October 21, 2018

Is a House a Good Investment?

You may already know that I'm still renting (and that's actually a good thing for me right now). There are many reasons why home ownership hasn't happened for me yet, with one possibly surprising reason being: I can't be bothered looking after a house (I know! Shocking!!)

Don't get me wrong, I'd really love to fuss over my own garden (yet I don't, I pay someone to do this), and I DO love a bit of DIY. But my husband, thus far, hasn't shown much of an interest in all the things that go hand in hand with home ownership.  He's getting there. But it won't be fun if we're not a team when we buy a house.

Rent money is dead money

In New Zealand, renters are often looked down upon. “Rent money is dead money”, people say. 

Don't worry, I'm not about to get on my high horse and start debating that.  It's probably true for many people, but likewise, mortgages can be just as bad in the wrong hands too. 

Now that I'm wiser, I want my money working for me, so while I'm busy throwing my money away on rent, I've  recently started investing in *index funds, in the stockmarket.  I've gotten pretty good returns but I also understand that there are ups and downs in the market – but it generally trends up. I'm in it for the long term so this doesn't worry me. 

*If you're new to investing, The Happy Saver has a most excellent post that explains the different types of shares here.

Related: Mamas, you can afford to start investing today

Index funds – a booty call investment?

Index funds are pretty easy to invest in, and they don't have a lot of costs associated with them. It feels like quite a ‘no strings attached' kind of relationship to me.  

Housing on the other hand, sounds like the opposite – with all the associated effort and costs. 

Yet it's no secret that we New Zealanders love our housing, and we've experienced a huge increase in the cost of housing over the last wee while. On paper, the value of many homes have increased – and I had this view that people who ‘bought before the boom', should be in a really good position now. 

But is this necessarily true? 

I got to thinking… considering all the associated costs and effort, is a house a good investment?

The Personal Finance Community answers

I reached out to my friends in the personal finance community, and asked the question:

How does home ownership compare to index funds, in terms of investing? Is home ownership the best investment?

And Nick Carr of Your Money Blueprint was kind enough to answer. 

In this guest post by Nick Carr, he uses 25 years of real, historical data to compare the returns of a theoretical investment in the stock market, vs. the purchase of a freehold house (in New Zealand).

Which do you think will get better returns? The house? Or the stock market?

Over to you Nick!

Is a House a Good Investment? – Guest post by Nick Carr

Home ownership in New Zealand is the dream. We’re raised in a society that praises home ownership and degrades renting. We’re told that buying a home is the best investment we can make.

Today, we’re going to test this popular theory out. How good of an investment is home ownership and is it a better investment than the stock market?

About the data collected

I’ve collected data for both housing returns and index funds for the last 25 years (1994 to 2018).

Housing returns data

I’ve gathered the returns for Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch and nationwide. The returns are based on the annual median house price in July. Median is a much more accurate reflection of house prices, than the average.

Stock index funds data

For the stock index funds, our theoretical investor is responsibly diversified, and has split their investments into thirds: between the NZX50 fund, the Vanguard S&P 500 fund, and the Vanguard Worldwide fund.

Associated costs

Additional costs have been added to the totals, to reflect the costs of investing and owning a home.

  • Costs of Investing: 0.5%.
  • Costs of Housing: 2%.

Let me explain how I came up with these numbers.

The assumptions

The cost of housing varies for everyone. Rates and insurance vary by region and house size. Maintenance varies depending on the size and age of your house, and how well you keep on top of maintenance.

In other words, there is no single number. For the purposes of this exercise, in order to compare housing and stocks, I had to come up with a number.

