Imagine a time when real estate prices are low and falling. Confidence in the market is -- well, there is no confidence in the market. Investors are sitting on their hands. The economy in recession... sound familiar? Well, that's exactly what happened way back in the early 1970s. One buyer bucked the conventional wisdom -- a recent graduate of the University of Michigan. He and a school buddy snapped up properties on the cheap from distressed sellers, building a multi-billion dollar real estate empire. Sam Zell -- they called him the grave dancer -- was successful because he knew to buy real estate when prices were low. It sounds logical, even easy -- but I can't tell you how many people believe housing is never coming back and that it's a lousy place to put their money. Truth is, housing is a lousy place to put your money when prices are high. But right now, across the country the national average for prices is down 32% from the market's peak in 2006. Some cities, like Vegas and Phoenix, are far worse. In other words, single family homes are on the markdown table -- they are on sale. And, that means opportunity.
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Even better, interest rates are at lows. The average 30-year mortgage rate, according to Bankrate.com, is 4.46%. A 15-year mortgage is 3.64%. This is unbelievable -- and with all the stimulus the federal government has pumped into the economy, it's not likely to last forever. Let me see if I can make this more obvious with a back of the envelope calculation: So, if you bought a house at the peak of the market back in 2006, you're costs would have been higher than now.
The median home price back then was $221,900 and according to Freddie Mac, the average mortgage interest rate back then was 6.4%. That's a monthly mortgage of $1,390 (I rounded up). Fast forward to today: the median home price, according to the National Association of Realtors, is $163,700. Let's say you finance that with a 4.46% rate loan. Your monthly mortgage is just $826 -- you're saving $564 a month for the same house -- or roughly $6800 a year!
And, it gets better -- let's look at just the interest costs of these two loans over 30 years. For the first loan you'd pay $278,302 in interest or more than $500,000 over 30 years. For the second loan -- because the rate and the principal are lower -- you pay $133,500 in interest over the life of the loan or $297,200 altogether. Your reward for having the patience to wait the market out and the balls to buy when no one else wants to: $203,002 over 30 years. That's enough money to send the kids to college -- enough money to buy a second home. My advice: be the contrarian.