Is Now a Good Time to Buy a Home?

cost of rent is at an all-time high

Whether you’re seriously looking or not, you can have a lot of fun taking virtual tours of listed homes. For some, it’s mindless scrolling through stunning photos of homes that seem out of reach. For others, it’s an easy way to identify options and preferences when it comes to home layout and features.

No matter where your mind takes you, we can all agree there’s a point of hesitation. There are interest rates to consider, a down payment to make, not to mention the cost of moving. Yet there are also the perks of increasing your wealth over time, creating memories in your own space, and enjoying some advantageous tax breaks. You’re mind switches from curiosity to an investigative mode and starts to wonder, “is now a good time to buy a home?”

To best answer whether or not now is a good time to buy a home, you’ll want to take the following factors into consideration.

Understand local market conditions

Where do you live? Are you in a hot real estate market like Denver, Sacramento, Phoenix, or Austin? Does that make you feel like you’ll never be able to afford a home of your own? You may be surprised. After all, rising home prices don’t just affect home purchases, they affect home rentals, too.

Let’s consider Sacramento. Per Zillow, the average, current home value is $316,000 compared to rent of $1,627. After three years, if you buy, your Sacramento home will have $96,464 in equity (available to you when you sell).

What does this mean? Well, looking at your gross costs, equity, and investment potential, it's better for you to buy than rent if you plan to live in your Sacramento home more than three years and 4 months. And that same three-year rule (give or take a couple months) applies to Denver, Phoenix, and Austin. So if you choose to call any of those cities “home, sweet, home” for three years or more — then now is a good time to buy a home. You’ll enjoy far more equity that way!

Consider your current home equity

Speaking of home equity, let’s pause briefly and explain what it is. Your home equity is your home’s worth when not considering any debts against it, and it can increase over time as your home value increases. This may come from a home remodel or simply owning a home in an appreciating real estate market. All in all, equity comes with a lot of benefits, assuming you’re a homeowner.

According to Black Knight Analytics, the average homeowner with a mortgage gained $14,700 in tappable equity over the past year and has $113,900 available to draw. So if you’re a current homeowner and are looking for something that fits you better and will last you longer (whether it’s upgrading or downsizing), you’re in luck. Because this time around, you have little worry when it comes to down payment. Just use your home equity! You can feel confident when competing with other buyers because you have likely built a lot of wealth as a homeowner.

On the other hand, if you’re a renter, home equity may mean nothing to you. Just know it means something to your landlord because an appreciating real estate market also means it’s a-ok to increase rent.

Case in point, the national average rent reached an all-time high of $1,405 in June, a 2.9 percent increase from a year earlier, according to data from Yardi Matrix.

So why waste money paying your landlord’s mortgage, especially now that you know how much he or she is gaining on the property via home equity? For you, now may be a good time to buy a home. You can start enjoying the many benefits of homeownership, including stable monthly mortgage payments (when choosing a fixed interest rate), so there are no annual rent increases. Plus, you can establish your own home equity which allows access to cash for whatever you’d like: to pay off debt, make home renovations, or even buy another home further down the line.

Follow mortgage interest rates

The news is almost always reporting about “interest rates on the rise.” But what you need to ask is: on the rise from what?

Talk to any housing economist about mortgage rates, and you’ll hear they’ve been abnormally low since the housing crash.

A NerdWallet article from February of 2018 published a quote from Dean Baker, senior economist and co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Baker said, “I remember in the mid-’90s, getting a 7% rate, being happy with that. The rates we’re looking at today are still, by any measure, pretty low. It’s basically the economy getting back closer to normal.”

Now, let’s talk hypothetical numbers. Say you borrowed $350,000 to buy a house using a 30-year fixed mortgage at 4.5%.* You’re able to put 20% down to avoid mortgage insurance. A mortgage calculator translates this into monthly mortgage payments of about $1,419 (not including property tax or insurance). Over the life of the loan, you’d be paying $230,738 in interest.

If you wait a year and home prices drop by about 10%, you may be able to buy that house with a $315,000 loan. But if interest rates rise to 6%, you would end up paying about $1,511 per month (again this example includes a 20% down payment, but does not include property tax or insurance). Over the life of that loan, you’d be paying $291,911 in interest -- which is $60,000 more!

Which option sounds better to you — buying sooner with a low interest rate or waiting a year and getting stuck with a higher rate? Remember, the scenario above is hypothetical. But you should keep in mind the average 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage is now more than 4.5%. Home prices are also rising. This combination can create challenges for home buyers. Add on the potential for two more interest rate hikes in 2018 (per the Federal Reserve), it’s easy to see now is a good time to buy a home.

*Rates are for illustrative purposes only and are based the assumption of a $350,000 fixed rate mortgage. It does not consider credit score, DTI, or current market conditions. This example was designed to provide comparative information and should be used as a general guide only. For current market rates, please contact one of American Financing’s salary-based mortgage consultants at (800) 910-4055.

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Determine the best season to buy

Is the start of home buying season (Spring) all its hyped up to be? Or is there a better time? That depends if you’re looking for the most choices (most inventory) or best prices. If you’re interested in the most homes to choose from, then make your move in April.

If you want to find the best deals, then start your real estate search in late Summer or early Fall when fewer people are shopping.

According to Zillow, a good time to buy a home is late Summer, when there are more options and price cuts.  Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Svenja Gudell said, "Homes that may have been overpriced earlier in the year are more likely to have a price reduction, and those listings passed over in earlier months may look better with a fresh perspective."

Follow this advice, and you’ll find yourself having more leverage when it comes to offers and contingencies because sellers are getting anxious to get their home sold.

Factor in your personal financial health

Last but certainly not least is your personal financial health. Consider yourself financially healthy — and likely ready to buy a home — if you have the following in order:

    • Reasonable debt-to-income (DTI) ratio — All of your debt added to your anticipated housing expenses, such as mortgage, taxes, insurance, etc. determines your debt-to-income ratio (DTI). Should this number be greater than 43% of your income, it may not be a good time to buy. If it’s lower, then it’s in your best interest to dump that rental property and move into something you can own and call your own.
    • Well-padded emergency fund — Keep in mind that life happens and sometimes you need to make a repair or replacement, we recommend maintaining three to six months worth of savings in an emergency fund.
    • Respectable credit score — You’re likely to get the best loan program and most affordable interest rates once you’ve tied a respectable credit score to your name. Think 700 or above, though lower scores do not disqualify you from a mortgage.

    No matter what stage you are in life — or homeownership — be sure to choose a lender who has your goals top of mind, helping you decide if now is a good time to buy a home. At American Financing, our salary-based mortgage consultants have been helping borrowers for nearly 20 years. We’re licensed in all 50 states, so no matter where you want to call home, we’ll be there to guide you. If now is the right time for you to buy, trust us to help you find the best mortgage option for your situation.