Real Estate versus Index Funds

As you work toward financial independence the question pops into your head: Which investment is best to get me there?  Index funds usually, or at least should, top the list. Real estate is not far behind. People wrongly believe real estate is a better investment vehicle than a broad basket of stocks.

The first fallacy I hear when I inform clients of this misnomer is a list of all the people who made it big in real estate. The current U.S. President, they argue, made his money in real estate. Except he didn’t. He made most of his money licensing his name to real estate others own. When the President was in the real estate business big he also went through a wrenching bankruptcy.

Then, of course, I hear about the Carlton Sheets, the late night infomercial guy selling courses on how to make it big in real estate without any money down or work! If you bought one of those courses I have a beautiful tower in Paris I’d like to offer you for an unbelievable price if you act now. (By the way, Carlton makes his real money selling courses, not in real estate.)

Real estate isn’t as bad as I’m making it, but the numbers tell a story you should understand when adding real estate to your portfolio. There are decided differences between an investment property and an index fund. We will explore those differences and the historical returns on each.

The stock market has real returns of around 7% consistently over long periods of time. Source: Stocks for the Long Run by: Jeremy J. Siegel.

Index Funds

Jeremy J. Siegel’s work on the historical performance of the stock market over the last 200 years is available in numerous editions of his bestselling book, Stocks for the Long Run. As much work as Siegel put into his research, the evidence is clear and simple to understand. Over long periods of time the stock market has a real return of around 7%, plus the inflation rate. The only time the market went for any meaningful period outside this norm is from 1966 to 1981 when interest rates and inflations were high. When inflation waned the market reverted back to the mean.

The story is an easy one to tell. Invest when money is available, don’t try to outguess the market by trading and wait a while.

Dividends tend to climb at a steadier rate than the overall market. Whereas the broad market can race ahead at times, it can also experience a temporary hissy fit. Dividends for the whole market rarely decline, but periodically do before resuming their upward march.

Index fund investing is also highly diversified. A total market or S&P 500 index fund spreads your investment over a vast range of industries. Index investing gives you exposure to large and small companies, including growth and value stocks.

The value of the broad market follows the growth of the economy, plus increases in productivity. Interest rates play a large role in determining the discounted value of future earnings.

The automatic advantages of index investing are absent in real estate unless you invest via a real estate investment trust (REIT).

Real estate struggles to keep up with the stock market. The more time that elapses the greater advantage equities have. Source: Russell Investments

 Real Estate Investing

Dividends tend to be smaller than the cash flow from a real estate investment if it is an income property.

Your personal residence will not produce a rental income stream, but you avoid paying rent so there is an implied value.

Real estate values tend to track personal income. If prices get ahead of themselves buyers don’t have the income to support the payments, thus containing real estate gains.

Unlike index funds, real estate is local. Prices accelerating on the coast have nothing to do with prices of homes in the Midwest. Even the section of town a property is located in has an effect on the value and potential for future gains.

Buying a stock or mutual fund is the end of the work. Periodic review of the investment is the maximum extent of effort required to maintain the investment. Real estate holdings require continuous management.

Real estate has serious holding costs! Property taxes, insurance and maintenance are the obvious costs. If the property is used as a rental you have the cost of finding a tenant. If the tenant damages the property legal costs will be added to the mix.

Investment properties are considered passive income for tax purposes, but as any seasoned landlord can attest, it takes work to turn a profit on a real estate investment. Even with a property manager you need to remain active with your investment or serious losses can occur.

Real estate has one major advantage: rents. Rent income can spike the investment’s return.

Real estate also has a double edged sword: leverage. For a real estate investment to achieve close to stock market returns leverage must be used. And with leverage comes risk. The longer you maintain a high level of leverage (borrowed money compared to the value of the asset) the greater your investment return as long as prices are increasing. If prices stagnate or decline the real risk of bankruptcy rears its ugly head.


I’ve included two charts in this post. The first chart comes from Siegel’s work and shows the relatively stable rate of return of the stock market over long periods of time. Inflation affects results, but the market returns about 7% per year after inflation (real return). The inflation of the 70s smacked the stock market around while rallying smartly in the 80s when inflation and interest rates declined.

The second chart compares real estate to the S&P 500 from 1977 to 2014. This chart unfairly gives real estate an advantage. Real estate prices were moving higher fast in the late 1970s and early 1980s while the stock market was getting crushed until August of 1982.

