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If you’re shopping for a home in today’s high interest-rate market, you might be tempted to skip the financing and buy the place outright. There has always been a competitive advantage to making an all-cash offer, but with the rise in mortgage rates to 20-year highs, there’s another: Borrowing money has gotten expensive. Paying for the home out of your own pocket helps you avoid the monthly obligation of mortgage payments, and of course the extra financial bite of paying interest.
Many people have taken this route of late, with the percentage of buyers using a mortgage to purchase a home falling from 87 percent in 2021 to 78 percent in 2022, according to the National Association of Realtors’ latest Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers.
Let’s assume you can buy a home with cash. But should you? Even if you can afford it, is it a good idea? We’ll cover the pros and cons.
Can you buy a house with cash?
Yes, it is possible and perfectly legal to purchase a home with cash. If someone is selling a property for $250,000, for example, and you have that sum on hand, there’s no reason you couldn’t offer to simply write them a check then and there — or even dump a mountain of dollar bills on them. (While you could technically do so, dealing with IRS reporting requirements for such large cash transactions makes it not very realistic.)
Actually, though, a cash home purchase doesn’t mean you have to have the money literally rolling around in a bank account. It just means you’re paying the agreed-upon price in full out of your own pocket. You’re drawing from your own resources — be they savings, sales of investment assets, retirement account withdrawals, or financial gifts from other people, as opposed to seeking a loan. The bottom line: You’re not borrowing money to buy the home.
Pros and cons of buying a house with cash
There are both advantages and drawbacks to paying cash compared to getting a mortgage.
Reasons to buy a house with cash
- Competitive advantage: Sellers love all-cash bids. With an offer contingent on financing, there’s always the chance a loan could fall through, and the deal with it. That makes cash offers more attractive, giving your bid a leg up on others.
- Lower purchase price: Because cash deals are more appealing than ones that involve financing, you might be able to win a home with a lower offer. Sellers are willing to bargain, because your bid seems like a surer thing.
- No risk: If you have poor credit or irregular income, there’s a chance you won’t be able to qualify for a mortgage in the first place. Cash offers let you avoid the uncertainty of whether you’ll be able to secure a loan.
- Lower closing costs/ faster closing: Many closing costs, and delays, are related to securing a mortgage. Skipping the loan process makes the closing proceed faster — another reason sellers like cash buyers — and cheaper.
- No monthly payments: If you pay for your home in full, that means you don’t have to worry about rising interest rates or monthly mortgage bills.
- Immediate ownership: If you pay for a home in full, you own it outright. That means no risk of foreclosure by a lender. You have 100 percent equity in the home, which immediately goes into your assets pile.
Reasons to get a mortgage instead
- Money is tied up: Real estate can be a good investment — but it’s an illiquid one. If you pour a lot of your capital into your home, it’s no longer readily available. That means you’ll have less cash on-hand if you need it for other purposes, emergencies or even to pay bills — a situation known as “house poor.”
- Lower return on investment: While it’s an asset, real estate might not appreciate as quickly as other investments might. For example, you might miss out on higher returns in the stock market if you put all your cash into a home.
- No mortgage interest deduction: Homeowners can deduct a portion of the interest they pay on their mortgage from their income when filing their tax return. If you don’t have a mortgage, you miss out on these savings.
Things to note about all-cash offers
All-cash offers are different from those that involve loans in some ways — but in others, they’re the same. Here’s a few things you should know.
- Do your due diligence: When you get a mortgage, an appraisal is required by the lender to assess the home’s worth. Getting one is still important to make sure you’re not drastically overpaying. Waiving inspections is also a bad idea — you don’t want to be discovering serious issues with the home’s condition shortly after you move in. Don’t forget to do a final walk-through too.
- You’ll still need to provide financial documentation: When you make your offer, expect the seller to want to see proof you have the funds to back it up. Have bank and investment statements ready, and possibly tax returns as well. If you’re using gifts, there should be letters of intent stating so. You will still need to provide earnest money and put funds in escrow.
- You still pay closing costs: You get to skip some closing costs, such as origination fees and the like, but you’ll still have to pay for a real estate attorney, title insurance, and other expenses. Expect to pay about 3 percent of the home’s value.
- You’ll need the cash at closing: You’ll need to transfer funds to the seller on closing day, so make sure you know how this will work ahead of time. Common methods are to bring a cashier’s check or to wire funds to a settlement agent. Your real estate agent or attorney can help determine the logistics.
Alternatives to paying cash
For the benefits of making a cash offer without having to tie up all of your money in your home, delayed financing might be an appealing choice.
In effect, you pay cash for a property, then get a mortgage after completing the purchase. It’s similar to completing a cash-out refinance after you purchase the home. You turn some of the equity into cash you can use for other purposes and make monthly payments on the balance.
You still need to have enough cash upfront to pay for the home, which is a drawback. However, this strategy gives you the competitive advantage of a cash purchase, while then providing you with some cash to keep you liquid afterwards.
You could also consider financing a portion of the home, though not the typical 80 percent. If you can pay half of the purchase price outright, for example, that strengthens your offer and helps you reduce the cost of a mortgage, even with currently high rates (since you’re borrowing less overall).
Bottom line on buying a home with cash
When interest rates are low, it often makes sense to finance a home purchase. But in high-interest-rate environments, the advantage of financing evaporates. Along with saving money, buying a home with cash can speed up the closing process and make your offer more appealing to sellers, especially in a hot seller’s market. And you immediately own your home free and clear — not the worst idea in the world.
Still, keep in mind that cash purchases have drawbacks. You’re tying your money up in an illiquid asset. If you have to drain all your investment accounts for the purchase, you’re losing out on good opportunities for long-term financial growth.
Also, while it’s great to avoid outstanding balances and interest payments, be advised that mortgages aren’t as much of a liability as, say, credit card debt or student loans. In fact, mortgage obligations are often considered “good” debt — because they go towards building equity in an asset — and having one can actually improve your credit history, as long as you make payments promptly.