Many investors don’t think about the rent vs. buy analysis that a consumer should be focusing on before they consider buying a home. This analysis varies across neighborhoods. In places like New York City, it could cost a consumer 1.5x or even 2.0x as much to buy a home on a monthly basis as it would cost to rent that same home. Conversely, in a city like Detroit, it might be it might cost 2.0x or even 3.0x to rent a home on a monthly basis in comparison to purchasing that same home. So what does that have to do with an investor?
Real Estate Trends
It’s simple: investors need to watch the trends. Regardless of the absolute number, as it gets cheaper to rent a home or buy a home, consumers will move, one way or the other. While most consumers will not sit down and do the actual analysis, media, real estate advertising and other sources of information serve to shape the consumers’ opinion of value. Investors can use this leading indicator to better understand where the price of their investment property will trend.
Consider the real estate market in 2007. In 2007 many housing markets reached historical high prices, while rents grew modestly over that same time period. The gap between rents and mortgage payments grew to an all-time high in many markets. Smart investors watching this gap could only expect reversion of either home prices or rents. If economic growth and prosperity were driving the increase in housing prices, investors would have expected rents to increase as well. If low interest rates and irrational consumption were driving the growth in the housing market, investors could expect housing prices to decline at some point.
Real Estate Prices
Savvy investors were using this data as a warning sign to sell their single family home investments. Assuming low interest rates and irrational consumption would lead to a decline in housing prices, investors should not have assumed that rental rates would increase. To the contrary, the housing market growth drove consumption and the sudden halt put the economy on very shaky footing.
Smart investors should have sold and simply waited. Real estate is one of the few investment classes that simply allow an investor ample time to get in and out of the market. Market movements take months or even years, so investors could have seen the warning signs in 2005, 2006 and 2007. Real estate is cyclical, so investors will get another chance to make the right choice. Watch out for home prices declining to the point where they are on par with their historical relationship to rents. That will be the time to buy.