Despite cost, homeowners prefer mortgages to landlords

In my Detroit-area neighborhood, there are almost no homes for sale. Out of more than 1,000 homes in a two-mile area there are probably only a half-dozen on the market.

Yes, you read that right. Downtrodden Detroit, Michigan, where real estate set new records for declines has neighborhoods where you can hardly buy a house because they've all been sold.

Seeing this makes me feel better about being a homeowner, even though the market value of my home has fallen. It gives me confidence in the opinion that I have long held -- that owning a home is smart.

A survey this week from suggested that home sales are up everywhere. According to the survey, nearly 10% of consumers nationwide say they plan to buy a home in the next two years, with 5.4 % planning to purchase in the next 12 months. Buyers say they are motivated by these factors:

  • Prices are as low as they will go -- 23.6%
  • Foreclosure prices are a bargain -- 18.7%
  • Great selection of homes for sale in their target community -- 21.2%
  • Concerned interest rates will rise -- 14.2 %

The increasing numbers of buyers include investors. According to the survey, 12.1% intending to buy a home are purchasing it as an investment property, compared to 5.6% in March 2009.

Of the 25.3% of investment buyers who are focusing on foreclosure properties, 42% have no plans to live in the property themselves; 13.2% plan to rent out the property; 11.3% are going to fix up the property and resell it; and 17.4% plan to house a family member until the property can be sold profitably.

The skeptics are saying that it's just a matter of time before the foreclosures blossom again, even though RealtyTrac, the online foreclosure market reported this morning that foreclosures had declined for three months straight.

One of those who promotes other alternatives to owning is Eric S. Belsky, executive director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. He argues in the Los Angeles Times that Americans are unrealistic about the value of their own homes and underestimate the likelihood of a job loss, divorce, death of a spouse or disability that can leave them unable to pay the costs of homeownership.

After reading Belsky's opinion, I let the dog out in our back yard and spent a few minutes picking up leaves and thinking about his point. Like most people who argue against homeownership, Belsky doesn't put any value on the benefits of being the king or queen of your own little universe.

Over the years, I've owned multiple homes and only rented a couple of times between purchases. I was always grateful to say goodbye to the landlord. And I think they were mostly glad to get rid of me -- the woman who was first to complain when anything wasn't right.

There are lots of frustrations in life, but living under somebody else's roof is one that I have mostly been able to avoid and hope to continue doing so. For me and lots of others, paying the mortgage feels like a bargain.
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