I’m Upside-Down on My Home. Should I Rent It Out? Or Sell It?

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Should I Rent Out This House?An Afford Anything reader recently emailed me about this dilemma:

He’s upside-down on his home. He owes more than the house is worth.

But he wants to take advantage of today’s low housing prices, which will let him move his daughter into the best school district in town. He can put 10 percent down on a new house in a fantastic school district.

He’d lose money if he sold his current home. There are only two ways he can sell it: either bring cash to the closing table (i.e. pay extra to get rid of it!) or process an excruciating short sale, which would destroy his credit.

Both of those choices are off the table. He wants to rent out his current home until the market recovers enough that he can sell it. But is this a good idea?

Check out the details:

MONTHLY INCOME
Rent:
$1,600

MONTHLY EXPENSES
Mortgage + Association Payment:
$1,200
Vacancy: $100 *
Repairs, Maintenance: $50 – $100 **
Property Manager: $100

Total Expenses: $1,450

This leaves him with $100 – $150 per month in cash flow.

Hold On, Where Did You Get Those Vacancy / Maintenance Numbers?

If the house is vacant one month per year, we can average that out to a monthly vacancy cost of $100. Of course, if it sits vacant for 3-5 months, he’ll be sweating.

The “rule of thumb” is that maintenance will cost 1 percent of the purchase price of the house. Of course, that’s a long-term annualized average. It includes rare, expensive repairs like replacing the roof every 20-25 years and re-painting the siding every 5 years.

Since he has an association payment, I assume his homeowner’s association takes care of all exterior maintenance. That brings his maintenance costs down. (Well, really, it just lumps his maintenance costs into a different category).

Assuming his house is in good condition, his big maintenance costs will rare but costly events like replacing the water heater, buying a new refrigerator, etc. He won’t literally pay $100 every month. Like his vacancy costs, this maintenance cost is a long-term average over the span of many years.

He reported a property management fee of $100 per month in the email that he sent me. That seems rather cheap (it’s only 6 percent of the rent), but some property managers will charge a cheaper fee in a neighborhood with higher tenant quality, so I’ll accept that premise at face value. (Some property managers charge one month’s rent as a “placement fee” for finding a tenant, which is NOT included here.)

So What Do You Recommend?

Here’s my advice:

#1: Use your $100 – $150 monthly cash flow to build some cash reserves. Use this to cover the mortgage payments when your house sits vacant. Vacancy is your single biggest risk, because you’ll have to cough up the cash for two mortgages (your rental house and the home you live in). Strong cash reserves are the single biggest weapon you have against this risk.

#2: Add even more money to those cash reserves so that you can quickly write checks for repairs and maintenance. What if the house sits vacant for 4 months, a tenant moves in, and a week later you need to call a plumber? Cash reserves will help you sleep better at night.

#3: Don’t even think about making “extra” mortgage payments before you have huge cash reserves built.

I’d recommend a minimum cash reserve of 6 months of mortgage payments, and an optimal cash reserve of 8 to 10 months. That way, if you deal with an extended vacancy, you’ll be able to cover the mortgage.

Many landlords “shoot themselves in the foot” by panicking about a vacancy and renting out their home to the first willing tenant that comes along — even if their gut instinct says it might not be a good tenant. That always leads to disaster.

If you have cash reserves to deal with a vacancy, you can take your time and wait for the right tenant — a good tenant — instead of accepting the first person who’s willing to move in.

One of my houses has been vacant for almost three months. (It’s the $21,000 foreclosure, which is in a part of town that doesn’t always attract — um — the most qualified candidates). I’m guessing that the house might sit vacant for four or five months before I get someone in there.

But here’s the thing: Several people said they’re interested in moving in. But none of them have met my tenant criteria. It’s nice to be able to hold out and wait, so that you’ll eventually get the right tenant, not the first one.