Real estate was given a head start and still lost the race by a massive margin! In the 34 years covered the broad stock market returned nearly 2 ½ times what real estate did without the risk of leverage or the work real estate investments require. Even if you used no leverage, you needed to fund the property from other investments (lost opportunity cost) and if a roof or furnace died you would also need to use leverage or cash from other investments to cover the cost.

What the second chart doesn’t show is individual markets. Averages work wonderful for index funds, but are terrible for real estate. Real estate has more opportunities to find a hidden gem than individual stocks.


Tax laws have changed radically over the years as it applies to real estate.

Until a few years ago, dividends were taxed as ordinary income, but now are treated as long-term capital gains in most cases.

Tax laws favored real estate holdings in the 1970s and early 1980s. The 1981 and 1987 tax overhaul changed all that.

Recent changes to the tangible property rules and the repair regs have made real estate more desirable than a decade ago.

Real estate sometimes has other serious tax issues such as depreciation recapture.

Both real estate and index funds tax income currently (unless held inside a retirement account (easier for an index fund than real estate)). Both investments enjoy long-term capital gains treatment if held for a year or longer.

Rent profits are treated as ordinary income and taxed higher than most index fund profits/dividends. Losses are limited to each: real estate is limited to $25,000 under passive activity rules if you are not a real estate professional and capital losses on index funds are limited to $3,000 per year against other income.

REITs are taxed as ordinary income and are required to distribute 90% of gains each year. The REIT itself does not pay taxes; they pass the bill on to investors.

The Best Investment

It might sound strange coming from a man who owned millions in real estate over the years, but real estate is frequently a poor performing asset compared to equities (stocks; business ownership). That said I still own my home and farm, office building and paper on some real estate.

Real estate has a home in many portfolios. I always cringe when I see people overloaded with real estate compared to other more liquid investments. I understand the risks of leverage and the capital requirements real estate frequently demands.

Investing in the stock market can be made automatic. Real estate is less forgiving.

Buying in a down market or distressed properties has its adherents. If the right property shows up I’m always happy to buy it and sometimes do.

My experience also gives me an advantage when it comes to determining which investments are best. As the owner of a tax practice for over 30 years I know who is winning who is and losing. Landlords have the distinction of having more bankruptcies of any client class in my office. They also are among the richest.

Leverage determines the winners. Property investors who pay down and eliminate leverage fast have less risk. Those who manage their properties as a business also do well. Those who buy a program thinking real estate is easy money go broke.

Real estate has one final advantage and it’s a big one: forced saving. The increase in property value is hard to access and it doesn’t always feel like value unless the property is sold. Mortgage payments applied to principle is another form of forced savings. “Good” investment property owners keep a cushion of cash for emergency property expenses which is another form of forced savings.

My successful investors don’t spend every penny of profit from their properties. There is a compounding effect with income properties harder to calculate than with equities (stocks).

A smart person will consider all traditional investments. Index funds should be a part of most portfolios. Real estate, for those who are interested in such investments, is a great way to round out a portfolio with a larger cash flow.

You can retire on real estate faster than index funds due to the extra cash flow investment properties provide. But you don’t want your eggs all in one real estate basket in case we end up back in 2008 again.

In Detroit.

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Keith Taxguy


  1. Mr. Freaky Frugal on November 6, 2017 at 7:32 am

    Keith – Very nice analysis.

    I no longer own any real estate since Mrs. FF and I sold our primary residence and moved into an apartment in downtown Philly. This was all part of our fun being FIREd plan. 🙂

    I do own Vanguard’s REIT fund for diversification of my portfolio. What do you think of REITs as diversification tool?

    • Keith Schroeder on November 6, 2017 at 8:31 am

      FF, REITs are fine as a small portion of a portfolio. The biggest drawback of REITS are the taxes. Inside a retirement account it makes no difference, but in a non-qualified account it does. For the record, I own a quasi-REIT in my mad money account because it was a distressed company I think people are overreacting to.

  2. Marc on November 6, 2017 at 8:53 am

    The claim about Trump making most of his money from licensing I’d never heard What did you base this on?

    • Keith Schroeder on November 6, 2017 at 9:04 am

      It’s pretty common knowledge around the internet. Trump doesn’t hide the fact he generates a ton of income licensing his name, Marc. His RE bankruptcy was front page news for a long time in the 90s. He also talks about it in his books.

  3. Don Hipp on November 6, 2017 at 11:51 am

    I enjoy your blog but disagree with your analysis of index funds vs real estate.

