Q: I rent an apartment in Atlanta. I’m a technology consultant, and work as a contractor for eight to ten months each year. My credit score is 780, and I’m single, with no kids. So, my tax bracket is 33 percent.
In order to save on taxes, I want to buy a home or condo. I know that the mortgage payment is tax-deductible. But I’m not sure whether I should buy a condo or look for a townhome.
How do I know if it makes more sense to rent rather than buying my own home? I’d greatly appreciate your guidance.
A: I don’t think it’s a good idea to buy a place just because you’ll save on taxes. You may save something, but you may end up spending more by owning than you’ll save, it’s hardly a savings. Here are some of the best reasons I know to buy property:
You really want to own your own home and you’re ready to take on that responsibility. You’ve found the neighborhood you want to live in and believe that living there will be better for you and your family than living in a rental home or in an area comprised mainly of rentals. Owning real estate isn’t cheap, but if you choose wisely, you may even find you’re starting on a part-time career as a real estate investor.
You’ve found a great property and believe you can add value to it. You’ll either build in value by fixing it up and then living there for awhile. Or, you’ll maintain the property and it will appreciate in value because the neighborhood is improving.
You’ve found a deal of a lifetime, because you’re buying a foreclosure or a short sale.
You want to control your own domain. If you buy a home, you might be able to improve it, customize it and change it to meet your needs. If you rent a home, you might be limited in what you can do to the home and might have to move in the future when the landlord decides to stop renting the home. While you might not be able to control certain expenses when you own your home, you might be able to lock in an interest rate for 30 years and fix that part of your housing bill and satisfy your desire to own your home, build equity in the home and not be subject to yearly rent increases by a landlord.
In general, single family homes appreciate faster than town homes and condos. But, it depends on the neighborhood in which you live.
For example, there are plenty of condos for sale this summer in Atlanta. It could take years for that inventory to be absorbed. So, if you’re buying a condo, make sure it’s in a great, amenity-filled building that someone may want to buy or even rent from you down the line.
From the purely economic perspective, you can try the following to determine whether owning will give you greater economic benefits than renting. If you file your own tax returns with a software program like TurboTax or TaxCut, you can use that program to copy all of your information to a new file.
In that new file you should add what you would expect to pay in real estate taxes and what you would pay in interest on your loan. Once you have input that information, compare what you paid in taxes last year with what you would have paid in taxes had you owned a home. That information will at least tell you what you might have saved in federal income taxes by owning a home.
But you need to take one additional step. You have to compare what it would cost you to own a home to what it costs you to rent a similar home. When you rent, your expenses are generally your utility expenses, renters insurance plus your rental expense. When you own, you will have the same utility expenses, if the homes are about the same size, plus you will have maintenance expenses, real estate taxes, homeowner’s insurance and interest on your loan.
With all of this information, you should be able to come up with a more accurate number to compare what it costs you to live in your rental with a home that you might purchase.
But don’t forget that when you buy and sell a home, there are expenses associated with the purchase and sale of the property, including title and escrow company charges, lender closing fees, transfer taxes, municipal expenses and others. While these won’t eat up more of your monthly budget, they’ll add to the cost of buying and selling your home.