NPR ran an interesting segment on Tuesday’s Talk of the Nation: Volatile Housing Market Baffles Homeowners. The subject was the housing market, and host Jennifer Ludden’s guests on the program were Moody’s Chief Economist Mark Zandi and Zillow’s VP Communications Amy Bohutinsky.
Their wide-ranging conversation touched on everything from walking away to buying at “the bottom,” but this exchange with a local caller was what really caught my attention.
Ludden: Let’s bring a listener in, someone who is about to get married and buy a house, I believe. Trevor in Tacoma, Washington. Hi there.
Trevor: Hi, how’s it going?
Ludden: Okay. So tell us about the big decision you’re contemplating now – the home, not the marriage.
Trevor: Well obviously marriage… And we’re waiting until we’re married because then we will be able to better combine our incomes, and one of the main reasons why we haven’t bought a house beforehand or at least haven’t started looking yet is we have so much student loan debt.
It actually takes up 30 percent of our income every month, and when we look towards mortgages, even though we have a sizable down payment, the – just the consumption of our incomes every single month by the student loans is enough for most mortgage companies to say, well, you have to think about this further because we’re not going to give you a loan.
Ludden: So have you tried to get approved or pre-approved for a mortgage and been told no?
Trevor: Yes, and I still have to go to many more companies, but we’ve been denied by two – well, preemptively denied just based on our…
Ludden: But Trevor, if you’ve got 30 percent of your income going out to student loans, why do you think now is a good time for you to buy a house?
Trevor: Well, at least in this neck of the woods, I think that the prices are getting pretty close to bottom, and even if it isn’t going to be the bottom for another two or three years, I’m planning on having the house for seven to ten years.
What’s really frightening is that despite already being denied financing twice, the caller appears to be completely resistant to reason. When the host tries to point out that throwing a mortgage on top of student loans that take up 30% of their income might not be the best idea, he completely blows it off, spouting some realtor-esque nonsense about buying at the bottom.
Hopefully Trevor is not a reader of this site, because if he is, I have done a lousy job of getting across my point that you should buy a home when the timing is right for you, not just because you think we’ve “hit bottom” or because rates are low or because homes are a good deal.
Just in case Trevor is a reader, I’m going to make this crystal clear: When nearly a third of your income is being siphoned into existing debt payments, it is not a good time for you to buy.