Category: Real estate

Why Your Home is a Poor Investment

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A couple we know moved to a new house recently.  They sold their old for a little more than twice the price they originally paid.  Doubling your money sounds like a great deal, right?

Not so fast.

To determine if the house was a good investment we need to make some calculations.  They originally bought their old home about 33 years ago.  That means that the return on their investment was just 2.4% per year.  To put it in perspective, 33 years ago CD rates were around 10%.  Viewed strictly from an investment perspective, they could have made a better return on their money if they had bought a CD.  And that’s to say nothing of maintenance and upkeep, costs not associated with CDs.

On the other hand, you can’t live in a CD.

How about investing that money in the stock market?  Over that same period the S&P 500 grew 8.5% annually.  That means that every $100 invested in the market 33 years ago would have grown to $1476!

The reason that so many people think that their home is their best investment is that they don’t sell their home very often.  As a result, they look at what they paid and what they sold it for.  If they held it for many years, it usually looks like a big number, and it is. But when viewed strictly as an investment, the annual growth rate is small compared to the alternatives.

As we alluded to earlier, home ownership also involves many other expenses.  There are property taxes and insurance.  Homeowners know that repairs and maintenance are expensive and never ending.  After all of the expenses are taken into account, the real return on home ownership may be even less that our earlier calculation.

But a home is much more than an investment.  It’s a place to live, a place to raise a family, a place to call your own.  A home is a refuge from the rest of the world.  The alternative is renting, wherein you often have more flexibility and are not on the hook for all of the repairs and maintenance.  But it also means that your monthly payment to your landlord is not going into equity that home ownership provides.

We are homeowners and advocates of home ownership.  The point of evaluating the true value of the home as an investment is to bring reality to the financial aspects of home ownership. It’s also a warning against investing too much of our resources in the family home, making many people “home poor.”

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.

Rent or Buy?

Should you rent or buy a house?  That’s a question often asked by young couples, those in the military, and people who are undergoing life changes.  The main reason that people want to buy rather than rent is because they view renting as throwing money away and not building equity.  Additionally, buying a home provides a feeling of stability.

However, there are downsides to buying.  Buying a house locks you into a situation.  If your life changes, you lose your job, or wish to move, selling a home can be difficult and expensive.  Owning a home means that you have upkeep and maintenance costs.  If you rent those costs are borne by the landlord.  The cost of rent is often less than the costs associated with home ownership; mortgage payments, real estate taxes, insurance, maintenance and all the other costs that a home owner faces.

Over the long term, owning a home has been a good investment for many families.  But more recent history has clearly shown that the assumption that a home will always go up in value is not true.  Just ask the people whose homes went on the market as “short sales.”

If you are an individual who is contemplating whether to rent or buy, keep these issues in mind.  If you’re not sure, get the advice of a financial planner who can run the numbers for you and help you make the right decision.

Are You an "Affluent Worker?"

Forbes magazine recently had an article about some of our favorite clients. They call them the “High Net Worker.” These are people who are successful mid-level executives in major businesses. They range in age from 40 to the early 60s. They earn from $200,000 per year and often more than $500,000. They work long hours and are good at their jobs.

According to the Forbes article, many have no plans to retire. Our experience is different; retirement is definitely an objective. But many have valuable skills and plan to begin a second career or consult after retiring from their current company.

At this time in their lives they have accumulated a fair amount of wealth, own a nice home in a good neighborhood, and may be getting stock options or deferred bonuses. That means that at this critical time in their lives, when they are focused on career and have little time for anything else, they have not done much in the way of financial planning.

When it comes to investing, most view themselves as conservative. But because of their compensation their investments are actually much riskier than they think. It is not unusual for executives of large corporations to have well over 50% of their net worth tied to their company’s stock. Few people realize the risks they are taking until something bad happens. For example, the industrial giant General Electric’s stock lost over 90% of its value over a nine year period ending in 2009. The stock of financial giant UBS dropped nearly 90% between May 2007 and February 2009. These companies survived. There are many household names, like General Motors and K-Mart whose shareholders lost everything.

