Realtors Want You to Time the Market!

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This is a guest post from Ramit Sethi, the founder of His new book, I Will Teach You To Be Rich, will be published on March 23rd.

A few weeks ago, I got an email from a reader named Dave:

A few months back I was looking to buy a home in Houston. During my search I decided to look at this builder because of the “incentives” they were offering. Well, I soon found out that these “incentives” were nothing more than a bait and switch tactic.

Anyhow, a couple of days ago out of the blue I received the e-mail below, and couldn’t believe what I was reading. With all of the unfavorable economic conditions we’re facing, home builders continue to send out this garbage.

Realtor Pressuring To Buy

What I love about this example is that people, even “experts,” will resolutely insist they can time the market. “I think we’re looking at a bottom in the second half of 2009,” many economists said a few moths ago. Those predictions have quietly faded away. Same for housing prices.
Look, nobody can predict what’s going to happen in the short-term. But to buy a house to try to time the market is just dumb. First of all, your house probably isn’t a good investment. Second, you buy a house when you can (1) afford it and (2) when there’s a clear reason to buy it (e.g., a family).

Finally, investing based on the emotional manipulation of “buy now or you’ll miss out on amazing deals” is almost always a bad idea. Long-term investing is slow, boring, and profitable — not sexy and exciting. If you want excitement, go to Disneyland.

Below is an excerpt from my book on The Myth of Financial Expertise (Chapter 6), which comes out on March 23rd. In just a couple pages, you’ll see:

  • Why, despite everyone saying to pull out from the market, if you’re not consistently investing, you face severe financial consequences when the market pulls back up. (If you don’t believe the market will ever recover, however…I guess you’re behaving rationally.)
  • Why professional tasters can’t tell the difference between wines (though everyone thinks they can)
  • Why financial salespeople get really mad when I talk about how they can’t effectively beat the market


{ 40 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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40 Responses to “Realtors Want You to Time the Market!”

  1. Eric says:

    Ramit is making his rounds on the PF blogosphere isn’t he? 😀

    Thanks for the post and good luck with the book!

  2. Matt Fyffe says:

    I believe the attempts at using the housing market as an investment pool helped cause the trouble we have today. As you said, you should really only buy a house when you need it, but people are buying it to instead expand their assets. There are better ways to invest.

    • Duane says:

      You say their are better ways to invest than housing. Can you point out those better investments? What else gives you a tax deduction as good as housing?

      • saladdin says:

        Spending a dollar to save $0.30. Come one, you can come up with something better then that.


  3. Andrew says:

    You never “need” to buy a house. If you can’t or don’t want to live in a rented apartment, rent a house. You buy a house because you think it will go up in value enough to justify the mortgage interest and property taxes. For years, in the urban coastal areas of the USA, this has been true. The last year or two, not so much.

  4. Andrew says:

    The tax deduction on housing is illusory. Renters don’t pay mortgage interest and property taxes, so they don’t need to deduct those expenses against their taxes. Also, only high-income, high-mortgage payers benefit from the tax deduction, because people with $50K mortgages pay so little that the standard deduction exceeds their itemized deduction. My wife and I are in the 37.3% combined federal/California tax bracket. We pay about $30K each year in property taxes and mortgage interest. The governments pick up 37.3% of that, but we pay the rest ($18,660/year), plus about $1,500 in homeowner’s insurance (though to be fair, we’d buy renter’s insurance if we rented). So let’s say about $19,500 total, which is less than it would cost to rent a house like ours, but more than enough to rent a modest two-bedroom apartment, which would meet our needs. And of course if a natural disaster destroys our rented apartment and didn’t kill us, we’d just walk away. If one destroys our house, we’re screwed.

    • Jim says:

      I’ve always believed the home interest deduction was a bit of a red herring, especially for married couples, because of the standard deduction. We pay about $12-13,000 a year in interest and the standard deduction for married filing jointly is $10,900 (2008). It doesn’t even come close…

      The difference for us is in the other itemized-only deductions, like charitable contributions, but looking strictly at the home interest deduction… not worth it.

