For several years, the answer for many first time buyers was “rent.” That may be changing.
For the last few years, there’s been a real decision for consumers, especially younger consumers who might never have owned a home before, as to whether it made economic sense to buy a home. Home prices have generally fallen all over the country since 2006 or 2007, depending on your region, and many buyers decided that the possibility of buying a house as it was losing value was too scary from their perspective. Some consumers who were homeowners and had to move for their job sold their home and rented in their new city.
The Rent vs. Buy contest is now beginning to tilt back toward the Buy side in many areas. Trulia, the well-known real estate website, publishes a Rent vs. Buy Index every three months. On that list, they rank the fifty largest metro areas in the country, based on a ratio comparing the costs of home ownership with the average cost to rent. In their First Quarter 2011 Index, thirty-six of the fifty regions qualified for the “Much Less Expensive to Buy than to Rent” classification, including Baltimore (#11) and Washington (#13).
Renting a home in this region has gotten comparatively more expensive in the last few years as vacancy rates have declined and landlords have enjoyed stiff competition for their properties. But there are also several reasons why now may be the best time in many years to consider purchasing a home.
1. Prices in the greater Baltimore-Washington region have begun to stabilize. Especially on the Washington DC end of the region, as prices in the District have actually increased 8% in the last two years. One of the biggest advantages Baltimore had in the last decade was its affordability when compared to Washington. If prices have begun to rise in DC, Baltimore will once again start to look like the bargain it still is (even with much publicized commuter rail problems between the two cities).
2. Interest rates have started to rise, and are about .5% higher than at their low point last fall. We’ve been hearing about how interest rates have tumbled to low points not seen in fifty years, and while they continued to fall or held steady, there was no motivation to buy. In fact, many buyers watched falling home prices and decided to wait, no matter what the interest rates were doing. But now, with prices starting to stabilize and interest rates actually rising again, we may be at the most affordable point in the cycle.
3. Interest rates are predicted to be yet another 1% higher by the end of 2011. For an idea of what that might mean to a potential buyer, I used one of my own current listings and calculated the principal and interest payment that would be available today to a qualified buyer, and then did the same calculation adding 1% to the interest rate. With everything else staying the same, the mortgage payment went up by about 5%. On a $1,500 a month payment at today’s rate, that means the buyer will pay another $900 every year just on principal and interest on their loan.
To me, that says it may be time to get off the rent bandwagon and start looking to cash in on the bargains that the housing crisis has created.