Forget stocks. Don't bet on gold. After four years of plunging home prices, the most attractive asset class in America is housing.
From his wide-rimmed cowboy hat to his roper boots, Mike Castleman fits moviedom's image of the lanky Texas rancher. On a recent March evening, Castleman is feeding cattle biscuits to his two pet longhorn steers, Big Buddy and Little Buddy, on his 460-acre Bar Ten Creek Ranch in Dripping Springs, a hamlet outside Austin in the Texas Hill Country. The spread is a medley of meandering streams, craggy cliffs, and centuries-old oaks. But even in this pastoral setting, his mind keeps returning to a subject he knows as well as any expert around: the housing market. "I'm a dirt-road economist who sees what's happening on the ground, and in 35 years I've never seen a shortage of new construction like the one I'm seeing today," declares Castleman, 70, now offering a biscuit to his miniature donkey Thumper. "The talking heads who are down on real estate will hate to hear this, but America needs to build a lot more houses. And in most markets the price of new homes is fixin' to rise, not fall."
Castleman is in a unique position to know. As the founder and CEO of a company called Metrostudy, he's spent more than three decades tracking real-time data on the country's inventory of new homes. Each quarter he dispatches 500 inspectors to literally drive through 45,000 subdivisions from Baltimore to Sacramento. The inspectors examine 5 million finished lots, one at a time, and record whether they contain a house that's under construction, one that's finished and for sale, or a home that's sold. Metrostudy covers 19 states, or around 65% of the U.S. housing market, including all the ones hardest hit by the crash: Florida, California, Arizona, and Nevada. The company's client list includes virtually every major homebuilder and bank -- from Pulte (PHM) and KB Home (KBH) to Bank of America (BAC) and Wells Fargo (WFC).
The key figures that Metrostudy collects, and that those clients prize, are the number of homes that are vacant and for sale in each city, and the number of months it takes to sell all of them. Together those figures measure inventory -- the key metric in determining whether a market has a surplus or a shortage of new housing.
There are those currently debating the financial advantages of owning a home. Some are looking at studies and reporting that homeownership has never really been a great investment.
One of these people is Jack C. Francis, a former Federal Reserve economist and professor at Baruch College. He said in a recent CNBC:
“For generations, parents and grandparents have been telling us that the way to get ahead was to buy a house and keep making payments with a fixed interest rate and after 20 or 30 years it would be way up in value and that was your nest egg in old age. You could either live in it rent free or sell it and use the proceeds to rent an apartment.”
The article goes on to explain the rest of Mr. Francis’ comment:
That was good advice until 2006 when home prices collapsed, he says, and it “may become good advice 10 years from now, but right now it’s not.”
Mr. Francis bases his conclusions on a study he completed which covered the years 1978 through 2008. In his study it showed that home prices increased annually by 5.7% and that the S&P 500 increased by 10.8%. Based on this information, Mr. Francis gives the following advice:
To students who come to him for guidance on whether to buy or rent in the near term, however, Francis has one word of advice: wait. “I keep telling them this is not the time to buy,” he says.
Let’s take a closer look at this conclusion.
1. We have our own study.
Mr. Francis did a study over a thirty year period which did not include the last 3 years. If we look at the same categories since January 2000 (covering one of the worst decades in American real estate history), we find that home values GAINED 42% while the S&P LOST 4.7%. It all depends on which set of data you choose to use.
2. The proper comparison is rent vs. buy.
All of these comparisons claim that putting your money into a different investment vehicle other than real estate might make sense. What they are not taking into consideration is that the investor will still have a housing expense. They will still need money for shelter. They cannot just take their money for shelter and buy other assets with it. A person can’t live in their 401k or their IRA. This leads us to…
3. In most markets today, owning is LESS expensive than renting.
Trulia recently came out with their Rent vs. Buy Index. The report shows:
that it is more affordable to buy than to rent a two-bedroom home in 72 percent of America’s 50 largest cities.
4. Current mortgage opportunities may never be available again
The government has driven mortgage interest rates to all time lows. You can still get a 5% rate and guarantee it for 30 years. Both of these opportunities may soon disappear. Mortgage rates will increase as the economy improves and the Fed no longer feels pressure to keep rates low. The 30 year mortgage may soon be a thing of the past if suggested mortgage reforms come to be. You can lock in your housing expense for 30 years if you purchase. Renting is like having an adjustable rate loan with no cap that readjusts EVERY year. Which way do you think a landlord will readjust it?
5. Most Americans see more to homeownership than financial value.
Last week, Fannie Mae released the National Housing Survey. The survey reported:
- 96% of all homeowners said homeownership has been a positive experience.
- 84% of Americans still believe that owning a home makes more sense than renting. Even 68% of renters believe owning makes more sense.
- 2 in 3 Americans believe that lifestyle benefits of homeownership (65%) are superior to the financial benefits (32%).
There are more and more studies being done on the value of homeownership. We think we will trust in what our parents and grandparents said. Your mortgage payment is money you put into your savings. Your rent payment goes into the garbage.
