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Few topics cause more division among economists than the age-old debate of whether you’re better off paying off your mortgage earlier, or investing that money instead. And there’s a good reason why that debate continues; both sides make compelling arguments.
For many people, their mortgage is the largest expense they will ever incur in their lives. So if given the chance, it only makes logical sense you would want to pay it off as quickly as possible. On the other hand, a mortgage is also the cheapest money you will ever borrow, and it’s generally considered good debt. Any extra money you obtain could be definitely be put to good use elsewhere.
The reality is, however, a little less cut and clear. For some homeowners, paying off their mortgage earlier is the right answer. While for others, it would be far more advantageous to invest their money.
Advantages of paying off your mortgage earlier
- You’ll pay less interest: Each time you make a mortgage payment, a portion is dedicated towards interest, and another towards principal (we’ll ignore other costs for now). Interest is calculated monthly by taking your remaining balance, the length of your amortization period, and the interest rate agreed upon with your lending institution.
If you have a $300,000 mortgage, at a 4% fixed rate over 30 years, your monthly payment would be around $1,432.25. By the time you finish paying off your mortgage, you would have paid a total of $515,609, of which $215,609 were interest.
If you wanted to lower the total amount you pay on interest, you don’t need to make a large lump sum to make a difference. If you were to increase your monthly mortgage payment to $1,632.25 (a $200 a month increase), you would be saving $50,298 in interest, and you’ll pay off your mortgage 6 years and 3 months earlier.
Though this is an oversimplified example, it shows how even a small increase in monthly payments makes a big difference in the long run.
- Every additional dollar towards your principal has a guaranteed return on investment: Every additional payment you make towards your mortgage has a direct effect in lowering the amount you pay in interest. In fact, each additional payment is, in fact, an investment. And unlike stocks, bonds, and other investment vehicles, you are guaranteed to have a return on your investment.
- Enforced discipline: It takes real commitment to invest your money wisely each month instead of spending it elsewhere.
Your monthly mortgage payments are a form of enforced discipline since you know you can’t afford to miss them. It’s far easier to set a higher monthly payment towards your mortgage and stick to it than making regular investments on your own.
Besides, once your home is completely paid off, you can dedicate a larger portion of your income towards investments, your children or grandchildren’s education, or simply cut down on your working hours.
Advantages of investing your money
- A greater return on your investment: The biggest reason why you should invest your money instead comes down to a simple, green truth: there’s more money to be made in investments.
Suppose that instead of dedicating an additional $200 towards your monthly mortgage payment, you decide to invest it in a conservative index fund which tracks S&P 500’s index. You start your investment today with $200 and add an additional $200 each month for the next 30 years. By the end of the term, if the index fund had a modest yield of 5% per year, you will have earned $91,739 in interest, and the total value of your investment would be $163,939.
If you think that 5% per year is a little too optimistic, all we have to do is see the S&P 500 performance between December 2002 and December 2012, which averaged an annual yield of 7.10%.
- A greater level of diversification: Real estate has historically been one of the safest vehicles of investment available, but it’s still subject to market forces and changes in government policies. The forces that affect the stock and bonds markets are not always the same that affect real estate, because the former are subject to their issuer’s economic performance, while property values could change due to local events.
By putting your extra money towards investments, you are diversifying your investment portfolio and spreading out your risk. If you are relying exclusively on the value of your home, you are in essence putting all your eggs in one basket.
- Greater liquidity: Homes are a great investment, but it takes time to sell a home even in the best of circumstances. So if you need emergency funds now, it’s a lot easier to sell stocks and bonds than a home.
“Of course, thanks to the house, a great many of our memories are housed, and if the house is a bit elaborate, if it has a cellar and a garret, nooks and corridors, our memories have refuges that are all the more clearly delineated. All our lives we come back to them in our daydreams.”
Gaston Bachelard, the Poetics of Space
I have been following the news about the housing market pretty closely and am pretty disappointed with some of the articles declaring a case against homeownership. I couldn’t disagree more. If anything, I see the value of homeownership: responsible financial investment, social stability and community connection as more important than ever.
I was particularly moved by the story in the Seattle Times yesterday about the Lutz family in Ballard, a family with seven adopted siblings that are helping their parents move from their family home to a smaller condo now that their children have left the nest. Though their story is far from typical, it really resonates how home is the center of family life, a place where memories are created and how houses tell the stories of the lives we build while in their shelter.
Homes do that for people. They are the places where some of our most intimate stories unfold.
Finding and creating a home is an emotional, psychological, social and financial investment. There is a lot of energy involved in finding the place to envision the future, raise a family, and perhaps retire. There is no other investment as enjoyable as your own home. Investments in gold or stocks cannot compare to the feelings about a place where you collect memories, create spaces that reflect your ideals and develop to fit your needs over time.
Beyond the emotional ties to home, a number of studies have shown that home ownership has a great impact on feelings of personal autonomy, life satisfaction and increased investment in the community. The sense of satisfaction goes beyond the ability to paint walls whatever color we want, or make improvements to our homes on our own terms. It goes deeper by improving our sense of well being. Furthermore, when we have a stake in the community we live in, we participate more, making our neighborhoods safer and healthier for all members.
Not all the news about the housing market is negative, actually there are many great articles: “in defense of home ownership”, “ten reasons to buy a home “and “a dream house after all” to name a few. But regardless of where you stand on the housing market right now, we can all likely agree that there is no place like a home.
All of our experiences of home are unique. Please share your best memories of home.
Studies continue to show that real estate buyers are willing to pay a substantial premium for homes that feature highly efficient, environmentally friendly “green energy” technology.