  5. Andrew says:

    As for your other question, putting your money in equity and bond index funds, as well as a CD ladder, would probably return more over your lifetime than owning a house, with a lot less stress.

  6. Duane says:

    Your response if a fair. I guess I should say that I am a real estate investor who purchased houses to rent. I am an investing for the long term and not a speculator looking to try to turn a quick profit. I should also say that I am self employed and need as many deductions as possible to not pay considerable taxes. This is a different situation than someone who is living in their home and sees that as an investment. That is true only if they sell and downsize at some point.

    As an long term investment purchasing housing to rent is as good an investment as other options. Tax deductions, tax depreciation, having renters pay down the mortgage and increase your investment as well as consistent appreciation in value are advantages that other investments don’t provide. Of course now the depreciation in value takes away that benefit but housing will return to normal at some point and I will wait it out.

    I don’t recommend being a landlord to most people as a way to invest. I can give you the horror stories on tenants that most landlords have experienced at some point. But you learn the landlord business over time and cultivate good tenants from experience. When you look at building wealth in this country I still think real estate is still the best bet unless you have the skill of a Warren Buffet.

    Thanks for your comments.

    • Jim says:

      Duane, I think the key difference with investing in rental properties is that you are having to actively manage those properties. Your contributing WORK to that investment. Most other investments require no active work and are passive in nature. Otherwise, yes I agree very much that rental investment property is a good all around investment.

      Ramits point I think is aimed at people buying a primary residence and looking at it as an investment. Ramit wasn’t talking about rentals.


      • Duane says:

        I agree with you. Ramits is correct for homeowners to not judge their wealth by the value of their house unless they are willing to sell it and move into a much cheaper trailer! Yes managing rental properties takes some time but probably no more time than looking at the stock market each day and trading stocks. On a non financial basis as a landlord I am providing a service to people in providing good housing, generally hassle free, and in return they pay for most of my time and money investment. With my stocks I feel like a gambler in Las Vegas with the “house” always winning.

        Guys it has been interesting having this conversation but I need to do some work today and have some billable hours before my wife comes home and asks what I did today to pay the bills!!!!!

  7. Andrew says:

    I don’t understand why you “need” tax deductions. Wouldn’t it be better not to incur the deductible expenses in the first place? A tax deduction isn’t a free lunch, merely the government agreeing (for whatever reasons) gto partially subsidize one or more of your expenses. Let’s say we both earn $100K. Let’s also say I rent and thus pay zero property taxes and zero mortgage interest and get no deduction. After I pay 37.3% in taxes (a gross oversimplification, but useful for illustration), I am left with $62,700. You, on the other hand, spend $30K in property taxes and mortgage interest. You have a taxable income of $70K, on which you pay 37.3% tax and are left with $43,890. So I’m significantly better off.

    Being a landlord is a sucker’s game unless you’re a slumlord. If you aren’t a slumlord, the only way to make a profit is to charge so much rent that people move out and buy their own houses/condos, and there goes your profit. If I need a car, building one myself from parts is not practical. If I need a house, buying one instead of renting it from you is very practical unless I have crappy credit and drink away my wages, in which case why would you want to rent to me?

    • Jim says:

      “Being a landlord is a sucker’s game unless you’re a slumlord.”

      Thats a gross generalization and such wide sweeping gross generalizations are hardly ever valid.

      I don’t agree with your point at all. I’ve been one for around 5 years and my father has been one for over 25 years. I can say from first hand experience and watching my father for decades that it hasn’t been a “sucker’s” game and we are not “slumlords”.

      You should keep in mind that rental markets differ GREATLY from city to city. I would never rent properties in San Francisco for example.

      Over 30% of American households are rented. Those people are not all living in slums or simply too stupid to buy.


      • Andrew says:

        Now take all the profit you’ve made over your five years as a landlord and divide it by the number of hours you’ve spent managing your landlord business. How much are you making per hour? Would you be able to make more, with less risk, at a job?

