Americans Are Wrong to Think Their House Is a Good Long-Term Investment

According to a recent Gallup poll, nearly 30% of Americans believe real estate is the best long-term investment they can make -- choosing it over stocks, bonds, and gold. However, historical data show that housing prices, adjusted for inflation, are essentially flat and have been absolutely crushed by stocks. Stocks have produced annually returns of about 6% (adjusted for inflation).

In the following video, Motley Fool analysts Brendan Mathews and David Hanson tell viewers why housing is incorrectly seen as the greatest long-term investment option. Brendan notes that a home is usually a person's longest held investment, which gives them a better chance of long-term appreciation. Brendan argues that if Americans held stocks as long as they held houses, many more people would view stocks as the superior investments. 

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  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 10:58 AM, silverslicer wrote:

    "historical data show that housing prices, adjusted for inflation, are essentially flat"

    So its almost living for free.

    Are there any studies on your return from renting?..haha

    Dumping $2k a month and never getting it back?

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 11:13 AM, Chevynuts33 wrote:

    Homes have been utilized as a measns to an end where financing has about taken it out of the realm as becoming more valuble, faster than any inflation guide, but still provides inflation protection in housing cost in long terms (past 10-20 years).

    Also, if one pays off a home early, investable income rises.

    We need a place to live, either someone other than ourselves benefits, or the 'home-owner/occupant' benefits.

    Just because monetization of homes is entering a different paradigm doesn't mean 'homes' are not worth investing in, but it does mean fewer people are capable of participating in the current investment model of home ownership.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 11:17 AM, SSBN620 wrote:

    Soooo, everybody sell your houses, pitch a tent, and become a Motley Fool. LMAO

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 11:21 AM, ZJak wrote:

    The problem with this analysis is that it doesn't take into consideration the fact that when people buy houses they are leveraged. So if you buy a house with 10% down and if your house appreciates at the inflation rate say 4%, you make 4% on the whole house value (100% not just the 10% down payment). So in the first year you actually make a 40% return which is 36% adjusted for inflation. This is much less than the 6% from stocks. To make this a pure analysis you would need to buy a house where the total monthly cost (payments, taxes, insurance, etc.) is at most 40% higher than you would pay for rent because of the 40% state and federal tax savings for owning a house. To maximize returns when you get enough equity in your house for a down payment on another house, you should pull that money out and buy a rental house where your monthly expenses are no more than 40% higher than the rent you collect as you will get the 40% back in the form of tax refunds making the property a break even for the first year in cash flow but still earning u a net of 36% on your down payment plus the 36% from your first house.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 11:22 AM, DSonneborn wrote:

    I think a few of you need to read the article, and not just the headline -- it doesn't say that owning a home is a bad investment, and owning real estate is not a bad investment, but that most Americans THINK that owning a home is the BEST investment.....

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 11:26 AM, emailnodata wrote:

    Um..."nearly 30%".

    Here, let me put this a different way:

    "Nearly 80% of Americans DO NOT look at real estate as the best long-term investment they can make..."

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 11:27 AM, Isabel wrote:

    Dear David Hanson

    I hope you are a young person, that might be an excuse.

    I recently took retirement. My house, the place you consider a bad investment, is paid off. I pay $100.- a month taxes and Pro rated $50.- a month Homeowner's Ins.

    Renters must consider that they will retire someday and need a place to live. This takes planning many years in advance.

    Social Security covers all my expenses with plenty of slack.

    PS: Car is paid for also.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 11:34 AM, bob99 wrote:

    yea right, so these two fools are saying to rent instead of buying a house. So its better to throw your money away and make someone else rich every month then paying yourself back down the road years from now. I do not care if a house is not the best investment. Its not all about making money when you buy a house, its about settling down and growing roots in a community. If you love to move all the time, go ahead and rent. If you hate to move, buy a house. Cars are a bad investment to, but lots of people buy them. Unless you buy a classic car that only goes up in value.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 11:40 AM, Riggerwo wrote:

    This is misleading....in the past before the housing bubble exploded Americans got used to using their homes like an ATM machine..and expecting the value to keep on rising. My house in paid off..it is a modest home...I have up graded the electrical system and replaced windows for double pane energy efficient ones...I now have a place to retire..a house is not in my mind a bad investment...and in our final years should the need arise we have the possibility of a reverse mortgage should we need cash. So I do not regret buying my house.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 11:58 AM, diverseinvestor wrote:

    Though my name might be deceptive, I am 100% invested in real estate. My "stuff" is paid off. I get a nice 10 to 12 percent return year after year after year after year. Stocks are "paper". What are they really worth? Whether the stock market crashes, or housing market crashes, I will still be getting my rent from a stockholder that was taught that paper is worth more than concrete.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 12:04 PM, ccmail111 wrote:

    I agree with bob99. It is astonishing to see that a car is considered as an investment in business sense. The sales folks will classify everything they sell as investment from cars to TV and others. A wise business person looks differently.

