Flickr / mugleyWhat housing is and is not
Housing, in a personal investment sense, is a confusing combination of necessity, consumption, and investment. Separating and naming these functions can clarify for you exactly what you’re looking for in a house.
Your house is your roof and shelter from the earthly elements first, as well as the place where you lay your head at night, and where you store some physical possessions. The portion of payments you make for a roof and shelter rank in priority just below payments you make to acquire water and food on a regular – ideally daily – basis.
In that sense your house is a necessity.
To the extent your payments for a roof and shelter provides a personal feeling of comfort, luxury, prestige, identity, and aesthetic personality, then part of your house payments go toward consumption.
You want these things, but you don’t need these things in a fundamental survival-type way.
In the meantime, you can have all of these necessity and consumption functions from housing without ‘owning’ the roof, without ‘owning’ and shelter. What I mean is you can rent and fully satisfy the first two uses of housing.
Owning a home is not a requirement of happiness or middle-class achievement. It should not be a substitute for the “American Dream,” or fulfilling your wildest childhood fantasies of belonging to some social group.
If you do choose the path of home ownership, your house may also serve as an investment.
What does the Financial Infotainment Industrial Complex have to do with this?
If housing is partly an investment, then know that the Financial Infotainment Industrial Complex is seeking to mould your thoughts.
The nexus of the real estate and lending businesses – a powerful branch of the Financial Infotainment Industrial Complex – would have you conflate the necessity, consumption, and investment functions into fuzzy thinking.
I’m not saying housing is not a great investment – of course it is. I’m just advocating for a clear-headedness about what we’re doing when you choose ownership over rental. A clear-headedness not overly determined by powerful forces shaping your thoughts.
If all goes well for you, and housing inflation continues at a regular clip throughout the period of your home ownership, that fuzzy thinking will work out just fine for you. But I want to take a moment to ponder what you’re really doing when you launch into the investment side of housing.
Housing as an investment
The good news
First, there’s no other investment vehicle which has done so much to foster middle class savings and wealth accumulation as home ownership.
With 4 to 1 leverage, housing inflation, affordable and forced monthly payments, income tax breaks for mortgage interest, and generous tax exemptions for capital gains – I mean, this is one big, fat, middle-class birthday present for people who invested in housing over a long-term period of time, say, any time in the last 100 years.
To repeat: Nothing (nothing!) combines so many advantageous factors for middle class wealth accumulation.
The bad news
On the other hand, housing as an investment periodically punishes the individual, a municipality, or an entire country for over-exposure to housing and its parallel ill, over-indedebtedness. Just ask your foreclosed ex-neighbour, the City of Detroit, or, for example, the entire Spanish nation.
So, yeah, there are risks.
I plan to review some of the risks, and opportunities, in the next post.
See subsequent post “On Housing Part II – Risks and Opportunities”