Housing Investment Returns = Price Appreciation + Rental Dividends

Professer Robert Shiller has a new NY Times article entitled Why Land and Homes Actually Tend to Be Disappointing Investments. He computes the historical, long-term inflation-adjusted returns for both farmland and housing:

Over the century from 1915 to 2015, though, the real value of American farmland (deflated by the Consumer Price Index) increased only 3.1 times, according to the Department of Agriculture. That comes to an average increase of only 1.1 percent a year — and with a growing population, that’s barely enough to keep per capita real land value unchanged.

According to my own data (relying on the S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index, which I helped create), real home prices rose even more slowly over the same period — a total increase of 1.8 times, which comes to an average of only 0.6 percent a year.

Over the same time period (1915 to 2015), the total inflation-adjsuted return of the S&P 500 index including dividends is roughly 6.7% annualized. Here is a recent version of his famous Home Price chart:

shilller2016

Shiller is a smart guy and so I’m sure he knows this, but he always seems to leave out the fact that most people don’t just buy a chunk of land and let it sit there idle until they are ready to sell it again.

  • People use farmland to grow stuff. You know, things like apples and corn and cows. Or you could charge rent to farmers.
  • People either charge rent to others or avoid paying rent themselves on residential housing.

These are all additional sources of investment return beyond just price. Therefore, even if you assume your home’s price will only rise between 0% and 1% above inflation over time, you are still getting more “return” from it in the form of either rent or imputed rent.

Rent will rise roughly with inflation. Indeed, the biggest portion of the Consumer Price Index is housing as shown in the graphic below (source). The great majority of the Housing component is “rent of primary residence” and “Owners’ equivalent rent of primary residence”.

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From FRED, here’s the rent part of CPI divided by overall CPI for as far back as the data series goes (1947). Sometimes rent grows faster than CPI, sometimes rent grows more slowly than CPI. Mostly, it evens out, as one might expect.

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For most of the last 20 years, rent has increased faster than CPI inflation:

cpirent2

Estimating your “rental dividend” return. If you have a house that costs $200,000 that would otherwise be rented for $1,000 a month, that is a price-to-annual-rent ratio of 16.7. The inverse of that number is a rough idea of the annual “rental dividend” you could get from the house. That is, $12,000 divided by $200,000 is 6%. Now, a proper real estate investor would take out things like property taxes, insurance, repairs and maintenance. Let’s continue to be very rough and call that 3%. Now, if you assume both rent and expenses will rise roughly in step with inflation, that is an additional 3% real return.

Adding the two parts together, and you’re getting a very rough 3% to 4% real (inflation-adjusted) return. Now, most people acknowledge that housing is local and your specific return can vary widely. Your housing price return if you bought a house in Detroit in 1985 and a house in Mountain View, California is quite different. At the same time, your current housing rental dividend return is going to be a lot higher in Detroit than in Mountain View, California.

(I’m not nearly as familiar with farmland, but I do know people who rent out their property to farmers and ranchers. They seem satisfied with the arrangement. I’m also not including all the psychic rewards of owning your home like being able to remodel and customize things as you wish, nor am I including the costs of doing that remodel.)

If you look at various broad estimates of future stock and bond returns, they are not forecasting much more than 3% to 4% real returns on a diversified and balanced 60/40 stock/bond portfolio. Do housing prices only go up? No. Is every house a good investment? No. However, I also don’t agree with the broad statement that land and homes are disappointing investments.

I’ve explored my own situation and income tax effects more in the previous post Mortgages, Imputed Rent, and Early Retirement.

Lifetime Allocation Pie Chart: Learning, Earning, and Returning

You always see pie charts used to illustrate asset allocation for portfolios. Stocks, bonds, commodities, real estate, etc. How about a pie chart for deciding how to allocate your lifetime:

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This was one of the “life lessons” provided by entrepreneur Tristan Walker in his Bloomberg profile:

Spend the first third of your life learning, the second earning, and the third returning. I try to shorten earning so I can maximize returning.

