Many people are still wondering whether or not real estate is one of the best investment strategies for long-term wealth building. Is investing in homes still a smart investment for the average individual? Is a home still the best investment of a lifetime for most Americans? If so, why are some pessimists still questioning the rebound in the news?
Behind the Headlines
Real estate companies will always boast about the benefits of acquiring real estate because it is their job. That is, unless of course, they have gotten into the rental business and make their money by touting the benefits of renting instead. Let’s be honest; statistics can be found and twisted to support any point of view and argument. Entire years of real estate statistics have been revised in the past, new indexes have been created to restart the clock, and even the national GDP was revised. Most don’t even bother to tune into job and unemployment numbers anymore due to how skewed different data sets have become.
Even though the most conservative figures show housing rebounding, especially in hot areas like San Diego, there continue to be doubters. However, it doesn’t take much more than a little common sense to figure out real estate is still the best investment for most of the population. This applies to affluent individuals with top 1% income, as well as those that need to pinch pennies. Stocks have continued to demonstrate extreme volatility and risk. While UT San Diego reports local real estate is still 50% undervalued.
In the stock market, plenty of Americans have lost 6 figures, literally overnight. Direct investment in real estate isn’t that volatile, and nothing is ever lost until a property is sold. For example; some Southern California homeowners saw their home values rise and fall on paper during the last couple of decades, but if they don’t sell for a few more years when prices exceed their previous peak, they will come out handsomely.
Invest in Real Estate, Even if You Can’t Afford Your Dream Home
One of the top excuses for many not to buy a house is that they can afford their ideal dream homes yet. Of course, unless they invest in real estate in some way now, the odds are against them ever being able to afford that dream home. Incomes haven’t been going up, but rents and home prices have. Those wanting to buy a home should not invest any money in stocks or bonds, but should prefer cash. Of course, in reality, cash depreciates too. It can be at risk whether it is in the bank or under the mattress.
Investing in real estate is the best way to build up more wealth and cash to buy that dream home. Can’t find a home you’d live in even for a few years? Then buy a rental property.
Many Americans are sadly being seduced into the lifelong renter mindset without realizing the horrific consequences it could be dooming them to. Consider those paying 50% of income in rent right now. Rents have been going up 20% a year in many places. If rent goes up another 20%, many could be priced out of both buying a home and renting too! Then what?
With Americans living longer, and with company retirement plans evaporating, they also need to consider where they will live for 40 years of retirement on limited income? Even legendary billionaire investor Warren Buffett, with all of his endeavors into energy, insurance companies and holding sizable stakes in companies like Coke and Wells Fargo, still calls his own home his best investment ever.
On Point Homevestments
Everything you need to know about buying a home — on one index card.
A home is often the biggest financial investment you’ll make in your lifetime. In fact, a recent Zillow analysis reports that the typical American homeowner has 40 percent of their wealth tied up in their home.
1. Buy for the long run
A home is a significant investment, not to mention a linchpin of stability. According to the Zillow Group Consumer Housing Trends Report 2017, the majority of Americans who sold their homes last year had lived in their home for at least a decade before selling.
Some are even staying for the long haul. Almost half (46 percent) of all homeowners are living in the first home ever purchased. In short: Buy a home you want to live in for at least five years — one equipped (or ready to be equipped) with the features and space you need, both now and in the future.
2. Buy to improve your life, not speculate with money
Your home is more than a financial investment; it’s where you sleep, eat, host friends, raise your children — it’s where your life happens.
The housing market is too unpredictable to buy a (primary) home purely because you think it will net a big short-term financial return. You will most likely be living in this home for several years, regardless of how it appreciates, so your first priority should be finding a home that will meet your needs and help you build the life you want.
3. Focus on what’s important to you
Today’s housing market is short on inventory, with 10 percent fewer homes on the market in November 2017 than November 2016.
So, focus on finding a home you can afford that meets your needs — but don’t get distracted by shiny features that might break your budget. Nice-to-have features often drive up the price tag for things you don’t particularly value once the initial enjoyment wears off.
Make a list of your basic needs, both for your desired home and for your desired neighborhood. Stick to finding a home that meets these needs, without buying extra stuff that adds up.