Neighborhood Hunting Made Easy By Shira Levine
When looking for a home, Laura Hansen knew she was going to be making some compromises. Her previous home, in Annapolis, Maryland, was a townhouse in a development full of busy young professionals like herself. This time, she wanted more of a dream house, and for Hansen that meant a sprawling property with a dock overlooking the Chesapeake Bay. The bay house she found and ultimately bought was a fixer-upper with a great price. But the neighborhood is filled with people her parents’ age not exactly great for the single Hansen’s social life. As Hansen discovered, the perfect home isn’t always in the ideal ‘hood, and the best neighborhoods don’t always have the dream crib. When you go real estate shopping, you’re not just buying the house, you’re buying into everything around it, too. Writer Mary Umberger with InmanNews has come up with a set of criteria to take the surprises out of neighborhood hunting. Inspired by her list, we spoke with Prudential Douglas Elliman’s Frances Katzen, who heads up The Katzen Group, and Stanley Wong of Beast Social, a real estate event planning group
How North Carolina Surpassed Florida As The Number One Retirement State
Florida and Arizona have long been the favorite 2 states for retirement migration. A new study from Del Webb, however, finds that the Carolinas, North and South, have usurped FL and AZ’s traditional positions as the favorite retirement destination states. This new preference is so significant that Florida is no longer experiencing a net gain in retirees. This article will concentrate on how and why North Carolina overcame Florida to become the number 1 retirement destination. In addition to trying to explain how this important shift has come about, we will also review some of the top places to retire in this diverse state. A future article will explore South Carolina.
North Carolina’s Special Sauce
A warm winter climate has traditionally been the most important reason for choosing a retirement state. That preference is a key reason why AZ and FL have always been at the top of the retirement state pyramid. Since winters aren’t all that warm in the Carolinas, North Carolina’s overtaking Florida in retirement popularity represents a profound change. The trend is so pervasive that it has spawned a new term, “half-back”, which describe retirees who retired to Florida from the northeast only to later move “half way back” home to the Carolinas. So what has changed among retirees to bring this phenomenon about, and just what is in North Carolina’s secret retirement sauce?
In a recent Del Webb survey among baby boomers on retirement preferences the top reasons for choosing where to live in retirement were cost of living, health care, climate, and opportunities for culture and recreation. Family and friends were further down the list. Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research found the same general reasons for retirement moves, but in a different order: family, financial, better location, leisure/climate, and health. Looking at these and related reasons, is there a logical explanation why boomers now prefer North Carolina over Florida for retirement?
To learn the full answer CLICK HERE
So Why is North Carolina coming out on top for retirement preference?
After analyzing all of these factors we had hoped that we would find a compelling reason why North Carolina is beating the pants off Florida in attracting retirees. Unfortunately, that is not the case. On most factors the states are about even – each one comes out ahead on a few points and behind on some others. Conclusion: there must be some intangibles at work here.
The Cool Factor
These are strictly our opinions, but here are some reasons why North Carolina’s Secret Sauce is giving Florida a licking in the retirement department:
- Florida just isn’t cool anymore. In our opinion most of us baby boomers are obsessed with fads – being cool by being in on the latest trend. Too many movies have parodied retirement life in Florida from “Cocoon” to “In Her Shoes”. A lot of people don’t want to be associated with the blue haired, shuffleboard playing set that is displayed in popular culture about Florida.
- Florida is tacky and crowded. By no means is the whole state that way, but there are many, many towns where everything is new and every store is a big box or a chain. Some people are rejecting that barrenness, along with the intense traffic and development that comes with unchecked growth.
On the positive side, North Carolina has a cool factor. Towns like Asheville, New Bern, and Chapel Hill have good reputations as interesting places to live. North Carolina represents something new and undiscovered, with the advantage of being not too far away or too different from the northeast many retirees are moving away from.
Most popular retirement towns in North Carolina
Here are the most popular retirement towns in North Carolina as determined by page visits to their reviews at Topretirements.com:
Asheville – In the western mountains – the #1 retirement spot in the country
Beaufort – An old seaport (and Blackbeard the Pirate’s retirement town) with considerable charm
Chapel Hill – A lively college town and home to the University of North Carolina
Hendersonville – Small town in the Blue Ridge National Heritage area
Mount Airy – The fictional home of Mayberry in the mountains
New Bern – Smaller and more charming, near the coast
Pinehurst – Charm and understated elegance in a legendary golf community
Southport – An active fishing village in southern North Carolina – where “Dawson’s Creek” was filmed
Winston-Salem – A larger city that is attracting retirees
The proposed Ecusta Trail would be built in the rail corridor that connects Hendersonville and Brevard and passes through Laurel park, Horse Shoe, Etowah and Pisgah Forest. The proposed 18.5-mile trail would connect trails in Hendersonville to trails in Brevard. The vision for a rail trail began several years ago, which culminated in a petition that circulated through Henderson and Transylvania counties. More than 1,000 residents signed an online petition supporting the possible conversion of the rail line, several municipalities passed resolutions of support for the project, including the cities of Hendersonville and Laurel Park. Most recently, Henderson County commissioners passed a resolution last week to support continued evaluation of the project.
A website has been established to inform and educate the general public in regards to this exciting and locally beneficial project. The Friends of Ecusta Trail website is www.ecustatrail.org, which contains more detailed information about the project.