Spokane Journal of Business

Don’t become ‘house poor’ in overheated market

Some seeking to purchase homes might best wait for market to cool down

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Real estate has been a hot asset class this past year since the demand is more significant than supply. Prices have been going up, up, up.

With interest rates still low and lending so easy, it has helped to fuel this hot real estate market. Homeowners can afford higher sales prices with lower interest rates. But I know when anything gets too hot, you can and will get burned.

Why am I pulling the alarm? Now is the time to be careful not to rush into a large purchase—such as a home—that you may later regret.

I have often seen new homeowners get into an investment they cannot afford. Too many times, new buyers will spend all their discretionary income on mortgage and property-related expenses that they have no buffer for emergencies, much less fun. All those other expenses are going up with inflation.

Too many times, I have seen homeowners use their house as a piggy bank. How does this happen? A bank is willing to loan a home equity line of credit, for the loan is secured against the borrower’s equity in their home.

For borrowers, it’s straightforward. If real estate values go up, they have more equity, their banker then will extend credit on demand, and the homeowners have an easy fix for their short-term cash needs.

Did your kitchen remodel go over budget? No problem, tap into your HELOC. If your child goes to a college you did not budget for, you can tap into your HELOC.

Have you and your spouse been pent up from the pandemic, just ready to bust loose on vacation? Well, that HELOC seems pretty easy. Right?

Wrong. It’s terrible for so many reasons. First of all, your house should not be your piggy bank. Selling your home will not make you rich, for when you sell it, you most likely will still need to buy something else. I have never seen people wanting and planning for a lower standard of living, but when you use your home equity to fund your lifestyle, that is what you are doing.

Being house poor will most likely get you into problems if you borrow beyond your means. Your lender needs to be paid back, and when you can’t make payments, they will take your home, and you may not see any value in return. Real estate values fluctuate, and I think we are due for a pullback.

Instead, consider:

•When you find the home you want to buy, do you understand the other costs, such as property taxes, homeowners association costs, and utilities? Understand the total cost of purchasing and maintaining a home before purchasing one.

•How much time have you spent in the neighborhood and community in which you are buying? Consider renting until you are sure that particular community is an excellent long-term fit for your needs.

•Have you given thought to whether you are running from something or running to something? Especially due to the pandemic, most everyone wants to change. Take your time and don’t rush into something you may regret.

•Can you make the home purchase without borrowing from other sources for the down payment? If you cannot, you need to step back and reevaluate if you are buying beyond your means.

•Can you buy the house with enough down payment to avoid primary mortgage insurance? PMI protects the lender, and the borrower pays for it. It’s expensive because it ends up being claimed on so many times.

•After you add up all those costs, are you still able to save for your retirement? It is essential to make progress toward your long-term financial goals.

•Can you wait a year or two when the home market will most likely cool off? If you can, now may be a time you wait, for folks who have overextended themselves will need to sell. When there are more properties on the market, buyers get a better buy.

My sentiment of the real estate market cooling off is not what my Realtor friends want to hear. I don’t think this real estate fad will stay.

If you take the time to do your homework, get your ego in check, wait to buy when you can afford what you are getting into, and have enough knowledge to believe its good long-term buy, you will be able to avoid being house poor.

This is not the first time real estate rose in value to some high new levels, and every time in the past, they came down when the interest rates changed and there was more supply than demand. Interest rates have nowhere to go but up.

Sarah Carlson is the owner and founder of Fulcrum Financial Group, of Spokane. She can be reached at 509.747.2075.

Sarah Carlson
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Sarah Carlson is the owner and founder of Fulcrum Financial Group, of Spokane. She can be reached at 509.747.2075.

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