Thom describes his analysis of the current and especially difficult market factors that led him to the choice to purchase a less than perfect home, rather than rent, wait, and perhaps end up with no home at all.
Last year I had a divorce that ended up in a demand from my ex wife to sell our Bend home so that she could get her equity into her pocket. I loved that house, and had put a ton of sweat equity into it. I bought it in a fixer condition, and knew that I had made a very large and tidy profit on it. So, after much gnashing of teeth and softly preparing my daughter for the loss, we indeed sold the house. Despite my admonitions to my ex wife that we would get much more money for it this Summer, we sold it in Spring, and it closed sale on April 30th.
Meanwhile, I had been looking. Homes in Bend that were perfect for what is rapidly becoming my new family, homes which I had seen for sale last Fall for $350,000 ish, were now $425,000. I was undaunted, as I was selling a $300,000 home, and my new Love was selling her $220,000 home, so we should be able to afford $425,000, right? Well, not exactly. Banks have actually tightened their lending standards since I bought in January 2011, and though we had a ton of money for a down payment, fluctuating self employment income and my Love’s full time student status brought us down to Earth rapidly- they would only give us enough to buy in the very low $300,000 range.
Now I had been using an MLS portal, the same type I set up for my clients, and I knew that 4 bedroom Bend homes in the $300,000 range with a large lot and a 3 car garage were almost non existent. When they did exist, they were in areas I simply would refuse to live, areas I know well to be problematic from my 23 years in the area. We could get a 3 bedroom, with no office for my business, and a 2 car garage, with no space for the ski boat or other “Bend” type recreational toys, and we could get a smaller lot. Not exactly inspiring stuff! After living for a month in my new Love’s house in a neighborhood where people can hear their neighbors’ conversations in their back yard, I wanted to get back to the sort of home I had sold; one with an idyllic, large back yard and outdoor entertaining space. I grew up in the Southwest, so outside is the way I like to live when at all possible.
After chasing down a few homes which we ended up being too late to nab (Seriously, the $300k range is about the worst in terms of inventory here, being about the mid-line of home purchases in Bend and having the largest demographic of the buying public perusing them), we had a choice to make, a choice I have seen clients wrestle with in recent months as well. Do I hold my nose and buy something less than perfect and try to fix its limitations, or do I rent and wait for several months hoping that inventory improves?
It did not take long to decide. Option 2 is out, and here are the reasons why.
Rising rates. We saw rates spike a quarter point in less than a week, and they don’t look to be stopping. A home we planned to buy at $325k is no longer available to us because of that quarter point jump. It puts us over the magic 45% debt to income ratio that banks use as their dividing line these days (It was 51% when I bought my last house). If we wait until next year, my guess is we are looking at 6% or so. Not a bad rate historically, but one’s buying power is crushed with each tiny tick up in rates.
Rising Prices. Prices rose 20% last year, and they have risen about 10% so far this year in Bend. With the low Bend Home inventory and so many buyers hearing the “ALL CLEAR” bell ring at the same time, they are going to rise more quickly the rest of the Summer and Fall, in my opinion. If we wait we risk BOTH rising rates AND rising prices crushing us to the point where we won’t be able to buy anything, a position I was in back in the 2005 era, where I had given up on buying a decent home here, as the median Bend home price was around $465,000.
Rising rents, fewer homes. Lastly, rents are rising very quickly in Bend as well, which is a historic change. Traditionally, rents here have been low as our economy does not support the kind of jobs that pay high rents. However, with so many people having moved to Bend in the last two years and far fewer of them buying than before, and so many others having lost their homes and no longer able to buy, the renter pool is massive these days, and since almost no new homes were built for four years here, there are fewer homes to go around. So, the same dynamic is occurring in the rental market that we see in the home purchasing market- a large demand and a tiny supply is pushing rents upward. Add to this the fact that we lose major tax benefits (both of us being self employed) by renting, and this is the last nail in the coffin of waiting to buy a home.
And so, friends, I am left with only one decision. HOLD MY NOSE AND BUY SOMETHING! And that is exactly what we are doing. We made an offer on a Bend home that needs some work (it has no furnace, just wall heaters, only 3 bedrooms when we need 4, and is only 1650 square feet, when we need well over 2000) this weekend. It came down to the same thing that ended up deciding my last home purchase- the lot. You can change a home, you cannot change (at least not in terms of size, privacy, location) the lot. This is a gorgeous lot, at the end of a cul de sac, a half acre, very private with lots of potential for gardens, greenhouses, and room for the dogs and the kids. To make it work we will have to spend a bundle to convert the garage to a real master suite, and then build a new garage next to the home. Not to mention putting in one of the new Japanese style Mini-split ductless heat pump systems.
But it does accomplish a few things. It gets me back to the West side of Hwy 97, where traffic is lighter and flows better, trains don’t stop your progress daily, and restaurants, pubs, trails, and the river are all in biking distance. It gets me back into a home like the one I had, which was very private, has gorgeous and idyllic backyard space, and has lots of quiet in the evenings and on weekends. Even better, this one is not on a busy road as was the last. And, by increasing the footage to over 2000, and bringing the 90’s styling inside the home into the 21st Century, we should have a $400,000 home by Fall, albeit with a much smaller mortgage.
So, my message is this. We are indeed in a tough market. If you are the picky type, this is not the Bend real estate market for you, though you would have loved it two years ago when my buyers (including myself) had the run of the place and could buy anything. Now, there is not much out there to buy. And time based financial pressures (rising rates, rising prices, and rising rental prices with limited availability) are all saying that if you don’t buy now, you will either get much less for your money later, or like many in the pre-boom and boom years, may be pushed out altogether. This Bend real estate market takes an open mind, a lack of fear, and a sense of creativity. Cash helps if you have it, and if you are an all cash buyer but find yourself in the same situation I am in where I can’t find what I want at my price, I HIGHLY recommend you consider a small loan at “still ridiculously low” rates, and then do like I am doing, put that cash into MAKING THE HOME YOUR OWN, MAKING IT THE BEND HOME YOU WANTED!
That way, you end up with what you want, you take advantage of low rates while they still exist, you keep the tax benefits of home ownership, and you beat the herds that will no doubt continue to come and drive our prices up for the next several years. I made 50% on my last home purchase by carefully studying the risk/reward ratio of the situation, though many did not agree with me at the time. Once again, the slight risk we are taking offers great reward, and indeed, it is a much, much lower risk than I was taking at the end of 2010. It seems a no brainer to me, and I have tried to counter argue the points above, to no avail. If you can’t either, perhaps you will agree.