With mortgage interest rates coming down, more families are considering the pros and cons of buying a home as a foundation for financial planning. Many are deciding to go ahead despite a 130 percent increase in home prices in the past decade. Homes remain a popular hedge against inflation and an effective forced savings program, because, unlike rents, dollars applied to the mortgage principal accumulate through the years as an important asset.
Young married couples have been particularly active in the home market over the past decade. When both husbands and wives work and feel reasonably secure in their jobs, they have been entering the housing market.
According to a recent research report by Dowell Myers of the University of Texas School of Architecture and Planning, single-family home ownership among families with two wage earners went up from 54.4 percent in 1974 to 60.9 percent in 1981, despite soaring prices in the home market.
It is not just the young, however, who favor buying a home over renting. According to Peter Burgdoff, a Summit, N.J., real estate agent, many older people are recognizing that there are strong financial advantages to home-buying: It can be a good investment.
Not all consumer experts agree with them. At an average of about $65,000 to $ 70,000 in most areas of the country, home prices are high. The required large down payments are likely to drain personal reserves that could bring substantial returns in today's investment market. Mortgages are still expensive despite the drift downward over the past year. An interest rate of 12 percent to 12.5 percent - plus ''points'' - is now common.
Under such circumstances, those who caution against buying urge people to keep money earmarked for home purchases in short-term investments at the highest interest available, while waiting and watching for the right house to come on the market under the right financial conditions.
They look for prices to drop. Some prices have, but for the most part, the declines have been in the highest-priced, luxury home market. So far, prices of average homes have held firm, and while many forecasters predict rising prices in the years ahead, just as many look for prices to remain at present levels or drop further.
Arguing against playing a waiting game is a brochure issued by the Lawyers Title Insurance Corporation, which says, ''Buying a home now makes dollars and sense.''
It urges both care and thought in what could be ''the largest single purchase you'll ever make,'' but notes two good reasons not to wait:
* Your home will almost certainly cost more later than it does now; land and building costs have risen more than 50 percent in recent years.
* While mortgage rates fluctuate, the general trend is for high interest. If rates should drop in the next year or so, ''the few dollars you might save each month could be more than offset by higher real estate prices,'' the brochure points out.
There are a number of factors that enter into a home buying decision. Financial ability to buy and maintain a home must be considered carefully, along with the stability of family income. If buying a home must depend on the income of both husband and wife, for example, the couple should ask how long both spouses plan to continue working.
If a home is affordable, however, there are strong advantages to buying:
* There are substantial federal and state tax savings, because mortgage interest payments and city taxes are deductible. This is particularly important for those in higher income tax brackets; the cash savings can be well over $1, 000 a year.
* The cash value of the home grows constantly; every monthly payment increases your equity, and the home is likely to be appreciating year to year in its resale value. You not only save on rent, but accumulate money for the future.
Many other investments give you no lasting enjoyment or benefit such as that given by a home.
* Money invested in a home is an excellent hedge against inflation; throughout this period of rising prices, home prices have risen more than living costs.
* As your home increases in value, and as your equity in it grows, your net worth increases - providing a source of emergency cash, money for retirement, or any other purpose.
* Rents have been rising steadily. Even if this trend continues, your interest rate will remain the same under fixed-rate mortgage contracts. So unless you have some sort of adjustable-rate mortgage, your monthly costs will remain unchanged - and predictable.
* The biggest inducement of all is the deep personal satisfaction of owning and enjoying a home. Within reason, a homeowner can do whatever he or she wants with it.