(Townhouses in Hyattsville, Md., are shown. Hyattsville made RealtyTrac's list of top 20 hipster places. Photo by Benjamin C. Tankersley/For The Washington Post)

Look no farther than rent prices for a reminder that the housing market is still on the mend.

Several reports suggest that rents have soared so high, that buying a house can be cheaper than renting one in some parts of the country.

Take a look at the chart below from Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies. Here, the median existing home price assumes a 20 percent down payment and a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage at the prevailing average rate for the quarter.

Monthly mortgage payments dipped below rent payments in mid-2008 after the housing meltdown, when high foreclosure rates pushed people into rentals in some areas. They continued to fall through 2011. They’ve since picked up in many markets as home prices rose and interest rates climbed.

But in several regions, monthly mortgage payments remain below where they should be in relation to rents, said Eric Belsky, managing director of JCHS.

“It means the for-sale market has not rebounded to the levels you would expect it to rebound on price,” Belsky said. “Typically what you should see is that renting and owning should be pretty close substitutes for each other, with mortgage payments a somewhat higher than rent because people are betting on price appreciation.”

The Washington area has one of the most expensive rental housing markets in the nation’s 50 most populous metro areas, secondly only to California’s San Jose market. according to a 2013 Census Bureau report that analyzed rents from 2009 through 2011.

The Census Bureau said that when it adjusted for inflation, rents decreased in half of the metro areas, except two: Washington and New York.

RealtyTrac, a housing data firm, offered some insight into how the high rents compare to area mortgage payments. In an analysis last month, it singled out markets with a large population of young adults ages 25 to 34, a sought-after demographic for real estate investors looking to flip a home.

It isolated 20 Zip codes based on various factors. In all of them, the average rent for a three-bedroom home is higher than the estimated mortgage payment for a median-priced home based on a 20 percent down payment and 30-year fixed rate mortgage with an interest rate of 4.5 percent, RealtyTrac said. The Washington area dominated the list.