October 17, 2011 at 3:53 pm EDT | by Sue Goodhart
To buy or not?

The decision to rent or buy a home is a highly personal one. It includes many factors such as the status of your savings (or access to gift funds from a family member or friend), preference for housing location, job stability or expected length of residency in your geographic location as well as many others.

Here in the Washington area, we are blessed with a relatively stable economy and housing market. While we see shifts and changes in the market at times, the market has been mostly consistent compared to other cities around the country and it has progressed without major declines.

This can be attributed to a wealth of federal jobs, which provide steady incomes and strong job security, as well as an extremely high percentage of residents with college degrees, which in most cases translates to higher incomes. According to CNN Money, D.C. workers enjoyed the highest salaries of any major U.S. city in 2010 with a median household income of $85,198. Additionally, there is a constant transition in Washington with many people moving in and out of the area each year from other towns and cities. All these factors combine to sustain a healthy housing market, even in the midst of national economic problems.

Generally speaking, if you are planning to live in a certain location for around five years or more and you have a stable income, you should consider making a home purchase. Right now interest rates are at a historic low making money “cheap” and allowing for lower monthly payments than in recent years. Also, being a homeowner saves you money in taxes, which can be enjoyed on your total tax bill or can be adjusted for each paycheck based on your deductions. If you live within the District of Columbia, first time buyers also qualify for a $5,000 tax credit which comes off your total tax bill, allowing for an additional savings to the general homeowner savings.

Rents are also on the rise in our area, making buying a home an even more attractive prospect. Since more would-be first time homebuyers are “waiting out” the economy and housing market problems, the rental market has become saturated, making it more expensive and more difficult to find a rental. As a test case, I looked at one-bedroom rentals in Dupont Circle that have rented in the past 90 days. In that time, nine properties have rented – each of them in 15 days or less for an average of six days on market. Four of the nine even rented within the first day.

The prices for these properties ranged from $1,800 to $3,050, with an average rent of $2,450. All of them except for the most expensive of the bunch rented for full list price. In previous years when the rental market was not as strong, renters had more flexibility in negotiating for a lower price and often were not competing with multiple applications. Today, most properties see multiple rental applications, allowing landlord to be more selective and causing more difficulty for renters, especially those who have pets or do not have perfect credit.

Conversely, purchasers are still getting great deals on home purchases and as mentioned previously, have the opportunity to buy with the lowest interest rates in history. While we are starting to see some multiple contract situations and even some escalation clauses for home purchasers, these are still not the norm and buyers can still find good properties at good prices.

For example, a recent client purchased a one bedroom/one-and-a-half bath condo in excellent condition in the Kalorama Triangle neighborhood of D.C. for $399,900. Using an FHA loan, they were able to put down 3.5 percent and now have a monthly payment (including the condo fee) of roughly $2,350 – $100 less than the average rental in that area. The monthly savings would be even more significant if they were to do a conventional loan with 20 percent down. When you add in the $5,000 first time homebuyer credit plus about a $350 per month in tax savings just for owning a home, this is a great investment.

If you are debating whether to rent a home or to purchase one, it is always a good idea to talk to both a real estate agent and a lender to review all the options and see what makes the most sense for your personal and financial situations at the given time.  If you have any questions about the article or the housing market in general, please don’t hesitate to contact me – I am always happy to help.

Sue Goodhart is the top-producing agent at McEnearney Associates in Alexandria and is licensed in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. She can be reached at 202-507-7800 or sue@suegoodhart.com.


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