A time to buy, a time to rent...but don't take my word for it
----The year was 1988. My wife and I, along with our two kids ages 5 & 6, were renting a three bedroom house in Van Nuys for $900 a month and we were happy. The year before, I'd just became a journeyman union plumber and my wife had just became a journeyman union electrician. We were finally making a decent living and did I mention we were happy? Very happy.
Enter my wife's father and her sister (who had just purchased a townhouse in Redondo Beach). "When are you guys going to buy a house?" "If you don't buy now you'll never be able to afford one." My wife and I had never really given it much thought but since these older and wiser people were so adamant and expressed the urgency, we agreed to look at houses for sale.
For the youngsters here, those were the days when lenders wanted 20% down. You could buy a house with 10% down IF you had an extremely high FICO, been at your good paying job for a long time, and had at least 3 months future house payments in the bank (and all that money had better of been there for a while). Since houses were approaching the $200k mark, this would mean at least $25k in the bank. We had about $10,000. We started working all the overtime we could. No vacation that year. No eating out, etc. By May of 1989 we had our $25,000.
The median price was now $210,000. There were bidding wars and camp outs and lotteries all over. With the help of an agent, we found a 1954 tract house in Canoga Park that just went on sale that day for $209,900. We made a full price offer and it was accepted. The school district was horrible but who cared? We were in at 10.75% 30-year fixed and a payment of $2000 a month. Quite a jump from our $900 rental. Also we postponed paying income taxes until August that year since we owed $7000 from claiming 10 dependants all year to save up the $25k.
Shortly after moving in, my wife had an accident at work. The general contractor cut a hole in the 2nd floor and didn't mark or secure the cover. She fell 20 feet and was hospitalized. Even though she was miraculously back 100% in 6 months, the electrical contractor she was working for sued the general contractor in her behalf and she was given $20,000 the next year, 1990.
Since we really hated the schools in Canoga Park and we now had new found money, we wanted to move to a better school district. I checked comps. The house had risen from $210k to $230k. Sweet. It was just like they said. Easy money but not enough to cash out with, yet. So we venture over the hill to Santa Clarita Valley and find a brand new home being built for $187,500. We bought it and rented out the Canoga Park house for $1200 a month. Only an $800 negative but it's going up $1600 a month in value so who cares?
We had to evict the first grandmotherly type old lady for not paying rent and the 2nd tenant caught the house on fire but those are stories for another time.
Fast forward to 1994. The housing market is tanking and interest rates have dropped. My wife and I are killing ourselves making these two payments. Something has to give. I called the lender on the rental. I tell them I want to refinance the $190,000 that I owe them to the current interest rate. They tell me the house is only worth $164,000 and besides that, I have PMI, so no way. We were FB's.
At that point, I said to my wife, "Let's walk away." She said okay and immediately the weight of the world was lifted off our shoulders. I figured we lost around $100,000 between both down payments, negative cash flow on the rental, etc. but we weren't the only ones walking. There were thousands. If we were able to walk with $100k of our money in the game, how many and how fast will the people walk this time with very little in the game?
Eight years later, 2002. My wife and I put $8000 down on a $275,000 house in Portola Hills. 2 years and 10 months later we sold it (Feb. 2005) for $500,000. Finally in the black again on real estate. People at work puzzled as to why we sold. What are we thinking? Don't you know real estate only goes up? Yeah, right.----
As you can see, the "If you don't buy now you'll never be able to afford one" line was used 18 years ago. It wasn't true then, and it won't be true this time around. It took years for things to shake out last time, and that was in a decreasing rate environment where 30yr fixed loans and 20% down payments were the norm. What do you think it is going to look like this time around with 100% financing, stated income, interest-only, neg-am, and a rising rate environment?
Some of you might have read this story already in the forums. I think this is the type of 'real world' story from the last 'Southern California Property is Invincible' real estate boom that needs to be heard by more people today. Just remember, there is a reason that interest-only loans were very popular during the 1920's...just as there is a reason they were not widely used for the 70 years afterwards.
Stay tuned for more 'math' behind the buy vs. rent equation. Keep the comments and feeback coming...not only on the posts, but on the site, the forums, and the consuling page as well.
I am going to keep making my posts over here, but I am going to shut down the comments soon. Go to
If you would like to make a comment. Don't forgot to check out the FORUMS...lots of good activity going on over there already.