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Why Real Estate Could Be a Better Investment than Stocks - Ya Think!

09/08/2015 04:29 pm ET | Updated Sep 08, 2015

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Before my added "Ya Think" emphasis, the title is the same as a title of an article this week over at Money,USNews.com. It's not surprising to see an article like this now, as the China situation took the Dow Jones down in a dramatic way over the course of a week or so. If you want some historical perspective, there are some dates and Dow plunges historically:

• August 24, 2015: -588.47
• August 21, 2015: -530.94
• August 8, 2011: -634.76
• Six more 600 points or larger drops since 2000.

Yes, if you just bought and held for 15 years, you would have done well in stocks. Unfortunately, many people can't simply drop a major chunk of change into stocks and just let it ride for that long. And, depending on when you buy, having to sell after a drop like these can be devastating to your savings and retirement.

So, that said, I'm not saying dump all of your stocks and buy real estate ... particularly not now. However, the next time your stock broker advises you to "diversify," don't just do it with stocks. Let's look at some of the points referenced in the linked article.

Actually, the article wasn't really that positive about the advantages of investing in real estate. Things like the ease of placing stock trades and low cost of transactions were mentioned. Property taxes were mentioned as a negative, and they are to a point. The article's title really wasn't in my opinion supported very strongly by the content. So, let's take a look at some differences between stocks and real estate as an investment asset class.

Inflation Hedge

Stocks are susceptible to inflation risk. Your return is whatever it is, including dividends. When inflation gets rowdy, it can take away major chunks of your investment gains in stocks. That's not to say that real estate is inflation proof, but there are some logical reasons why it may be better.

Let's think about what inflation really is. It is an increase in the cost of goods and services. So, what do you expect to happen to home prices when wood, tile, wiring, plumbing and other materials and labor costs increase? If it costs more to build, usually within a reasonable period of time it will cost more to buy. Your owned property value can actually increase during inflationary periods.

Interest Rate Increases

When interest rates rise, stocks and definitely bonds usually suffer. It costs companies more to borrow to expand and finance operations, so their profits are reduced. Bonds carry a fixed rate of return, so their value drops when interest rates increase.

If you own rental real estate with a fixed mortgage rate, interest rate increases don't really bother you. In fact, they can help. If mortgage rates rise, more people must rent than buy. Rental demand increases and rents rise.

Taxes

Sure, you must pay property taxes if you own real estate. However, if you're doing your job, you factor those into your purchase of rental property and the positive cash flow you project to receive. Sure, they can go up, but you may be able to offset that with rent increases.

One major difference is in using the IRS 1031 Exchange rule for growing your real estate portfolio. While the stock market investor will pay capital gains taxes in the year they sell a stock at a profit, real estate investors get a major break. Using this IRS rule, you can sell and roll the profits into another investment and forego paying capital gains. It's complicated and the rules are strict, so an accountant needs to be involved.

I'm not trying to push anyone into real estate who is afraid of it or not suited for a landlord's duties. But, there definitely are reasons for real estate as a diversification strategy.

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