Should I buy a house now, or wait?
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Buy now, or wait until 2024? That’s the question prospective homeowners are struggling to answer in today’s housing market. Home prices skyrocketed throughout the pandemic, and the Federal Reserve’s work to tame inflation has sent mortgage rates soaring, too. That combination is leading many would-be buyers to pick the “wait” side of the equation. In fact, according to the Fannie Mae Home Purchase Sentiment Index released in March 2023, 79 percent of consumers believe it’s a bad time to buy a house.
However, things have started to look better for buyers in many parts of the country. A January report from real estate company Knock predicts that 36 U.S. markets will become buyer’s markets by the end of the year — including plenty of desirable places like Phoenix, Denver, Dallas and Las Vegas. Prices are already starting to decline, or at least to increase at a lower rate, and many experts foresee that remaining the case all year.
So, is it time to buy a home? Or is it better to wait on the sidelines in the hopes that prices or rates see a significant drop soon? The decision ultimately comes down to your finances. Here are some key considerations to help determine the way forward.
Should I buy a house now?
If you buy now, you can start building equity immediately. That’s true no matter which way the real estate market is leaning at the time. A key point for today’s market, though, is that buying now means avoiding the potential for additional mortgage-rate increases later.
“If a buyer finds a property they would like to call home, they should not delay,” says Stacey Froelich, a broker with Compass in New York City. “You cannot time the market, and a home should be a long-term investment. In the end, higher mortgage rates will cost a buyer more monthly if they are financing.”
Rising rates can spell serious trouble for your monthly budget. Bankrate’s loan calculator can help you give you a sense of what a higher rate would mean for your payments. For example, on a $450,000 30-year loan with a 6.5 percent interest rate, the monthly payment is just over $2,844. If that rate jumps to 7.5 percent, the payment leaps to more than $3,146. Plus, you’ll wind up paying a lot more in interest over the life of the loan.
In general, if you can answer yes to these three questions, now is the time to buy.
1. Do you have excellent credit?
Anytime you’re borrowing money, start by reviewing your credit report and your credit score. The best deals on mortgages will be available to those with high credit scores of 740 and above. If you have demonstrated that you are a low-risk borrower with a history of on-time payments, you’ll be in line for the lowest mortgage rates that a lender offers.
2. Have you saved enough for a down payment?
In addition to paying your bills on time, have you managed to save a fair amount of money, too? If you are sitting on a sizable chunk of change that can make a big dent in your down payment, now is a good time to buy. Make sure you’ll have plenty left over, though. Lenders feel more comfortable loaning you money if you have additional cash reserves that can provide a cushion if something unexpected happens.
3. Are you planning to stay in the home for a while?
Beyond the purchase price, buying a home comes with closing costs that can run between 2 and 6 percent of the property’s price. So, to justify those one-time transaction costs, it’s wise to be reasonably certain that you won’t move again anytime soon — or that you’ll be financially stable enough to hold on to the property and rent it out. In addition, selling a home very soon after buying can have serious tax implications.
Should I wait to buy a home?
If you want to become a homeowner but are waiting for mortgage rates to decline, a bit of patience might be in order. Fannie Mae predicts that 30-year mortgage rates will average 6.3 percent throughout 2023 before falling to 5.7 percent in 2024.
While six-tenths of a percentage point might not sound like much, it can make a big difference in how much house you can afford over the long run. For example, Bankrate’s mortgage calculator shows that if you buy a $350,000 home with a 20 percent down payment, the monthly payment for principal and interest on a 30-year loan with a 6.3 percent interest rate is $1,733. The same loan at a 5.7 percent interest rate brings those monthly payments down to $1,625. That’s more than $100 of savings each month — adding up to more than $1,200 a year, or $36,000 over the life of a 30-year loan.
Of course, it’s impossible to predict where rates will really land by the end of the year, but here are three instances in which it might make more sense to wait out the market:
1. If home values in your area are dropping
If you looked at the market in the late spring of 2022 and opted to wait, you probably made a wise move — in many areas, that was the pricing peak. Since then, some metro areas have seen significant drops in median sale prices. A January report from Redfin shows that prices in San Francisco dropped by more than 10 percent at the end of 2022, and other big-ticket cities, including Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston and even New York, also saw price declines. Those declines may not be done yet, so it could pay to be patient for a bit longer.
2. If inventory in your area is increasing
When there are more properties on the market to choose from, buyers enjoy more bargaining power. Since a lot of buyers have been sitting on the sidelines due to the interest rate environment, many areas are seeing a jump in inventory. According to National Association of Realtors data, the country had just 2.9 months worth of housing supply in January — still very low, but up 15 percent from January of last year.
3. If your personal finances could use some love
The biggest reason to wait is if your current financial situation is not ideal. For example, if you are expecting a sizable commission check, an inheritance or some other windfall that would make a big difference in your down payment, waiting until it arrives makes sense. And if your credit score is low, waiting is also smart. Take some time to pay down your debt and improve your credit so you can qualify for better loan terms.
Analyze your local market carefully
Deciding whether you should buy a house now or wait ultimately comes down to where you want to call home. Regardless of national headlines, real estate is hyper-localized and can vary greatly from one market to another.
Consider this January data from Redfin: In Phoenix, the median sale price of a home fell by 4.3 percent in the past year. Just a couple hours south in Tucson, home prices actually rose by more than 5 percent in the same time frame — and yet, on-the-increase Tucson homes are still priced around $100,000 cheaper than homes in a downward-trending Phoenix.
In today’s market, it’s more important than ever to find a local real estate agent who can help you successfully navigate the process. “The right broker will be privy to what inventory might be coming to market or a particular situation with a seller or building,” says Rachel Glazer, a broker with Compass in New York City.
Trying to buy a house right now might feel overwhelming, but waiting too long can present challenges as well. Review your finances in detail, and think about how much you can save up for a down payment. Be sure to take the pulse of the town in which you’re hoping to live. Then, talk with an experienced local real estate agent to figure out whether you should buy now or hang tight until the market is a bit more friendly to your bank account.
It seems as though 2023 will be a volatile year for real estate. Mortgage rates remain stubbornly high, and many economic experts still believe we are heading for a recession. A high-interest-rate climate gives you less buying power, so buyers who opt to wait for lower rates may find themselves able to afford more house, due to the lower mortgage payments. Ultimately, though, whether it’s a good year to buy depends on your personal circumstances. If you need to move now, then so be it: Shop around for the best deal you can get, and remember, you can always refinance down the line if rates decrease.
Recessions are a risky time to buy a home: If you lose your job, for example, a lender will be much less likely to approve your loan application. Even if the recession doesn’t affect you directly, if your area is hard-hit, that could have a serious effect on the local real estate market. However, while many experts believe a recession is inevitable, it’s by no means a done deal.
Yes — lots of people buy a new house while selling their old one at the same time. However, it does create some additional challenges and stressors, especially if you’re showing your home while still living in it. It’s important to work with an expert real estate agent who can help you find the right buyer and the right new places, and you’ll want to stay close with your loan officer to make sure that the complexities of putting the proceeds from your sale toward your new down payment are as smooth as possible.
Probably not. While there is plenty of economic uncertainty swirling right now, most experts believe that the housing market will not crash. Home prices will decline in some areas from the record highs they hit throughout the pandemic, but it won’t be catastrophic — think of it as more of a soft landing.