    Yes, A house either rental or ownership is one the the 3 basic necessities of life (the other two being food and clothing) !! So, this is needed valid as long as human life exists. Now do you consider this as safe investment ? Yes, like everything else may have ups and downs but there is intrinsic value till death and beyond !

    That does not mean you over pay like stocks and every other investment.

    As mentioned by other readers above, even with zero returns on home, there is in built benefits unlike betting chips on table at Vegas as in stocks. It is simple risk/reward game.

    Look at homes in Vegas, LA, SFO, NYC, Vegas, AZ, Chicago, and others where home prices have risen 30-40% and crossed all ceilings.

    There are risks too like any other investments from renter headaches to home maintenance, taxes, natural calamity etc. Other than putting money in bank every investment and business has risks - the truth of life !!

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 12:09 PM, espan wrote:

    The most obvious mistake made in this motley fool opinion on a house as being a poor investment compared to stocks is that I do not know anyone who can live in and raise a family in a stock portfolio. When the lifelong economic benefits of owning a home are taken into consideration there can be no comparison to the value of investing in owning your own home, particularly if taken over the long term.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 12:43 PM, DeepVM wrote:

    The problem with the article is that it displays some statistics on how many people prefer real-estate over other investments. The speakers only offer their own opinion to go against the statistics, but offer no in-depth analysis of the same.

    Its like the people's opinions (statistically) against the so-called expert's opinions. The assumption being that the so-called expert's opinion is better.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 12:55 PM, ThinkMn wrote:

    Housing is a good long term investment. You do not have to pay capital gains on the profits from a home sale if you owned the house at least 5 yrs and lived in it two of the last five (and the profit not more than $250k). That means I can effectively sell a house for profit every two years. What other income can I have that is tax free up to $250k in a year (averaging $200k a year)? That's $1.25 million tax free every 10 years. Of course you have to buy the right house for the right price.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 1:02 PM, ibarz wrote:

    No offense, but this is SUCH A POORLY WRITTEN article. To be honest, it seems to have been researched by a middle grade student.

    Have you forgotten the tax free gains UP TO $500k

    if you have lived in the house for 2 years?

    What about leverage? You only need 20% or even less for down payment.

    What about rent-own ratio calculation?

    I feel sorry for any clients you might have, but please do more research if not refrain from writing and publishing such nonsense.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 1:17 PM, vkngpwr wrote:

    What is not discussed is the return on equity invested. With stocks, by law, one can only be 2 times levered while with real estate, one can borrow much more money. So a a 6% annual return on equities levered 2 time is 12% compared to a 3% annal return on real estate levered 5 to 10 times is 15%-30%. And the non-recource loans make the downside less egregious.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 1:19 PM, arkbiz wrote:

    I don't know what the average experience is w/ house investment but ours was definitely lucrative. Of course, we lived in it (our first) for 33 years.

    It returned 5.5% compounded annually.

    From $64K to $370K. From an average priced house at purchase to one that sold for about 65% more than the average, decades later. Sure there were taxes, maintenance, utilities, insurance, and real estate commissions. But you have to live somewhere! And we enjoyed the mortgage tax break.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 1:23 PM, HoosierRube wrote:

    'Look at the short term and historical....'

    Short term and historical WHAT? What are your metrics? For all I know you're comparing apples and oranges and could be completely wrong. But how would we know? What numbers are you looking at and what time frames?

    As a holder of a number or REITS, let me tell you all, there is good money in real estate. And I have a rental property, and i have a home. All GREAT investments.

    You could have saved us all a lot of wasted time listening to you by just saying,

    'Stocks are a better investment then real estate, because I say so.'

    This was poor. Very very poor. You tell me what your metrics are, and i'll tell you what you're missing.

    Just like there are investment grade securities and bonds, there is investment grade real estate.

    Not all real estate is created equal.....

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 1:51 PM, Schmenge wrote:

    This is the last thing you should be telling people. What about all the people that currently own homes? You want home ownership only for landlords?

