Studies show that if you plan on staying in your home for more than 3 years, then its worth buying a home (due to closing costs, etc). While many people experience "sticker-shock" in the California Real Estate market, you will also be surprised at the price of rentals in this area. Usually, a rental will run you pretty close to the same price as a mortgage, without the tax benefits.
That being said, you have to invest your money as you see fit, and it might be best speak with a financial advisor for specific information about your situation.
Whether you are buying or renting, I would be glad to assist you!
Nicole Fedorchek, Realtor University of Washington, class of 1993
It sounds like you have received some good information so far, so I will not repeat any of the great info you have received. I did want to add that another great benefit of buying is that you could potentially even keep your unit and rent it out to someone after you retire. This could be beneficial in that the renters could be paying your mortgage for you, and you could possibly even make extra income. I would be happy to send over some current listings specific to your requirements. I know you are not planning to move for a while, but it might help you make a decision. Feel free to call or email me and I can also help answer any other questions for you.
CA DRE License #: 01904666
The rent v buy question is a great one. The home prices as a general rule are higher than in Seattle, but so is rent. As the lender below me mapped out many of the prices, I won't repeat what she's already written as she did a great job outlining that for you. What I will say is that as a general rule, we've seen a consistent increase in both home prices, and employment in orange county which leads to believe that home prices will continue to rise, and that purchasing a home could potentially benefit you. I would suggest checking out a few condos as well as apartments to see what your preference is. As I'm sure you're aware, one of the perks is you will continue to be paying into your mortgage which will give you some freedom once you're ready to sell.
As far as the commute is concerned at 6 AM it's about 30-40 minutes from Irvine/Tustin area to Seal Beach. Luckily he's fairly early so that helps as well.