The Business Cycle and Buying a Home
Recession and Expansion
There are times when the economy is brisk and everyone feels confident about his or her prospects for the future. As a result, they spend money. People eat out more, buy new cars, and….
…They buy houses.
Then, for one reason or another, the economy slows down. Companies lay off employees and consumers are more careful about where they spend money, perhaps saving more than usual. As a result, the economy decelerates even further. If it slows enough, we have a recession.
During such a time, fewer people are buying homes. Even so, some homeowners find themselves in a situation where they must sell. Families grow beyond the capacity of the home, employees get relocated, and some may even find themselves unable to make their mortgage payment - perhaps because of a layoff in the family.
In the business cycle of real estate, there are buyers' markets and sellers' markets...and some markets in between. It is all based on supply and/or demand.
Supply and Demand - Inventory
During sellers' markets, homes sell quickly and sellers have a lot of pricing power. As a result, prices rise more rapidly than at other times. During buyers' markets, homes may sit on the market for awhile before selling, so sellers become more flexible and may even drop their prices.
The market is determined by supply and demand.
In real estate, the relationship between supply and demand is calculated as "available inventory." At the current sales pace, how long would it take to sell the total number of houses available on the market? That is how the real estate industry measures inventory.
Inventory is measured in weeks and months. Longer inventory times are associated with buyers' markets. Shorter inventory periods are associated with sellers' markets. Some buyers and sellers hope to time their purchase to take advantage of market cycles.
Timing Your Purchase to the Market Cycle
One problem with attempting to time your purchase to the business cycle is that even experts have problems accurately predicting the future economy. Even when they can, the real estate market does not necessarily move in tandem with the stock market or the economy as a whole.
Part of the reason is interest rates.
When the economy is doing well, interest rates are generally higher. The result is that fewer people can afford houses. When the economy slows down, interest rates fall, the "affordability index" moves up and more people can afford houses.
As you can see, this cycle does not move "in sync" with the rest of the economy. It is also influenced by how many people have jobs, whether they are well-paying jobs, and consumer outlook for the future. All these factors make it difficult to know, in advance, whether the housing market is going to boom or bust.
What makes most sense is the "buy and hold" strategy. Buy a home you expect to remain in for at least seven years or more.
Why You Should Not Wait to Purchase a Home
Even if you could "time the market," that strategy would most benefit first-time buyers.
You see, people who already have a home usually need to sell it in order to come up with the down payment for their next home. Even if they don't, they would have to carry the debt and obligations on two homes at the same time. This can create financial hardship, even when you rent out the previous home. There are maintenance costs, renters don't always make their payments on time, the rent may not cover the mortgage and other costs, and sometimes the property may be vacant.
So if you are a move-up buyer and want to purchase your next home during a depressed market, you generally have to sell your current home during that same depressed market. If you want to sell during a boom, then you also have to purchase during the same boom.
It tends to equal out.
Finally, suppose you are a first-time buyer and wait think the end of a boom is near? If you guess wrong, are you going to wait...and wait...and wait...till the next depressed market? If so, you could miss out on loads of depreciation...
...and that is assuming you guess right about your market timing. In 1996, when the home market was struggling, who would have predicted what the next seven years would bring?