      • Andrew says:

        Now take all the profit you’ve made over your five years as a landlord and divide it by the number of hours you’ve spent managing your landlord business. How much are you making per hour? Would you be able to make more, with less risk, at a job?

        As for 30% of people not being stupid, you’re kidding, right?

        • Duane says:

          No not even close. The time I spend each month in managing the 4 rental properties is minimum. I have 4 stable long term tenants (which is my goal in being an investor). Not sure what the 30% of people you are referring to?

          • Andrew says:

            So are you averaging more than $50/hour in profit? In your previous post you asserted that the 30% of people who rent can’t all be stupid. I assert that it is very easy to imagine 30% of people being stupid, or at least ignorant and/or innumerate. In fact, I think the percentage is significantly higher.

  8. Duane says:

    I am not sure I agree that being a landlord is a suckers game. I am in more control over my investments than giving my money to someone to invest in the stock market (or maybe Bernie Madoff!). Sure housing investments have taken a hit lately but actually a lot less than my 401k. And I don’t get to write off anything on my 410k but will have to pay capital gains if I make money (no capital gains on housing unless I sell and I keep getting more income on rents each year.)

    Your example fails to factor in my net worth going up each year with my real estate investments. I know that the last 2 years haven’t helped my net worth very much (but whose net worth has except the crooks at AIG?)
    If your renter took the extra money and invested it in something that hasn’t lost value then I would agree that would be a better choice than mine to be invested in real estate. But I bet that renter has just spent the extra money and has nothing to show for it today.

    I don’t want to oversell real estate. There are people who think they are smart enough to play the speculator game in any investment. Investment to succeed is almost always a long term game unless you have a better crystal ball than I have.

  9. Andrew says:

    You shouldn’t give your money to someone else to invest; you should invest it yourself. And remember, if you’re paying a lot of tax, it’s because you’re making a lot of money. That’s the deal. Society gives you the infrastructure you need to succeed, then you kick some down when you do.

  10. Duane says:

    Jim said that about the 30% not me. As to the $50 an hour profit I would say that I am looking at the increase tied to net worth as much as income today. I would say that I spend 6 or 7 hours a month on managing the 4 rentals (I don’t do a lot of the repairs I pay others to do that). Of course that is more if I am finding a new tenant and less if the rentals are all rented. Is my net worth increased by $300 or $400 a month? If you look at just the amount the tenants are paying down the principal on my loans it is considerably more than that. When the houses start to appreciate in value again it is even more of a good return on my time.

  11. Beth says:

    I’m a little confused… If we’re not supposed to trust experts, then why did Ramit write a book called “I will teach you to be rich”? Isn’t he positioning himself as an expert by doing so? (So I guess I shouldn’t trust him either?)

    It’s an interesting contradiction 😉

  12. I didn’t read through all the comments. Sorry for coming late to the party.

    His title says it all: “I Can Teach You To Be Rich”. It’s a typical attention grabber that plays on the emotions of most “self help” readers (and I include myself since I read a ton of them). Getting Rich, Losing Weight, of Finding True Love are the big three and this guy is going for the gold (sort of like the book cover color).

    No, you can’t time the market and you shouldn’t buy real estate as an investment unless you’re a, er, real estate investor. A home is a place to live and set down roots, raise a family, get to know the neighbors, get involved in the civic life of the community.

    It’s great sport to pick out a few egregious examples of high pressure sales tactics and use them as a broad brush against an entire profession.

    This is yet another author/website information service entrepreneur (notice he wants you to keep coning to his website for more tips and updates) hawking his “true” method for making millions. The title, the cover, the “why the experts don’t want me to tell you this…” tone shouts “baloney”.

    Of course, if this is a paid advertisement masquerading as a blog post (which seems to be a new trend) you can be forgiven for the error of your ways.

    • Jim says:

      This isn’t a paid advertisement and I’m offended you implied it.

