Many buyers fall into a trap when looking at homes. This trap is especially common during a market that is robust and appreciating. This is what I call the "investment trap". I wrote about this in a chapter of my first book in 2010 (Don't Panic, Now is the Time to Supercharge Your Portfolio, America Star Books, 2010). What is the "investment trap"? Read on...
To understand what I mean by this we first must look at the core reason people choose to buy a home rather than rent. There are many advantages to home ownership but there are some disadvantages too. So buyers are making a choice between the two. Today I am skipping the reasons for and against and working under the presumption buyers have made the choice to buy. Most buyers however, and there are a great many surveys that validate this, buy over renting because of the "investment" opportunity in the house.
First of all understand that there is a legitimate investment opportunity in buying a home. The opportunity lies in the creation of equity through appreciation and reduction of principle over time. But many buyers spend way too much energy worrying about the investment angle rather than the suitability of the property for its intended use. All too many buyers treat the purchase process as if they are buying an investment property to rent out rather than a property for which they will live.
In the book I query the notion that if a buyer wants to treat a home as an investment then they should be renting out rooms to tenants to maximize the investment. This may seem extreme, but many buyers miss out on the perfect house because they low ball offer in a seller's market, looking for an investment deal. The real estate market is a commodity market like any other. It is cold and ruthless and does not care about the plight of those who ply its roads. There is nothing wrong with looking for a deal but at some point buyers need to take the counsel of their trusted real estate professional. If a buyer does not trust their agent, then perhaps they need a new agent.
If a buyer is seeking a house to live in, then that house is first and foremost their home. It is designed to provide safe and comfortable shelter for their family. That is the primary function of the home. It is secondarily an investment opportunity. Those that insist upon seeking a "deal" often miss out on the best value of all, which is the perfect home for their family and lifestyle. In an appreciating market the equity advantage is near parity across the whole of the market. Don't get me wrong here; a trusted professional should be looking out for buyers by helping them negotiate the best terms possible once the buyer has chosen a home. Buyers need to be aware that some houses are priced right.
Owner occupant buyers are well advised to look at homes that will provide them with the most comfort and convenience within their budget. Once that home is found they can work out the best terms possible in the marketplace. In my experience appreciating markets do occasionally produce overpriced listings from sellers trying to capitalize on the upswing in values. A professional agent that knows the market well, can help buyers identify an overpriced listing and advise them on a solid offer that gives them an opportunity to get the lowest price possible on that particular property. A well priced property in this market will likely get sold at full price and rather quickly. Under priced homes are often selling instantly with multiple over asking offers. There are some nuanced exceptions, but like I said before, the market is cold and ruthless.
Those buyers caught in the "investment trap" that place the investment value of a listing in front of the value it can provide as a "home" often miss the best opportunity of all. There is a secondary "trap" as well. In an appreciating market prices will likely get higher rather than lower. Every time a buyer misses out on a home the next one that comes on the market may be more expensive than the one they passed over or lost in the bidding exchange. They are also at risk of unfavorable interest rate changes that create greater expense and reduce the investment value. These buyers may end up "settling" for something less than ideal when the best option was missed.
The investment trap often keeps buyers from getting the very best house for them. Sometimes the ideal house is not the best "deal". In the end buyers will find that almost any home they choose over a long term will be a solid investment. I believe many a great opportunity is lost when buyers buy a house instead of a home because they put investment value first rather than second where it belongs.