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The Real Estate Bubble: What it Means and How it Affects You

The real estate bubble is a much discussed phenomenon used to describe a situation in which property values, both or either commercial and residential, expand very rapidly. The result is an over-inflated market that sees buyers purchasing property at prices far above standard value while fearing the market will burst and property values will plummet as fast as they rose. Buying in such a market can be risky for those who cannot afford to lose on their investment.

It’s difficult to say what qualifies as a bona-fide real estate bubble and what is just a hot market. There is no quantifiable standard to identify a real estate bubble and so we are left to depend on experts to tell us which areas of the country are experiencing a bubble and which areas are not. However, not even the experts can agree on the difference between a bubble, which is risky and unstable, and a boom, which has less risk of a rapid downturn. Some mortgage companies and other organizations with an interest in the real estate industry study the market and produce reports to help buyers identify potential windfalls and potential pitfalls by naming cities with what they determine is the greatest chance of a bursting bubble.

Homeowners who buy in a real estate bubble situation risk putting themselves in an undesirable financial situation, particularly if they have very low equity in their home. Equity is how much of the home you own, as opposed to the portion owned by the bank or other lending institution. If you have a lot to pay off before the home is truly yours, and the bubble bursts, you can find yourself in a position where you are paying off a significant debt on a property that can no longer fetch the same or higher value you paid for it. Of course, such a loss is only theoretical unless you actually try to sell your home. Property values fluctuate up and down on a regular basis, with both dramatic increases and decreases in value, so if you can stay in the home until the value rises again (even if it doesn’t go all the way back up), you can avoid significant losses when it does come time for you to move. If you are forced to move before the market becomes more favorable, you could find yourself in a negative equity situation, which will affect your ability to buy your next home.

The situation is less serious if you have greater equity in your home, or if you have the financial ability to absorb a loss, in which case a bursting bubble situation is more of an irritant than a financial catastrophe.

If you’re a person of average financial means who wants to buy a property in an area that may be undergoing a real estate bubble phenomenon, do so from an informed position. Be aware of the potential for loss and measure carefully the pros and cons of going ahead with your planned purchase. Do a little homework before you jump into a purchase: follow the local market for a couple months and track fluctuations; take note of any sale trends, and pay attention to what the experts (conflicted as they may be) report about the area in which you are interested. Use all of the information you gather to help you determine whether your potential positives outweigh the potential negatives.

Practicing common sense can help you survive a bursting bubble scenario in the best possible shape. For example, it is wise to minimize your overall debt load to help you manage your financial burden if you are forced to move at an inopportune time. Invest your equity and any unexpected financial gains into improving the value of your home rather than in luxury or impulse buys. Most real estate experts agree that you can recoup between 80 and 90 percent of your investment in remodeling a kitchen or bathroom when it comes time to sell your property. Of course, your best protection is to purchase a home with excellent re-sale potential to minimize possible losses if real estate values plummet unexpectedly.

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