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Chrisman's Corner: Does It Make Financial Sense to Buy a House?

Sometimes JMAC’s brokers are asked the simple questions, “Why should I buy a house? Is it a good investment?” Here in the United States the enthusiasm for buying a home remains remarkably strong. Recent surveys found that almost two-thirds of Americans think that buying a home is the best long-term investment a person can make.

But is buying a house really a good investment? Our brokers know that there are plenty of non-monetary benefits to owning a home, but is buying a home a good financial call? As always, it depends on a borrower’s individual situation, but generally the data suggest that compared to the stock market, buying a home has produced similar or better returns with less risk—especially over longer horizons.

If one compares the increases in the prices of homes and stocks by looking at the S&P 500, stocks seem much more attractive. Since 1975, the S&P 500 has increased more than twentyfold while over the same period, the Zillow Home Value Index, which tracks the value of the median house in the United States, has only increased in price fivefold. Once dividends and rents are included, however, and after accounting for taxes over the period from 1975 to present, the annual return of the S&P 500 is about 10% versus housing’s nearly 12%!

JMAC’s brokers tell their clients that as a homeowner, you don’t just benefit from the increase in the price of your home, you also could receive rent, or living in it “for free” after the loan is paid off. There are tax benefits in the form of deductions, versus actually paying taxes on stock dividends or bond income.

And the difference between 10% and 12% might sound small, but over a long period of time it can compound to quite a big difference. Over 40 years an annual return of 11.6% means that a dollar would grow to almost $80 but at 10.4% that same dollar would grow to just over $52. A difference of only 1.2% each year compounds into a difference of more than 50 percent over 40 years.