Real Estate’s Constant Conflict

So what do you do? The only thing you can. Draw up a list of pros and cons, just as real estate agents often suggest.

HOW LONG WILL YOU STAY? If it’s one or two years, then rent. The costs to buy and sell the house — like that pesky 5 percent to 6 percent brokers’ commission — will make it hard for you not to lose money, Chris Herbert, managing director of Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, pointed out. But if it’s more than five to seven years, buy. Even if the housing market falls in value, your home is likely to rebound, at least to the price you paid, by the time you’re ready to sell. And you get to live there and accrue equity from paying down the mortgage.

ARE YOU SETTLED? If you have small children who want outdoor space to play — or you’re tired of bundling them up and taking them to the playground when you really just want to read the paper — a house with a yard probably looks appealing. You’re settled and are likely to be in the same place for a while, dream as you might for that carefree city life of your single days.

WEIGH THE COSTS Homeownership is more cost-effective than renting. Rent rises with inflation. You can potentially lock in your mortgage payment for the next 30 years. While rates rise, you have nothing to worry about. But if they drop below what you’re paying, you can refinance and pay less.

YOU HAVE FREEDOM You can do what you want with your home. “You get to paint the walls the color you want,” said Christopher J. Mayer, co-director of the Paul Milstein Center for Real Estate at Columbia Business School. “You get to have the funky granite countertop that no one else but you likes.”

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