4. Set a budget and stick to it
It’s important to set a budget early — ideally before you even start looking at homes. In today’s market, especially in the more competitive markets, it’s incredibly easy to go over budget — 29 percent of buyers who purchased last year did.
The most common culprit? Location. Zillow’s data indicates that urban buyers are significantly more likely to go over budget (42 percent) than suburban (25 percent) or rural (20 percent) buyers.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Local schools matter, and psychologists tell us that a short commute improves your life. But be realistic about your local market and about yourself. Know what you’re willing to compromise on — be it less square footage, home repairs or a different neighborhood.
5. Aim for a 20 percent down payment
If you can afford it, a 20 percent down payment is ideal for three reasons:
6. Keep a six-month strategic reserve
While a down payment is a significant expense, it’s also important to build up a strategic reserve and keep it separate from your normal bank account.
This reserve should cover six months of living expenses in case you get sick, face an unexpected expense or lose your job. A strategic reserve will not only save you from financial hardship in an emergency but also provide peace of mind.
When we accumulated a strategic reserve, my wife and I finally felt ready to build for our future. Without it, we were living from paycheck to paycheck, anxiously managing our cash flow rather than saving or budgeting.
7. Get pre-approved, and stick with a fixed-rate mortgage
The pre-approval process requires organizing all your paperwork; documenting your income, debt and credit; and understanding all the loan options available to you. It’s a bit of a pain, but it saves time later. Getting pre-approved also shows sellers that you’re a reliable buyer with a strong financial footing. Most importantly, it helps you understand what you can afford.
There are a variety of mortgage types, and it’s important to evaluate all of them to see which is best for your family and financial situation. Those boring 30- and 15-year mortgages offer big advantages.
The biggest is locking in your mortgage rate. In short: A 30-year fixed mortgage has a specific fixed rate of interest that doesn’t change for 30 years. A 15-year fixed mortgage does the same.
These typically have lower rates but higher monthly payments, since you must pay it off in half the time. Conventional fixed-rate mortgages help you manage your household budgeting because you know precisely how much you’ll be paying every month for many years. They’re simple to understand, and current rates are low.
One final advantage is that they don’t tempt you with a low initial payment to buy more house than you can afford.
8. Comparison shop to get the best mortgage
Though a home is the biggest purchase many of us will ever make, most home buyers don’t shop around for a mortgage (52 percent consider only a single lender).
The difference of half a percentage point in your mortgage rate can add up to thousands of dollars over the lifetime of the loan. It’s important to evaluate all the available options to make sure you’re going with the lender who meets your needs — not just the first one you contact.
The three most important factors are that the lender offers a loan program that caters to their specific needs (76 percent), has the most competitive rates (74 percent) and has a history of closing on time (63 percent).
9. Spend no more than a third of your after-tax income
It’s better to regret spending too little on your home than spending too much. One-third of your after-tax income is a manageable amount. This isn’t always possible if you live in a place like San Francisco or New York, but it’s still a good yardstick for where to be.
10. Be willing to walk away
Buying a home is a time-consuming, stressful but ultimately rewarding endeavor — if you end up closing on a home that meets your needs. But it’s important to manage your expectations in case you don’t immediately find a home you can afford with the features you need.
Always be prepared to walk away if the sellers don’t accept your offer, the home doesn’t pass a rigorous inspection or the timing isn’t right. Hold fast to your list of must-haves, stick to what you can afford and don’t overreach or settle.
It’s no tragedy to miss out on any particular house. Remember that you’re playing the long game. You want to be happy 10 years from now.
On Point Homevestments
We shed some light on buying a home as a couple so you’re not in the dark when it’s time to sign on the dotted lines.
When couples start a new journey as homeowners, questions can linger as to whose name (or names) should be listed on the mortgage and title. Many couples want a 50/50 split, indicating equal ownership to the asset, but sometimes that isn’t the best financial decision. Plus, with more than one person on the loan, the legalities of who owns the home can get tricky. A home is often the largest purchase a couple or an individual will make in their lifetime, so ownership can have big financial implications for the future.
