Q: I have a retired cousin in Las Vegas, where as we all know, housing has declined 50 to 60 percent since the collapse began. I have observed many, many condos that can be purchased for a son, and are really cheap enough to pay for in cash..
Many of these properties seem to be in excellent condition. I live in my townhouse in Delaware, and I’m considering buying one of those condos in the Henderson area (outside of Las Vegas) to live in during the five months of wintertime weather in the northeast.
At best, I have a place to escape the snow; at worst, if I change my mind later, I can always rent the place out, and probably in another five years, the values will have rebounded to the advantage of those who buy at current levels.
In your view, is the housing market in Las Vegas likely to continue to fall further during the second half of this year? Or, is this the most opportune time to take advantage of the market? I can pay cash or get financing for the purchase of the condo.
A: I don’t think anyone really knows where home prices are going – that crystal ball cracked a long time ago.
But it is true that there are maybe 10 areas of the country, including Las Vegas, that account for about 50 percent of the foreclosures. Las Vegas has had dreadful foreclosure numbers, with as many as 1 in 71 households in foreclosure.
That has, in turn, driven down the price of property in the metropolitan area far below the 32 percent drop that is the national average. There are loads of empty buildings on the Las Vegas Strip that were supposed to be high-priced condo and now can’t even really be rented. If I had to guess, I’d say that some property has fallen to 90 percent in value, though you’d probably buy a decent enough house for maybe 30 to 40 cents on the dollar.
Your question is about whether the price of money is so cheap, and the value of the property itself has fallen far enough to make this a worthwhile investment. In general, I think the answer is yes.
Mortgage interest rates are at near-historic lows, with a 30-year loan going for far less than 5 percent as I write this. Property values have plummeted, raising affordability. For those who have plenty of cash, a specific purpose in mind, and great credit, it’s probably a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
You seem to fall into this category. You know what you want to do with the property, how you’ll use it, and how you’ll pay for it. You have no debt, cash available to you and, I assume, pretty good credit in case you do decide to try and finance the property.
The only thing I can’t quite agree with is your notion that property prices will rebound over the next five years. In my mind, until we turn around the unemployment problem in this country, we aren’t going to get rid of the foreclosure crisis. Today, more people are foreclosing because of job loss than for any other reason. That’s especially true in Nevada, which employed thousands of workers building new homes and new casinos – a need that just isn’t there today and likely won’t be for the next decade, until the housing stock is soaked up.
But if you’re content to wait it out, and enjoy Las Vegas’ mild winters (I love the blazing hot summers), then you should buy. Don’t worry about whether the market is going to fall further later this year. You have to make a decision about whether in five years this is the right price for the property. If you decide to finance the property, go for a 15-year loan and be prepared to put down at least 25 to 30 percent in cash. Your interest rate will be (as of this writing) below 4 percent, which is basically like financing the property for nothing.
Finally, if you do buy, make sure the development you buy in (unless you’re buying a single-family home) is stable. While you can buy the property for a song – as you said – you don’t want to buy yourself a headache when the amenities in your development are not completed or you have additional money you have to put into living in your new home due to problems unrelated to the home but related to the development you are in.
If you buy in a development where most of the homes have sold and are lived in, you might have a better change of avoiding the larger development issues that you might have. And, best of all if you buy in a development where most of the owners in the development are not in financial trouble but are underwater (the value of their home is worth less than you owe, you might find you enjoy living there.
Remember, location, location, location. Buy in the best neighborhood you can find, in the best block in the neighborhood and the best home on the street that you can afford.
Let me know what you decide to do.