Warren Buffett on the Housing Bust

In his annual letter to shareholders, the fabled investor touched on some key real estate issues.

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In his annual letter to shareholders, fabled investor Warren Buffett weighed in on several issues of central importance to the housing mess. (The questions are mine, the quotes are from his letter to shareholders.)

Do foreclosures take place on account of under water mortgages, or because homeowners can't make their monthly payments?

Commentary about the current housing crisis often ignores the crucial fact that most foreclosures do not occur because a house is worth less than its mortgage (so-called “upside-down” loans). Rather, foreclosures take place because borrowers can’t pay the monthly payment that they agreed to pay. Homeowners who have made a meaningful down-payment – derived from savings and not from other borrowing – seldom walk away from a primary residence simply because its value today is less than the mortgage. Instead, they walk when they can’t make the monthly payments.

Should you buy a home as an investment, or as a place to live?

Home ownership is a wonderful thing. My family and I have enjoyed my present home for 50 years, with more to come. But enjoyment and utility should be the primary motives for purchase, not profit or refi possibilities. And the home purchased ought to fit the income of the purchaser.

What lessons should we be learning from the housing crisis?

The present housing debacle should teach home buyers, lenders, brokers and government some simple lessons that will ensure stability in the future. Home purchases should involve an honest-to-God down payment of at least 10% and monthly payments that can be comfortably handled by the borrower’s income. That income should be carefully verified.

What role should the government play in promoting homeownership?

Putting people into homes, though a desirable goal, shouldn’t be our country’s primary objective. Keeping them in their homes should be the ambition.

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