      I find it amazing that real estate agents are so quick to throw stones when it’s clear that MLS and real estate in general is one big monopolistic racket.

      • Beth says:

        Oh VERY mature response. I’m sorry, it’s very off-putting to see writer’s resort to insults when someone criticizes their work. (That’s why I stopped reading Ramit’s blog).

        I have to admit, the post did look like a paid advertisement. There’s very little actual content in it (it’s mainly an email and a book excerpt) and there’s more sales tactics than substance. (Compared to his guest post on Get Rich Slowly, this one is quite weak). If someone wasn’t familiar with Ramit’s writing style, it’d be very easy to mistake it for an advertorial.

        Jim, how exactly is real estate a “monopolistic racket”? Do you guys not have sale by owner in the States? I don’t mean that to sound like an attack (it’s not). I’m curious — I really don’t know much about the US real estate market (except that it got us all into one huge financial mess).

        Up here, private sales are gaining in popularity, and there are services like “Property Guys” and “For sale by owner”” which help if you don’t want to go it totally alone. With all the opportunities to sell online and in the local newspaper, I don’t think real estate is quite the monopoly it used to be. (But I’m interested to hear your take on it).

        • Jim says:

          To be fair, I wasn’t resorting to insults when my work was criticized, Ramit’s work was criticized. Also, Ken hurled the first insult by implying it was a paid advertisement because he didn’t like what Ramit said. Calling a post that I publish a paid post is attacking my honesty and credibility, something that I thought was uncalled for. Ramit asked me if he could put up a guest post to promote his book, I agreed.

          The reason I think RE is monopolistic (the entire process of buying and selling real estate, not just agents) is because of how exclusive the multiple listing service (MLS) system was (resulted in a DOJ lawsuit against the NAR for anti-competitive prices), the set-in-stone commission structure (regardless of how much work is performed), how many (not all) appraisers were working quid pro quo with banks so that the appraisals came in high enough to get loans approved, how title companies charge you thousands to do a “title search (why do you have to buy MORE title insurance when you refinance?),” etc.

          I’m sorry to Ken and to real estate agents that felt slighted, I shouldn’t have reacted in that way. Calling it a racket was unfair and I was upset, but I believe the whole system is monopolistic.

          • Beth says:

            “He started it” is really the defense you’re going with? 😉

            Thanks for your response about RE. Given your comments, I’d say “monopolistic racket” was fairly accurate, actually 🙂 I keep forgetting which country we’re talking about.

            My frame of reference is very different when it comes to real estate because I really only know the system in my country. It’s hard to see all real estate agents tarred with the crush, as Ken put it, when I don’t think the Canadian real estate market is as corrupt as the US. (Our market didn’t cause a world-wide financial crisis — that’s one sign).

          • Jim says:

            It wasn’t as much a “defense” as it was an explanation, right? 🙂

            I don’t think real estate agents are to blame, but they’re complicit. The financial crisis is the result of many things and I’d say that good old fashioned greed is the true culprit.

    • Ramit Sethi says:

      (This is Ramit, the guest poster of this article.)

      Awesome — this article has brought the real estate agents out!

      Ken, the name of my site and book definitely raise flags, but I’d invite you to take a closer look and talk to anyone who’s read my site (here’s a link to check out).

      While I understand why you brushed me off as yet another financial con artist, those are exactly the people I rail against. Please look a little closer before dismissing the iwillteachyoutoberich community.

  13. Duane says:

    I have spent more time in this discussion than I expected but the discussion and opinions are so interesting and the comments are really good. I like having some back and forth with intelligent people.

    I agree with what Ken has posted about authors with books on how to get rich. I haven’t read the book mentioned but from the conversation I think it does state the obvious for those who want to become financially secure (and maybe even rich whatever that is). The boring lesson of budget so you don’t spend more than you make, save so you have a cushion for times like now when our incomes maybe reduced and invest so that you put some of your saving to work for you has been the way most of us gain financial stability. If some people haven’t had some family member or friend point that method out to you than I have no problem with someone writing a book that says that. Better than the crooks that steal people’s money with get rich schemes that only make the author rich.