Your time on earth is a finite resource. Let’s say you put your life expectancy at 84 years. That works out to:

  • From birth until 28 years old, you are Learning. You are building up your knowledge, skills, and experience. You are building human capital.
  • From 28 to 56 years old, you are Earning. You are converting your human capital to traditional capital – money!
  • From 56 onwards, you are Returning. Once you have enough, it is your turn to give back to your community.

Learning isn’t always done in school. For example, many people will tell you that in your early years, you should take on risks before you develop too many other responsibilities. Start a business, switch careers, or travel the world. Don’t worry about the money in your 20s; your basic food and shelter expenses can be barebones. Invest your time into yourself.

Along the same lines, you won’t stop learning completely at 28 years old, but your focus and priorities may change. As I get close to 40, I feel the growing pressure of providing security for my kids and the pressure of caring for aging parents. In practical terms, you’ll need to invest more of your time into making money. Well, I might change that to earning money and then saving a big chunk of it.

Then one day, hopefully sooner than later, you can move on to giving back in a way that aligns with your personal philosophies. Invest your time towards helping your family, friends, the local community, and the world.

This is a related concept to the Earn, Save, Grow, Preserve lifecyle.

US Stock Ownership in Taxable vs. Tax-Deferred Retirement Accounts

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If I was going for a clickbait title, I'd say "No one invests in taxable accounts anymore". The Tax Policy Center has a new report by Rosenthal and Austin about how the share of U.S. stocks held by taxable accounts has dropped significantly over the … [Read the rest]

Comcast Internet Essentials Review: Affordable Internet Access For Low-Income Households

Comcast offers an affordable internet access program called Internet Essentials that provides high-speed internet service for $9.95 a month + taxes, a subsidized $150 computer with Microsoft Office, and free digital literacy training to eligible … [Read the rest]

The Continued Decline of Cooking at Home

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Quartz published an article with the provocative title No one cooks anymore, noting that for the first time Americans are spending more money eating out (including bars and restaurants) than at grocery stores. The trend has been very steady for the … [Read the rest]

Ally CashBack Credit Card Review: 2% Cash Back on Gas and Groceries + 10% Relationship Bonus

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If you have an Ally Bank savings or checking account, you've likely been pitched their new Ally CashBack credit card recently. Here are the highlights: $100 bonus when you make $500 in eligible purchases during the first 3 billing … [Read the rest]

Infographic: 401(k) Plan Participation Stats

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As we pass the halfway mark of this year, it was time for my quarterly check-in on my 401(k) account. The best-case scenario for a 401(k) plan is: Company match. A little extra help from your employer is always nice. Good default … [Read the rest]

Google Fi: Simple, Pay As You Go Cell Plan With High-Speed International Data Included

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We recently returned from a family trip to Europe, and I found myself missing my data plan more than ever before. I kept thinking about the slow 2G data that T-Mobile includes in their postpaid plans and how it might power data-light apps like … [Read the rest]

UberPool vs. Public Transportation: New York City Promotion

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It's no secret that Uber wants to take over the world... or at least replace individual car ownership. Uber just announced a New York City UberPool promotion that offers unlimited rides this July and August: Two-Week Unlimited Commute Card … [Read the rest]

Infographic: The Best Paying Job In Each State, Relative To National Average

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Business Insider mined data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and compared the state average salary and the national average salary for each job occupation. The single occupation with the largest percent difference is listed in the infographic … [Read the rest]

Amazon Prime Day 2016 Deals, Wal-Mart Free Shipping

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(Amazon Prime Day was July 12, 2016 and is now over. Some of the related deals below may still be live.) Last year, Amazon made up it's own Black Friday-esque holiday and called it Amazon Prime Day. It was mostly disappointing, but this year … [Read the rest]

Private College Tuition Discount Rates to Sticker Price Still Rising

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The National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) recently released their 2015 Tuition Discounting Study. While the average quoted "sticker price" tuition went up again as expected, so did the "tuition discount rate". … [Read the rest]