The lure of home ownership is strong in the US. But is it really worth it. From a portfolio stand point, it shouldn't matter if you buy a house as an investment, or rent a place, and use your savings, to invest in a diversified portfolio. In fact, buying a house, being decided not diversified, would be significantly worse. So why buy?
In Ithaca, part of the attraction is the mismatched supply and demand between renters and buyers. The high student population makes rental demand higher, and thus more expensive than buying.
But other reasons don't hold. There is the tax credit, but given the value of the tax credit is mostly capitalized into the value of the house, that shouldn't be a compelling reason either. (That is, the fact that I get a tax credit makes the house more expensive, and in an efficient market, that should cancel. There is a second order effect if my tax benefit is somehow higher than the tax benefit from the average buyer, but that is unlikely.)
Roger Lowenstein in the NY Times cites a Shiller and Case paper for another reason that I still need to ponder. That a mortgage is still a low cost loan that gives people a low cost loan that most stockholders don't have access to. (Makes me think I should be borrowing more; I don't have enough debt in my portfolio). Will have to think whether this makes sense. For now, I am using the need for more debt as a compelling excuse to buy a new car. But I don't think that really makes sense.
Oh, and to my few dear readers, Happy New Year!