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  • Writer's pictureRuth Real Estate Advisor

Orange County Housing Report: Buyers Gamble

Many buyers are sitting on the fence waiting for interest rates to fall, but don’t know when to cash in their chips.

Gambling on Rates: Interest rates have fallen to 4.25%, the lowest level in over a year.

No matter what your age, or what kind of music you like, everybody has listened to and knows the lyrics to Kenny Roger’s “The Gambler.” “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em. Know when to fold ‘em. Know when to walk away. And know when to run.” It is a song about a young man who stumbles upon gambling advice from a seasoned, old, veteran gambler “on a train bound for nowhere.”

So many potential buyers are just like the young gambler, they simply don’t know when they should walk away from the fence they are sitting on and cash in their chips. They are waiting to make the plunge into home ownership but are trying to “time the market.” Unfortunately, so many of these buyers, and homeowners waiting to refinance, have been sitting on the sideline and have already missed prior opportunities to cash in on excellent interest rates. Fortunately, rates are excellent once again.

Last week was a huge week for interest rates. The last several months have been huge for interest rates. Since November 2018, interest rates have dropped dramatically from 5% to 4.25%, a substantial difference that helps on the homebuyer affordability front. Today’s rate of 4.25% is the lowest since February 2018.

What happened? The United States economy is showing signs of slowing, there has been an international economic slowdown, the price of oil has dropped substantially, the trade war seems as if there is no end in sight, and there has been tremendous stock market volatility. That is enough for investors around the world to park their money in long term U.S. government bonds. When this happens, interest rates fall. And, last week, the Federal Reserve stated that they were done raising the short-term rate and will not make a move on rates at all in 2019.

As a result, interest rates have dropped to new lows not seen in over a year. For buyers looking at a $500,000 mortgage, the drop has resulted in a savings of $224 per month compared to last November. That is an annual savings of $2,688, or $13,440 in 5 years. The savings are even more substantial for higher mortgage amounts.

This is where buyers need to understand that right NOW is an excellent time to cash in on today’s low interest rate. Waiting for interest rates to drop further is a lot like gambling. Reminiscing about the good ‘ol days when interest rates were in the mid-3% range will not magically make rates drop. Could they go down further? Perhaps. Could they go up again? Absolutely. The old saying, “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” applies. It is better to cash in today than to risk losing out on this opportunity by hoping rates fall further. There are plenty of stories of buyers who have kicked themselves for waiting too long.

In taking a closer look at affordability, for buyers looking for a $3,000 mortgage payment, along with a 20% down payment, the drop in interest rates has allowed them to afford a much larger home. Back in November 2018, they were looking at a $698,750 home with a 5% mortgage. That has improved spectacularly since. With today’s 4.25% interest rate, a buyer is now looking at purchasing a $762,500 home. That is an amazing increase of $63,750 in purchasing power.

The combination of improved home affordability and substantially more inventory than the last several spring selling seasons should lead to an increase in home buyer demand. Buyers, what are you waiting for? It is time to get off of the home buying fence and cash in your chips.

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