The big question for home buyers and sellers today is: "Where are home prices headed?" People want to know if now is a good time to buy or sell, or if they should wait. We all need to stay on top of trends in real estate values -- so what's a good way to analyze the situation?
Yale economist Robert Shiller states it bluntly: "If you look at the trend in rents to see where housing prices are headed, you're looking at the right measure." Shiller is the co-developer of the S&P Case/Shiller Home Price Indices that monthly track residential real estate values nationally and in 20 metro areas.
Traditionally, people have been willing to pay a modest premium to own a home rather than rent it. Recent studies report that in 1999 rents averaged 87% of the after-tax mortgage payment for houses and condos of similar size in the same neighborhood.
When home prices took off, this percentage changed. By mid-2006, rents had fallen to less than 60% of after-tax mortgage payments. In some markets, owners were paying twice as much as renters for a similar property in the same neighborhood. In a few places, owner monthly payments were three times average rents.
The 87% ratio of rent to ownership cost for 1999 is a good benchmark because it stayed around that level throughout the 1990's and the steep rise in home prices hadn't really begun.
With that as our guide, we can conclude that home prices at last appear to be stabilizing. By the end of October 2009, rents on average were up to 83% of ownership costs!
Conditions vary from market to market, so check your own area. But with historically low mortgage rates, plus the homebuyer tax credit, this could be a great time to be buying or selling....