The residential market took a hit, but owning a home still makes sense. New York Times Op-Ed contributor Karl E. Case explains why:
…American dream, buying a house now can make a lot of sense. Think of it as an investment. The return or yield on that investment comes in two forms. First, it provides what is called “net imputed rent from owner-occupied housing.” You live in the house and so it provides you with a real flow of valuable services. This part of the yield is counted as part of national income by the Commerce Department. It is the equivalent of about a 6 percent return on your investment after maintenance and repair, and it is constant over time in real terms. Consider it this way: when Enron went belly up, shareholders ended up with nothing, but when the housing market drops, homeowners still have a house. And this benefit is tax-free.
The second part of the yield on investment in a house is the capital gain you receive if it appreciates and you sell the house. Gains are excluded from taxation if the property is a primary residence and the gain is less than $250,000 for a single filer or $500,000 for a married couple filing jointly.
Consider a few other bonuses of buying a home today. You can deduct the interest you pay on the mortgage. Interest rates are about as low as they can get. And, don’t forget, home prices are down by 30 percent on average from the peak. The mortgage-interest deduction and the tax-free income from housing cost the government at least $200 billion a year.
During this recession the government has been doing even more on behalf of the American dream. It offered a tax credit of $8,000 to first-time buyers, and eventually $6,500 to other qualified buyers. Not only did the Federal Reserve continue to keep the short-term interest rates it sets at essentially zero, it purchased $1.4 trillion in mortgage-backed securities so that lenders could keep mortgage rates low.