Two Critical Things You Should Know Before You Invest in Real Estate

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Note from Paula: This is a guest post from my friend Brandon Turner, a guy who shares my love for real estate, traveling and cats — not necessarily in that order.

Brandon used to write a blog called Real Estate in Your Twenties, which appealed to me for obvious reasons. These days he lurks around the corners of Bigger Pockets. He’ll introduce himself at the end of this post. Until then — take it away, Brandon!

The Only Two Things You Need To Know To Invest in Real Estate

The Only Two Things You Need To Know To Invest in Real Estate

I’m not a big fan of file cabinets right now.

Last month I bought a new file cabinet for my office. In an effort to make my office look more “home-y” I sprung for the nicer wood cabinet that resembles a dresser you might store your clothes in. Real fancy. I picked it out at my local Staples and told the associate I’d take it.

“You’re in luck! We’ve got one left. I’ll go grab it,” the associate said.

He returns a few moments later with a box.

Not a file cabinet. A box. That easily weighed over 100lbs.

“This is how we keep our prices so low! You get to put it together yourself and save! But don’t worry – there are instructions!”

I’m a fairly handy guy, so I buy the box and take it home. I know how to use a screw gun – I can handle it. After all, he said there were instructions.

The “instructions” ended up being 40 pages of pictures with no words. Just terribly drawn pictures of a cartoon man putting together a cartoon file cabinet.

Two hours later, the cabinet was put together and finally resembled a nice piece of furniture. However – several key pieces of the “guts” were missing, requiring me to fill out an online order form to get the new pieces. Two weeks later they arrived … and were the wrong kind. I’m currently waiting for order number two.

A month into this ordeal, all I have gained is a large file cabinet that cannot hold files. The only one getting any positive use of this thing is my cat, who has taken up residence on top.

Sometimes, life is just so complicated. From the box, to the manual, to the missing parts – it’s been so frickin’ complicated.

Perhaps you are wondering where I’m going with this thing. Trust me – I have a point.

In a world where everything is so complicated, there is one thing that doesn’t need to be: real estate investing.

I know – you think I’m crazy. Perhaps real estate investing seems as complicated to you as that file cabinet did for me, or maybe worse. However, the basics of real estate investing are actually so simple that even a child can understand it. This post is going to quickly break the whole industry apart for you into only two things you need to know.

A niche, and a strategy.

Allow me to explain.

Your Real Estate Niche

The first thing you need to determine for yourself when investing in real estate is your niche. Your niche is the type of property you want to invest in. There are many different kinds of property and like beer, paint, modes of transportation or clothing style – no “one niche” is right for everyone. That’s what makes real estate so fun – your personality gets to define your niche. Let me explain some of the more “popular” niches to invest in:

  • Single Family Houses-
    No need to explain this one, but a single family home is the most common type of real estate investment. This could include a nice house in the ‘burbs, an inner city house, a condo, or any other type of real estate in which just one family lives.
  • Small Multifamily Housing-
    This would include duplexes, triplexes, and quads (properties with 2, 3, or 4 units.) These properties are still considered “residential” in a lender’s eyes – making loans much easier to get.
  • Large Multifamily Housing-
    Anything five units or larger is part of the “commercial” lending world and can range from a simple 5-plex all the way up to hundreds of units.
  • Commercial Real Estate-
    Commercial real estate involves renting property to businesses. This could be an office building, warehouse, a shopping mall, a coffee shop, or any other kind of business.
  • Notes-
    Perhaps you don’t want a physical piece of property at all. Investing in “notes” involved the buying and selling of loans. Although many don’t know it, notes can be invested in using the same strategies as actual properties. We’ll get to strategies in a second.
  • REITS-
    Another method of investing without actually dealing with specific properties, the REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust) is like a “mutual fund” for real estate. Essentially, a multitude of investors pool their money into a fund to buy large pieces of real estate and share in the profits.

