Monday, March 06, 2006

Breaking The "Cult' Feeling of Ownership

A story in today's Financial Times reads "John, a chiropractor in Los Altos, California, has just committed the financial equivalent of heresy. To the surprise of many of his friends, he has defied the cult of home ownership, selling his historic five-bedroom house in favour of renting. ""We pay about 40 per cent less in rent than our mortgage and don't have to spend a cent on repairs.""

"John's decision may fly in the face of conventional wisdom but in many US property hotspots the financial logic of renting is becoming increasingly compelling. For those unlucky enough to have missed the stunning appreciation of house prices over the past few years, the rationale to buy now is shaky at best. "

An exhaustive survey of the US housing market by HSBC - "A froth-finding mission" - has highlighted the appeal of renting in many parts of the US.

"It's fairly common to say that renting is like throwing money down the drain, but people forget that there is a lot of that in owning too," says Ian Morris, an economist at HSBC. "There is not a lot of difference between paying rent to a landlord or interest to a bank." Even taking account of the generous tax subsidy that allows Americans to deduct their mortgage interest payments from taxable earnings, new homeowners are paying an increasingly hefty premium over renters. The annual cost of home ownership in Los Angeles, for example, is now more than double the cost of renting. "

"HSBC's research shows that even removing capital repayments from mortgages, new homeowners in many areas will still be left paying a large premium. In San Francisco or Honolulu, annual ownership costs are 68 and 73 per cent greater even on an interest-only mortgage - a riskier mode of borrowing that has become popular in richly valued property markets. To make property ownership in many of these markets worthwhile, owners would need to see extremely strong house price rises over the next seven years. "

"To make property ownership in many of these markets worthwhile, owners would need to see extremely strong house price rises over the next seven years. Taking into account the added risks of home ownership, HSBC has calculated that prices would need to rise by 10 per cent a year in Palm Bay Florida, 8.5 per cent in Washington DC and 8.2 per cent in Denver - far more than the 20-year averages.The chance of falling real home prices is less outlandish than most assume. Those buying a house in Washington DC in 1989, when prices started to slide in real terms, would have had to wait until 2001 to see a capital gain. "

"There is even a chance that such calculations are slightly skewed in favour of home ownership. These figures assume that home owners are deducting mortgage interest payments from their taxes and that they pay a marginal rate of 30 per cent. However, only a third of Americans itemise their tax deductions and thus fail to take advantage of the tax break. In addition, many living in California or New York are caught by the Alternative Minimum Tax - a parallel tax system for high earners. This tax system eats into the tax deduction for housing, further chipping away at the benefits of home ownership."

"The benefits of home ownership do eventually reassert themselves if you hold on to houses for long enough, even in the most highly priced markets, says Mr Morris. Assuming house prices remain steady, you would need to hold a house in LA for 11 years before the costs equalled those of renting. In Washington DC it would take 12 years to break even."

"The number of Americans coming to a similar conclusion has been on the rise. According to the confidence survey from the University of Michigan, close to 30 per cent of Americans now think it is a bad time to buy - higher than at any point since the early 1980s. Even so, housing experts say the temptations of home ownership will remain irresistible. "Home ownership remains a potent symbol of success in America," says Nic Retsinas, director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. "Renters tend to have lower social status in the eyes of many Americans."

"In the US, the cult of ownership is such that John's gamble of selling his house and waiting for prices to fall is unlikely to become a popular punt. But it may pay off.

Ding.... Ding.. Ding... the bell has been rung folks. Watch the rush towards the exits over the next few months accelerate as sellers realize the top of the market is behind them.


Post a Comment

<< Home