Housing touches everyone, and given that real estate and the excess amount of borrowing and lending were the triggers for the financial crisis and the Great Recession, it's understandable that we are focused on its recovery.
It's also why I devoted a chapter of my new book, "The Dumb Things Smart People Do with Their Money," to the topic. Here's an excerpt from the chapter, "Dumb Thing #5: You Buy When You Should Rent":
You're in your early 50s, and your kids are almost out of the house. After working your butt off for 30 years, you've been fortunate enough to amass wealth above and beyond your retirement income needs. All you want to do when you retire is hike the Sonoran Desert for as long as your creaky old body lets you. After many vacations at Canyon Ranch or Miraval, at a few thousand dollars a crack, you decide it's finally time to get a place of your own in Tucson.
What do you do, buy or rent?
Be careful about real estate. If you're buying your primary residence, can you really afford to take on a mortgage and the other costs of owning a property? Maybe renting is the better option. If you're thinking of buying a vacation home, you're years away from retirement, and you're not independently wealthy, it will almost always make sense to hold off on buying, because you'll have more liquidity that way, and therefore less exposure to risk as well as more options.
You're not "throwing money out the window" by renting. Rather, you're buying flexibility.
Every rent check you write purchases you the freedom to grasp opportunities as they arise, or the ability to adjust to unforeseen setbacks that smack you in the face. Renting might not be nearly as sexy as buying, especially for older generations steeped in notions of the "joys of real estate" or "buying a piece of the American dream."
But if your goal is a safe and secure financial future as well as a life you can actually enjoy, renting might be the way to go. Save sexy for another time.
Every month, we plow vast amounts of money into mortgages, as well as upkeep, reasoning that we're building equity and saving for our future. When the mortgage term is up and the home is paid off, we'll have all that equity to fund our retirements. Yeah, but what if when you retire housing prices are 20 percent lower than what you anticipated? What then?
Because we've been putting our money into real estate in recent decades, we've put less of it into retirement savings accounts, where we can better monitor and manage the risk. The Economic Policy Institute has reported that middle-aged couples (ages 56-61) have accumulated average retirement savings of just $163,577.
As Baby Boomers age, we'll have to figure out as a society how to support a generation of people who have little or no retirement savings, inadequate equity in their homes, and in the absence of pensions, only Social Security to fall back on -- all because we've emphasized home ownership so much.
You'd think that smart people everywhere would see past the myth and take a more measured approach to home ownership. But we don't -- the myth is entrenched, among people at all ends of the social spectrum.
It also reaches down into our everyday lives, giving rise to a number of related beliefs that influence the brightest among us to invest in real estate even when we shouldn't.
From the book "The Dumb Things Smart People Do with Their Money" by Jill Schlesinger. Copyright © 2019 by Jill Schlesinger. Published by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All Rights Reserved
(Jill Schlesinger, CFP, is a CBS News business analyst. A former options trader and CIO of an investment advisory firm, she welcomes comments and questions at email@example.com. Check her website at www.jillonmoney.com)