Each of these niches also have sub niches you can choose to explore as well. For example, you may want to invest in a single family home, but you can narrow down your niche even further into mobile homes or McMansions. The choice is yours!

Choosing Your Strategy

By now, perhaps you have an idea of the kind of property you want to get involved with. Maybe small multifamily properties really float your boat (it sure floats mine!) Or maybe you like the idea of investing in “notes.” Whatever choice – it’s not enough to simply buy something. How are you going to make money in this niche? This is why the second thing you need to decide on is your strategy.

Your strategy is the method you use to turn your niche into wealth. While not every niche will work with every strategy, you’ll find that most do. Investing in real estate simply comes down to picking a niche and then picking a strategy. It really is that simple. The following is a list of just a few of the more common strategies you can use:

Wholesaling

One of the more popular ways to enter the real estate investment business, wholesalers are the “scouts” of the industry, who seek to find deals for other investors and make money for finding those deals. In a typical wholesale deal, a wholesaler will find a great deal, put the property under legal contract, and then sell that contract.

For example, Bob the Wholesaler finds a small duplex that the owners are looking to sell. He signs a legal contract to buy the property for $100,000 and then finds a local landlord, Susan, who is looking for duplexes. Bob sells that contract to Susan for $10,000 and Susan closes on the duplex. In the end, the seller got what they wanted, Susan got what she wanted, and Bob made a nice profit.

Flipping

If you have cable TV, you probably know about this kind of investing. House flipper seek out great deals (often from wholesalers) and rehab the property, turning an ugly house into a beautiful home that they can sell on the open market to a family.

For example, Julie is a house flipper. She buys a property for $105,000 and hires contractors to put $35,000 worth of labor and material into beautifying the home. She pays another $20,000 in holding costs and transaction fees (insurance, mortgage, staging, seller-paid closing costs, agent commissions, loan origination fees, appraisals, etc.) She sells the home for $190,000 and profits around $30,000.

Buy and Hold

The most traditional of the bunch, a buy-and-hold strategy involves purchasing a property and simply holding onto it for many years. An ideal buy and hold property should produce both monthly cash flow (extra money after all the bills are paid) and appreciation (the value climbs over time).

For example, Jerry buys a small strip mall for $1 million and holds onto it for 30 years, making an solid return on his investment each month. Meanwhile, the loan on the property is paid off and the prices rise over time. Jerry’s retirement is fully funded by the property.

Don’t Over-Complicate Things

Like the instructions that came with my file cabinet, many people seem to complicate the real estate world with manuals, guides, and missing parts. I’m not saying real estate doesn’t have a lot of moving pieces and intricate details. However – the details will come as you get into it – you don’t need to know them all right now.

Don’t let the complications be a barrier to you when considering real estate as a source of income for you and “vehicle” for your investments. As you progress, you can learn more and dive in more deeply, switching between different strategies and niches and even combining different strategies to make even more profit. But don’t worry about that now!

This post was meant to give you a big picture framework for thinking about real estate and how people actually make money doing it. It really does come down to just knowing those two things: your niche and your strategy. Do you know yours? What is your favorite niche and your favorite strategy so far? Why?

Let me know in the comments below!

(I’ll go first: my current favorite niche is large multifamily properties and my current favorite strategy is “buy and hold.” Why? I love the cash flow I’m getting from my my large multifamily properties, which allow me to work how I want, travel when I want, and live the life of my dreams… well, my dreams without a file cabinet anyways!)

My Current Favorite Niche Is: _______________________
My Current Favorite Strategy Is: _____________________
Why? ________________________________________________

Brandon Turner is an active real estate investor and head of community at BiggerPockets.com – the real estate investing social network. He obsesses about real estate and his cats, and likes writing epic blog posts on things like the best way to screen tenants and the best way to rent a property out.

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Readers Ask: What If I Can’t Hit One Percent?

rental house one percent rule

Many of my readers are rental property investors (or aspiring investors). But not all of them live in “cheap locations.”