The affluent worker’s family usually includes one or more children who are expected to go to college. Many of these families have a 529 college savings plan for their children. Most have IRAs and contribute to their company’s 401k plan, but because many don’t have a financial planner they do not have a well thought out strategy for this part of their portfolio.

At a time when many less affluent families are downsizing, many families in this category are either looking to upgrade their homes, buy a bigger home, or buy a second – vacation – home. They may even help their adult children with down-payments.

If you are an Affluent Worker, give us a call and see what we can do for you. If you already have a financial advisor, it may be time to get a second opinion.

The lure and risks of “alternative investments.”

The financial world has been deluged marketing offers from investment firms offering “alternative investments.” “Alts” are non-traditional investments.  They include non-traded REITs, hedge funds and private equity.

The lure of “alts” is summarized in a quote from Financial IQ:

“The 2008 financial crisis scarred investors enough that they’re still seeking new ways to diversify out of stocks and bonds. Meanwhile, investors also are hungry for yield amid persistently low interest rates.”

The problem with “alts” is that they are not well understood.

Many are not liquid – in other words they cannot be sold at a moment’s notice.

In addition, most are not transparent – you can’t always tell what you own because the “alts” managers are secretive, unwilling to reveal their strategy in detail.

Third, the fees charged by “alts” managers are often much higher than those charged by traditional managers.

Many of the “alts” use derivatives which are difficult to understand and can lead to risks that are not obvious. An example are the “guaranteed” structured notes created prior to 2008. When Lehman Brothers collapsed it was revealed that the “guaranteed” notes issued by Lehman were backed by the claims paying ability of a bankrupt company.  People lost millions and learned a painful lesson.

Our philosophy is to invest our money in securities we understand. We always want to know: what’s the worst thing that can happen? If we don’t understand the risk, we don’t invest.  It’s a lesson learned over the years as we keep in mind the first rule of making money:  don’t lose it.

Benchmarking Inverts the Basics of Investing

The problem with “benchmarking”  – that is measuring your investment performance against market indexes (known as “benchmarks”) – is that it often leads to buying into asset bubbles.

During the tech boom of the last 20th century, billions of dollars went into internet stocks whose values became wildly inflated.  People who participated in this as a way of reaching for high rates of return, found that no one rang a bell when the party was over.  Many lost their retirement savings and saw their 401(k)s devastated.

Certain stocks become wildly popular, industries become wildly popular and investing styles become wildly popular, all of which leads to wildly inflated values.  This almost inevitably leads to financial pain.

But this does not only happen in the stock market.  In the first decade of the 21st century, real estate seemed to be a way of making outsized profits.  Of course, when the housing bubble collapsed, many not only lost money, but their homes.

The focus of serious investors is to align your portfolio with your personal objectives.  The focus should be on long-term – multi-year – performance.  The only benchmark that should concern you is the one you set for yourself.

At Korving & Company we keep our clients grounded and work with them to meet their personal benchmarks.  Contact us to do the same for you.

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{030251e622a83165372097b752b1e1477acc3e16319689a4bdeb1497eb0fac93} 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.

4 Common Mistakes home buyers first-time make

Mortgage rates are near historic lows and are likely to begin moving up, so a lot of renters may want to lock in today’s low rates and buy their first home.  There are a few mistakes that home buyers make that can cost them both money or headaches later on.

  • Don’t be turned off by problems that are easily fixed.  Many first-time home buyers look for move-in ready homes.  They make the mistake of thinking that dirty carpets, ugly wallpaper, scratched flooring or cracks in plaster are reasons not to buy.  But these cosmetic issues are easy and inexpensive to fix.  Issues like this often mean that the seller will be getting lower bids on their home and provide an opportunity for the smart buyer to do some bargain hunting.
  • There are a lot of costs the homeowner faces that a renter does not.  Keep in mind that when a major appliance, a HVAC system or structural repairs are needed, you are your own landlord.  Keep that in mind when buying a home and budgeting for your ongoing expenses.
  • If a home you want to buy requires major renovation, make sure that you can afford it after making the down-payment and your monthly mortgage.
  • Taxes and insurance are items that renters often overlook when making their first home purchase.  Both add thousands of dollars to the cost of owning your own home.  Make sure it’s part of your budget.

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