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 1:57 PM, luckyagain wrote:

    "Americans Are Wrong to Think Their House Is a Good Long-Term Investment"

    Actually owning a house/condo/etc is the largest capital asset that most Americans will ever have. It also has a much lower cost of residence than a comparable rental unit. You have to live somewhere, so living in a house /condo/etc is by far much cheaper than renting. It is fairly easy to understand. What will cost to rent the house that a person currently owns? Now compare that cost of renting a similar residence. If the cost of renting is $1500/month and the cost of living in your current residence is $500/month, you would need capital assets that would deliver $1000/month plus any income taxes on it. Pretty easy to see that owning your residence is much cheaper.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 1:58 PM, hbk72777 wrote:

    "However, historical data show that housing prices, adjusted for inflation, are essentially flat and have been absolutely crushed by stocks."

    My grandparents bought their house for $13,000 in 1960, they sold it in 2005 for $450,000

    My Parents bought their house in 1991 at $140,000, they sold it in 2010 for $320,000 (and this was at the absolute bottom of the market, plus it needed a new roof and windows,)

    And we got to live in it, you can't do that with stocks and bonds.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 2:00 PM, FireBreather wrote:

    Please then, explain why Investor's are snatching up homes all over the country. And why the Chinese and Russian's are buying whatever they can get their hands on in the U.S. Quite possibly it's a good investment if it's bought with CASH and there's no mortgage ? where the average American couldn't possibly afford to do. Quite possibly, we are facing Housing Bubble #2......... I'm not so sure about the advice coming from this site too much anymore. We are sitting on a Fiscal Cliff......about time American's wake up to this fact.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 2:02 PM, smartguy wrote:

    I believe you are not correct about the housing..

    I purchase a home 17 years ago...$130,000.00 put

    down $30,000.00, then refi 5 years later, got back

    my $30,000.00.. then used home for a line of credit used that line of $110,000.00 for down

    payment on a $500,000.00 home, rented out first

    home with $400.00 cash flow each month to use or

    pay off the line.... so what are you talking about a

    home is not a good investment........

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 2:37 PM, Janius wrote:

    Real Estate is the only Capital that is taxed. You can have $500,000 in stock and no government entity will take a nickel of it, but own $500,000 of real estate and your local government will want a percent of it every year. You can't depreciate it either. My $275,000 home costs me $9,000 a year in tax. So my capital is taxed at a rate of 3.2% If I took that $275,000 and bought municipal bonds from the same town I pay taxes in, I would be PAID 3% per year for my $275,000 investment.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 2:44 PM, axxan3 wrote:

    It is true you can lose money on a house. If you plan on being in the house for years if you factor in rent if may be better to buy. Example I pay 100 K for a house. If in 30 years the house loses 10 per cent in value was this a good deal?

    Question is what would you have paid in rent for the same size home? So if you sell the house for 90 K how much would you have in paying rent?

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 2:56 PM, mcadena1223 wrote:

    I paid 120K for my house and now I'm renting it out for $1,100 ...not sure if there's an investment that would have made me $800net on a monthly bases ....I'm happy how I played my house investment

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 3:18 PM, eugimon wrote:

    It's called building generational wealth. It's one of the few ways for the middle class and even the working poor to build up wealth that can be passed down to the next generation to give them an advantage.

    But I can see why corporate shills are working so hard to convince americans that owning something is bad and that living our lives in perpetual debt and revolving credit is good.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 4:10 PM, SLTom992 wrote:

    As you can tell from the comments from people much more financially educated than someone at a website, buying a home is a MUCH better investment than renting and buying stocks.

    I guess there's a reason they call themselves "fools".

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 4:34 PM, RachelLachance wrote:

    Many American have a steak taste on a hamburger budget . That's part of the problem we now face from a long time ago. Barrow to the max and then whine about now having enough money . Nice house , car or truck and boat. Can you afford them or does it really matter at this period of time?

    Me - I’m going to rent until I have enough money to buy a comparable place in full. And only when I find a place I want to spend the rest of my life in.

    While waiting for that, I will make smart decisions with my money:

    1) Paying off my debts as they come to me. Never holding a credit card balance longer than a month. If this means living in a small studio apartment and eating ramen, rice, and beans, so be it.

    2) I will always buy small, fuel efficient and durable cars. I drive a 2006 Honda Civic now. It costs me nothing to fill up and next to nothing to insure ($25/month from Insurance Panda… woohoo!). I will not drive when I don’t need to, and use public transportation whenever possible.

