With the current financial crisis pervading stock markets in the global economy, real estate once again should be looked at as a serious, long-term investment strategy that can help investors further diversify their investment portfolios in the future. The reality is that the current stock market malaise that has decimated so many long-standing financial institutions and subsequently stock investments and 401Ks is not the only major stock market troubles we have seen in recent times. Arguably, there have been as many as three "bubbles."
The dot-com bubble and decline of the stock market helped push investors into other markets where money was cheap and regulations loose. Because of lax oversight and inaction, the housing bubble was allowed to form. The oil market represents a bubble to many as the cost of a barrel of Brent crude went from $100 per barrel in February 2008, to a high of $145 per barrel by July 2008. Brent crude is now trading under $60 per barrel.
Going forward, there are two very real concerns for investors. First, many may be looking at the performance of stock investments over the past eight years and calculating what their true return from those investments has been. Second, many will be asking if their investments can sustain another severe market imbalance in the future. In effect, they are wondering as to where the 'Fourth Bubble" will come from.
All of this gives credence again to having an even broader diversification of investment portfolios. As a result, real estate should once again be seriously looked at as part of an investor's diversification strategy for several reasons.
- First, property valuations have fallen considerably from market highs. Prices in some markets have dipped to 2004 levels. In some instances, prices have dipped to 2003 levels.
- Second, real estate has intrinsic value. Unlike stocks and financial-related investments that can see depreciation in their worth down to zero, real estate has inherent value down to the land and will not experience a wholesale collapse in its value to zero.
- Third, real estate is real. It can be seen and touched, and managed closely by the owner.
- Fourth, real estate has certain tax benefits that can contribute to the overall performance of the property as an investment.
- Fifth, a successful rental property as an investment presents an opportunity to create a revenue stream and/or create equity in the home as the renter indirectly is contributing to payment of the principal over time. Regardless of the market and whether appreciation or positive-cash flow rental income is preferred by the investor, the principal is being paid down on the property.
- Lastly, based on proposals floated by President-elect Obama, we should expect additional legislation that puts guidelines, regulations and accountability in this industry that ensures proper lending practices and reduces the risk for rampant speculation that has battered the markets in recent times.
Of course, there are certainly risks to holding real estate as an investment in your portfolio. For instance, there may be unexpected property repairs, assessments, or other extraordinary costs that the investor has to incur. So, an investor has to look at real estate also as a business with income and regular and extraordinary expenses.
For those investors that are looking for a simpler way to be diversify without the additional headache, a REIT may be a logical avenue to investigate. A Real Estate Investment Trust is a company that invests in income-generating properties to drive returns for its investors. The income-generating properties may be apartment buildings, industrial and commercial properties. REITs allow smaller investors the ability to invest in larger real estate operations that they wouldn't be able to otherwise. REITs also should be able to show their overall historical performance to investors.
Again, investors are faced with the question of how to protect and grow their assets in the future. The stock market's high level of volatility in recent years has many investors questioning the percentage concentration of their portfolios in stocks and similar investments. As a result, the pressure to further diversify those portfolios will mean that other asset categories will have increasingly greater appeal and should be considered for investment.
Overall, real estate presents a great opportunity once again for the long-term investor as outlined above. In addition, the incoming administration has put forth numerous proposals to improve transparency, implement sound business and ethical practices to the industry with the singular purpose to eliminate the probability of a similar crisis ever occurring in the future. All of this will work to give investors options once again for a safer, more consistent and calculable return in the coming years.