While the added value depends on the location of the home, its age, and whether it’s certified or not, three separate studies all found that newly constructed, Energy Star- or LEED-certified homes typically sell for about nine percent more than comparable, non-certified new homes. Plus, one of those studies discovered that existing homes retrofitted with green technologies, and certified as such, can command a whopping 30-percent sales-price boost.
Options include technologies that you may already be very familiar with, as well as some new breakthroughs that may surprise you:
Fuel cells may soon offer an all-new source of electricity that would allow you to completely disconnect your home from all other sources of electricity. About the size of a dishwasher, a fuel cell connects to your home’s natural gas line and electrochemically converts methane to electricity. One unit would pack more than enough energy to power your whole home.
Past fuel cells have been far too expensive and unreliable. But Redbox Power Systems, a company that’s planning to launch its first fuel cell later this year, is using new materials, claims they’ll be able to cut the purchase price by 90 percent, and predicts the associated electricity-bill savings will allow homeowners to pay off that purchase price in just two years’ time.
A wind turbine (essentially a propeller spinning atop an 80- to 100-foot pole) collects kinetic energy from the wind and converts it to electricity for your home. And according to the Department of Energy, a small version can slash your electrical bill by 50 to 90 percent.
But before you get too excited, you need to know that the zoning laws in most urban areas don’t allow wind turbines. They’re too tall. The best prospects for this technology are homes located on at least an acre of land, well outside the city limits.
Cool roofs keep the houses they’re covering as much as 50 to 60 degrees cooler by reflecting the heat of the sun away from the interior, allowing the occupants to stay cooler and save on air-conditioning costs. The most common form is metal roofing. Other options include roof membranes and reflective asphalt shingles.
Another way to keep the interior of your house cooler—and save on air-conditioning costs—is to replace your traditional roof with a layer of vegetation (typically hardy groundcovers). This is more expensive than a cool roof and requires regular maintenance, but young, environmentally conscious home owners are very attracted to the concept.
Combining a heat pump with a standard furnace to create what’s known as a “hybrid heating system” can save you somewhere between 15 and 35 percent on your heating and cooling bills.
Unlike a gas or oil furnace, a heat pump doesn’t use any fuel. Instead, the coils inside the unit absorb whatever heat exists naturally in the outside air, and distributes it via the same ductwork used by your furnace. When the outside air temperature gets too cold for the heat pump to work, the system switches over to your traditional furnace.
Geothermal heating units are like heat pumps, except instead of absorbing heat from the outside air, they absorb the heat in the soil next to your house via coils buried in the ground. The coils can be buried horizontally or, if you don’t have a wide enough yard, they can be buried vertically. While the installation price of a geothermal system can be several times that of a hybrid, air-sourced system, the cost savings on your energy bills can cover the installation costs in five to 10 years.
Solar panels capture light energy from the sun and convert it directly into electricity. For decades, you may have seen these panels sitting on sunny rooftops all across America. But it’s only recently that this energy-saving option has become truly affordable.
In 2010, installing a solar system on a typical mid-sized house would have set the homeowner back $30,000. But today, that price has been slashed to an average of just $19,000. Plus, some companies are now offering to rent solar panels to homeowners (the company retains ownership of the panels and sells the homeowner access to the power at roughly 10 to 15 percent less than they would pay their local utility).
Solar water heaters
Rooftop solar panels can also be used to heat your home’s water. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the average homeowner who makes this switch should see their water bills shrink by 50 to 80 percent.
Many of the innovative solutions summarized above come with big price tags attached. However, federal, state and local rebates/tax credits can often slash those expenses by as much as 50 percent. So before ruling any of these ideas out, take some time to see which incentives you may qualify for at dsireusa.org and the “tax incentives” pages at Energy.gov.
Regardless of which option you choose, these technologies will not only help to conserve valuable resources and reduce your monthly utility expenses, but also add resale value that you can leverage whenever you decide it’s time to sell and move on to a new home.
Investing in real estate is one of the world’s most venerable pathways to building wealth. When properly managed, income from renting or real estate investment trusts can provide you with the financial security to plan out the rest of your life. The conclusion is easy to envision, but knowing where to begin can be overwhelming, particularly for anyone who has never previously owned a home.
At Windermere our goal is always to improve and support our communities, so we’ve put together a few key things to keep in mind as you enter the world of real estate investment.
Know the right type of investment for you
Investing in real estate needn’t commit you to being a landlord. A Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) is a low-maintenance way to get involved in real estate with next to none of the day-to-day monitoring required of direct property management. REITs are trusts that typically own multiple properties, and investors may purchase shares within the REIT. Typically, as the value of the property rises, so too do the values of your shares. If you’d like to dip a toe into real estate investing before diving in fully, a REIT is a great place to start.
Start with your own home
Owning the roof over your head is a basic step towards investing success. Even better, when you plan to live in the home you’re buying (rather than renting it out), you will likely benefit from lower mortgage rates and a cheaper down payment. The reasoning is straightforward – lenders see a loan to people purchasing the home they live in as an investment in people highly committed to the property.
Once you’ve owned your own house for a few years, you can look to purchase a new home to move into. By purchasing the new home with the intent to move in, you’ll be eligible to receive more favorable financing once again. After you’ve secured your new home, your first home is primed to be transformed into a rental property, and you can continue to see a return on your investment. If you’re seeking further support with buying a first, second, or third home, our website and our agents are full of information.
Cast a wide net
The best investment opportunity isn’t always going to be right underneath your nose. While there are logistical benefits to focusing locally with your investment, you may miss more profitable opportunities in another burgeoning market. Real estate is a long game, and patience tends to be rewarded. There’s no cause to rush a decision of this magnitude, so investigating other states and regions to find the property that best fits your situation is a process worth considering.