SOURCE: Atlantic & Pacific Real Estate

Atlantic & Pacific Real Estate

January 25, 2012 06:00 ET

Is Now the Right Time to Buy a House?

Peter G. Miller

SANTA ANA, CA--(Marketwire - Jan 25, 2012) - Home prices are down and mortgage rates are at their lowest levels in decades. It's a combination which means affordability is up, so is now the right time to buy a house?

"What can be said with confidence is that now is a good time for buyers and investors to look at their local markets," said Steve DiUbaldo, president of Atlantic & Pacific Real Estate, a full-service real estate brokerage with offices in 22 states. "It's the right time to buy real estate for many people, but everyone will need to look at their individual preferences and finances."

Real estate can be seen as both a place to live and as a localized commodity. The value of a home can be described in terms of price, but we each measure desirability differently. Smith might want a single-family home with a big garage while Jones might prefer a one-bedroom condo.

"In general terms there are seven basic factors to consider when looking at real estate," said Steve DiUbaldo. "Some factors will be more important than others to given individuals and there are no 'right' answers. Everyone needs to consider their particular interests."

According to DiUbaldo, the seven basic factors include:

1. Price. The Federal Housing Finance Agency says that home prices nationwide fell 19.2 percent between April 2007 and October 2010. National figures need to be seen in context because local real estate markets are all different and some markets have more demand or less than others. Importantly, we don't know where local prices are headed -- they could rise, fall or remain fairly stable. As they say on Wall Street, past performance does not guarantee future results.

Because local markets are so different -- and a "local" market can be as small as a few houses or a particular building -- buyers should work with experienced local brokers to review neighborhood sales trends.

2. Mortgage Rates. There's no doubt that mortgage rates are low by historic standards. In December 30-year fixed-rate mortgage were widely available at less than 4 percent and start levels for adjustable-rate mortgages were even lower. Not only are rates low, financing with little down is available from the FHA and with private mortgage insurance. VA borrowers can get mortgages with no down payment.

Lenders, however, will only make loans today that are fully documented. That means to get a mortgage, borrowers must be able to prove income and employment. The best strategy is to assemble application information in advance and to be pre-approved or pre-qualified before looking for a home.

The combination of low rates and reduced prices means that a given income can be used to buy a lot more house.

3. Affordability. The combination of soft home prices and historically-low mortgage rates means that affordability is strong -- buyers with a given income can purchase more house in most markets than just a few years ago.

No less important, a large number of homes are available at discount, making affordability even greater.

"Distressed properties are the unusual factor in today's market," said DiUbaldo. "Right now the volume of real estate owned by lenders -- so- called REOs -- is enormous. The Federal Reserve says as many as 1 million additional REOs might enter the marketplace in both 2012 and 2013. These homes are routinely available at substantial discount and people can see huge numbers of them at the Atlantic & Pacific Real Estate website ("

4. Rental Rates. While home prices have generally been falling that's not been the case with rental rates. Reis, Inc., a provider of commercial real estate information, reports that apartment rental rates have increased consistently since the first quarter of 2010 and were up .5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011. Meanwhile, vacancy rates have fallen since early 2010.

Higher rental rates should not be a surprise. The population is growing and households that have been foreclosed still need shelter. Meanwhile, new home construction went from more than 1 million units in 2006 to roughly a third of that number in 2011.

As with home prices, local rental demand may differ substantially when compared with the national marketplace.

5. Taxes. Property taxes and mortgage interest are generally deductible, Investors can also write-off depreciation and ownership costs. Real estate deductions lower tax costs and effectively increase affordability.

6. Ownership. All real estate comes with what are known as a "bundle of rights." There are different rights and responsibilities associated with "fee-simple" homes, condos and co-ops. A homeowners association can also impact ownership costs and attractions. For instance, one single-family home that belongs to a homeowners association may have access to a community pool while an identical house outside the association does not. A real estate broker can explain the differences

7. Personal Preferences. We each have different likes and dislikes that drive our choices. One person wants a condo near a downtown plaza while someone else wants a few acres of land. Everyone's definition of "just right" differs.

"There are some things in real estate you just can't measure," said DiUbaldo. "There's a sense of joy and satisfaction that comes from owning a home. People feel so good when they can look at a property and say, that's mine. It's great to see."

Contact Information

  • Contact:
    Rick Sharga