The latest data show again that you shouldn’t expect to make more money from buying and selling the house you live in than you would from investing in stocks. In fact, you could do better with government-issued inflation-protected bonds. This isn’t just a result of the recent decline in home prices, 19% over the past year. The long term figures show that real estate barely beats inflation.
This doesn’t consider the annual expenses you pay to maintain and live legally in your home, like insurance, association fees, and taxes. In order to compare return from the sale of your home with that from a sale of any other investment, you need to consider the total cost, including the above as well as closing costs, broker fees, and the amount you pay the people who stage your house with fake furniture when you sell. People I have talked to like to take their selling price, subtract their buying price, and state that as their real estate profit, ignoring all the costs they wouldn’t have had if they hadn’t purchased their house.
Gurus have long touted real estate as the best method for “getting rich,” but this concept does not compute if your only purchase is the home in which you live unless you get quite lucky. And unless you rent when you sell your house or downsize to a smaller house or a less expensive location, you won’t be able to enjoy the profit, if any.
Rather than looking at your own home as an investment, consider it a cost center that you should try to reduce as much possible to make the most of your purchase.
Updated January 16, 2010 and originally published May 27, 2009.