Should You Rent or Buy?

Consider these factors before you make a big move in 2011.

Downsizing is a big part of many baby boomers’ retirement plans, but the flat housing market and still-shaky economy have put many moving plans on hold.

2011 isn’t expected to bring higher home prices, so now may be a good buying opportunity, housing experts say. Still, renting may be an attractive option if money is tight or if you’re not sure where you’d like to plant your retirement roots. A third of respondents in a recent Fannie Mae housing survey said they would be more likely to rent their next home if they moved.

Here are some factors to consider as you weigh whether renting or buying is best for you.

Four Reasons to Rent

An easy trial: Renting a home or apartment is an ideal way to test-drive a new community. You get the flavor of a new location without the financial commitment of home ownership — and you can always buy later. Vacationing where you may want to retire is another smart way to audition an area.

Flexibility: If something changes in your life, such as an unexpected job relocation or family needs, or if you just plain don’t like your new neighborhood, it’s a lot easier to walk away from a short-term lease than a home you own.

Less maintenance: Renting means you relinquish many of the responsibilities of home ownership. If something breaks, you can call your landlord instead of hiring a costly repairman.

More to invest: If you sell your current home and rent instead, you can invest the sale proceeds to boost your retirement nest egg.

Four Reasons to Buy

It’s a buyer’s market: While the sluggish housing market is painful for many sellers, lower prices in many areas make it a good time to buy. The NAR (National Association of Realtors) expects prices to stay flat in 2011.

Low mortgage rates: If you need to borrow to buy a home, mortgage rates are at historic lows.

Tax advantages: Under current law, most homeowners can deduct property taxes and mortgage interest, which lowers your overall tax bill.

Build equity: The housing market may not move much in 2011, but many properties can be snapped up for bargain prices. If you plan to stay put, you have time to build equity as the housing market rebounds. Historically, home prices rise over time, so a purchase at today’s lower prices can be a great investment if you plan to stay in the home for many years.

National Association of Realtors spokesman Walter Molony says a recent survey by his group found “a preponderance of baby boomers buying single-family homes.”

You also can borrow against the equity in your home using a home equity loan or line of credit, and the interest paid may be tax-deductible, too.

Other Considerations: Before moving to your next home, you may need to sell your current property. Depending on current prices in your area and when you first bought the home, you may have to sell at a loss.

“We’ve seen three years of declining prices, and it’s flat this year, so for some people who purchased, especially if they did so during the housing boom, it will take longer to get back where they started from,” Molony says.

For a ballpark estimate of your home’s value, try online services such as Zillow.com or Yahoo! Real Estate. For a more accurate assessment, contact a local real estate agent for an analysis of your home and the most recent sales in your neighborhood.

If you lost your job or had credit troubles during the recession, be prepared to face stricter lending retirements when you shop for a mortgage. Before you start looking, make sure you understand your credit standing. If it lacks gusto, make some improvements before you approach lenders for a mortgage.

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