    3) Developing multiple revenue streams. Doing side jobs. Building up small businesses. Doing contract work. Basically doing whatever I can to generate income from multiple sources.

    4) Grow my revenue and assets no matter what. Make sure I am always expanding and develop them to the point that they consistently generate reliable cash flow.

    5) I need life insurance to protect my daughter, but I ditched a $275 a month whole life policy for a policy from LifeAnt and now I only spend $25 a month. I save the difference to my Roth IRA.

    6) The most important one - make as much as I can. Save as much as I can.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 4:48 PM, duuude1 wrote:

    RachelLachance you are by far the smartest commenter here - bravo. You are going far. Just hoping that other young folks listen to you and follow your example (and from the kids I've spoken with many are indeed following your example and are being smart with their money).

    Duuude1

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 4:49 PM, StevePK wrote:

    Too bad for Motley Fools. This is the first article I've read on this web site. Now I know better than to do it again.

    You have to live somewhere. The only way to compare Home Ownership to buying stocks, is to include the cost of your Home in both sides of the equation.

    Plus, as many pointed out in the comments above, you have to compare what you actually pay, i.e. Downpayment, principal and interest of a house vs. margin price of the stocks (full price of the stocks for most people, because most people don't buy on margins and other leveraging techniques).

    And that's if we take the article at face value and ignore all of the other Real Estate investment opportunities and only look at Home Ownership.

    This article is just an advertising lead for the investment (scam?) being plugged in the last third of the article.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 7:51 PM, MaxxTheKatt wrote:

    We didn't buy our house as an investment. We bought it to live in.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 8:15 PM, Barmil wrote:

    Yes the market temporarily has done very well and yes it out performed housing.

    If you are fortunate enough do both.

    Stock come and go at a fantastic rate.

    Land is finite meaning there is no new land created there maintains a value.

    I can't say the same for stock as witnessed in the last crash.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 10:13 PM, rpwils wrote:

    Sorry, we can't all go and blow money on stocks and hope we picked an amazon. The rich get richer because they can. I say not enough Americans take care of priorities first such as a house, health and life insurance and healthy foods! If there is anything left, than invest in stocks and if you can afford buy a second car, tv or smartphone. Heck take 50 of the 80 you spend on cell phones and go without data and texting to buy stocks.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 11:37 PM, FoolRobert wrote:

    The article makes sense if you only consider the appreciation value of your home. If you consider that the value of your home will pay you back all you invested into it...It means you basically live for free.

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2014, at 12:31 AM, desertrattwo wrote:

    Keep in mind that the Motley Fool sells investment advice, not houses. Maybe over the long haul stocks are a better investment than a home. But if you have a family and can own only one investment, then owning a house is the best investment you can make. If you spend your money on stocks and never buy a house then you will be "wasting" over $2000 a month for a place to live now, and a LOT more than that 15 or 20 years down the road. We've lived in our "investment" for over 30 years; it's paid off and now we have a "free" place to live in an area where rents are $2500 per month. At the time we paid off our house the payment was less than $600/month. Compared to rent we still have $1900 left over to do with as we pleased, including buying stocks.

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2014, at 12:48 AM, AKHENATENX wrote:

    Taxes per year are roughly $4000 a year in Florida.

    Insurance per year in Florida is roughly $4000

    or $8000 a year total (Taxes and Insurance)or $666.66 a month for both expenses

    A 165,000 mortgage at 5% for 30 years is $885 a month Principle & interest

    With an average interest payment of approx. $500 a month for the first 20 years.

    So between the $500 in interest and another $666 in Tax/Insurance

    That is $1,166 an month going out the door and not coming back / dead money!!

    or $279,840 dead money paid out over 20 years for taxes/ insurance /interest

    I will need to sell my house for $444,840 to break even.

    Of course that is not counting up keep

    Or in my case $2000 more for flood insurance

    Ergo bad investment

    That's the way I see it

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2014, at 1:00 AM, XTrminator wrote:

    It is silly to continue paying huge rent, then try to devote your few remaining dollars to a "better" investment than buying a home!

    True, a home purchase may not be the absolute BEST investment you could make, but since the ongoing expense that most people routinely devote the most money to is rent, the best first investment is to buy a home.

