A classic question I get when talking to a would-be real estate investor is: “Shouldn’t we buy a home to live in first before buying investment homes?”
The answer is – it depends on where you live.
When considering owning your own residence, there are various layers of reasoning. Some are logic and numbers-based. Some are emotional, traditional and familial.
Owning your own home can be associated with safety, security, having “arrived”, satisfying family members’ aspirations, the stability of having a (hopefully) permanent place to live, and so on.
Of course, everyone has a different set of emotional considerations when it comes to owning a home. These vary from person to person and, needless to say, are hard to quantify.
In this post, I will address the logical, numbers-based approach to the question of whether to buy your own home as your first real estate move, or rent and buy investment homes instead.
The numbers tell the story
If you are considering buying your own home, the price of the home matters, the rent required to rent that same home matters, the local property taxes matter, the mortgage interest rates matter, dwelling insurance rates matter, and even the new 2018 tax law weighs in.
If you live in a market where property taxes are relatively low (say, between 1 and 1.7 percent of the home price per year), and insurance rates are reasonable, then if you are considering buying a home under about $400,000, that should be a “no-brainer” as your first step. Between $400,000 and $500,000 would still be a reasonable range to consider buying the home. In such a market, once you step up to the $500,000 range and above, the math may well start to turn as you climb higher in price, in favor of renting a home in the area in which you live. Following that, owning rental homes in more optimal markets makes sense.
Watch out for high property tax and high insurance rates
In markets where the property taxes are high (like in Texas and Oregon), and insurance rates are high (Texas again, for example), the “no-brainer” number may shrink to $300,000 or so, while the range above which you may consider renting your own home while buying affordable investment homes in other markets, will likely be $400,000 or above. This is because with high expenses for property tax and insurance, (which as a homeowner you would be paying) the overall numbers and logic “turn the corner” faster.
Certainly, in expensive areas like the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, San Diego, New York City and others such markets, it is usually far more logical to be a renter, while owning rental properties in affordable markets, where rents are actually quite high as a percentage of the home purchase prices.
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