Title vs. mortgage
For starters, it’s important to note the difference between a mortgage and a title. A property title and a mortgage are not interchangeable terms.
In short, a mortgage is an agreement to pay back the loan amount borrowed to buy a home. A title refers to the rights of ownership to the property. Many people assume that as a couple, both names are listed on both documents as 50/50 owners, but they don’t have to be. Listing both names might not make the most sense for you.
Making sense of mortgages
For many, mortgages are a staple of homeownership. According to the Zillow Group Consumer Housing Trends Report 2017, more than three-quarters (76 percent) of American households who bought a home last year obtained a mortgage to do so.
When a couple applies jointly for a mortgage, lenders don’t use an average of both borrowers’ FICO scores. Instead, each borrower has three FICO scores from the three credit-reporting agencies, and lenders review those scores to acquire the mid-value for each borrower. Then, lenders use the lower score for the joint loan application. This is perhaps the biggest downside of a joint mortgage if you have stronger credit than your co-borrower.
So, if you or your partner has poor credit, consider applying alone to keep that low score from driving your interest rate up. However, a single income could cause you to qualify for a lower amount on the loan.
Before committing to co-borrowing, think about doing some scenario evaluation with a lender to figure out which would make more financial sense for you and your family.
If you decide only one name on the mortgage makes the most sense, but you’re concerned about your share of ownership of the home, don’t worry. Both names can be on the title of the home without being on the mortgage. Generally, it’s best to add a spouse or partner to the title of the home at the time of closing if you want to avoid extra steps and potential hassle. Your lender could refuse to allow you to add another person — many mortgages have a clause requiring a mortgage to be paid in full if you want to make changes. On the bright side, some lenders may waive it to add a family member.
In the event you opt for two names on the title and only one on the mortgage, both of you are owners.
The person who signed the mortgage, however, is the one obligated to pay off the loan. If you’re not on the mortgage, you aren’t held responsible by the lending institution for ensuring the loan is paid.
Not on mortgage or title
Not being on either the mortgage or the title can put you in quite the predicament regarding homeownership rights. Legally, you have no ownership of the home if you aren’t listed on the title. If things go sour with the relationship, you have no rights to the home or any equity.
To be safe, the general rule of homeownership comes down to whose names are listed on the title of the home, not the mortgage.
On Point Homevestments
Do your homework to get the best deal on a brand-new home.
If you’re in the market for a brand-new home, you’ve got a ton of options. Sales of new homes surged to an eight-year high in 2015, according to data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Census Bureau, and single-family production is estimated to reach 840,000 units in 2016, an 18 percent increase over 2015, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).
Unfortunately for home buyers, new residential construction is coming at a steeper price: Last year the average price of a new home jumped to $351,000, up $100,000 from 2009, reports the NAHB.
Nonetheless, there are still ways you can save when buying a new home. It’s like shopping for a new car: You need the right strategy to nab the best deal.
Ask prospective builders these six questions in order to find the right home at the right price.
“What financial incentives do you offer for using your preferred lender and title company?”
The bad news: Production builders are often reluctant to set a precedent for negotiating sales prices. (Custom builders tend to be more flexible.)
“If a new home is listed for $370,000 and it sells for $360,000, the next buyer in the development is going to want to pay that lower amount,” says Craig Reger, a real estate broker at Keller Williams Realty in Portland, OR. However, many offer handsome incentives to buyers who use their preferred lender and title company.
Some may even knock off up to $10,000 in closing costs, says Peggy Yee, a supervising broker at Frankly Real Estate in Vienna, VA. Others will sweeten the deal by negotiating prices on finishes, such as upgrading carpet to hardwood floors.
You should still shop around and get quotes from at least two other lenders before making your decision. But don’t just pay attention to the interest rates. “You need to compare each loan estimate’s terms to make sure you’re getting an apples-to-apples comparison,” says Chris Dossman, a real estate agent with Century 21 Scheetz in Indianapolis.
“Which are the standard finishes?”
When you tour a development’s model home, keep in mind that you’re previewing a high-end version of the standard home. “The model has all the bells and whistles,” says Dossman. Therefore, you need to find out from the builder which options are standard, which options are upgrades, and what each upgrade costs.
