Should you keep renting, or buy a home?
It's an age-old dilemma nearly every American adult wrestles with at some point. They wonder about paying rent when they could be investing in a home that will grow in value and potentially provide a nice return one day.
If that line of thinking sounds familiar, stop right there.
A number of crucial factors go into the rent-versus-buy equation — myriad calculators exist for just this purpose — but a house's potential return on investment shouldn't be your focus. In fact, you shouldn't think of it as an investment at all.
People get caught up in this notion of 'Oh, if I buy a house it's an investment, so I can do it at any time,' but it's not.
Housing is a consumption decision, not an investment decision. The amount you pay for housing should comport with your needs, goals, and budget, regardless of housing market trends and potential growth in home value.
If what you're spending each month on housing jumps when you move from renting to owning, that's not necessarily a wise financial move just because you're getting equity. You need to make sure the additional space and amenities you're consuming are worthwhile expenditures on their own merits, not for the theoretical payout they might afford later.
If you spend twice as much on a house, you're not making twice as big an investment, you're spending twice as much on housing. That's a mistaken way to approach it.
Let's say you time your local market correctly and home prices rise after you buy. If you decide to sell that home, you'll still need a place to live, and you're buying in that same market with expensive home prices unless you go back to renting.
Moreover, the process of buying and selling a house is expensive. The taxes, fees, and closing costs you'll pay when you buy and sell that home eat into any profits you reap.
Buying that house cheap and selling it once it's gotten expensive is an expensive way to make money, because the round trip cost to you is about 10%, so you take a huge hit.
If you want to make an investment in housing, you're better off doing it in the markets — such as buying shares in a real estate investment trust or an exchange-traded fund.
For buying your own home, just ensure it will match your needs for many years to come, independent of what happens in the markets.