    The problem is that although total return stocks is easy to find, total returns for real estate are not. You compare the published long term return of stocks (which includes the effects of price appreciation, dividends and business use of leverage) to real estate price appreciation alone (before rents and without the benefits of leverage). Not a valid comparison in my opinion.

    Equity in residential property purchased with 20% down and appreciating at 3% annually actually grows 15% the first year. Over time the percentage return from appreciation goes down (as equity increases) but rents go up and amortization speeds up, boosting total annual return and equity. Meanwhile, the tenant is paying most if not all of the costs of the mortgage, taxes, insurance, and upkeep. Yes there may be negative cash flow the first few years but over time rental properties experience increases in cash flow due to rising rents.

    Your article says that over a 34 year period stock market returns beat real estate by a “massive margin”. However, buy a piece of residential real estate using a 30 loan, and in 34 years your 80% loan is now fully paid (thanks to your tenants) and your free and clear property continues to generate rents. Doesn’t the payoff of the loan alone (from rents) represent a 400% increase in your investment? What about the net rent you are collecting on a mortgage fee property?

    Scenarios involving tenant damage and legal fees are overstated. Effective tenant screening reduces this risk and appropriate security deposits cover most situations. In the rare case of a tenant leaving with significant arrears we accept that collection is difficult and skip the costs of a lawyer. If we cannot negotiate a payment plan we turn it over to a collection agency and move on. With over 35 years experience our losses to bad tenants have been annoying but not material.

    Yes, buying real estate (instead of a REIT) requires a substantial amount of capital
    Yes, real estate is more work
    Yes, real estate is illiquid
    Yes, leverage increases risk (and return)
    In addition, transaction costs are significant (typically 6 – 8% round grip)

    Owning rental properties is not for everyone but they can be an excellent way to build long term wealth. Like any investment it is important to keep expenses low. We use a Realtor to find tenants, screen them and prepare the leasing paperwork but save by collecting the monthly rent and doing or contacting out repairs ourselves.

    • Keith Schroeder on November 6, 2017 at 12:23 pm

      Don, you encapsulated my thoughts accurately. I mention risks because I see these issues in my office on a regular basis. My comparison starts on a national level and moves to a discussion on local issues affecting the results. There is no perfect correlation between RE and index funds so I’m forced to work with the “best” information on a national scale and work out from there.

      The issue of margin is huge. I assumed no leverage for stocks. If I did the index funds would have grown to an even larger amount unless you invested with max leverage right before a decline. The same could be said for RE in 2008.

      My original premise is correct; RE provides a larger and more immediate cash flow index funds don’t. An index fund has ~ a 2% yield while income property, bought right, should generate a higher cash flow for personal consumption needs.

      There is another issue I didn’t cover in the post. RE income is considered passive and the tax advantages from qualified accounts do not apply. This causes a higher tax on profits other business don’t suffer.Index funds are also passive, but all the income is taxed at a preferential rate RE doesn’t enjoy.

      I agree with your final sentence. For people willing to own RE it is a suitable enhancement to a portfolio.

      Thank you for the well thought out comment, Don. It adds to the post nicely.

  4. Yaacov Rothman on November 6, 2017 at 11:56 am

    Great analysis, however if you want to make a more accurate analysis, you should compare leveraged stocks to leveraged RE. People seem to think that it ia very dangerous to leverage into stocks, but since the mean return is positive, if done carefully this can magnify returns, just like in RE.

    • Keith Schroeder on November 6, 2017 at 12:11 pm

      Yaacov, I do compare both without leverage. I mention leverage because it is so common with RE and it has the potential to increase returns. If I avoided mentioning leverage I would have been inundated with complaints on not using real world comparisons. Chart 2 is unleveraged.

    • The Money Commando on November 6, 2017 at 1:33 pm

      I think there is a huge difference between leverage on real estate and leverage on stocks/equities. If you use leverage to purchase stocks you leave yourself vulnerable to the dreaded margin call. If the value of the stock drops enough your brokerage will require you to post additional capital, and if you can’t, they will sell your stocks for you (and lock in the loss).

      For real estate there’s no similar risk. As long as you pay your mortgage there’s no chance of your lender repossessing your real estate, even if the value of the property has dropped by 75%.

      This makes leverage on real estate significantly safer than leverage on stocks.

