"Be greedy when people are fearful and fearful when people are greedy," says Warren Buffet, one of the richest men on the planet. And with so much fear in the real estate market right now, you may be wondering now that spring is officially here, "Is now the right time to buy a home?"
Let us turn to Barry Habib for an answer to this important question. An expert in the mortgage-backed securities market, Barry Habib is Chairman of Mortgage Success Source and founder of Mortgage Market Guide. Mr. Habib has managed a hedge fund, authored a stock advisory newsletter, owned an insurance agency, and has been an avid real estate investor for many years.
Habib says that one way to determine whether the time may be right for you to consider buying a home is to start looking at the rents in your community. When a full mortgage payment, including principal, interest, taxes and insurance begins to equal or fall lower than rental rates, the market is typically near the bottom, and you should see housing begin to stabilize. In many parts of the country, we have already seen this occur.
According to the National Association of Realtors, median home prices nationally fell 15.5% in February from the previous year. The median price, not the average price, represents the market price for a given period of time where half the homes sold for higher and half sold for less.
First American CoreLogic breaks down the numbers on a state-by-state basis. Looking at some of the worst-hit individual states, January brought the following information from its LoanPerformance HPI numbers:
The LoanPerfomance HPI is based on extensive data of more than 30 years of information on repeat sales transactions of specific homes and time between sales which CoreLogic states offers a more accurate "constant quality" view of pricing trends.
What's interesting about the numbers is that depending on who you are speaking with, the numbers can be dramatically different. For example, the State Association of Realtors reported in January that home prices in California fell 41.5% and in Florida fell 33%, as compared to down 26.7% and 19.5% for California and Florida respectively.
In reviewing the CoreLogic numbers on a state-by-state basis, the median number for January would be in the 3.3 to 3.7% decline range.
The point here is that, while the general media would lead you to believe that the sky is falling, things may not be as bad as they seem. In fact, if you eliminate the six states hit hardest by price declines, you can see that the rest of the country is not nearly in as bad of shape.
Habib adds that when you compare the value of buying versus renting in your community, which includes ownership, future appreciation, and tax advantages, the choice is clear. It simply makes more sense to own right now than to rent in many communities.
For first-time home buyers, it makes even more sense to buy right now. Not only are home prices lower than they have been in the last five years, mortgage interest rates, at the time of the writing of this article, are near historical lows - this means your parents and your grandparents couldn't have secured a mortgage at a lower rate than you could've in the last month.
To add to this advantage, the government is offering first-time buyers (anyone who hasn't owned a home in the last three years) a temporary tax credit of up to $8,000 that doesn't have to be paid back. What's great about this credit is one can even amend their 2008 tax return to recapture the credit this year, which means they don't have to wait until next April to get their money.
The Best Could Be Yet to Come
Habib states that population growth affects real estate demand and values. During the housing market's boom years of 1995 to 2005, household growth was approximately 12.6 million. In the next decade, 2010-2020, it is estimated that household growth will increase 14.4 million.
This increase in households will come from a number of different factors, says Habib, including households resulting from divorce, "echo boomers" becoming adults, and a continued increase in immigration. Any increase in any one of these areas could lead to an increase in demand for housing in the near future.
The Greater the Need, The Higher the Price
As prices decline, builders build fewer homes. Even though new homes sales were recently reported higher for the month, the number still represents an annualized decline of nearly 1.4 million homes since 2005.
With multiple-year declines in new construction, this simply means that as more people come into the market to buy a home, there will be fewer homes from which to choose, and prices will be forced higher.
So What Now?
No one can time the market perfectly and find the exact bottom. But even if you don't, it's okay. Interest rates are at their lowest in decades, home prices are extremely low, and this combination yields the greatest increase to home affordability in years.
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