Saturday, October 8, 2011

When Is the Right Time To Buy A Home?

Someday, my 27-year-old daughter would like to own her own home. But right now, she’s happy sharing a rented townhouse with a friend. She says, “I am trying to make sure I can afford it before making that leap”. “I don’t want to be house poor.” 

There’s no question that owning a home is a desirable goal, and low interest rates in recent years have made it possible for millions of Americans to buy their first houses, invest in income property or trade up to a larger home. For many others, though, there are good reasons to continue to rent. You really need to assess your overall expenditures, not just your housing expenditures, and ask yourself if you really can afford to buy.

Home buying is not for everyone and certainly not for everyone at every point in their lives. For young people like my daughter, it’s not a bad strategy to get one’s financial life in order before taking on the kind of debt required to buy even a modest condominium or starter house. My daughter, who works at a local hospital, said she is focusing on paying off her college debt, then will turn her attention to accumulating money for a down payment on a house. She said that she’s wary of moving too fast because she’s seen friends struggle when they were financially unprepared to buy.

“Some have had trouble keeping up with their mortgage payments,” she said. “Or a condo association will raise fees and they can’t afford their place anymore. Home prices are still so high and rents are so low that many find it advantageous to rent. “But, of course, renters are missing out on the appreciation of a home,” she said. “There are renters who say they could put money aside, invest it smart and get that kind of appreciation — but most people don’t do that.”

There are also times when it doesn’t make sense to own. We see older people who have large houses that they’re selling. In some cases, given their age and lifestyle, it doesn’t pay to for them to buy a smaller house. But buying can also be a problem for young people who think they’ll have to move frequently for their jobs.

Residential real estate has relatively huge transaction costs like brokers’ fees, closing costs, registration fees and other expenses associated with the purchase of a home. To buy and later resell, figure it at about 15 percent of the home’s value. That’s huge, and it means you have to stay put, ideally for at least five years, to recoup that 15 percent.”

The key to making the move from renting to buying is cash flow. People need to make sure they have the money not only for the mortgage but for other expenses that come with ownership including real estate taxes, insurance, and repair and maintenance costs.

Most people need to buy property at some point in their lives. It gives you your own little piece of the American dream,it’s something that’s all yours. And, from a financial point of view, it’s also a good long-term investment. It’s an appreciating asset that will behave very differently from stocks and bonds, especially over a 30-year window.

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