Got homeownership on the brain? Before you take the plunge (or decide to sell your current space), it’s worth asking: When is the best time to buy a house? Now? In six months? Never? We chatted with a small group of experts (a realtor, a financial advisor and a mortgage broker) to find out.
So, when is the best time to buy a house?
According to New York real estate broker Jocelyn Cloder, late fall and early winter is lower on inventory, but best for savings. A recent Zillow study confirms this: 26 percent of springtime buyers paid above asking price, while only 15 percent of buyers shopping in November did.
It’s also smart to avoid buying during busy times of year, like the back-to-school season, when there’s lots of competition. But if you wait and buy just after the school year has started, there just might be increased inventory, says Cloder.
Caroline McCarthy, vice president at Own Up, a company that helps consumers get fair deals on home financing, echos this: “Spring and summer are the most popular times to buy since many families want to be fully moved in for the start of the school year,” she says. But this timeline can ebb and flow. “For example, COVID-19 has upended the traditional homebuying seasonality this year, with some of the spring/summer market spilling into fall.”
Are home prices up or down right now?
They’re up, mainly due to the surge in demand for the suburbs. Still, there are financial perks to buying when the economy isn’t doing great.
For starters, let’s talk mortgage rates. “Rates on a 30-year conventional mortgage were over four percent one year ago. They are now below three percent,” says McCarthy. “If you bought a property and took out a $400,000 loan at a four percent interest rate, your monthly principal and interest payment would be $1,906. But at three percent, it’s $1,686. That’s over $200 a month in savings on the same property and mortgage, and adds up to over $50,000 of interest savings over the life of your loan.”
Still, Cloder warns buyers to exercise caution when looking at inflated list prices. “In many parts of Westchester county in New York, for example, sellers and could-be-sellers are capitalizing on the increased demand for more space and private outdoor space. I don’t think now is the best time to buy there if you are looking for a great deal.”
Ok, where are those great deals then?
Many urban areas like Manhattan have seen serious real estate dives during the pandemic. In fact, The New York Times reports that the number of closed sales in NYC fell by 54 percent in the second quarter of 2020, making this something of a buyer's market.
Still, there are more factors than just low prices to weigh when looking for a deal. Fortune recently evaluated the best and worst places for current real estate investment by looking at key factors like price appreciation, availability of second/vacation homes, home affordability, population growth and job opportunities.
Based on this, they deemed Austin, Texas to be the best spot for ROI. (Tech companies like Tesla continue to set up shop in Austin, and the median home price is still hovering around $400,000—significantly less than other major cities.) Other markets Fortune predicts will pay off in the coming years? Fayetteville, North Carolina, Fargo, North Dakota and Manchester, New Hampshire.
Remember, the best time to buy a house is when you’re ready
The home inventory is there. So is a good-for-you mortgage rate. But how do you know if you’re actually ready to strike while the iron is hot? Start with these three questions, says Priya Malani, co-founder and CEO of Stash Wealth, a virtual financial planning and advising firm.
- Do I have enough cash in the bank for a down payment and closing costs?
- Am I going to qualify for a mortgage?
- Will I be able to maintain my desired quality of life with this monthly mortgage payment?
If you can answer yes to questions one and two, but not to three, you may want to pause, Malani explains. “It’s important to ensure you’re still able to live your current lifestyle while staying prepared for the unexpected expenses that crop up when owning a home.” (Malani recommends earmarking one percent per year of the home’s price for unexpected maintenance and repairs.)
And remember, your mortgage isn’t the only cost. “Do you have the time and the ability to cover taxes, insurance, unexpected repairs and HOA dues?” Malani asks. Plus, just because you pre-qualify for a larger loan, it doesn’t mean you can afford to carry that cost. “Mortgage lenders are incentivized to sell you a bigger mortgage because they make money off of the interest. A larger mortgage equates to more interest, but you want to be able to live a life you enjoy after incurring the expenses of owning.”