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Should you become a housing investor?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis February 4, 2013 07:21 AM

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If you are looking to buy a home, find something that you will be happy with for the long-term.

But what about snapping up a rental property, buying stock in a publicly traded home builder, or even grabbing a slice of strategically-located but yet-to-be developed land?

There's certainly the potential for some short-term gains as hype builds in the media and beyond that we are on the verge of some sort of new real estate boom.

Yet the long-term housing market picture still looks highly unsettled, with home prices artificially supported by years of massive government subsidization and support.

In the short term, all things housing are starting to look hot again.

Snapping up a rental property might be a decent play - rents are soaring in the Boston area and most of the new construction taking place is in the high end. Of course, everyone and his brother is out there trying to do the same thing - beware of getting stuck with a turkey.

Stocks in home builders, for now anyway, are on the rise, and if you could find undeveloped land that truly will be in demand in the near future, well bully for you.

Here's a rah-rah piece on how hedge funds and other big investors are pumping boatloads of money into the housing market.

But the current housing rebound is based on a precarious foundation, a combination of a big federal backstop for most mortgages combined with the Fed's multitrillion-dollar monetary manipulations that have kept interest rates at artificially low levels.

That in turn has not just made it easier for buyers to buy, it has also propped up home prices. Basically, the Fed's massive campaign to keep borrowing costs low is enabling buyers to effectively stretch and afford homes at prices they would not be able to pull off in a more normal rate environment.

We are talking about 20 to 30 percent more purchasing power under these artificially low rates - a policy that in the long-run will more likely help current sellers than the buyers it is enabling.

Housing guru Robert Shiller, co-founder of the Case-Shiller index, called it a "very abnormal market" in a recent interview with Bloomberg TV.

It's a good housing market in the sense that mortgage rates are very low and prices have come down to normal levels, so yes, it's a good time to buy if nothing bad happens. But it's also a very bad housing market in that most of the mortgages are being supported by the government, and we have the Fed and this buying program. It's a very abnormal market. There's a lot of uncertainty going forward.

For the skeptical, here's another piece that argues the housing rebound is nothing more than distorted stats and media hype. A "complete myth," according to this blogger.

If you want to go ahead and invest, better have a quick exit strategy. What goes up is likely to come down, potentially with a crash, once Uncle Sam is finally forced to stop carrying the entire housing market on his weary back.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About boston real estate now
Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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