Ah, the murky waters of buying real estate. Should you save for the dream neighborhood or settle for a longer commute? Wait until prices go down or that much-needed housing development goes up? Is owning a home still a smart way to build wealth, or are we better off as renters? And one of the hardest questions to face: Will you be buying into a system that perpetuates wealth at the expense of those who have less of it?
We asked housing experts around the country whether or not to buy a home this year, and—spoiler!—the answer is more complex than ever. (Scroll down to get specifics on your city.)
Beyond the challenges of timing the market—something financial experts say is well-nigh impossible—homebuyers in 2020 face new obstacles. Post-recession concerns over subprime mortgages and foreclosures have been replaced by a fresh set of worries: about displacement, climate change, a looming election, whether the market has peaked, and, most recently, novel coronavirus.
Of course, interest rates are at a record low, a point real estate agents won’t let you forget. But though borrowing money is cheap, in majority-renter cities like New York, Boston, and even Austin, stagnant incomes and a shortage of housing stock have pushed home values beyond the reach of potential homeowners. In San Francisco, “only the rich and elite can afford to buy,” says Jon Jacobo, vice president of the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District. This may not be the year to buy as much as it’s the year to campaign for transit-accessible, affordable housing at the ballot box.
In places like Chicago and Detroit, homeownership offers a different potential, especially for nonwhite residents. “Only increased ownership by black Detroiters can counter gentrification with self-determination,” Monique Becker, manager at the nonprofit Building Community Value, tells Curbed Detroit.
As the possibility—or impossibility—of buying plays out in neighborhoods from Atlanta to Los Angeles, it’s clear that the conversation has shifted nationwide. Homebuying in 2020 is no longer just about making a sound investment; increasingly, it’s about the right way to put down roots. —Megan Barber
Homeownership has, for the past century at least, come to be equated with the American dream. It means finding a space to call your own and a place to belong. It’s about being part of a community and a neighborhood. It’s having shelter and stability—or is it? Here, a more nuanced look at what it’s like to own a home today. Keep reading →
“Some want to buy a home as a way to set down roots. But for everyone else who’s looking to make a quick buck ... you’re doing nothing to preserve the history and legacy of Atlanta, nor are you doing enough to actually help Atlanta.”
Host, "Neighborhood Watch" podcast
“Some buyers worry about purchasing at the top of the market … But Austin’s fundamental economy remains strong, and our demand is still fueled by job creation and people moving here, not speculation.”
Real estate agent, Coldwell Banker Realty
“Homebuyers can mitigate their impact by supporting strong renter protections as well as new housing and density.”
Leading Twitter feed for Boston’s largest neighborhood
“In Chicago, prices haven’t risen nearly as much as in other parts of the country. So it may not be a great time to buy a new home for the purpose of flipping for a profit. But it is a good idea if you’re wanting a new home priced similarly at resale.”
Principal, Lexington Homes
“If you are investing with the expectation that you will be able to sell your asset at a profit no matter what, you may be just the person who’s inflating the prices to begin with. Detroit doesn’t want your bubble, and you don’t want the risk.”
Director of tax foreclosure prevention, United Community Housing Coalition
“When you have 36,300 people experiencing homelessness, it changes the whole question. It becomes: What makes a good city, and how do you ensure that people at all incomes are able to survive—beyond living in a tent?”
Director, LA Commons
“With money this affordable, it makes sense to explore what you can purchase. Look for apartments that have been on the market for 180-plus days, find homes that are in need of renovation, and focus on estate sales.”
“This is the year to support legislation and ballot measures that make housing faster and easier to build. And if you’re a NIMBY, this is the year to stop being a NIMBY, to recognize that if you are lucky enough to live here, why not allow others to as well?”
Design writer and housing activist, SPUR
Editorial lead: Megan Barber
Writers: Tom Acitelli, Megan Barber, Diana Budds, Jenna Chandler, Sara Freund, Josh Green, Brock Keeling, Aaron Mondry, Amy Plitt, Cindy Widner
Editors: Megan Barber, Mercedes Kraus, Sara Polsky, Alissa Walker
Project management: Nina Pearlman
Art direction: Alyssa Nassner
Photo direction: Audrey Levine
Copy editing: Emma Alpern
Engagement: Jessica Gatdula, Stephanie Griffin, Sharell Jeffrey