    For those who don't think purchasing a primary residence is a better investment than renting - my parents bought a house for $39K in 1966, in Sunnyvale, CA. They sold in 2008 for $1.3M. During their 40 years of living there, they earned $2500 per month. Their experience may not be typical, but any time you have your name on title to a home, as opposed to renting, you accumulate the value of your payments over the years, (and any appreciation) so if you sell later you take your money with you. There is NO renting scenario where you accumulate the value of your payments and take it with you when you move. Since you will probably either be renting or buying, the latter makes the most sense when you plan to stay in a location more than a couple of years.

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2014, at 3:23 AM, Wenmomojo wrote:

    The real estate people I know all agree to this: "You do not live in your investment." If you want to invest in real estate you will do substantially better by purchasing multi family properties or other commercial real estate. It's the #1 creator of millionaires, but not from selling the house you live in.

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2014, at 9:03 AM, rocsoe wrote:

    It is an excellent long term investment. It's significantly less risky then stocks AND, if you keep away from the money-grubbing real-estate and mortgage markets, it frees up your cash.

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2014, at 9:06 AM, rocsoe wrote:

    Fine. So I'll live under a bridge and put my cash in stocks.

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2014, at 12:50 PM, KingOfPizza wrote:

    Never sh!t where you eat. Your house is a place to live, not an investment. It is a *better* use of your money than paying rent to someone else, but definitely not the *best*.

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2014, at 2:15 PM, damilkman wrote:

    People seem to be confusing two completely different issues. There is investing in your house and investing in real estate. They are completely different beasts.

    When you invest in your house your return is less because you upgrade it to live the lifestyle that you want to live. When you invest in real estate you maintain the property to a level that is adequate to your renters needs, aka make sure the property is clean, not run down, and add a new coat of paint.

    If you lived in a house and did not add any bells and whistles you are going to make more. The reality is most of us want those life style upgrades that cost. Yet we falsely believe we are still making money.

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2014, at 4:35 PM, HoosierRube wrote:

    AKHENATENX

    What a poor comparison. Make the same comparison, only this time borrow the money, at a much higer rate than a mortgage, to buy the stocks and be sure to pay taxes on any dividends and then include any taxes when the stocks are sold. At least thats closer to reality than your scenario.

    Come on, you cant borrow money for one investment and pay cash for the other and say "Ah Ha, this one is better than that one'.

    Actually, borrowing money can be a bonanza. Think for one second, 500K home with a 20% downpayment of 100K. The day after you buy the house the price goes to 600k, a 20% increase and you sell.

    What you're left with is a double for your money. 100K invested, 100K profit. I think that is a double.

    You can do that with stocks also, its called margin.

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2014, at 8:21 PM, frnak wrote:

    The discussion in this video is inane. Two guys pumping each other up over how smart they are and how the public "just doesn't get it." These guys don't get it. You get to purchase a massive asset with money that is borrowed at a fixed, ridiculously low rate for 30 YEARS. Then, on top of that, you get to take a deduction for the price you paid to borrow the money at that (again, ridiculously low) rate. It is a form of leveraging that you cannot get with stock market investments. You can borrow money to buy stocks, but at higher rates and for much shorter periods of time and with a great deal more risk.

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2014, at 11:28 PM, classic216 wrote:

    Renting makes more sense than buying.

    First of all..........even if you own your house outright, you will still have to pay "rent" in the form of maintenance, property tax, and insurance.

  • Report this Comment On April 29, 2014, at 1:47 AM, kyleleeh wrote:

    to the people who argue that renting is throwing money away, you do realize that a mortgage is just renting money from a bank right? Almost all of that mortgage check you send off each month is just interest.

    That aside the main reason I have no interest in buying a house is because at no point in my life have I been able to accurately predict how the events of my life would unfold in the next 5 years. I don't think unemployment would have been as bad in this last recession if so many people had not been effectively immobilized by being tied to a house they couldn't sell. Most of those unemployed construction workers could have gotten jobs in North Dakotas Oil fields if they had the option of being able to move. That's the real cost of owning your home...chaining yourself to a single regions economy.

  • Report this Comment On May 06, 2014, at 5:01 PM, TMFWillSommers wrote:

    Hi All -

    Thanks for watching our video and providing so many comments!

    Sorry that David Hanson and I can respond to all of them. In place of that, I'd suggest reading these two great articles by Morgan Housel, which summarize things nicely.

    Americans vs. Reality: Why Your Home is Not a Good Investment

    http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2014/05/02/the-uncomfo...

    Two Overrated Rebuttals for Why Housing is a Good Investment

    http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2014/05/06/two-overrat...

    I hope that helps.

    Fool on,

    Brendan (TMFWillSommers)

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