Thursday, July 2, 2015

5 Reasons Renting Still Beats Buying

Jack Hough published an excellent Yahoo article earlier this week.
This weekend I’ll throw $1,100 down the drain. That is to say, I’ll pay my rent. Pop-finance pundits have long used the drain cliché to describe how renters like me waste money, while homeowners with mortgages “pay themselves” and “build equity.” In April 2007 I argued something different: Renting Makes More Financial Sense Than Home ownership. Basically, houses produce poor returns over long time periods while stocks and other investments produce good ones, and the outlook for houses is especially poor now, so I’d rather rent cheaply and funnel my extra cash into something other than a house.
Even though house prices have plunged and I have enough money to buy one, I’m still not nearly tempted. In what follows I’ll give five reasons. (The first two form the core of my original argument.) Before all this starts to sound too self-congratulatory, I’ll also explain the one big thing my essay got wrong.
Reason 1: Houses produce lousy returns, while stocks produce good ones
Houses looked like smart investments in 2007. They had returned 9.3% a year for a decade, while stocks had returned just 5.9%. This year, with investors fleeing both houses and stocks, both probably look like a waste of money. But be careful about succumbing to what psychologists call recency bias — the tendency to form beliefs based largely on the most recent observations in a long series of data. For U.S. investors, reliable data on stocks and houses goes back well further than 10, 20 or even 50 years.
Stocks returned 7% a year for 200 years ended 2004, according to Wharton professor Jeremy Siegel. That’s after subtracting an average of 3% a year for inflation, or the gradual rise in prices of ordinary goods. The plunge in stock prices over the past 16 months makes me all the more sure that shares are poised to deliver good returns over the next decade or two. Houses returned 0.4% a year over 114 years ended 2004, according to Yale professor Robert Shiller, co-creator of the most widely used index for house prices. That number is suspiciously close to zero. Indeed, it might have been zero, reckons Shiller, if not for two periods of aggressive house buying, one spurred by government incentives following World War II and another created by the Federal Reserve’s drastic interest rate cuts in 2002 and 2003.
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