NEW YORK (MONEY Magazine) -
Move No. 1: Lock in a fixed-rate mortgage.
Analysts expect the 30-year fixed rate to hit at least 6.7 percent before the end of 2006. For now the rate is a little more than 6 percent -- almost as cheap as a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage. So if you're shopping for a new loan, it's well worth it to pay a little more (on a $200,000 mortgage, the difference comes to $26 a month) for the safety of a fixed payment. Have a three- or five-year ARM that's about to come up for an adjustment? Don't wait to refinance and lock in a fixed rate.
Move No. 2: Don't Buy too much home. It's increasingly a sucker's bet to buy more house than you can afford and assume that cheap financing and rising home equity will bail you out. Why? Housing affordability is the lowest it's been in 14 years.
In California, for example, only 14 percent of people can purchase a median-priced home. "This is an unbelievably dangerous time to take risks in the housing market," says financial planner Harold Evensky of Coral Gables, Fla. (a hot market itself ). "It's a great time to build up a good amount of equity in your home."
So take a pass on the interest-only loan you'd need to finance a McMansion or that 2,000-square-foot addition to your current abode (what's the heating bill on that, anyway?) and settle into a place you can afford today.
Move No. 3: Go easy on the flipping. Don't buy an investment property that you intend to flip. The inventory of unsold properties is increasing, as is the time between listing and closing. And if you already own an investment home, give some thought to selling now, unless you've decided you really want to be a landlord for the next several years.
Move No. 4: Second homes are still in. If you already own a vacation place (and you can afford it), there's no reason to bail. The second-home market is expected to remain strong over the long run, thanks in large measure to the demand from retiring baby boomers. Looking to buy? Be patient. If the market for primary homes weakens short term, there's a good chance that the vacation market will too.
Move No. 5: Beat the heating bill.
Heating oil bills will rise as much as 33 percent this season; natural gas users could see a 50 percent hike. Here are three ways to save:
- Open the drapes when it's sunny; close them at night and save up to 10 percent.
- Clean or replace your furnace's air filter monthly and save up to 15 percent.
- Close the flue on your fireplace when it's not in use and save up to 18 percent.
How much home can you afford?
Money 101: Buying a home
More moves for 2006...