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Home · Property Management · Financing : Which is Best Investment: Real Estate or Stocks?

Ilyce R. Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin, Inman News

Piggy bank photoQ: I have decided that if I am to invest in real estate, it will be single-family ranch-style houses with the goal of breaking even on a monthly basis. I’ll either hold the property long term (if it looks like I’ll make money by increasing the rent over time) or sell after I’ve fixed it up.

We have ample investments that will give us retirement any time we want, now or even 10 years from now. But my intention with these real estate investments is to make our later years more “flush” as well as provide something for our heirs.

My question is this: How do I determine whether or not investing in single-family homes is even necessary given our financial position? I’ve run a “basic” analysis of what a $25,000 investment in an account will be in 20 years at 7 percent vs. buying a $90,000 ranch house with 20 percent down, and $7,000 in other costs up front. I’ve projected just 2 percent average annual appreciation in home value.

The difference between putting the $25,000 in cash into an investment account and buying homes is not huge, but the effort required with real estate is much larger. I want to be sure that the effort I put toward this venture is rewarded and this whole project is not just something
to keep me busy. I’d really hate it if I found out I barely made more than if I’d stuck my money in a mutual fund.

A: This is a great question, and one that every real estate investor should take the time to ponder. But, there’s no short answer.

You’ve done your homework and that’s a good thing. But one issue you need to account for in real estate is the possibility that the value of your asset will not only not appreciate but might depreciate. The second item that you need to factor in is whether you have accounted for other expenses in leasing the property and your inability to lease the home from time to time.

These factors may make your decision easier. If you factor in these additional expenses, you may find that your analysis would move you towards not buying real estate.

While residential real property can be a good investment, for most people it’s a home. That home is a place to live in and a way to live in a particular neighborhood and community. For many years, homes appreciated rapidly but were never investments. Now that the residential bubble has burst, we won’t know whether single-family homes will appreciate as they did in the past or if they will stay at roughly the same value for a number of years before rising again.

For now, in many places, single-family homes are declining in value. According to several indices, homes in many metropolitan areas have fallen anywhere from 10 to 28 percent in value over the past 18 months.

Another point to consider: the long-term costs of maintaining your properties. The longer you own a home, the more costly it is to own it. Roofs, boilers and air-conditioners need replacing over the years. Homes need exterior work and maintenance. All of those costs need to be factored into your decision. If you’ve already put aside a maintenance and upkeep budget, your decision will be more informed.

All wannabe landlords have to decide if they’re up to the task of dealing with tenants. Some people just hate the idea that a tenant can call at any time of the day or night (even if the call never comes). If you’re averse to handling tenant calls about problems with your house and decide to hire a manager to take care of these issues, you’ll erode your stream of income.

Finally, there will be costs involved when it comes time to sell your property. You can expect to pay anywhere from 4 to 6 percent commission, plus other closing costs, such as title, taxes and other fees.

Being a landlord is a lifestyle, not just an investment. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to quantify the cost of your time and effort in retirement. But if you can get your properties to a cash-flow-positive level within the first few years of owning them, you’ll likely build a stable source of income for your retirement, and your heirs.

Even if your rate of return is equal to putting your cash into a mutual fund, you might find the tax benefits of owning investment property will tip the scale toward real estate rather than the stock market for a portion of your portfolio.

To get even more valuable advice from Ilyce, visit her Personal Finance and Real Estate Center.

What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor. To contact the writer, click the byline at the top of the story.

Copyright 2008 Ilyce R. Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin

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  • Dan

    I’ve been investing in both RE and equities for over 25 years – starting with a single condo and a few shares back in 1982. I still have some stocks and bonds and am the proud owner of over 200 rentals. Sure, there is risk in the market, but as long as you don’t have to sell in a bad market, RE has always given me a better return. And there is risk in equities as well – look at the stock market today – it’s down more than the 10-28% mentioned above. By the way, I have never made less than 22% annual return in RE – excluding the tax shelter RE has provided. And most RE investments have been even better. And with RE prices down, it’s an excellent time to buy.
    Typically, I’m looking at a minimum holding time of 5 years, but I’ve owned 1 property for over 14 years. The first 2 to 3 after purchase I often have to carry the property to the tune of $100 or so a month, but then I start getting positive cash flow. Tax-free cash flow. This is better than mutual funds, stocks or any other investment that I’ve had.

    Two pieces of advice. First, buy in a good location. You’ll get better tenants, higher rents, more appreciation. Second, be fair, but don’t give in to tenants. Create your guidelines and rules, communicate them to the renters, and keep to the rules. If they have bad credit or don’t qualify on your rent-to-income guidelines, then somewhere down the road they probably won’t be able to pay the rent. The first years were difficult as new landlords (myself) tend to be too nice and believe all the stories tenants can come up with. And I’ve had too many experiences when the tenant takes advantage of my generosity and it almost always eventually cost me.

    I hope you’ll give RE a try and it does give you some extra cash down the road. It’s sure been good for me. Good luck.

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