  14. TStrump says:

    I guess the lesson is to be wary of people giving advice when they depend on your for their living.
    Timing the market is next to impossible. If I could do it consistently, I wouldn’t need to work.

    • Andrew says:

      It might be a little easier to time the market when you’re making one very large transaction (e.g., buying or selling a house) rather than making frequent, small transactions (e.g., buying shares of stock each payday). But still, I wouldn’t count on it. The time to buy a house is when you can get more housing for your money than you can get through renting. The risk, of course, is that the value of the house will fall, but if you plan to stay in it for the rest of your life, and you’re under 50, you probably don’t need to worry about that.

      • Duane says:

        This discussion on renting versus buying is a little like comparing apples to oranges but I will try. I believe for most people over the long run owning is cheaper than renting but I agree not always for all people. There are some issues with owning like maintenance costs that a landlord pays for in a rental. But let me give a real example.

        I bought a 4 bedroom town home 5 years ago for an amount that my monthly payment with taxes now is $1175 a month. I rent that townhouse for $1750 a month. Would I be better off to be renting it today from someone for $1750? In five years my taxes have increased per month about $125 and I get $250 a month more in rent. I get a nice tax deduction each year on that property and the renter gets nothing.

        • Andrew says:

          That’s great if you can get it, but I wonder why the tenant is willing to pay so much. Why don’t they just buy a condo and pay $1,175 per month?

          • Duane says:

            Could be they don’t have a high enough credit score, no down payment, will only be in the area a couple of years (we have a lot of military in our area) and today the cost of the same townhouse would be higher with a higher mortgage.

  15. Trevor says:

    Wow, quite the thread of responses, and great to see! My only commment to throw in to the ring is how surprised I am that there was no mention of the primary reason more millionaires have been made from real estate than any other…leverage. I know that these days this is a “dirty word” with the drastic down cycle (notice I say cycle), but I mean smart, strategic use of leverage.
    To argue back and forth on buying real estate or not, for a tax deduction, makes no sense…I agree. That’s simply some icing on the cake. But the reason it should be an integral part of an overall balanced portfolio is:
    1) Leverage
    2) Compound interest on the VALUE of the property…NOT the amount you invested
    3) Tax-free growth (upon sale of primary home)
    Let’s be completely safe, and buy a $200,000 house, with $100,000 down (ignore the craziness we all know happened the last several years). Anywhere else, you will make your rate of return on your $100,000 that you invested. Assume 5% (from the laddered CD example) This is $5,000 gain in year 1. Year 2, 5% of now $105,000 is $5,250 (compounding).
    Now, if the house you bought instead increased 5%, you earn 5% on $200,000 value…that is a $10,000 gain in year 1. In year 2, you now have a house worth $210,000…5% of this is $10,500. Quite a difference. Yes, I know all the other details…you have payments to deal with, upkeep, property taxes, etc. If my rate is locked for 30 years, I’ve also hedged my payment against inflation…a tremendous strategy few think about. If renting, my landlord would increase my rents over time by an average of 5%-8% per year.
    Finally, selling my primary home, and being able to enjoy up to $250,000 (single) and $500,000 (married) in tax-free profit…is an amazing opportunity after years of investing.
    *A more subtle reason…you also don’t pay taxes on the “phantom” gains with your primary house each year as you do with “phantom earned interest” on investment assets you didn’t even cash out or realize.*
    All investments have risk…our economy is constantly going through cycles. Aguing “black and white” on whether one should own a house or rent just seems naive.
    I could go on and on, and I’m completely open-minded to think outside the box and play “devils advocate” with the “pro-renter” arguments…owning a home as a primary home for your family IS, and always will be an investment. The simple key is just taking the time to learn how to make smart decisions, not buy TOO much house (which is the real problem of what happened), and make sure to always keep a high amount of liquidity. If we can learn anything through 2008 and now…liquidity (cash on hand) is the key to financial safety.

