The housing market: Back from the brink?

=A for sale sign is seen in front of a home in Miami, Fla.

When most Americans buy houses, they borrow money -- in the form of a mortgage. And so they pay attention to rates and prices.

This week, Case-Shiller -- a closely watched index of the housing market -- came out with its regular survey of 20 cities.  Prices are up in all of them; plus, we're seeing a rise in mortgage rates. But does that mean it is the right time to buy?

"Home prices are up about 12 percent in a year," points out Ilyce Glink, a personal finance expert and author. "That, if they were stocks, would still be a mind-blowing rise. But for houses, which never usually move faster than just over the rate of inflation -- to have a 12 percent rise in a year is absolutely astonishing."

But another piece of the news was that the prices rose slower in July than in the previous month. That's good news, according to Glink. "The fact that it's now slowing a bit I think is actually a very good thing for the housing market, because if you kept going up at 12 percent a year, pretty soon nobody would be able to afford a house."


What should homebuyers ask themselves before entering the market?


One place in the country where home prices have been rising in particular is in the San Francisco Bay Area -- with prices going up more than 20 percent. One of our listeners, 28-year-old Calvin, is looking to possibly buy a home with his soon-to-be wife. Both are finishing up medical residencies, and thankfully have very little debt. In the coming years, their income will climb a lot as they become full doctors. But they wonder how much they should save for a down payment versus saving for retirement.

Glink's advice to Calvin is to start taking some of that money and steering it towards the home down payment, especially since the couple is so young and has already been putting money towards retirement. "Since you live in a very high-cost area, which isn't getting any cheaper -- there was barely a dip in the home prices in the San Francisco area -- I think what you ought to do is start directing some more money into this down payment."

She adds that in the coming years, getting a good interest rate on higher priced homes is going to get more and more difficult.

 

About the author

Lizzie O'Leary is the new host of Marketplace Weekend.

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