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Buying a home in uncertain times

2) And, the NAR and real estate professionals have extrapolated that interpretation to mean mortgage interest rates will go up during the summer and affordability will go down, justifying a recommendation to buy now.

While the microeconomic interpretation is plausible, the behavior of the market is frequently irrational as investors allocate capital emotionally.  In the current environment, there are so many sources of uncertainty that many investors have taken the defensive route and loaded up on commodities like gold, silver, and oil and cash or equivalents.  Hence we're seeing both extreme spikes in commodity prices from

inflation fears and ultra low interest rate yields from deflation fears at the same time.  Given this divergence in investor expectations, then it's quite possible that when QE2 ends, interest rates could fall further as investors pull money out of the stock market in fear of lower earnings from an unstimulated economy and put that money into the Treasury market.

At the same time, inflationary expectations may take hold and current inflationary pressures pass higher prices through the economy.  So, even while interest rates stay low or drop further, rising prices of commodities may translate into higher asset prices by the end of the year.  This suggests that late summer might be a good time to buy housing.  But, as Bernanke described the situation, the outcome is impossible to forecast so it's best to take a highly vigilant wait and see process.

Still, if you'd rather not live in fear and put life on hold, then you should make a good assessment with a financial advisor of your current finances and purchase a new home that's well within your ability to pay.  Even as we're trying to set a bottom in housing prices, it's very possible that prices can swing by 10% this summer.  By not over-stretching for a home, you can rest easier at night, knowing that you'll be able to comfortably afford your new home through any near term weakness.  And, if Bernanke and his team manages to get the economy back on course, you'll have found yourself in a great investment.

Michael Cheng