  • 1.5% annual housing costs (not including mortgage interest) is made up of rates, insurance and maintenance costs. I felt these percentages are an accurate reflection of the majority of situations. For example, if your house is worth $800,000, your annual maintenance, house insurance and rates costs in this comparison is calculated as $12,000. (If you want a more specific number for your situation then that will need to be applied.)
  • The cost of index funds were much more easily calculated. Index funds can easily be found for 0.5% or less. We will stick with 0.5% in this analysis.
  • $144,000 was invested in 1993 in both scenarios. Either as a house deposit, or as a stock investment.
  • The house was paid for in full in 1993. No mortgage interest cost.
  • We are assuming the stock investor stayed in the market through all the ups and downs and didn’t try to time the market. For the sake of good returns, it is important not to let our bad behaviours get in the way.
  • Finally, there were a few periods for the index funds that are unaccounted for. For all three index funds, we don’t have full 2018 data yet. Also, the Vanguard worldwide fund didn’t start until 1995 so there is also no data here for 1994 and 1995. I have assumed a rate of return of 0% for the periods without data which will not have a large influence on the overall result, and is much lower than the average index fund returns.

With a fully paid house, with no mortgage interest, surely housing will come out on top, right?

The housing data

*This data is best viewed on a tablet or desktop, but you can get the information from the summary also.

  • Auckland
  • Hamilton
  • Wellington
  • Christchurch
  • National Average
 National% changeReturn after costsHouse value after costs
Jul-93$115,000  $115,000
AVERAGE 6.6%5.1% 

Summary of housing data

A median valued $144,000 house in 1993 would be worth between $428,500 (Christchurch) or $835,000 (Auckland) 25 years later, depending on where you live. Note, this is before costs. All houses carry costs and we must consider these when thinking of the results. When comparing housing vs stock investing we need to look at the cash in the hand we end up with.

After consideration of costs, the returns from housing decrease to a range of $299,509 (Christchurch) to $586,720 (Auckland). In Auckland, that is almost a $250,000 decrease to what we thought our house return was before we considered costs.  

The after cost returns floated between 4.5% to 6.5% depending on the region. But, this is not the end of the deductions. To realise the benefits of the house value, we must sell. If we go with the national average, our returns after a 3% sales commission will decrease from 5.1% to 6%.

Best case scenario

These results are really a best case return scenario and pretty rare. The 1.5% annual housing cost used in the example is on the low side, and we paid for our house in full. We have no mortgage interest cost. This is not reality for most. So, what are the returns on a median priced national house with a median sized deposit and mortgage? A $115,000 house in 1993 with a 20% deposit on a 30-year term would have incurred interest costs of $75,814 at a 4.5% interest rate.

That 1993 house is now worth $374,000 after the insurance, rates, maintenance, and sales costs are considered. Subtract another $75,814 for the average mortgage and the house is now worth $298,000. This is a far cry from $550,000. It would be a big mistake of you not to consider the costs.

Returns have now gone from 5% per annum to 4.1%, assuming a median sized mortgage for a 1993 priced house. 4% is better than you would get from a bank (after costs), but not by much.

We move around

Finally, most people don’t live in the same house for 25 years. The national average length of stay is 7 years. In 25 years, that is 3 times house buying costs (LIM, builders report, lawyers, moving etc) and 3 times house selling costs (Agent fees, staging, moving, etc). Not only that, but if you have a mortgage, the first 7 years are typically mostly interest only payments. There is not a big increase in house equity in this timeframe. These factors can make these 4% returns much less. Especially if each 7-year period you are buying UP the ladder, your costs become more significant.

For all the extra risk it isn’t a great return.

What if a gang moves in to the neighbourhood? Or motivated sellers sell their house cheap bringing down the value of your house? Maybe you experience huge insurance increases because of where you live.

Because of these factors, the monetary returns of owning a home are no comparison to long term stock investing. Yes, a house offers some nice diversification to your portfolio, but it should not be considered an investment that you can rely on to make you rich.

Houses are a huge drain on cash

I don’t see a house as an investment in terms of financial returns. I do however, see it as an investment for you and your family for emotional returns.

A place for you to share experiences. A place for you to feel safe. A place for you to make your own. We all need a place to live, and long term owning a house generally beats renting.

