Oct. 3, 2011, 11:01 a.m. EDT
By Jeff Reeves, editor for InvestorPlace.com
Now could be the best time in history to buy a home. Presuming, of course, you have the money and the credit to do so.
The average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage hit record lows last week, down to 4.01%, according to Freddie Mac. The Federal Reserve’s recent “Operation Twist,” which was designed to do just this, appears to be doing the trick.
There are a lot of reasons to consider buying a home right now. The big savings on interest is just one of them — the difference between a 4% rate and a 5.5% rate on a $200,000 home loan is just shy of $200 in monthly payments and can save a homeowner more than $60,000 in interest payments across the life of the loan.
Another motivating factor could be the fact that rents remain sky-high in the U.S. right now, and in many markets it’s actually cheaper to buy a home than rent a two-bedroom apartment.
While housing might not be at a “true” bottom just yet, there are many signs it is nearing one in many markets. Housing prices rose from June to July in 17 of 20 cities tracked by the Standard & Poor’s/Case Shiller home price index. It marked the fourth straight month of rises in most U.S. cities.
That’s to say nothing of the case-by-case bargains to be had. Here are two personal stories that show the opportunities to be had in this housing market:
I live in the Washington, D.C., area and purchased a short-sale home in 2009. Although three months of back-and-forth with the bank drove my wife and me crazy, we finally closed on the property just hours before a foreclosure auction — after which my Realtor asked if I wanted to immediately re-list my home with him for about 30% more than we had just paid. I had purchased the property for a growing family and good schools, so I politely declined. But the message was clear: If you suffer through a painful distressed property purchase, you get a hefty discount for your trouble.
On the other side of the coin, my brother purchased a newly constructed home in Roanoke, Va., as his wife attended medical school at Virginia Tech. Seemed like a good idea at the time — but now he’s 40% upside down on his house and renting it for barely enough to cover the mortgage. Unfortunately, he now lives six hours away, so it’s no picnic to manage his rental. My brother recently decided he has enough stress in his life so he will list the house at slightly below market rate just to get rid of it — even if it’s going to cost him big-time. Very bad for him, but some lucky southwest Virginia family is going to get a nearly brand-new home for a heck of a deal.
I’m sure many of you have your own story to tell about the housing market. Share it with me (see below) or better yet, post it in our comments section so everyone can read and weigh in.
There are plenty of other bank-owned homes or desperate sellers that folks can pursue, with deals akin to the two listed above. But the million-dollar question, of course, is whether prospective homeowners can get a loan — and if they can, whether they want one.
After the mortgage meltdown, banks have wisely tightened lending standards . That’s as it should be, but it understandably shuts many folks out of the market. Other people have good credit but don’t have the necessary savings for higher down payments some lenders now require. That’s to say nothing of folks who perhaps could sign up for a new home but are just too uncertain about their job or retirement.
Whatever the reasons, it all adds up to a decided lack of demand in the housing market. Many factors have created great deals right now, but those factors also might just be too daunting for many to overcome right now.
I remain convinced that I made the right choice in buying my home — not because it was an “investment,” but because it’s in one of the best public school systems in the country and I now have two beautiful daughters who wouldn’t fit very comfortably in an apartment. And by the way, that two-bedroom apartment rented for only about $100 less a month than my current mortgage. Buying a home was the right thing for my family, and for my finances.
And perhaps that’s the biggest lesson of all: The best reason to buy a house is because it will become your home — not a path to profits.