Monday, February 14, 2011

Is Real Estate a Good Investment?

The housing market still looks pretty bleak: There were a record 1 million foreclosures last year, home prices are still falling in many regions, and the number of "underwater" properties is at a record high.

And things don't look much better in other areas of real estate. The number of construction jobs continues to decline, even as other parts of the economy have added jobs. And mortgage rates have moved higher as long-term Treasury yields have backed up during the past few months.

Basically, the real estate market remains a mess.

Real estate encompasses a wide range of markets – homes, apartments, hospitals, office buildings, strip malls, dormitories and other properties. But for our purposes, let's focus on residential real estate, or homes. Here are four reasons to think residential real estate might represent a bargain – with one big caveat.

  • Everyone hates homes - When the housing market is in the doldrums, people tend to avoid thinking about the value of their home. Sellers complain they’re not getting offers and buyers bemoan the strict lending requirements. However, prospective buyers should be contrarian and take advantage of a down housing market.
  • Smart people are buying real estate - A prominent hedge-fund manager said in a speech last fall: “If you don’t own a home, buy one. If you own a home, buy another one, and if you own two homes, buy a third and lend your relatives the money to buy a home.” He believes that interest rates and home prices will rise this year, so real estate bargains won’t last much longer.
  • Real estate performs well during inflation – Convention says Treasury Inflation Protected Securities, commodities, and real estate do well in an inflationary environment. Real estate performed well during the period in the 1970s, when persistent inflation and high unemployment occurred.
  • Demand may be coming back - Job creation and getting people employed are the two major factors in the housing rebound. There’s much debate about when the job market will recovery. Optimists say the recovery will happen this year, while pessimists say it won’t happen for several years.
Ladies and Gentelmen after we recover from this housing bust, home prices are expected to settle into a price-growth trend that's slightly higher than inflation over the long term.  So in that sense, housing is still a long-term investment with a positive yield.

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