As 2011 winds down, there are only a few things we can know for sure. One of those things is that the real estate market will continue to be a major topic of concern and conversation in 2012. With a growth in consumer confidence in November, continued low interest rates, and a slight increase in activity in the market this December, there is more than a glimmer of hope that the new year will finally (finally!) bring some welcome relief to housing which will aid the economic recovery.
So, with that hope in mind, here are a series of questions you might ask yourself this New Year’s Eve to help you decide if 2012 is the year that you should buy a home.
How long do you anticipate being in Baltimore?
The average American homeowner stays in their home 5-7 years. If you think that because of your job, education, or family life that you will not be in the region for a minimum of 3 years, then perhaps renting makes more sense for you. If, however, you don’t foresee a relocation within that timeframe, then you should definitely consider buying over renting.
Where do you want to live?
If you love the popular neighborhoods within walking distance to the Inner Harbor, Fells Point, O’Donnell Square, the Can Company, or other regional attractions, then you will be paying top dollar to rent. Of the 41 rental apartments listed in those areas on October 31, the average rent was $2,000 per month. Most landlords will require that you provide a first and last month’s rent, pet deposit (if you own a small pet), fees for the Realtor® and for your credit report(s). You could easily be writing checks for more than $4,500 just to secure that prime rental you want. A $2,000 monthly rent means you will also be paying your landlord $24,000 without having any equity, and no housing-related tax deductions on your Federal income tax return.
What life changes may happen during that time: will you marry? Have children?
Nobody has a crystal ball, but most first-time buyers are considering the purchase for specific reasons. Perhaps they feel that they have reached a point in their lives where they want to start a family. Some may be far from settling down in the marital sense, but have had a landlord raise the rent every year and want some kind of security in their home. There are too many motivations to list, so what is the impulse in your life that is making you consider this move? Most likely you anticipate a change in lifestyle that will impact your daily routine for a few years. How much living space will that require? What other amenities would you want? Can you see that new life taking place in a home that someone else owns?
How long have you been in your job, and do you feel secure in it?
One of the most common reasons that first-time buyers have been hesitating to enter the housing market is uncertainty over the depth of the economic downturn, and whether their job is secure. Certainly if you work for a new start-up company, or if you have only been in your job a few months, this economy might not be too kind to your source of income. Buying a home might not make sense.
But in this region, there are a fair number of institutions and agencies of government — state, local and Federal — that provide stable, secure employment year after year. If you are in that situation, then you are in a prime position to capitalize on this most affordable housing market.
Do you believe that home prices in this region have stabilized?
Statistics for the Baltimore-Washington metro areas say “yes, they have.” It appears that we have hit a rough bottom that will bounce around a bit, but there isn’t any significant price depreciation at this time. Our inventory of homes for sale is decreasing, and the number of transactions are beginning to slowly increase. With supply falling and demand beginning to move up, basic economics would argue that we should start to see some modest price increases by this time next year. Mortgages are hovering at historic lows, in the 4% range. Add that to the mix, and it would seem that the most affordable time to jump into the housing market is now.
If home prices stabilized but did not increase over the next three years, would you be comfortable with the investment?
Whether you invest in stocks, pork bellies, or real estate, most professionals encourage the individual investor to take a long term view and not be too concerned about daily results. In real estate, while there is no market indicator to follow, there can be press releases every few days with contradictory results based on different locations. The importance of each bit of data can be confusing. Past long term performance of real estate as an investment indicates you should see a small rise in your home’s value over that period. But even if prices stay level, by making your monthly mortgage payments you will have been building equity in the property and you will have been reaping tax benefits from being a homeowner. You will not have been stuffing your money into someone else’s bank account! There are several online calculators to help you compare the economic advantage of buying over renting. I link to a particularly good one at www.rentorbuybaltimore.com.
Did you know that home ownership has been the largest source of individual wealth in American history?
Its true, and there have been many studies that quantified it over time. Buying a home is the largest monetary transaction that most people ever experience, and its the growth in equity in their home that provides the average American’s greatest source of personal net worth. As we move through the 21st Century, with retirement programs in jeopardy, home ownership and that source of wealth will become even more important in determining a retiree’s quality of life after leaving their jobs.
Would having professional assistance make you feel more comfortable in going through this evaluation process?
While most people buy and sell homes only a few times in their lives, professional Realtors® guide their clients through many such transactions every year. We can help you avoid some of the most common pitfalls, and represent your interests through the intense negotiations that can sometimes take place to deal with important issues. We can also recommend ethical, competent professionals to build a team — mortgage officers, title officers, home inspectors, and more — to make sure you have the best people working on your behalf.
However you decide to proceed in 2012, I hope you have a wonderful year and that its the first of many.