      • Keith Schroeder on November 6, 2017 at 1:57 pm

        Leverage is different between stocks and RE, Commando. However, I disagree with the “safer” part of your statement. I’ve seen way too many bankruptcies involving income property to know leverage on RE can be equally as large as stock margin. Rarely do I see someone in bankruptcy court due to stock margin, but RE is a common occurrence. We just think it is safer now because everything has been straight up for nearly a decade. I urge caution. Less leverage is better. You can ride out any storm without leverage, stocks or RE.

  5. Dave on November 6, 2017 at 12:11 pm

    Thank you for the article and great website.
    I have been considering buying a rental property but thought with the tax advantages that came with real estate that it would perform at least as good as the S&P 500. Obviously real estate is a lot more work.


  6. Dave on November 6, 2017 at 12:45 pm

    I do agree with Don that if chart #2 is using real estate appreciation only (no gains from rents) it’s an unfair comparison. When looking to purchase a rental house with cash I was looking for at least a 10% a year return after all expenses.

    • Keith Schroeder on November 6, 2017 at 1:14 pm

      Dave maybe a better way of comparing RE to index funds is with REITs. Here is an article claiming REITs are on par with the broad market from an industry resource:

      REITs are not a completely fair comparison either as local RE investments are unlikely to match the performance of many REITs.

      My goal was to point out the differences RE has and create a useful guide to consider RE investing. Buying real estate in some hot markets around the country at this time should at minimum be approached with caution. Other markets might still be reasonable investments.

  7. Freedom40Plan on November 7, 2017 at 9:18 pm

    Nice article. I for one thought that real estate was the way to go for a long time. This was in part due to seeing my step-Dad do very well with a number of real estate holdings and being raised in a family that put great value on assets they could see and control. While I still have a soft spot for real estate, I’ve also run the numbers again and again and found that in many cases, I’m better off just investing in broad market index funds. There are minimal transaction costs (unlike real estate), the long run gains are better, and of course – there are no tenants to deal with in the case of rentals.

    • Keith Schroeder on November 8, 2017 at 7:29 am

      You hit the nail, Freedom40Plan. I hear so many people in the FIRE community enamoured with real estate I wanted to put a more accurate face on the numbers. RE is still a good investment at times and certainly has a home in many portfolios. With RE every investment is different. Location and price make all the difference.

  8. Brad Jones on November 8, 2017 at 1:33 pm

    No one’s ever offered me a million dollars at 4% to invest in the stock market. But I’ve been offered two million at 4% to invest in real estate. Sure, every market for real estate is different, but it’s not hard to figure out if a property will cash flow or not. Is real estate more work? Yes. But if you do it right the rewards will most likely be better too. In real estate one’s ability is much more of a factor than the stock market (especially an index fund). I pick the property, I agree or not to the terms of the loan, I pick the tenants, I set the rent, I can choose to fix something myself or hire someone else. I can invest more money to remodel or add amenities. It’s much more like owning a small business than buying stocks or bonds. If you run a good business and have good business sense you will make a larger return on your investment most of the time. And when Great Britain votes to leave the EU all my monthly numbers still look the same. If you are simply comparing the land value of some random parcel in the U.S. versus the market 20 years down the road, I’ll take the index fund. But if you think of it as running a real estate business, I’ll take the leverage every time.

    • Keith Schroeder on November 8, 2017 at 2:07 pm

      Brad, if you are comfortable with leverage I have no problem with it. The risks are clearly defined. Only you can determine if the risk is worth it.

  9. Brad Jones on November 8, 2017 at 3:04 pm

    Agreed. And what one’s end goal is matters as well. No one’s going to retire early investing in index funds at 7% a year, no matter how many FIRE blogs they read. 😉

    • Blastmaster on November 13, 2017 at 7:23 pm

      Brad, That is dependent upon personal savings rate, income while working and the type of retirement one choses. Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous may not be possible for most but a comfortable debt free retirement funded largely from a fat nest egg is within site for many of us, That said one small rental property that cash flows well as a Supplement to my retirement does seem tempting.

      • Brad Jones on November 17, 2017 at 12:00 pm

        My comments are really not meant for anyone who already has enough money to retire. If I could make enough money off US Bonds to pay off my house and travel the world why bother with an index fund. My point is just that if you are trying to make it in the world and have the time, effort and inclination to work in real estate (which can be done on the side of your normal 9-5) the rewards can be far greater than what an index fund could ever offer. If you’re not financially halfway to retirement, I would urge one to look long and hard at being a landlord. If it’s not for you that’s fine, but man real estate snowballs like nobodies business and you only have to put 20% down.

