Tag Archives: real estate bubble

Should you own real estate?

Old house Stock Photo

We visit Nerdwallet from time to time to answer questions from readers looking for financial advice.  One recent question was from a single mom who’s buying a new house and is thinking of keeping her old house as a rental property.  She wanted to know if it was a good idea to sell most of her stocks and use the proceeds to buy the new house rather than selling the old one.

This question is not uncommon.  We have a number of clients who have invested in rental real estate.  The answer is not clear-cut and depends to a large extent on the individual.  Are you are a handyman and love to work on carpentry projects?  Or are you a single mom who’s disappointed with her stock market investments?

In the run-up to the Great Recession, lots of people got into real estate, flipping houses for a quick profit.   For many people that experience ended in grief when housing prices collapsed.  However, many people view real estate as an investment rather than a place to live.

So what are the issues involved?  Here’s part of my answer (edited):

You have to take taxes, liquidity and return on equity into consideration.  First, when you sell your stocks you will have to pay capital gains taxes on any profit.

The second issue is the fact that while stocks are liquid (easy to sell) a house is not liquid in case you have to sell to meet a financial emergency.

The third thing to consider is what the return will be on the equity on your rental property.  The rent you receive is not all profit.  From this you have to deduct taxes and maintenance.  Then there’s the problem of actually collecting your rent: some tenants won’t pay on time – or at all – and how do you evict them?  And when people move you will have to repair and paint to get it ready for the next tenant.   Unless you’re handy you may have to pay a company to manage the property for you, which reduces your income.  Finally the return on real estate has actually been lower than the return on stocks over long periods of time.

On the plus side, you can view free cash flow from rents as similar to dividends from stocks.  And there are tax benefits from deprecation on rental property.

The bottom line, there are benefits to owning commercial real estate, but there are also drawbacks. Once you make a commitment to owning rental property, there’s no easy way out.  People should think long and hard before plunging into this market.

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Avoiding the Housing Trap in Retirement

Homes are a money pit. This morning the HVAC repairman showed up to fix the broken attic fan. Painters are coming next week. The insurance bill on the home is due soon. The landscaping needs some work. Let’s not forget real estate taxes and the mortgage payment.

Many people think of their home as a financial asset. Most people thought real estate was a safe financial asset. People were flipping houses for fun and profit. Then 2008 came along and we learned a whole new set of terms, like “liar loans” and “short sale.”

What does this have to do with retirement? Just this: many people are over-spending on their dream home or holding on to costly vacation homes. There is a term for this: being “house poor.” It describes the homeowners who spend too much of their income on housing costs.  How much is too much?  If it’s nearing 40% it’s definitely too much.

We won’t go into the reasons for this; they are well-known. The answer is to either make more money or to get rid of the money pit. It may be a very difficult emotional decision, but over the long-term, the financial markets have done better than the housing market. Another benefit is that the financial markets are liquid while your home is not,  sometimes taking a year or more to sell.

We are big believers in home ownership. But in our experience a home is not a financial asset that is used in retirement. In most cases the home does not become a financial asset until the owner gets too old and has to move into a retirement community or a nursing home. By that time, retirement is nearing its end.

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