Several readers have asked what how to invest if they live in a place where houses don’t meet the One Percent Rule.

Let’s answer this question by featuring Brian and Kristin, a couple in Arlington, Virginia, who wrote to me asking:

“My question is about your 1 percent rule for rental housing. What do you think about that rule when applied to the high-cost area where we live?

“The cost for a tear down where we would like to own rental properties is $400,000 – $500,000. Rents are all over the board and vary widely by proximity to metro/restaurants/schools. Generally you find $2,500 – $4,500 for a 3-4 bedroom house. The low end is suitable for college kids/roommate living and the high end is for families with kids.

“We … are currently in the hunt for (rental) houses in the $400,000 – $550,000 range. All of the houses will need work, (ranging) from … new cabinets to full-on additions.

“(We expect) to have a 3-4 bedroom house that’s worth $650,000 – $750,000 (after renovations) that we rent for $3,200 – $4,000. We may not make much on rental income, but we would be growing a nest egg in the value of the resale of the house down the road — be it 5-10 years down the road.

“We’re curious on your thoughts.”

Dear Brian and Kristin —

I crunched the numbers at the low end of the range — $3,200/mo gross income on a house valued at $650,000. I assume you net 70 percent of the monthly income after expenses (although that’s a generous assumption — the industry rule-of-thumb is that you’d net 50 percent).

You’ll net $2,240/mo, or $26,880 a year. Your cap rate is 26,880/650,000 = 0.041, or 4.1 percent. So right off the bat, I’d say that you should make sure your interest rate on the loan is lower than 4 percent.

(Ideally you want a big spread between your interest rate and your cap rate, because you’re taking on a risk. Investors call this spread a “risk premium,” a fancy way of saying that they get paid for the risk they carry).

Historically, homes nationwide have appreciated at a long-term annualized average of about 6-7 percent, which makes them a comparable (though slightly worse) choice than stocks for the long-run.

But Arlington, VA has appreciated at an annual rate of 3.9 percent since 1990, according to Neighborhood Scout.

So, again, you want to make sure your interest rate is substantially lower than the returns you’ll be getting. It looks like the return you’ll get is about 4 percent, based on historic long-term appreciation in your area. That means your interest rate should be around 2 percent.

What if you can’t get a teeny-tiny interest rate? Here are two options:

#1: Dedicate a significant amount of time scouting out the best deals. You just need one super-undervalued property to make your personal numbers substantially better than the general average. You can beat the average in rental properties if you buy the right house.

#2: Look outside of Arlington. Imagine a bunch of concentric circles on a map, with your hometown as the epicenter. If there’s nothing that meets the One Percent Rule in your hometown, expand your search to the next ring. Then the next one. And then the next one.

I lived in Boulder, Colorado for 8 years. I never found anything in Boulder that meets the One Percent Rule. But when I expand outward to a small city called Broomfield, Colo., I can find plenty of rentals that meet the One Percent Rule.

Also: Many people who read Afford Anything (mistakenly) think that Atlanta is an awesome place to invest. But you must realize that when I talk about “metro Atlanta,” I’m referring to a place that has a population of 5.2 million people. That’s eight times more populous than Vermont. It’s a bigger population than the entire state of Colorado.

Atlanta isn’t a one-size-fits-all market. I can’t paint such a massive metro area with one giant brush.

Sure, there are some pockets of metro Atlanta — like east of Panthersville, Georgia — where I can buy a foreclosed home for $21,000. But there are other areas in Atlanta where a 1000-sq.-ft. condo sells for $450,000. Location, location, location.

If I only looked at my own backyard, my quest to meet the One Percent Rule would be a lot harder. I put that in bold because this is a crucial lesson. Almost everyone who emails me, looking for permission to be the “exception” to the One Percent Rule, cites the reasoning that there’s nothing in their backyard that meets that requirement. Well, guess what: There’s nothing in my own backyard that fits the One Percent Rule, either. That’s why I expanded my search outward, in bigger and bigger concentric rings, until I found neighborhoods that have properties that fit this rule.