  10. Ruby @ A Journey We Love on November 8, 2017 at 9:41 pm

    Hey Keith – we have a rental and we rent out our spare room and of course, we have index funds too.. so we have the best of both worlds, I think

    Real Estate can be a headache though – with finding tenants and maintenance issues, and the like. If you’re doing airbnb as well (like we do), we gotta interact with guests, make sure that everything is stocked, and the like…

    Index funds – you can just set it and forget it, so I guess that’s a plus if one doesn’t have the time 🙂

    • Keith Schroeder on November 9, 2017 at 4:00 am

      I like the idea of side income from renting a room, et cetera, Ruby. If the hassle is too much you can stop. But if the extra income is worth more than the cost of “bother” then do it. Tenant issues are always an issue with landlords. Business owners experience the same thing with employees. Working with people is challenging even when working with awesome people. Find a balance that works for you and enjoy. And always remember, you can change your mind at any time. People might complain about your “mind changing” habits, but you will be much happier.

  11. Stop Ironing Shirts on November 9, 2017 at 5:26 am

    Keith – This is an awesome analysis. You’re spot on. If someone wants to make “real estate” their investment, they need to realize they’re signing up to run their own small business and appropriately use leverage. The people who want to “invest” in real estate but not do any work are just chum for the sharks and better off in index funds.

    • Keith Schroeder on November 9, 2017 at 8:42 am

      If there is one thing I could convince clients with on RE, Shirts, is the work involved. Too many think it is “easy” money. My experience shows income property investors who treat RE as a business do much better than those who consider it a “passive” source of income.

  12. Mike @ Balanced Dividends on November 9, 2017 at 5:42 am

    Thanks for the post, Keith – very helpful analysis.

    – Re: the apparent lure to RE or perception that RE is superior to equities, I also see it quite common at least among my friends and colleagues. A few colleagues have rushed to buy an investment property just for the sake of saying they own a rental property. Admittedly, I don’t know their full financial situation, so it might make sense for them at this time.

    – On the advantages and disadvantsges of direct RE investing vs. equity index investing, you listed a number of key things to consider (expenses, returns, taxes, time, etc.). The item that stuck out the most that you highlighted for me was time. We all have a finite amount of time to spend.

    – On the mention of REITs, I agree that they are a good item to consider if one is interested in exploring to gain exposure to RE. Direct ownership in RE might have a place in one’s respective portfolio, but – as you mentioned – only the respective individual can know that and make that decision (as with any investment).

    – For us, RE does play an important part in our portfolio, but it comes via a REIT index fund held in a ROTH IRA. For us, we like the combination of some RE exposure plus the wider diversification offered by indexing (among other things).

    Thanks for the post again.

    • Keith Schroeder on November 9, 2017 at 8:40 am

      Mike, the right property can perform very well. I like how you hold REITs. Index funds help lower risk of a single REIT, as REITs can hold a small number of assets, increasing the risk from a single REIT. The Roth IRA structure eliminates the tax negatives from real estate and REITs. Excellent points.

  13. SteveC on November 9, 2017 at 11:55 am

    Hi Keith,

    Have you been told any general rule of thumb form your real estate investor clients about how much in reserves an investor should have before buying a rental property, specifically,their first property?

    This may be too generic of a question without delving into an individual’s financials but, I’m just curious.

    Love the blog by the way!!!

    • Keith Schroeder on November 9, 2017 at 12:11 pm

      A reporter a year ago quizzed me on the same topic. The answer isn’t always simple. The condition of the property determines the minimum level required. I like to take the cost of items certain to need replacement and have a reserve to cover those items. Example: Let’s say the roof is a 30-year property with twenty years of life left and costs $30,000 to replace. $10,000 of the roof is already used so $10,000 should be added to reserve quickly, followed by $1,000 per year for the expected annual real-world depreciation of the roof. Do the same for flooring, furnace, AC, water heater, et cetera. Increases in the replacement cost should partially be covered by the interest earned while the money sat in the reserve.

      Another way of handling a reserve is to have two mortgages: one regular mortgage and one line of credit (LOC). Let say you buy a property with a $100,000 of leverage (borrowed funds). If the bank allows, have a traditional mortgage for $70,000 and $30,000 in the LOC. By adding your reserve funds to the LOC you pay off the mortgage faster and at an interest rate higher than most savings accounts will pay. When a major expense comes in you can easily borrow to pay the bill. LOCs makes it easy to pay loans off faster and still have easy access to funds if necessary.