One way to cut costs: Move into the home without an upgrade, then hire a contractor to do the work. “Builders charge a huge markup on certain finishes and products,” says Reger. “The builder might charge $4,000 to $6,000 for a high-performance air conditioner, but you may be able to get another company to install that same unit for as low as $2,500.”
Granted, opting for the latter means you’ll probably need to pay the contractor in cash. “For some people, the benefit of paying the builder to do upgrades is that they can roll the costs into their loan amount,” Reger points out.
“What are your long-term plans for the community?”
Depending on the size of the land, the builder might be planning several subdivisions. This could impact your decision to buy.
For example, let’s assume that only a few homes have been built and sold. If the developer plans to construct an additional 50 homes and you’re one of the first people to move into the neighborhood, you may have to deal with loud construction crews for several months.
There’s also the risk that the builder loses funding and another company takes over the development. Dossman advises proceeding with caution: “If the builder changes and a lower-quality builder takes over, that could affect the value of your home.”
“What are the homeowners association rules and regulations?”
Each homeowners association (HOA) has its own Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs) and bylaws. Get these from the builder and review them carefully.
“I’ve seen HOAs that don’t allow storage sheds in the backyard, solar panels, or private fences,” says Reger.
In most cases, the HOA can assess a homeowner penalties for infractions, and some associations are more restrictive than others.
Also, look into when you’re required to start paying HOA dues. Many builders cover the costs until at least 50 percent of the homes in the development are sold, says Yee.
“What warranties do you provide?”
Most builders offer a one-year workmanship warranty and a 10-year structural warranty, says Reger. Make sure the warranties you receive explicitly state what is and isn’t covered, and what the limitations are for damages.
You should also receive manufacturer’s warranties on the washer and dryer, hot water heater, air conditioner, kitchen appliances, and roof.
“Can you connect me with some of your past clients?”
Always check references when vetting home builders, says Dossman. Ask past clients questions such as, “How responsive was the developer when you expressed concerns?” and “Would you use the builder again?”
Caveat: Most builders will only provide glowing references, so you should still scout out some past customers on your own. You can find these people through reviews on Angie’s List, or knock on doors of homes in the neighborhood that have already been built.
Wondering if new construction is right for you? Search new construction listings, and get more home-buying tips and resources to help you decide.
On Point Homevestments
When you've got to buy a house from across the country, start with a winning strategy
Searching for a house locally is not without its difficulties. Add hundreds or even thousands of miles to the equation, and it becomes infinitely more complicated.
Though long-distance house hunting has its unique challenges, it’s not impossible. In fact, with the right agent and the convenience of modern technology, it’s never been easier to buy a house remotely.
Here are a few critical factors to keep in mind when you find yourself in a home search from afar.
Do your homework
When it comes to long-distance home shopping, “the Internet is your friend,” remarks Meghann Shike of Synergy Realty in Nashville. “You know the neighborhoods you live around, but you know nothing about your new one. You don’t know where the mall is, the [grocery store], or the schools.”
Though nothing can substitute checking out the neighborhood in person, Shike recommends looking up commute times to work, crime rates in the area, and, most importantly, how the schools rank. Even if you don’t have children or don’t plan to have children, it’s still good to know the quality of the schools for resale purposes.
One of the biggest pieces of the long-distance house-hunting puzzle, however, is to make sure you’re researching who the best local real estate agents are. It’s always crucial to hire an agent you trust, but with a long-distance search the agent can make or break the experience.
“You’re going to want someone local on the ground — someone who is very familiar with the city, neighborhood, and prices,” Shike says. “You need to get a feel for how that person operates. Are they available to talk to you? You’re going to have more questions than you realize, and your agent is going to need to be there to answer them.”
Have a travel budget
When Kyle and Samantha Steele found out they were going to be moving from Oklahoma City to Columbus, OH for Kyle’s new job, the couple looked at listings online, got in touch with real estate agents, and picked an upcoming weekend to house hunt in person.
The Steeles’ agent showed them multiple houses, but nothing was quite right. Then they found out that many of the older neighborhoods in the area didn’t have great access to high-speed Internet. That’s when they decided to build.