(It took me a year of fruitless searches to figure this out. Here’s the ah-ha story that I wrote when I did. Learn from my mistake; you’ll save time.)

By expanding outward, I can find better deals — and so can you. Keep looking. Don’t give up.

Good luck.

Cheers,
Paula




Investing 100 Percent of My Income: May Edition

investing 100 percent of my incomeTime for the next edition of Investing 100 Percent of My Income, and I have just one question:

How is it June already?!

For those of you who are new readers: Will and I are a couple who have pledged to live on one income and invest the other. He gets a steady paycheck, while my income fluctuates because I’m self-employed. So we’ve decided that in 2012, we’ll live on his income and invest 100 percent of mine. (This makes financial planning a heckuva lot easier!)

By the end of last month’s update, I maxed out my Roth IRA, renovated a rental house with a 14.8 percent cap rate, and paid quarterly taxes.

That was the easy part. Those were no-brainer moves.

Now comes the hard part. It’s time to make strategic decisions about how to invest the rest of my income for the next 7 months of the year. Here are a few lessons I’ve gathered:

#1: Spending Money is a Full-Time Job

Spending money requires hundreds of hours. I have to brainstorm ideas. Research options. Gather quotes. Run spreadsheets. It makes me wonder: How does anyone have the time to earn AND spend?

This website’s maxim says you can afford anything, but not everything. If I want to grow this website, I can redesign the site OR hire assistants OR start podcasting.

Alternately, I can focus on real estate. I can save up to pay cash for another rental house OR hire a bookkeeper OR upgrade my triplex building.

Every dollar I spend on X is one less dollar I can spend on Y, so I need to compare the options. Emotion says, “I want it all!” Reality says, “Make a spreadsheet.”

#2: Avoid Too Many Irons in the Fire

Last week I reconnected with a friend from college whom I haven’t seen in years. I described my various projects: building websites, buying real estate, running a freelance business.

“Sounds like you have too many irons in the fire, none of them are getting hot fast enough, and you’re sweating,” she replied.

Wow. She hit the nail on the head.

Diversification is a central investing tenet for good reasons. It’s prudent, up to a degree.

But it also carries the risk that you’ll throw money at an investment you don’t understand. You can’t be an expert at everything.

That’s why I mostly avoid buying individual stocks: I don’t have time to read balance sheets and trade journals. I buy a few broad-market index funds and move on with my day.

The same thing needs to happen the rest of my investments. There are a zillion possible directions I could take. I can’t pursue them all. I need to narrow my options, make a decision, and roll with it.

So What Did I Do Last Month?

Last month, I did a lot of thinking, a lot of reading, and a lot of tinkering with spreadsheets. I spent time with several potential contractors in both the real estate and website world. I started a few negotiations.

And I didn’t spend a penny.

“You mean you’re just sitting on one month’s pay?”

Yep.

I know, I know: this doesn’t make for riveting reading. You’re probably yawning as we speak.

But I assure you, there’s a ton of activity in my tiny little brain. Lots of thoughts being processed. Options considered. Numbers crunched.

Stay tuned.



Thanks to ShedBoy for today’s photo.

My Rotting Home: Weird and Freakish Adventures in Buying Real Estate

Note from Paula: In my last post  — Part 1 – I described how I searched for a rental house. In today’s post, I’ll spill the details of how I put the deal together.
buying some weird real estate no one else wants
****

To say that the house is a “fixer upper” is too polite.

The house is –- well, it’s safe for human habitation. I think.

Cable television seems to think that a ‘fixer upper’ simply needs a makeover. Rip out the peeling yellow laminate. Toss in some granite and hardwood. Poof – instant fix.

Haha. If only.

