Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

April 16, 2015

Reiss on Homes as Investments

By David Reiss

US News and World Report quoted me in Is Your Home a Sound Investment? It reads in part,

Whether it’s beautiful new construction or a rehabbed fixer-upper, the place we call home demands time, attention and upkeep over the years. All this can enhance its value, and to be sure, Rich Arzaga inhabits a fabulous residence in San Ramon, California. The founder and CEO of Cornerstone Wealth Management estimates that its value approaches $1.9 million. The 5,400 square-foot abode boasts a swimming pool and a built-in barbecue, and has undergone more than a half-million dollars in improvements since he purchased it in 2005.

He considers the money well-spent: But does his home a double as a sound financial investment? As much as Arzaga loves his lodgings, he’d also argue that homeownership doesn’t translate into a smart addition to his portfolio – or anyone else’s, for that matter.

“We have seen many scenarios where a family would be much better off today, and in the future, renting,” Arzaga says. “Most people who insist that owning is a great investment are purely emotional on the matter and have not done any serious overall calculation. They are blinded by a feeling.”

Arzaga says he’s got the statistical analyses to back up his assertions. Yet expert opinion varies greatly as to whether a home represents a great investment. No single answer reflects a one-size-fits-all scenario any more than a cute brick bungalow resembles a sprawling suburban mansion.

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Still, others pit themselves on both sides of the debate over the value of homeownership from an investment angle. “My view is that a home is not an investment, but it can certainly be a profitable noninvestment,” says David Reiss, a professor of law and research director at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School.

Reiss maintains that the notion of “value” should revolve around financially intangible factors, although certainly, those could increase a home’s value over time. “Are there good schools and playgrounds for your kids? Is it near your job and your social network? If the answer is no, that’s a good reason to pass on a house that seems like a good deal,” he says.

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