Their agent was instrumental in guiding them on their short house-hunting weekend, and in finding a builder. “[Our agent] basically helped us with everything, every step of the way,” Kyle states. “When we couldn’t find anything, she helped us find model homes in the area we’re building in, and showed us three different model homes. She answered questions, and helped us find the building company. She even helped us find a hotel for the weekend.”
Inevitably, unexpected appointments came up during the building process that required one of the Steeles to be present. “We had to make an appointment to meet with the design studio to pick out the floors and the carpet,” Samantha remarks. “So far, I’ve been to Ohio twice.”
The couple advises long-distance house hunters to prepare and plan ahead, especially for last-minute travel. “Be flexible,” Kyle says. “Make sure you have a few thousand dollars in reserve that you can spend on plane tickets and a hotel — because you will have to go back and forth.”
From the agent perspective, Shike recommends planning a house-hunting trip that’s at least four to five days long, so you’re not cramming in tons of showings that you won’t remember at the end of the day.
Know what you want
When you’re in the market for a home, you should always have a running list of features you want, but it’s especially crucial when you’re buying from a distance.
“I like to tell my clients to do a ‘top five.'” Shike says. “What’s your non-negotiable? Is it being able to step out the front door to walk your dogs? Do you want to walk your kids to school?”
Knowing exactly what you want out of a house and location allows your agent to help you narrow down neighborhoods and homes more easily, and assist you in making an offer quickly, which is especially important in a fast-moving market.
“Buyers need to get over the fear of writing an offer when they haven’t seen the house in person,” remarks Shike. “I can video chat our way through the house, but I can’t get you on a plane [to get here] in the same time the local people can who are shopping.”
Overcome remote home-buyer jitters
For those buyers who are nervous about making an offer sight unseen, Shike says there is the possibility of adding a clause in the contract that the sale is contingent on the buyer seeing it.
Of course, there is also always the option of renting first before you take the plunge. “You could rent for the short term or get a six-month lease, which is enough time to get settled in your job or routine,” recommends Shike. “That can be nice for buyers who are a little more anxious about the process — to relieve that anxiety.”
Overall, buying a house from a distance shouldn’t necessarily be looked at as a negative experience. In fact, Shike believes it can give many shoppers new opportunities, and buyers are often more excited when purchasing long distance.
“It can be a nice change of pace for people,” Shike adds. “Another benefit to moving long distance is a fresh start: a new neighborhood, new culture, new people, and new experiences everywhere.”
On Point Homevestments
Rule #1 of the best week off at home: Plan ahead.
You don’t need to stay in a hotel and play tourist to have a proper staycation. Look no further than your own home for a staycay dreams are made of.
Make no mistake, an at-home staycation doesn’t just mean a lazy weekend on the couch. Turn your humble abode into a resort made for relaxation with a few days of planning and prep work.
Here’s your guide to creating the ultimate staycation.
Tackle chores in advance
Sure, a hotel stay comes with amenities like maid and room service, but you can have a work-free staycay with a bit of planning.
Make a list of chores you want to tackle a few days before your staycation begins. At the very least, cover the basics, like washing linens, dusting, and vacuuming.
For an added level of sparkle, schedule some time to clean your windows. That way when you’re staring out to your backyard garden or pool (aka your staycay resort spa), your windows will be as spic-and-span as those at a five-star bed and breakfast.
Don’t ruin your staycay by thinking about household tasks you should be doing. Better yet, for a totally chore-free staycay, consider setting aside extra cash for a housecleaning service to do the work for you beforehand.
Maximize your comfort
Maybe your home is already perfectly comfy and cozy. But for maximum staycation relaxation, why not add a few extra comfort elements to make your home feel like a luxury B&B?
Create designated spaces
Think about what kind of environment will best help you reach peak relaxation. You can do a quick makeover of your bathroom to create a calming home spa, or carve out a quiet corner for a meditation or reading nook. Just think Zen.
If a spa setting is more your style, look at bath pillows, aromatherapy candles, and bath oils. Or if you simply crave a reading corner, pick up some new reads that have been sitting on your wishlist for too long.
Don’t forget the kiddos: Create a designated craft or board game corner, or come up with a few activities they can enjoy during your staycay.
