New York area photographers earning in the 75th percentile make around $60,570 a year. While Peter would still be $127 short every month if he decided to buy a home, he would have an extra $72 left over every month if he decided to rent. 
  • Spider-Man wouldn’t have much trouble buying or renting a median-priced home if he managed to earn at the 90th percentile of photographers in his area. With yearly earnings of $86,590, Peter could afford to buy a median priced home with $480 a month left to spare. If he decided to rent, he would end up with $679 extra every month.

Home affordability for Spider-Man

Earnings in the 50th percentile

  • Earnings: $39,840
  • Affordably monthly payment: $930
  • Monthly rent payment surplus/deficit: -$411
  • Monthly mortgage payment surplus/deficit: -$611

Earnings in the 75th percentile

  • Earnings: $60,570
  • Affordably monthly payment: $1,413
  • Monthly rent payment surplus/deficit: $72
  • Monthly mortgage payment surplus/deficit: -$127

Earnings in the 90th percentile

  • Earnings: $86,590
  • Affordably monthly payment: $2,020
  • Monthly rent payment surplus/deficit: $679
  • Monthly mortgage payment surplus/deficit: $480

Is Spider-Man better off renting or buying?  

On the surface, it looks like Peter could save a little bit of money every month by renting a home instead of buying one. He also wouldn’t need to come up with a down payment of more than $80,000 if he rented. However, this does not necessarily mean that renting is the best option for Spider-Man. 

For example, while the monthly cost of owning a home may be slightly higher than renting one for the average buyer, this isn’t always the case. If Peter worked hard to bring his credit up from the “good” (700-739) range to the “excellent” (740-850) range and then bought his house while mortgage rates were low (as they are now), he could potentially get a low enough APR to bring his mortgage payments down as low as his rent payments would be. Even if he bought his house with average or good credit, or while rates were high, he could always refinance his loan to a lower rate in the future and bring his monthly payments down. 

Cost aside, there are other factors that Spider-Man should consider when deciding whether he wants to rent or buy. For example, from mixing chemicals to manufacture the webbing that he uses to swing around the city to leaping out of his window to fight crime, Peter Parker would doubtlessly violate some of the rules of any lease he signed. As a result, he would constantly need to worry about being evicted from any place that he rented. 

If he owned his own home, however, he would have much more leeway to do what he needed to do in order to be Spider-Man. For example, he could install a secret panel in his closet for his costume, or convert his extra bedroom into a science lab without needing to go through a landlord for permission. On top of that, if he ever found himself in a situation where he needed extra cash for a new costume or some other superhero-related expense, he could always take out a home equity loan to cover the costs.

All in all, even though renting may be slightly cheaper and easier for him in the short run, New York’s friendly neighborhood hero might ultimately benefit more from owning his own place. 

Methodology

While Peter Parker has worked numerous jobs over the years, from high school teacher to CEO of his own company, our study focuses on his potential salary as a photographer because his job at the Daily Bugle is probably his most known occupation (aside from being a superhero, of course). 

Though we could simply assume that Peter takes in the median earnings for a photographer in the New York metro area, the life of a superhero is never so simple. For example, Peter is one of the few people who can get a decent picture of Spider-Man, so it stands to reason that he would be taking in more than most people in his field, maybe even a lot more. But he is also notoriously busy being Spider-Man, which means that he might not always be doing his day job to the best of his abilities. That, coupled with his cheap and perpetually curmudgeonly boss, J. Jonah Jameson, means that Peter might not be making as much as he could be. Therefore, instead of deciding on a single amount of money that Peter earns, we looked at how earnings in the 50th, 75th and 90th percentiles of photographers in the New York area would change his economic outlook.  

To estimate what Spider-Man’s housing costs may be, we used data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 American Community Survey with five-year estimates (the latest survey with housing data available at the time of this piece’s writing). By assuming that Peter Parker will purchase a median priced home, put 20% down as a down payment, have good credit and receive a standard 30-year fixed mortgage loan at the average APR for people with good credit (3.8% at the time of this piece’s writing), we were able to calculate the likely amount that he would spend on his mortgage every month.

As for median rent costs, those numbers are supplied directly from the American Community Survey. 

We assumed that Peter Parker will try to limit his yearly spending on housing to no more than 28% of his yearly gross income. Using this conventional rule of thumb, we were able to determine the affordable amount that he could spend on housing and then subtract that from the monthly cost of a mortgage or rent. This yields the deficits and/or surpluses in mortgage/rent costs that are discussed throughout the piece. Of course, as with any convention, this does not necessarily apply to everyone and should be used at an individual’s discretion.