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Is homeownership a good choice for young people?

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013 9:29 a.m. CDT

If there’s anything we’ve learned in the past few years about real estate, it’s that property doesn’t always go up in value. And because it doesn’t, you shouldn’t just buy property and assume that you’re going to earn equity and wealth from that ownership.

Instead, buying a home should be a personal decision based on your life and financial situation.

So if you are young, should you buy real estate? The answer, as with many things, is that it depends. But for the vast majority of young people, the answer is probably no. Here’s why.

Real estate is long-term

We buy real estate in order to hopefully earn wealth and improve our lot in life. The most likely way that you will earn real estate wealth is by owning property for long periods of time, preferably a decade or greater. This long-term ownership does not coincide with the habits and traits of most young people. So if you’re not very sure you will own a property for a long time, let a landlord deal with the inherent risks, pains and issues of real estate ownership.

Here are some reasons why, as a younger person, you might not own property long term.

Not settled in a career

At a young age, you rarely know whether you’ll be living in the same area for a long time. People are very mobile these days, including switching jobs, getting job transfers, changing careers, going back to school, etc. If you buy a property and have to sell it due to a career move in a few years, you’re most likely going to lose money on your real estate ownership.

Can’t afford a place you love

Additionally, you might not have the financial resources to afford a place that you really love, and you’ll end up buying in anticipation that you’ll earn equity and trade up in a few years. Now you probably will trade up in a few years, but you probably won’t earn any equity. In fact you’ll likely lose money — primarily due to steep transaction costs. The better way to go is to save your money for several years and buy a place you really love when you have the savings and income to be a homeowner.

Not settled in life

You finish school, get a job and work a few years. Then you realize you’ve got to move somewhere else, “see the world,” if you will! That house you bought would hinder your ability to relocate, and if you did move, you’d probably lose money.

So if you are young, wild and free — and not sure of your 5- to 10-year plan — you’ll probably do better as a renter.

When might it make sense to buy young? If you’re sure you’ll own the property a long time, then it’s probably a good idea to buy. Just make sure you can comfortably afford the payments along with all your other bills. Also if you want to be in the landlord business and plan to convert the property from a personal residence to a rental, then buying at a younger age would be a smart move for you.

Just ask yourself before you decide whether to buy real estate, “Am I sure my ownership will be for the long haul?”

Related:

Leonard Baron is America’s Real Estate Professor®. His unbiased, neutral and inexpensive “Real Estate Ownership, Investment and Due Diligence 101” textbook teaches potential real estate buyers how to make smart and safe purchase decisions. He is a San Diego State University Lecturer, blogs at Zillow.com, and loves kicking the tires of a good piece of dirt! More at ProfessorBaron.com.

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

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