Look outside for added comfort ideas, too. Whether you add a hammock, porch swing, or patio furniture, look for ways to blend your staycay lounging with the great outdoors.
If your family members are big fans of the outdoors, set up your camping gear in the backyard for part of your staycay, or try out a DIY firepit and enjoy fireside chats and s’mores.
Manage meals ahead of time
Just like with tidying up your home and amplifying relaxation spaces, you’ll want to plan your meals ahead of time for a quality staycation.
Don’t waste precious relaxation time during your actual week off figuring out menus. Pick your favorite family recipes, plan which meals you’ll have delivered from favorite eateries, and knock out grocery shopping before your staycay begins. Bonus tip: When you do go on that grocery store run, pick up a few special snacks and treats for everyone.
If you enjoy cooking, consider using some of your staycation time to make more intricate meals than you typically have time for — or bring in a local chef for a family cooking lesson.
Plan ahead to make it count
With a few well-planned tasks on your pre-staycation to-do list, you can turn your house into a staycay sanctuary. Map out what you want your staycation to be like and delegate tasks. Soon you’ll be ready for a few days of ultimate relaxation — without ever having to leave your home.
On Point Homevestments
Who foots the bill when the maintenance issues roll in? It depends, so get to know your tenant rights.
One of renting’s major benefits is that you don’t have to worry about upkeep, maintenance and expensive repairs. So when things go bad — your dishwasher stops working, the roof is leaking or the bugs just won’t go away — your first call is usually your landlord.
But how do you know what’s really their responsibility and what falls to you? And what do you do if they refuse to handle the repairs?
Read on for the most common rental issues and how to get them fixed quickly.
Water damage & mold
Easily one of the nastiest discoveries you can find in your home, mold is a common problem — especially in humid or rainy climates. And while most mold doesn’t cause health problems, some types can cause respiratory issues, headaches and allergy symptoms.
Since there’s no easy way for the average tenant to know if the mold in their home is dangerous or not, it’s always best to ask your landlord to get rid of it.
While there’s no federal law that dictates mold exposure limits in rental housing, some states and cities have put guidelines in place. But, even if your state doesn’t have specific mold regulations, your landlord is still responsible for providing safe, livable housing.
In addition to requesting that your landlord remove the mold, make sure they find the source of the mold, whether it’s a leak in the roof or around the windows, failing plumbing, or a basement that’s not watertight. If the underlying water damage isn’t addressed, the mold will likely return.
The one time a landlord may be able to reject your request for mold remediation is if they believe it’s a result of your behavior — if you don’t keep your home well-ventilated, don’t clean regularly or run a humidifier too much.
Your landlord is responsible for keeping any appliances that came with the unit in good working order. They’re also required to do the preventive maintenance that keeps your appliances up and running, like replacing worn hoses or servicing the air conditioner.
If you brought some of your own appliances, like a microwave or a washer and dryer, you’re typically responsible for repairing and replacing them.
Perhaps the most important appliance your landlord is responsible for is your furnace. Local and state laws require landlords to provide adequate heating, so if you’re having trouble keeping your home warm, reach out to your landlord immediately.
In some warm-weather states, landlords are also required to provide air conditioning. It may not be required in other states, but if your unit has air conditioning, your landlord is required to maintain it.
Remember when we said that landlords are required to provide tenants with a safe, livable space? That includes pest-free living, but there are a few more gray areas with pests than with other maintenance issues.
Whether your landlord is responsible or not depends on a few factors, including the state you live in, the type of rental unit and the type of pest. For example, in some states (but not others), landlords are legally required to manage bedbug infestations, which are an increasingly common issue.
In some states, landlords are responsible for all pest control, unless you’re renting a single-family home and they can prove that the pests are a result of you not keeping your home clean.
No matter where you live and what local and state regulations are, let your landlord know about any kind of pest as soon as possible. A good landlord should want to address these issues quickly to avoid having them spread to different units.
What if my landlord isn’t cooperating?
In a perfect world, your landlord would fix every problem, without issue, in a timely manner. But in the real world, that doesn’t always happen.
Consider these tips for getting landlord repair issues handled quickly and completely:
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