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Are You Throwing Money Away by Owning Your Home?

toss_moneyWe all know that the three essentials for living are food, clothing, and shelter. We definitely rent our food. Do we rent or own our clothing? Hmmm.

Part of the American dream is to own your own home. And there are good reasons to do so. For instance, a Federal Reserve study[pdf] shows that the average family that owns a home has a net worth of nearly $625,000 while families who rent have a net worth of just a little over $54,000.

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Homeowners on the move

We’ve seen an interesting statistic bantered about, but we haven’t been able to pin down a reliable source. If this statistic is true, American homeowners move once every five years or so, on average.

So we thought we’d consider what that does to the buy vs. rent equation. We’ll use some averages and national statistics to create an example. However, what really matters is your own situation and your local real estate market. Only you, working with your financial advisors, can determine what’s in your best interest.

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marylynn When I was younger, one of my bosses in radio told me that I was just throwing away money by renting. I remember thinking that it made sense. I’d reached an age where maybe I should consider buying. So I did. As often happens in the radio business, less than a year later, I lost my gig. So I had to sell my house to move to a different market. I lost a lot of money by buying. If only I had had a crystal ball!

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Putting buy vs. rent to the test

We created a fictional purchase to see if we would be better off renting or owning a house for five years. We assumed that:

  • We put 20% down (approximately $63,000).
  • We financed the rest with a 30-year mortgage
  • The interest rate would be 6.50%, slightly above the current rate.
  • Our house would appreciate 4% per year, slightly below the recent average.
  • Property taxes would cost us 1% of the value of the home.
  • Insurance would run 0.50% of the value of the home. (Renters and homeowners have to insure the contents. We have the added burden of insuring the building.)
  • Repairs & maintenance would consume 1.50% of the value of the home.

Over the first five years, 83% of our total mortgage payments would go for interest. In other words, for the most part, we’ve traded renting property for renting money. If the interest rate is higher, the portion that would go to interest would also be higher. Of course, the reverse is also true.

During this period, we would pay $2,171 per month as “rental costs” for our home. We call them rental costs because they have no value once they’re paid. They only allow us to keep owning. So if we could rent a similar property for less than this, we would be better off renting instead of buying.

Of course, if we had made a down payment of less than $63,000, our cost would go up because we would be paying even more interest.

Where’s the break-even?

We also looked at how it would take before we would break-even. After all, it costs money to sell a house. We would have to pay commissions to our realtor, closing costs, and the like. We assumed these costs would total 8% of the selling price.

Given our assumptions, we looked at what would happen if we sold after one year. Our house would now be worth $326,560. From that, we would pay $26,125 in selling costs. After a year, our mortgage balance would be $248,392.

So we would be able to take out $52,043 in cash. But remember, we invested $63,000. So we lose about $11,000 if we sell after one year.

But that’s not the whole story …

We haven’t yet considered the opportunity cost of tying up that $63,000 in a house. Because if we didn’t invest it in this house, we could have invested in something else. We assumed we could have earned 6% by investing in some portfolio of financial assets.

That would have returned nearly $3,800. So by buying this house and selling it in a year, we would put ourselves in the hole nearly $15,000.

Even after 2 years, we’d still be about $3,500 behind, given our assumptions. Of course, one of those assumptions is that real estate prices are rising. It’s almost certain they will in the long run, but will they rise in the next year or two? They may not in some markets.

What’s the bottom-line?

We concluded that if we didn’t plan to own a house for at least two years, we’d rather rent. We also saw that the longer our holding period, the better we would do. For instance, in the last five years of the mortgage, only 15% of the mortgage payment would go to interest. It seems like buy-and-hold is rewarded in real estate investing.

How to get around it …

We have two friends who have been able to get around the short-term ownership problem. One of them is in the military, so he moves frequently. He only buys a house that he knows would make a good rental property. If he gets transferred, he hires a local property manager and rents it out. Until he decides where he wants to retire, he plans to hold a number of his houses.

Another friend doubled-down on this strategy. He moved quite frequently as he climbed the corporate ladder. Not only does he own houses in a number of cities, he bought additional rental properties, so he has a diversified portfolio across a number of cities. Now he’s retired living off the rents!

So you can get around the disadvantages of short-term ownership by having an alternative exit strategy!

Next time, we’ll discuss how a toy that you probably played with as a kid can help you manage your time. Until then, here’s to your bigg success!

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My Rental Property is Costing Me Money. What Should I Do?

Bigg Challenge
Jeff’s job took him several states away from a rental property that he bought about two years ago. He bought the property and fixed it up. Now his tenant is moving out and the place is a mess. So he’s going to have to invest a bunch again. But he feels he has no choice since he has so much in it already. Besides, it’s a bad time to sell real estate. He wants our thoughts on his situation.


Bigg Advice

It’s been said,

“Find a landlord who lives more than twenty minutes from his
rental and you’ll find a landlord who’s probably ready to sell.”

Properties can be managed across cities and states, but for the most part, real estate is a very local business. And, a lot of people don’t understand that you’re in business even if you only have one rental property.

Consult with a good attorney

You’ve treated this like a business, Jeff. You had your tenant sign a lease. But a lot of landlords feel like there’s little recourse if a tenant tears up the place. However, you can take legal measures against a tenant who causes damage beyond normal wear and tear.

So consult with an attorney to explore your options. There’s a good chance your attorney may handle your case on a contingency. Of course, you’ll still have to cover the courts costs.

Sell!

Check with a realtor, and even other property owners, to get an idea of what to expect if you list your property. Of course, you won’t know until you actually put it on the market, but you can probably make a reasonable guess with some more information.

Sure, we hear news reports that the real estate market is down. However, you may find it’s not as bad as you think. And here’s the thing … isn’t it better to fix it up and let it sit empty than to fix it up just to fix it up again if your next tenant does the same thing?

Distance makes the difference
Every landlord risks bad tenants, but since you live so far away, Jeff, it seems like the best move for you. The only other thing you might consider is contracting with an experienced local property manager to handle the leasing and maintenance.

You sunk my battle ship!
Picture a ship that’s sunk. You can invest money to try to make it float again, or you could just leave it on the bottom of the ocean and get a different ship. Hopefully, you quickly see which one of those two is better.

George said that, unfortunately, he’s learned this the hard way. It’s not easy when you’re the one in the middle of the situation. But the money you’ve already invested is a sunk cost, like the sunken ship. Don’t base your decision today on money that’s already been spent. Base it on what kind of return you can get on the money you will invest. If it’s better elsewhere, cut your losses and move on.

We hope this helps you with your bigg decision, Jeff. Thanks for sharing your Bigg Challenge with us!

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