After two years of a wildly hot and competitive housing market with skyrocketing home prices, there are some signs indicating that these record-high spikes might start leveling off. This past April, home price increases declined for the first time in four months, as did sales of new homes.
But many experts note that, given the ongoing shortage of properties, home prices will still continue to go up in 2022 -- just at a slower pace. Plus, prospective new homeowners have to contend with relatively high mortgage rates, which keep monthly mortgage payments expensive. Although mortgage rates have dropped slightly since the Federal Reserve announced its fourth rate hike of the year to continue combating inflation, they’re still more than 2% higher than they were at the beginning of 2022. So homebuyers should expect their mortgage payments to be higher this year, even if lessening demand decreases competition for homes.
“If we’ve seen the peak in inflation then we have seen the peak in mortgage rates,” said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at CNET’s sister site, Bankrate. “The outlook for a weaker economy will hold sway as long as inflation pressures begin to show evidence of easing. If we get a couple months down the road and that hasn’t happened, then all bets are off.”
Even though mortgage rates appear to be leveling off, when taking all of these factors into account, a homebuyer will now pay almost 47% more for the same property compared with a year ago, according to Realtor.com.
Buying a home is one of the most important money moves you’ll ever make. It’s an exceptionally personal decision that requires evaluating your long-term goals while making sure you’re financially ready, from the down payment to interest on a home loan. Your job stability, household needs and the inventory available where you want to live all play a role in determining what makes sense for you.
Here are the most important things to consider when buying a house in 2022, including why it might make sense to wait or to rent instead of buy.
Key factors to consider when buying a home in 2022
Right now, home prices are still seeing double-digit growth nationwide and all-cash offers still make up around a quarter of housing bids, according to Jessica Lautz, vice president of demographics and behavioral insights at the National Association of Realtors. Does that mean you should try to hold off until prices start going down? Not necessarily.
The first thing to keep in mind is that expert predictions are imperfect. No one knows what’s going to happen with the economy, even with warning signs for events like recessions. And timing the market, or trying to make decisions based on what you think will happen to prices or rates in the future, is generally not a sound strategy. “With housing, buyers tend to obsess over home values and how buying at a certain time may be better for appreciation and equity,” said Farnoosh Torabi, personal finance expert and editor-at-large at CNET. “That’s important, but your monthly housing payment is what really matters in the end.”
Even if you have a plan, be prepared to pivot in this market. Maggie Moroney, 27, is trying to buy her first home in the Washington, D.C. area, but can’t find anything affordable. Between sales and rentals, there’s low inventory in both markets.
“I probably could try to buy something, but it’d be a little bit of a stretch, especially with interest rates,” she said. Moroney doesn’t want to rush the decision and plans to wait it out if she doesn’t find a home she likes, with the hope that more inventory will start to hit the market. “I’d rather have a rental I’m not super in love with than a home I’m not in love with.”
If you’re teetering between buying a home and waiting, here are some factors to keep in mind.
1. Mortgage rates and price trends
In today’s housing market, high prices along with home loan rates are two of the most important factors at play. Although mortgage rates fluctuate daily, they are expected to remain between 5-6% for the rest 2022 -- though what happens next with inflation will tell where rates are headed. So far, rates are already more than 2 percentage points higher than this time a year ago and passed the 5.5% mark in June, but seem to be evening out since the announcement of the Fed’s fourth rate hike in July.
Although rates dipped slightly with the most recent interest hike, it’s still important to understand how the rate you lock in for your mortgage will impact your monthly payments, as well as the total amount you’ll pay over the lifetime of your loan.
For example, if you take out a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage to buy a $500,000 house at a 5.2% interest rate, you’ll pay $488,000 in interest over the life of your loan. But if you wait and buy a $450,000 house at a 6.5% interest rate, you’ll end up paying $574,000 in interest over the course of your mortgage. So even though you paid less for your home, you’re paying more than the difference in price due to interest over three decades.
Scaling back your budget and looking at homes that may be smaller or in less-expensive neighborhoods is an option to consider if higher mortgage rates have made your previous housing goals unattainable.
2. Financial and personal goals
Homeownership is still considered one of the most reliable ways to build wealth. When you make monthly mortgage payments, you’re building equity in your home that you can tap into later on. When you rent, you aren’t investing in your financial future the same way you are when you’re paying off a mortgage.
Another factor to take into consideration is how long you plan to live in the house. If you expect to live there for a decade or longer, you’ll likely be able to refinance your mortgage to a lower rate, reducing your monthly payment in the process. However, if you plan to move in a few years, it likely won’t make financial sense for you to refinance. In that case, it’s worth considering an adjustable-rate mortgage, which can help offset today’s high mortgage rates by offering you a lower initial interest rate that only adjusts or increases later on in your mortgage term.
3. Future housing trends and recession risks
As buyer competition decreases when buying a home becomes increasingly unaffordable, it could mean that inventory opens up where you’re looking. In June, the national inventory of available homes grew by 18.7% this year compared to last year. More available inventory means that you have more homes to choose from, increasing the chances you can buy something you actually want this year versus scrambling in a bidding war for whatever is available in your budget.
But there’s also talk of a looming recession. If you wait to buy instead, you could avoid potentially overpaying for a home that could lose its value in an upcoming economic downturn, said Torabi. Plus, if the economy slows down, it’s possible the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates less aggressively, which could benefit potential homeowners trying to lock in a better rate on their mortgage.
Is it better to rent than buy right now?
It depends, especially when we’re dealing with an unpredictable period of high inflation.
On one hand, if you buy a house and secure a fixed-rate mortgage, that means that no matter how much prices or interest rates go up, your fixed payment will stay the same every month. That’s an advantage over renting since there’s a good chance your landlord will raise your rent to counter inflationary pressures. Right now, rents are rising faster than wages, and if homebuyers are priced out of the housing market, there’ll be more pressure to rent, which will increase competition. Many are already experiencing a red-hot rental market, leading to rental bidding wars and evictions.
On the other hand, even though a fixed-rate mortgage can offer you more predictability and budget stability, “as long as inflation continues to outpace wages, there could be benefits to renting right now as the economy worsens,” said Torabi.
For example, one advantage of renting over buying is that you can save the cash you would have otherwise needed to use for a down payment. In a time of economic uncertainty, if you don’t have to worry about coming up with a down payment and emptying most of your entire bank account to secure yourself a home, you can stay more liquid. Having more cash on hand can offer you added security if a recession negatively impacts your financial situation.
“It’s important to know the differences in cost of owning a home versus the cost of renting,” said Robert Heck, vice president of mortgages at Morty, an online mortgage marketplace. “How much is homeowners insurance going to cost? How much are the annual property taxes? Maybe you’re not used to paying property taxes if you’ve been renting. Consider the costs that will go into maintaining a home.”
Ultimately, whether you rent or buy often comes down to practical considerations like whether you need more space to start a family, or your lease is ending -- regardless of market conditions.