This house has crazy core problems. There are no gutters, rotted doorjams, awful fascia, and the floors feel like mush near the doorways.

Water damage? Check.

Rot? Check.

Mold? Check.

Leaking pipes? Check.

Wonky foundation? Check.

Electrical issues? Check.

Real estate investors are used to dealing with these problems. After all, the house is 101+ years old (and it’s been neglected for at least two dozen years by absentee owners). What do you expect?

But one issue scared every other investor away: the sinking foundation.

Imagine a concave object, like a cereal bowl – high on the sides but low in the center. That’s what the house looks like; it droops several inches in the middle.

Some of the “support beams” are nothing more than thin planks of wood propped up on cinder blocks.

You feel a little like you’re in an amusement park fun house.

Real estate investors are fond of fixer-uppers, but many get scared by a bad foundation.
my adventures buying real estate
When others are fearful, I see opportunity.

Two experts separately evaluated the basement. A third-party certified inspector spent the better part of an afternoon documenting every flaw. And my partner Will, who paid tuition for his engineering degree by rehabbing houses, spent a day crawling underneath the house.

After lots of scrutinizing, every inspector declared the same opinion: The foundation is “fixable” (although I believe one of them described it as a “sponge on toothpicks.” Yikes!)

Okay, we’ll tackle the foundation. Next question: Would it appeal to tenants?

W.W.T.W. – What Would Tenants Want?

The house has nice “bones” – high ceilings, huge windows, lots of light. Those traits impress tenants.

More importantly, the house is divided into two single-bedroom units and one three-bedroom unit.

Single bedrooms are ideal. It’s easy to find one person – just one person – who wants to live there.

Three-bedrooms are tougher to rent. Heck, it’s hard enough getting three people to pick a restaurant for dinner. “Let’s get Italian! No, let’s get sushi!”

Imagine how hard it is to find three roommates who agree to rent your home.

Typically, families with children will rent 3-bed, 2-bath homes, while single young professionals opt for 1-bed or 2-bed units. This neighborhood tends to attract young professionals who want an urban lifestyle (rather than families looking for good schools), and this gave me a bit of pause about taking on a 3-bedroom unit.

Fortunately —

The 3-bedroom unit is the most beautiful space in the building, with huge windows, high ceilings, hardwood floors and Craftsman-style turn-of-the-century character. If three people are going to agree on any space, this would be a great one. I gave it a thumbs-up for marketability.

Now all we needed was money.

Show Me the Money!

The first banker said no.

Will and I had just returned from backpacking around the globe. I think that’s awesome. But as it turns out, bankers don’t look kindly on unconventional lives. 

Their conversation went something like this:

Banker: So you’ve been unemployed for … how long, exactly?

Will: Several years. I was overseas.

Banker: Were you working overseas?

Will: No.

Banker: So you were unemployed.

Will: By choice.

Banker: Did you look for a job overseas?

Will: I didn’t want one.

Banker: Tell me about your current job. How long have you been with your employer?

Will: Three months.

Yeah, you can imagine how well THAT interview went.

Rejection!!

But we kept trying. Here’s my little secret: keep trying until someone says yes.

Even if you want to claw your eyeballs out in the process.

Eventually it becomes a numbers game. Ask enough people and eventually someone will say yes.

They’ll demand a higher down payment. They’ll charge a sky-high interest rate. They’ll make you sign over your soul, your kidneys, and your firstborn child. But someone will ultimately say yes.

We got smacked with a higher interest rate: 5.375 percent at a time when everyone else was getting approved at less than 3 percent. That’s the punishment for living unconventionally, I suppose.

The other trade-off was that we were only approved for a $200,000 loan. Would that be enough?

The house was priced at $420,000 in 2008. An investor went under contract at $380,000, but pulled out after inspection.

A second investor went under contract at $325,000, but pulled out.

A third investor went under contract at $285,000, but pulled out.

