There’s an age-old debate in the real estate market as to whether primary residences should be viewed as investments or simply as a place to live. While this debate is something that every homeowner should carefully consider, it is clear that there are reasons for buying a nice home, no matter the market conditions, other than simply to maximize one’s wealth. After all, everyone needs a roof over their head.
The same cannot be said, however, for professional real estate investors or anyone who is investing in a property that has the main purpose of income generation. These investors need to be much more careful about things like market timing. Real estate cycles can often last even longer than business cycles, meaning that an investor that buys into an overheated market could be waiting decades to realize any returns at all.
Unfortunately, there is currently ample evidence that real estate markets from coast to coast are overbought. While there still may be opportunities for solid long-term returns that can be located by savvy investors, the current trends in real estate prices indicate that there will be a reversion to historic averages in the near-term future. Buying into a market at a peak like the one we’re very likely seeing now can have disastrous consequences for the long-term performance of any real estate portfolio.
One of the key indicators that the real estate market is well above sustainable price levels is the number of hours that the average wage earner needs to work in order to buy the median home. In some cities, like Los Angeles and San Francisco, the average wage earner would need to work the majority of their waking hours in order to afford minimally decent housing. Contrast that with the norms of the 1960s when many American families only needed a single wage earner to work for 10 hours per week in order to afford the median home.
Another key factor that may bode poorly for the performance of real estate prices over the next five years is the almost certainty that interest rates will soon begin rising. The real estate market is exquisitely sensitive to interest rates, and worst-case-scenario interest hikes could put a big dent in the price gains that housing has seen nationwide since the financial crisis of 2008.