Note to young renters: It's a very good time to start thinking about buying your first house.
Sure, the housing market is in the dumpster, and houses are still expensive -- up almost a third from their prices at the beginning of the decade, with some markets considerably higher than that. Throw in reports of killer mortgages and rampant foreclosures, and it may seem scary to take the leap. But over the long term, owning the home you live in is a great investment. It's one that will bring you tax breaks, financial gains, perhaps a little yard, and considerable joy ... if it's done right.
Right now, there are several factors that are making the market more attractive to first-time home buyers. The housing glut means that sellers are motivated and prices are falling.
The latest stimulus bill out of Washington raised the limits on decent, low-downpayment government-guaranteed mortgages.
Parents who may be inclined to help their kids with a downpayment don't have any other great places to stash their money right now, with stocks and bonds both looking risky and unrewarding. And mortgage rates are low.
"If you've been thinking of buying a house in a year or two, you might want to change your timing and start looking now," says Atlanta financial advisor David Hultstrom.
But first-timers are at a disadvantage: The whole house-hunting ritual can seem terrifying if you've never done it before. Here's how to get started.