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To Buy or Not to Buy?

The time might be right for some major purchases

spinner image left plane at an airport middle man looking at t vs for sale right the front of a house
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In times of high inflation and economic uncertainty, the natural inclination is to close up your wallet and wait for another day to make large purchases, even if you have the cash to spare. But in some instances, spending money in volatile times may be a smart financial move. Here’s how to think about eight major expenses this fall.

Get new furniture?

Inflation and supply shortages have plagued the furniture industry since the pandemic began, says Jennifer Litwin, author of Best Furniture Buying Tips Ever! “Slow recovery in the workforce has contributed to the delays and to the higher prices,” she adds. “Overall, home furnishings prices have gone up by 10 percent in the past year, with no turnaround in the immediate future.”

Litwin expects prices to remain elevated at least through the end of this year, and she doesn’t expect good values for furniture buyers to return until late 2023.

Verdict: Wait

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Downsize your home?

The record run that home prices have seen in the past two years may be coming to an end, with June figures showing lower sales volumes and a slowdown in price increases. That said, sales prices on single-family homes were up more than 18 percent from a year earlier, according to CoreLogic. Such elevated prices could work in your favor if you are looking to downsize, says Scott Lindner, national sales director at TD Bank, because you can lock in the profits on the more expensive home you’re selling in order to offset the increased price of the smaller home you’re buying.

But the move may make less sense if you’ll have to get a mortgage for the downsized home, especially if you snagged a low fixed rate for your current mortgage. If your new rate is significantly higher, even on a smaller loan, your payments could go up, says Nick Bormann, a financial planner with Bormann Wealth Management.

Verdict: Maybe 

Upgrade your smartphone?

The supply constraints that hit the smartphone market in the middle of last year have subsided just as inflation pushed down demand, says Nabila Popal, research director with the consulting firm IDC. That means that prices have fallen and carriers are making trade-in deals that could significantly lower the price of a new phone. “In the United States, this is a great time to buy a phone, because we are seeing offers from carriers at a level we have never seen before,” Popal says.

Verdict: Buy

Buy a TV?

While the prices of most consumer goods are going up, the cost of a television fell nearly 15 percent from July 2021 to July 2022. “The most cutting-edge TVs with the latest innovations are expensive and have been slightly delayed this year due to supply chain issues,” says Nick Pino, managing editor of TV & AV at Tom’s Guide. “But there are still a huge number of budget TV models available out there. At this point, there’s no reason to wait long if you need a new TV.”

Verdict: Buy

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Take a European vacation?

This summer, the euro was at a two-decade low against the U.S. dollar, meaning that the money that you spend in Europe will go 20 percent further than it did a year ago, says Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights. As for fall airfares, Keyes was expecting prices to decline from where they were this summer. “We’ve recently seen prices for autumn and winter fares, like New York City to Oslo, for $226 round trip; Boston to the Azores for $366 round trip; and San Francisco to Paris for $383 round trip — all on full-service airlines,” Keyes reported in August.

Verdict: Buy

Renovate your house?

Both the number of homeowners remodeling their properties and the money they spent hit a four-year high in 2021, according to home renovation site Houzz. High prices and demand are still making it difficult for homeowners to renovate, says Craig Webb, a construction supply industry consultant. Even if you’re able to find a contractor, continuing supply chain problems are causing delivery delays for necessities including concrete, windows and appliances. “Waiting will give you a chance to find somebody who does good, thoughtful work and can find products and materials that make you happy,” Webb adds. “Doing it in the future might not be much cheaper, but it may tax you less mentally.”

Verdict: Wait

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Replace your refrigerator?

If your refrigerator is having problems, should you repair it or buy a new one? Prices for major appliances in July were up 17.5 percent from two years earlier, and repair costs are higher too.

Fixing the old fridge is a good choice unless the cost of repairing it approaches half the cost of its original purchase price, says Consumer Reports home and appliances writer Daniel Wroclawski. Repairing a high-end fridge also makes sense, since expensive brands are back-ordered by up to a year, says John Carey, cofounder of New Jersey retailer Designer Appliances.

The best deals on a purchase are at the lower end of the price range, says Carey: “Manufacturers are overstocked on certain models and willing to cut prices to clear out inventory.” Other good options are to buy a secondhand model with a warranty or a new model with cosmetic damage, Wroclawski says.

Verdict: Maybe 

Buy a second home?

Whether now is a good time to purchase a second home depends on several factors, including how long you’re planning to keep the home, whether you need to borrow money for the purchase (again, high interest rates!) and the local housing market where you want to buy. Redfin data shows that the second-home market has already begun to cool, with prices falling below the pre-pandemic baseline in June for the first time in two years. 

“You should seriously consider the risks before buying a second home in today’s market,” Lindner says. “But if you’re looking to hold it for a long time, it will more than likely be at the present value or higher.”

Verdict: Maybe 

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