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2008 saw strong faith in Manteca home sales

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

— Franklin D. Roosevelt

Not buying a home because of a fear of economic uncertainty?

There were 1,158 buyers of existing homes in Manteca last year.

Toss in new homes and the number of people signing on the dotted line hit 1,370.

Primarily first-time buyers or investors bought almost 8 percent of all single-family homes that exist today in Manteca.

They certainly weren’t guided by fear.

In fact, you could argue the numbers guided them.

Go chat with real estate agents who have been in the thick of the buying frenzy. It’s different today than it was five years ago. It takes longer to get a deal together and there are often multiple offers. But the big surprise have been the number of first –time investors, the number of 100 percent cash buyers and the huge wave of first-time buyers in their 20s.

What, you may ask, drives a person to take $100,000 out of “safe” bank accounts and buy a home as an investment or a first-time buyer to jump in and purchase a place amid the non-stop gloom and doom of the Greek choruses that argue everything is collapsing and that prices haven’t hit bottom yet?

First, the investor. Why keep you capital making 4 percent or less when you can buy a home and rent it?

If you pay cash for the house and rent it out for $1,000, that is a $12,000 return a year on your $100,000 while the bank is paying you $4,000 a year if you’re lucky. Yes, there are expenses that you are going to have but when it is all said and done you are going to have a lot stronger return.

It is putting your money to work. Headaches? There can be. But then again solid returns require a little effort.

Isn’t it risky? Well, people have to live somewhere.

There is an Escalon farmer who is fairly typical of the invertors in the market now. Since the foreclosure mess drove prices down to the bottom he has purchased 10 homes with cash.

Isn’t it risky tying up all of that capital? His strategy is simple. When he needs money down the road, he’ll sell a home or two. Meanwhile, he is getting a much better return on his money.

Other investors have different strategies. Get in for 10 to 15 years and then sell. That is tied to the natural cyclical nature of housing prices. In other words, their plan is to buy at the bottom, make money off the rent and then sell as close to the peak as they can get that they are hoping coincides with retirement plans. If the market dives before then, they’ll simply hold on until it comes back up. Rents, after all, rarely drop. That means the worse that will happen is they will have to delay their real big pay day a few years.

As for first-time buyers, they can buy a home today for either the same they pay in rent or — in a growing number of cases — less than they pay for rent.

For every qualified buyer who forges their fears, there are others who rent and can afford to buy who are sitting around letting their fears keep them in check.

What if they lose their jobs? What if home prices drop farther?

“There is no certainty to anything in life,” noted broker Tom Wilson of Wilson Group Realtors. “Everything you do has a risk to it.”

There is even a risk in not buying when you can afford to do so especially if you plan to stay put for a number of years and not roam round the world.

If you’re paying $1,000 a month now for rent, the odds are strong you’ll be paying at least $1,500 a month in rent 15 years from now. In Manteca from 1991 to 1995, rents in apartments jumped an average of $100. Not a big jump, you say. Well, given the fact housing prices in the first part of that time frame were still dropping. After that, they were flat for the duration. That is a pretty telling statistic that occurs when demand grows but housing stock doesn’t keep up.

Demand will grow again and it will get ahead of new construction as it almost always does.

If you’re paying $1,000 a month now on a mortgage, you will still be paying that amount in 15 years on a fixed rate loan unless you foolishly use your house as an ATM.

The veterans in local real estate and lending see 2009 as a year where those who are not quite in a position to buy — either they need to scramble to get a down payment or else have credit issues to address — have the luxury of positioning themselves to become homeowners without worrying about the train pulling out of the station without them.

Mortgage lenders can often help such buyers determine what they need to do to change spending and savings patterns to come up with down payment funds and be ready to buy before 2009 is over.

Sure, you could delay taking such steps for a year or so but you run a risk of getting squeezed out of the market either by interest rates, tightening lending standards or price increases even if they are relatively modest.

So you’ve got to ask yourself one big question: Is whatever fear you’re concerned about worth the risk of not becoming a homeowner in a year that experts believe will go down as the year the most people who live and work in Manteca could afford to buy their own home?