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Why the House You Live in is Probably a Liability, Not an Asset

Drew Sygit
3 min read
Why the House You Live in is Probably a Liability, Not an Asset

Robert Kiyosaki (author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad) is possibly the most famous person to say it, but is bears repeating: Buying a house is not an investment unless you do it very, very consciously with the express purpose of buying a home worth investing in. A house that you live in is a liability in every sense of the word. Sure, it might be the most valuable thing that you own, but when it costs you money month after month, is it worth it?

The Reality of Home Appreciation

According to Robert Schiller, author of a book about the housing bubbles called Irrational Exuberance, the average total inflation-adjusted annual Return On Investment (ROI) of homes between 1890 and 2012 was…0.02%. That’s a rate worthy of a checking account, not an investment. And when you sell a home you were living in, you have to buy a new home, which means even if you’re downsizing, you’ll see maybe a third of what you originally spent in actual liquid money.

Related: 12 “Hidden” Real Estate Expenses That Blindside Investors

The Reality of Inflation, Rent, and Property Taxes

People like to say that rent increases with inflation. That’s true — but property taxes almost always outpace inflation, which means the longer you live in a home, the more likely it is that your property taxes are going to outpace what your rent would have been.

The Reality of Maintenance

When you rent an apartment and something breaks, it’s either going to be:

  • Something you can fix yourself for $20 and the time it takes to get to Lowe’s and back, or
  • Something the landlord will fix on his dime and his time spent.

When you own a home, you fix everything, on your dime, using your time. That’s many thousands of dollars and many hundreds of hours that you don’t get back because your home isn’t appreciating as fast as it’s disintegrating.

The Reality of Renovation

When the concept of flipping became popular, lots of homeowners used it as a great excuse to drop $30k renovating their home. “After all,” they said, “This will increase the resale value more than it will cost!” That is absolutely true — if and only if you sell the house immediately.

If you continue living in the house, a few things will happen that will negate your “investment in your investment.” First, property taxes will rise and you’ll end up paying for that added value. Second, you’ll use the renovated spaces, and their glisten and gloss will wear off just like it did on the rest of the house.

The Reality of Tax Deductions

In 2010, there were significant tax breaks for first-time homebuyers that could make a strong argument for people with certain kinds of income to buy a house. But all that ended in 2011. Today, if you’re not an investor (with an expert accountant in your pocket), the tax breaks are hard to find and hard to notice when you do find them.

Related: Don’t Forget To Budget For These 3 Overlooked Expenses

The Reality of Being a Real Estate Investor

If you haven’t figured it out yet, being a real estate investor — owning a home that someone else lives in and pays for — is pretty much exactly the opposite scenario. When you turn a home into a source of active cash flow instead of owning it for the purpose of having a roof over your head, the only one of these points you have to worry about is being on the other side of the “maintenance” coin… and that’s what a property manager is for.

So go ahead and buy that house you’ve been saving up for — and keep renting your apartment while you let someone else living in that house. Take the money you would have spent on maintenance and renovations and use it to further your investment portfolio. In 30 years, your bank balance and your stress level will thank you.

Investors: Do you agree with my assessment?

Leave your comments below, and let’s talk!

Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.