Thank God I Didn’t Buy Gold at $400 an Ounce

We hope that headline grabbed you. The reason we used it was to bring some perspective to the debate as to whether or not homeownership is a wise investment in today’s troubled market. A family should never look at the purchase of a home simply as a financial investment. It is so much more than that. But, even if we look at it as only an investment, we must look at it in the long term. Let’s use gold as an example.

Gold had dropped from over $400 an ounce to $250 an ounce (a 40% decline) from February 1996 to August 1999. People were so glad they hadn’t bought at $400 an ounce.

Lord William Rees-Mogg, the current Chairman of The Zurich Club, in 1997 said:

“No investment has been so thoroughly exploded as gold; most people think that there will no more be another gold boom than there will be another boom in tulip futures in The Netherlands.”

Everyone knows what happened next. The proclamation of gold’s death was rather premature. Gold rose from $250 an ounce to over $1,500 an ounce in the next twelve years.

 If we look at real estate in the long term, we can see that it has been a great vehicle for building family wealth. The Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances, conducted once every three years, provides a snapshot of family income and net worth. Their survey has shown every time that homeowners’ net worth far exceeds that of renters. Here is the breakdown of the last several surveys:

  • 1998 – Homeowner net worth exceed renters by 31x
  • 2001 – Homeowner net worth exceed renters by 36x
  • 2004 – Homeowner net worth exceed renters by 41x
  • 2007 – Homeowner net worth exceed renters by 46x

The 2010 survey is not out yet but the National Association of Realtors’ has estimated that number to be approximately 41x in 2010. You may be thinking this is no longer the case based on the current fall in home values which have dropped back to 2000 – 2002 prices.

Harvard University just completed a study that showed:

“Even if homeowner wealth fell back to 1995 levels, it would still be 27.5 times the median for renters.”

 

Bottom Line

We are not predicting that real estate will see the same levels of appreciation that gold did. However, we do believe that the real estate market will rebound strongly.

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