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Now’s the Time for First-Time Homebuyers

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If only the experts could agree. In Monday’s paper, The Wall Street Journal covered five personal finance topics, finding completely opposite opinions on each topic. Should you purchase long-term care insurance? Are variable annuities a good investment? There was even a debate over whether children’s allowances should be tied to chores.

Of course the one that got my attention was: Is now the time to buy your first house? A. Gary Shilling, president of a consulting firm, says no. And he makes this dramatic statement: “Don’t buy your first house now unless you’re willing to lose 20 percent of its market value in the next several years. Maybe more.” Shilling bases his assertion on the fact the U.S. has excess inventory, “the mortal enemy of prices.”

Expressing an opposite opinion is Eric Lascelles, the chief economist at a money-management firm. “This could be the best time in a generation to be a first-time home buyer.”

We’re on Team Eric with this one.  While he acknowledges that the housing market may still be years away from normality, he still believes this is a fantastic time for first-time homebuyers. “Affordability is the best it has been in 30 years, thanks to a combination of a 34 percent decline in prices since the 2006 peak and a historically low 4 percent average rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage.”

His look at affordability metrics of how much income a mortgage consumes and whether this is less costly than renting reveals that home prices are one-third cheaper than the historical norm. And that the “real-estate website Trulia figures that buying is cheaper than renting in 98 out of 100 major markets.”

We’ve got the depreciation in value in homes, combined with historically low interest rates. Add to that the pent-up demand caused by the length and depth of the recession, and you’re looking at a lot more people in the market for a home.

Apparently others share our views. In an online poll conducted by WSJ.com readers, 72.8 percent said yes to the question: Is now the time to buy your first home?

That’s the kind of consumer confidence we need.

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