      • SteveC on November 9, 2017 at 1:18 pm

        Thank you for the detailed response!

        I never heard of the second strategy you prescribed and will have to learn more about that strategy.

        For my own personal situation, my goal is to have about $30,000+ of my own cash saved up in addition to $7,500 from the First Time Homebuyers Grant offered in NY. Unfortunately, you can’t be in college while enrolled in the 10 month program so I’ll have to wait until after I graduate in May. I really want to make sure though that I am able to cover any unforeseen expenses (which are bound to happen) with a combination of reserves and my income from my 9-5.

        My parents continue to have trouble paying off the mortgage and over the years its had huge impact on their marriage and our family life in general. I don’t want to make the same mistakes they made. Which is why I want to be a prudent as possible when it comes to keeping my living expenses low and emergency funds full when I buy my first (and possibly only) rental.

        Again thank you very much for being such a fantastic resource!

        Your like the FI Uncle I never had!!

  14. Mr Ten on November 10, 2017 at 10:54 am

    Keith, I’m a big fan of your blog and look forward to more articles on structuring your life to minimize taxes. One of the ways I have done this is through real estate investing to offset the wages and profits from my financial advisory practice.
    I completely agree that direct ownership of rentals is not for everyone and that index funds are the safest way to grow wealth since you simply let the index funds do their magic.
    However, if you wish to create the ultimate tax favored side hustle, I find buying and holding cash flowing residential real estate hard to beat.
    The key is to treat real estate like a business and to not fool yourself into thinking it is as easy as Carleton Sheets suggests-I bought his course back when I was a starving college student looking for a quick buck.
    For instance, I’m classified as a real estate professional and can write off substantial amounts of income against my wages due to my large residential real estate portfolio. This has allowed me to maintain a 5% or less combined effective tax rate.
    This is one of the many benefits that favors real estate over index funds.
    From a wealth building perspective, I’m pretty OCD when it comes to numbers and every time I compare my after tax compounded annual return of real estate compared to what I would have earned from index funds, real estate is the clear winner by a very large margin.
    Yes, this is due to leverage where I typically put down 20% for 20 year commercial loans since I focus on small multifamily properties of 5-15 units. Thereafter, I shoot to maintain adequate cash reserves and a loan to value of 65% or less on the entire portfolio.
    You could equally make the case that the SP 500 index is a levered fund since the vast majority of the companies issue debt and equity to grow their earning or buyback shares. No one seems to mention this when people compare real estate to stocks.
    Keep in mind the market dropped almost 60% from peak to trough during the last correction. Just like Detroit, stocks can sure be risky.
    While being a real estate investor was difficult in 1998, I found that the banks never bothered me since I kept paying their mortgages and my tenants kept paying me.
    As you mention, the key is balance. Own some index funds and consider real estate or any other form of business to round out your portfolio.
    For what it’s worth, I put together a blog post on Real Estate vs a 401k on my blog. Feel free to pick away at my tax calculations if you are looking for a distraction from your life of leisure this month.
    Based upon my calculations, a single family rental beat the 401k investor by a fairly large margin.

  15. […] Most people don’t own income property, so the ones that do generate a very large amount of passive income. Of course, rent is not all profit. The mortgage requires servicing, maintenance is ongoing, and property managers need to be paid. Still, this is a staggering amount of passive income many people neglect. (Never mind my reality check on income property versus index funds.) […]

  16. Hard L on March 29, 2018 at 10:53 am

    Recommend this be tagged for update – thanks.

  17. […] Realistically there are only a few acceptable choices for most 401(k) investments. Money markets are out because you have no chance of growing your nest egg. Bond funds are a poor choice in a low interest rate environment and only a small percentage of the portfolio should be in bonds if you are approaching retirement and rates justify a modest investment. Company stock is not diversified and if your employer does poorly your job and retirement are both at risk. Insurance products are almost always the worst of all choices. That leaves broad based funds. […]

  18. […] income is where it is really at. Dividends and interest are nice. Rental income can be much larger than dividend income with a smaller investment. Income property […]