By the time I spotted it, the house had sat on the market for 16 months. The owner was heading into foreclosure. He was desperate to sell.

We offered $225,000. Most of that money came from our loan, with $25,000 plus closing costs out-of-pocket (about 12 percent). The homeowner agreed.

The Rotting Building …

But the homeowner owed $325,000 on it. His bank would lose the $100,000 difference. Were they willing to do that?

I wrote – I’m not joking – a 24-page letter detailing all the structural deficiencies of the house, pleading a case for why a home in such bad condition should sell for a $100,000 discount. We argued that no one else would buy a house with foundational problems, and noted that the bank would lose even more money if they sold the house at a foreclosure auction.

And I included pictures. Lots and lots of pictures.

All unflattering.

The bank said yes. I’m now the proud owner of a rotting building.

But I took a risk — and a six-figure debt. Would it pay off? Tune in to Part 3 to learn how it’s doing, one year later.

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Why a Fixed-Rate Mortgage is the Best Choice

Are you willing to risk your home?

When you buy a home, you will learn that there are two kinds of mortgages: fixed-rate and adjustable-rate.

What’s the difference?

A fixed-rate mortgage gives you an interest rate that never changes. An adjustable-rate mortgage gives you a volatile interest rate: in times of slow economic growth and low inflation, the interest rate will be low; in times of high economic growth and inflation, the interest rate will rise.

Why do some people like adjustable-rate mortgages?

Advocates of adjustable-rate mortgages argue that these give you a shot at getting lower rates than you can ever get with a fixed-rate. In late 2010, when the average fixed-rate mortgage was 4.5 percent, I overheard a guy sitting at the table next to me at a sushi restaurant bragging to his dinner companions about his brand-new, adjustable-rate 3.25 percent mortgage.

It’s true that he’s getting a lower rate than those with fixed-rate mortgages … for now.

You can’t predict the future.

But what’s going to happen in 3 years, 5 years, even 10 years, when interest rates rise and this guy’s 3.25 percent rises to a whopping 6 percent or 7 percent?

Advocates for adjustable-rate mortgages argue two points:

#1: You never know which type of mortgage will end up being cheaper in the end – why not keep open the possibility of a cheaper mortgage?

Of course, that swings both ways. An adjustable-rate mortgage might be cheaper OR more expensive down the road. There’s no way to know. Why take on the added risk and uncertainty?

#2: Paying 7 percent in 10 years — when you owes less on your mortgage — is better than paying 4.5 percent now, when you carry the heaviest loan on your mortgage. In other words, it’s better to owe a low interest rate on a big debt, and a high interest rate on a small debt.

Riiiight. Sounds great in theory. Except for one pesky little point:

Don’t assume that 5 years, 10 years, or 15 years down the road, when mortgage rates rise, you’ll be able to handle the extra payments.

The future is uncertain ...

Let’s say you’re paying $700 a month on your mortgage right now.

Four years later, you and your spouse accidentally get pregnant. With twins! Congratulations! Looks like one of you will become a stay-at-home parent.

The following year, your brother gets sick. You take two months’ unpaid leave to care of him.

Then your furnace breaks down. Your engine explodes. A storm blows a heavy tree limb onto your roof.

Gas prices have climbed to $6.50 a gallon. You need eyeglasses. And – guess what? – your mortgage has skyrocketed to $1,200 per month.

Can you afford it? More importantly — can you say, with absolute certainty, that you are SO SURE you’ll be able to afford any mortgage bill, no matter how high it climbs, at any time over the next 30 years?

“If it gets too high, I’ll refinance,” you retort.

In other words, you’ll put your family’s fate in the hands of a mortgage underwriter. Nice plan, dude.

What makes you so sure that you can refinance? What if you accidentally miss a bill, and your credit gets dinged? What if banks institute even-tougher lending policies? What then?

Are you willing to take this incredible gamble … knowing that if you lose this gamble, you’ll lose your home?