Making the Decision to Buy a Home
Buying a home in order to build equity is one of the main financial reasons prospective home buyers jump into the market. At least that was a major factor prior to the financial crisis of 2008, when the U.S. housing market suffered widespread losses. Homeowners and prospective homeowners may now look more closely at the costs and benefits of such a large transaction.
Yet while the sobering effects of the housing crisis may have prompted a more cautious approach by buyers who are more realistic about the level of equity they can build in their homes, the drive to be a homeowner remains strong. It's mostly about freedom: The ability to paint the walls whatever color you want, or know that a landlord is not going to raise your rent or ask you to leave.
Here are a few points to consider when deciding whether homeownership or renting makes better sense for you.
Reasons to rent
- Flexibility. Renting allows you to explore an area before making the longer-term commitment to homeownership. Unless you are certain about a specific neighborhood, renting allows time for research and discovery.
- Career uncertainty. If you think you might need to move in the near future, or are mulling job changes that span several areas of town or are located elsewhere in the country, you might want to rent because buying can tie you down to a greater extent.
- Income uncertainty. If you expect a pay hike or cut in the near future, that can change your borrowing ability as well as impact your ability to pay a mortgage.
- Bad credit. Creating a history of on-time rental payments can help you build the sort of credit you'll need to qualify for a mortgage.
- No maintenance expenses. When a pipe leaks, you don't head to the store; you head for the telephone and call the landlord.
- Utilities (sometimes) included. In some instances, the landlord may pay for many utilities such as water, sewer, garbage, and, in some cases, even heat and hot water.
But there is a downside, too: You may have no control over the fluctuation of your rent, a big-budget item that can change often. Long-term budgeting becomes more difficult.
Reasons to buy
- Equity. When you pay rent, you are paying your landlord's mortgage or adding equity to his or her bank account. However, when you have a home mortgage, you increase your degree of ownership in your home with every payment. A general rule is that if you intend to stay in your property for at least five years, the costs of purchasing the home are more likely to be offset by accrued equity and increased housing value. In the event that equity in the home grows to more than a 30 percent loan-to-value ratio, you will be able to borrow against your equity in the home. This can be cautiously used should you need capital to pay for major purchases. If interest rates drop, you can refinance your mortgage at more favorable rates, or, once you've paid the entire mortgage off, borrow against the equity in your home to fund major purchases such as a second home or your child's education.
- Tax deductions. You can deduct mortgage interest as well as your property taxes. Uncle Sam doesn't give renters this bonus. Not only that, but if you meet certain requirements the IRS won't apply a "capital gains" tax on your profits from the sale of your home. (Generally if you live in the home for any 2 consecutive years out of the first five years of ownership) You can keep the first $250,000 in profit you make when selling the home if you're single, or the first $500,000 if married. In addition, those who work from home may be eligible to take deductions for their home office and portions of utilities.
- Creative control. You like dozens of pictures on the wall? Well, hammer away -- they are your walls now. Go ahead and paint them mango! Wish you had another room? Go ahead and add one.
- Maintenance choices. If you live in a house, you can decide how to approach maintenance, either doing it yourself or picking your own contractor. If you live in a condominium or homeowners' association, you may pay a monthly fee to have maintenance work covered by the association's contractors.
But isn't renting cheaper?
In 2007 and 2008, property values nationwide dropped dramatically in sympathy with the banking crisis, mortgage crisis and the stock market crash. Never before had values of residential real estate fallen so far, so fast and in so many places. It seemed that one of the staples of American wealth was a lousy place to invest money.
During those brutal times, many investment advisers started suggesting renting a home was the way to wealth. Their theory was that if you invest your down payment money in equities, you would have piles of money in 20 years. Rubbish! These recommendations always come from people who broker your money into equities and are backed up by dubious math.
Some Simple Arithmetic
Let's look at buying a $175,000 home -- and renting one of comparable value. In most areas of the country, due to the down market (although values have had a nice rebound over the last seven years) and very low interest rates, your payment to own will be less than the rent for a comparable home.
If you bought a $175,000 home and put $8,750 down and negotiated the seller to pay most of your closing costs, you could get into this home for around $10,000 total investment. Your 30-year mortgage for $166,250, at 5 percent, would produce an $892 monthly payment. Taxes of $200 and insurance for $70 gives you subtotal payment of $1,162. Because you put less than 20 percent down, you will also pay mortgage insurance until you hit that 20 percent equity. This will give you a total payment of about $1,232.
Rental markets vary (look at www.rentometer.com), but in most areas of the country a $175,000 home will rent for $1,300 to $1,600. Let's use $1,400 -- or annual payments of $16,800 -- with nothing to show for it but receipts. If you lease homes for 20 years and rents increase even a little, you will pay approximately $360,000 in rent and have nothing but rent receipts.
Consider These Variations
If you bought the home with the numbers described above, what might your situation look like? In 20 years you will have paid $295,680. You will owe $88,000 on your mortgage balance. But what if you had used the $1,400 that a home like that would rent for and paid down your mortgage balance by an extra $168 per month? In 20 years, your mortgage balance is only $18,500 -- so your payments have created equity and wealth.
What about the increase in value of the home? I never try to predict the ups and downs of any market, but even with a modest appreciation rate of 4 percent, your $175,000 home is valued 20 years later at $389,000. The house is almost paid off (if you used that $1,400 rental payment) and is worth $389,000.
But what if the value increases less, stays the same or falls? Who cares? You had to pay to live somewhere. Whatever the value is, you own it free and clear and have only the taxes and insurance in your later years. Almost all successful retirees own their properties free and clear. If you are always renting, you create wealth for the landlord.
But Wait, There's More
I didn't forget the theory about putting your down payment money into equities. If that $10,000 grows at a strong 8 percent, it would grow to just under $50,000 in those same 20 years. This is a far cry from financial stability -- or the equity in your home that you can access in several ways.
Even if you factor in the additional expenses of owning a home -- say $50,000 for repairs and updates -- most of that will be offset by your tax write-offs of your interest and property taxes.
According to the Federal Reserve, the average net worth of a homeowner is over $174,000 and average net worth of a tenant is $5,100. This is where financial theory collides with the realities of human nature. Home ownership is a natural forced savings and possible investment account that requires nothing but you to make your payment and enjoy your home. You also have the ability to alter the home as you see fit and are in charge of how long you stay. A home is where you will create memories for you and your family. The investment part is a bonus.
Go to Mortgage Calculator to see how the amortization of your loan works.