  19. Isaac, Live Fi and Free on August 24, 2018 at 4:04 pm

    You having owned a tax practice for 30 years, I’m sure you’ve heard all the arguments from both sides. I think the biggest thing that is missing from this comparison though is leveraged real estate. Real estate appreciation may only keep up with wage increases, we’ll call it 2% for easy numbers. BUT if real estate is purchases using leverage, we’ll say 20% down for a standards single family. Your personal return on that 2% appreciation is actually 10%. You have a 5X leverage ratio, because 80% of the funds are not from your pocket. So if we combine your cashflow ROI we’ll call it 8% (pretty poor cashflow) with the leveraged return on historic appreciation, that’s an 18% annual return. Not only that, if your investment property was purchased with a 30 year mortgage, your interest rate is pegged for 30 years. So, if wage increases are 2% per year, rental prices also should rise approximately 2% each year. But your debt service costs stay constant for 30 years. I’m new to the FI communitry, but the picture seems to be very clear that the winner is real estate. Real estate is local and active management of real estate is not for everyone. This is not to say that index funds are a bad investment. I plan to add alot of money into index funds as part of my portfolio, Im just arguing that if we compare apples to apples on rate of return vs funds invested. I think real estate is the big winner.

    Many Fi bloggers recommend having a good chunk of your investments in bonds to smooth the hills an valleys of the market. I think bonds in a rising interest rate environment however, is a very poor investment.

    This is a great blog, I just found it and have read a few of your articles. I will definitely be subscribing.

    • Keith Taxguy on August 24, 2018 at 6:14 pm

      Thank you for reading, Isaac.

      I agree with you on bonds. Not a big fan at this point with the exception of short-term bonds for working capital.

      The RE vs. Index fund debate excludes leverage because leverage also increases risk. You can leverage most investments. You can buy an index ETF on margin. Of course, leverage is a double edged sword. It feels great when the asset appreciates, but the declines are also magnified, plus the additional load of interest starts adding up. Houses leveraged tight in 2008 had no return since many were returned to the bank. The same can be said for leveraged index investments. In a down market you could be forced to sell some of the asset at a low or pony up more cash. I think the unleveraged comparison is the correct one because introducing leverage makes comparison almost impossible and certain bloggers (maybe me) might be enticed to fiddle with the number to get a result I want.

      But leverage is an option and more RE investments at least start with some leverage. I’ve discussed this too in the blog, but only as it pertains to income property and not as it compares to index funds. My premise with RE is that a small amount of money leveraged can throw off an ample stream of income to retire very early.

  20. Mohammed on August 26, 2018 at 12:38 am

    Whilst I agree with what the unleveraged approach when comparing RE to Index funds, most companies hold some debt on there balance sheet which an investor ultimately realises inside the investment exposure.

    If the DIJA had an average company debt / gearing / accounts payables of say 30% then we would probably want to apply the same company gearing to our RE calculations for better comparison.

    That’s probably a little to tedious for a simple mind like myself and the effort wouldn’t probably wouldn’t change the outcome too much.

  21. John T on February 4, 2019 at 5:46 pm

    I am not sure where everyone living right now. California and bayarea is not as easy as you can say. In order for you to invest in properties, you have to be a millionaires before you can buy anything. PLUS, San Francisco has tenants protection law is so hard to increase rent or get them out. The law protect anyone who has lived in the rental place over 5 years.

    can you anyone give any comment

    • Keith Taxguy on February 4, 2019 at 7:36 pm

      Not every market is worth investing in. CA is a great state, but I don’t think there is a property I’d want to buy as a rental there. And if landlord laws are tilted toward the tenant I just find another market to invest in.

  22. Zill Dev on April 17, 2020 at 8:47 am

    Great real estate fund ideas shared

  23. JC on May 17, 2021 at 8:39 pm

    Have you ever done any analysis on leveraged RE vs leveraged equities? I did some math a while back using Rydex fund (I believe) and the extra fees / costs of using leverage on those funds erased my gains. Not sure how that happened, maybe my math was wrong.

    Would you ever consider using leverage in your equity investments?

    Thanks for the awesome article!

    • Keith Taxguy on May 18, 2021 at 9:01 am

      JC, I have done the math on leverage many times. Not only does the cost of leverage usually erase any advantage, it also adds the risk of a sharp market turn against you that causes large losses.

      I have an advantage, too. I see many clients. The ones that use leverage do not perform the best.

  24. Laura Alamery on July 5, 2021 at 1:34 am

    Thanks for the post, Keith Very nice analysis.

    The strategy you have shared was really working

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