I have shared my views before on buying residential real estate, both for investment purposes and for your primary residence. I have been clear that when you buy a house to live in, you are buying it mainly as a consumer good, whether you like it or not. You need a place to live and most people prefer to have certain luxuries that are available. There is nothing wrong with that, but you shouldn’t fool yourself into thinking that buying a million dollar house on the golf course is a good investment. It is possible it could turn out to be profitable, but for most people it will be more of an expense.
If you buy a house at a reasonable price and your expenses are roughly equal to what you would pay in rent, then I think you will not regret it. This is assuming that you buy in a decent area and you buy a house in decent condition.
I think for many, buying a house is like a forced savings plan. There are many people who simply are not disciplined enough to put away large sums of money. It burns a hole in their pocket and they feel the need to spend it. This is part of the reason that there are many people close to retirement age who have very little in savings. Most of their income in retirement will come from Social Security and pensions.
The small bit of good news is that some of these retirees will have lower expenses due to having paid off their house. While you still have to pay your property taxes, insurance, and repairs, along with all of your other expenses in life, at least the regular mortgage payment isn’t there. You are living almost rent free.
So while millions of Americans have little discipline in saving any significant money, many of these same people will pay their mortgage every month. Some may be really careless and take equity out of their house for whatever reason. They keep extending the term on their loan and they will never be in a position to pay off the mortgage.
But there are still many who don’t take money out and only refinance to get a better rate. At some point, the mortgage will be paid off, even if it takes a full 30 years. Again, it is a forced savings plan, at least in the sense that it is one less expense to worry about. It will help the cash flow situation and make the dream of a comfortable retirement a little less far fetched.
If you own a house and have a mortgage, I encourage you to set up some kind of an amortization schedule. You can make your own on an Excel spreadsheet. There are many websites (like this one) where you can type in your approximate figures and get an amortization table. You can even find some websites where you can see the difference if you make a one-time extra payment towards principal, or even if you pay a little extra each month. The compounding effect really speeds things up. You might even be able to find such a tool through the company that holds your mortgage. You should at least be able to see how much is going towards the principal balance of your loan each month.
I encourage you to look at this amortization table once a month and see the principal amount that is being paid down each month. It grows slightly each month, maybe by just a dollar. If you make an extra payment, you can make it grow faster. Even if your amount going towards principal is only $200 per month, that will add up to over $2,400 in a year from now. The following year, the amount will be even bigger. So month by month, year by year, you are slowly paying down that huge loan. As long as you don’t refinance or take money out, then it will eventually be paid off.
While this does not offset the lack of discipline of many Americans in not saving, it does help some. And it is a very powerful feeling when you can one day be truly debt free and own your house outright.