On CNBC a few weeks ago, Warren Buffett told the television-viewing audience, among other things, that he would purchase a couple hundred thousand single-family homes right now, if it were practical to do so.
That seems like a ringing endorsement of buying residential real estate for its value as an investment. If the buyer also benefits from having shelter, it could only make the investment better. With low interest rates — and the average rates have decreased since Buffett made this statement — and a long holding period, Buffett believes real estate presents a better opportunity for growth than stocks.
Before Buffett made this declaration on television, I pondered if the timing might be right for buying a house. I was considering this not only as a general opinion but as a plan for myself. I’ve rented my living spaces for as long as I’ve been adult, and I’ve been an adult for half of my life at this point. Some people see purchasing a house as a rite of passage or a sign of maturity, but I haven’t fallen into that societal trap.
Purchasing a house is a decision made with both financial and non-financial considerations. There are many reasons or situations in which it’s not financially smart to purchase a house. If you don’t expect to stay in the same area for a long period of time, you could find yourself needing to sell your house at a loss or reluctantly becoming a landlord with varying levels of success. From a financial perspective, most people who claim to sell their homes for a profit forget all the costs that go into buying, maintaining, and selling their home beyond the purchase price and sale price.
If you ask the National Association of Realtors, it’s always a good time to buy. It’s also always a good time to sell. The industry doesn’t care, as long as you’re buying or selling rather than not doing anything; that’s how they get paid. When Warren Buffett is the individual offering advice, that’s a good time to start listening.
Published or updated April 12, 2012.