These are much better reasons to buy a house. Not for financial reasons, because there are much better investments than your own house as we will get into now.

Nick Carr - Guest blogger on The Leveraged Mama.

Nick Carr

Your Money Blue Print

I don’t see a house as an investment in terms of financial returns. I do however, see it as an investment for you and your family for emotional returns. @nick_ymb on the @leveragedmama today 

Click to Tweet

The stock investment data

  • S&P 500
  • Vanguard
  • NZX50

NZX50 (NZ based fund)



Return after costs

Stock value after costs







































































































































Summary of stockmarket data

For this 25-year period, the returns from a portfolio made of stocks, would have been 8.5%. In other words, our $144,000 would now be worth $841,000 after investing costs. This is in comparison to $298,000 we would have from buying a median priced NZ house with a median sized mortgage.

A 4.5% difference in after cost returns has resulted in almost $550,000 extra for the stock investor. Just a small percentage increases over the long term can have a huge impact on our wealth thanks to compound interest . As you can see in the data, the returns from stocks are much more volatile than housing.

How risk affects returns

Our stock investments experienced a low of 46.7% and a high of 44.5%. This is compared to -3.5% and 10.7% for housing. This large difference is known as risk. If we want to experience the potential for greater returns we have to take on more risk. Despite the stock market being arguably riskier than housing, the returns have proved to be worth it.

There are many ways to help decrease the risk of the stock market by following some of these tips.

Final thoughts

Having all our net worth in only our house, or only in the stock market, is a very risky strategy. There is no guarantee that these trends will continue in the next 25 years. This article was just an exercise in seeing what the better investment over the last 25 years has been. It is not a recommendation to go all in to stocks, or all in to housing. I believe there is room for both in any portfolio.

Diversification across many asset classes is vital.

But make no mistake. Historically, your own house is a drain on your cash and barely keeps up with the rate of inflation. Your house is not an investment. It is a place to live, but not much more. If you are thinking you are going to get rich from owning your house, then think again.

The stock market investor was $550,000 better off from a $144,000 investment.

If we extend the time out beyond 25 years, it will get even better for the stock investor thanks to compounding returns.

Don't believe the hype?

There is so much hype in New Zealand around housing. But think about who has an interest in house prices being high. Almost everyone does. Real estate agents, lawyers, builders, home owners, politicians, employers, and councils all want house prices to be high. There are so many vested interests in this industry, it is no wonder we have been led to believe housing is the best way to get rich. The numbers however, suggest a completely different story.

Thanks for reading.

Nick Carr is a 37 year old New Zealander, married with one daughter, full time corporate slave. After a financial U-turn, he has plans to retire before the age of 50 so that his family can focus on spending time on their passions, instead of someone else's. He blogs twice a week over at www.yourmoneyblueprint.co.nz.

Nick Carr - Guest blogger on The Leveraged Mama.

Nick Carr

Your Money Blueprint

Related Posts

Which Food Box Is Right For Your Family?

[Podcast] SE01E10: Should you have a credit card? 2020 me vs. 2017 me

[Podcast] SE01E09: Life in lockdown with a biz, job and family!

[Podcast] SE01E08: How we are using Dave Ramsey’s Debt Snowball method to pay off our debt (in a healthy, sustainable way)

  • Very interesting and well researched post. It always amazes me how expensive houses are in some areas compared to the rural US where we live. I would be concerned about having a significant part of my net worth tied up in any house since neighborhoods and even entire cities can decline over time due to forces outside of your control. Our paid for house represents much less than ten percent of our net worth, so that we could basically walk away from it without suffering any significant loss of assets. That would be very hard to achieve for most people if their house alone was worth nearly one million.

    • That’s such a good point Steve – it’s about risk and diversity isn’t it. Part of the reason I’m building a location independent business is so that I’m free to choose where I live, without buying into a crippling housing market (so long as there’s good internet and surf, we’re good!). Thanks for stopping by.

  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}