    • Duane says:

      Amen Trevor! You have explained very well how wealth is built from real estate better than the stock market. The real advantages are owning something with real inherent value (housing) as opposed to something with “paper” value, i.e. stocks. Just ask someone with stock in AIG or Bank of America. Sure my housing assets have declined over the past 2 years but they are not worth $1 like the above mentioned stock. Because of the benefit provided in providing housing to renters the government is willing to give tax breaks for this investment that they don’t give to other investors.

      I am also glad you mentioned the fact that I can put 10% of my money to own an asset that has value 9 times my investment. With $10,000 of my money I get to get a return on a $100,000 investment and the bank doesn’t ask me to share that return with them even though they own 90% of the asset. Tell me who will give you that deal to buy stock. Plus my renter pays the monthly cost of my investment because I am giving them housing.

      I am sure people can point out the pitfalls of not being smart in using housing as an investment and they usually point to stupid speculators who gambled and lost or landlords to rented to lousy tenants and got taken. But like any other type of investing if you look at it as a long term investment (and ride out the ups and downs) and learn the proper ways to rent your properties it can be the type of investing with a good steady return on your investment.

      • Andrew says:

        There is no such thing as “inherent” value. Value is based on what someone would be willing to pay for something. AIG probably owns buildings which are just as “real” as your house. As for your renter paying the monthly cost of your investment, that’s because they’re using the housing and you’re not. Everyone rents. Homeowners rent from themselves, and their rent is the opportunity cost of the foregone rent they could collect from a tenant.

        • Trevor says:

          Well, as I took a few minutes to review the thread again, I’m painfully aware that the arguments can’t continue ;-). I’ve worked with many “Andrews” over the years, and can see quickly when people will no longer look at things objectively, and from all different viewpoints and thoughts. Andrew, kudos to you for knowing what works for you, and makes you comfortable as you work towards the elusive dream of “financial independence” in your own way. We all have to choose what works for each of us…and millions love real estate, and millions of others I’m sure look to other investment strategies. Balanced portfolio is the key. I will just pray that nobody takes too much advice reading Andrew’s suggestions. Putting all your money in “equity and bond indexes”, and CD laddering unfortunately is not a smart financial path for most…it’s a great part of your overall plan. Not trusting anyone to help you know how to invest your money implies simply a lack of trust and an inability to find trustworthy experts. Yes, we must educate ourselves on the fees, and general investment choices…but with life, family, work, health…this is why we need help. To take the last year and a half of a downturn and “panic” is a horrible decision.
          Breaking down real estate ownership and investing to an “hourly rate” is also completely nonsense when comparing to “working for the man”, in which you get paid directly for the hours worked. Real estate, and other investing, is to create passive income WHILE working a “day job”. Real estate is passive income, whether you manage it yourself as a career, or have to fix a leaky roof or toilet once in a while.
          LOL – well, looks like I just continued to argue! Ignore that line I guess early in the entry! I respect Andrew and his opinions…just hope that others reading any of this remember…these are comments on a blog post by non-professionals (I’ll even for sake of this post try to say I’m a non-professional so as not to sound biased.) My goal is always to empower people on how to make the right decisions based on THEIR situation and needs.
          Best to all…I’m ridiculously behind on watching some March Madness.

          • Andrew says:

            First of all, I never meant for anyone to take what I have written as financial advice. If you do so, you do so at your own peril. I would like to take a moment to clarify a few of the points I made and explain the reasoning behind them.

            First, investment “professionals” are compensated in one (or more) of three ways, at least to the best of my knowledge. These are: (1) commissions on the products they sell, (2) transaction fees each time they trade on your account, or (3) a flat fee. It seems obvious that methods (1) and (2) create a conflict of interest between you and the professional. Your goal is to maximize returns for a given level of risk or volatility. Their goal is to sell the products that pay the highest commissions (in method 1) or to maximize the number of transactions in your account (method 2). In neither case are they penalized when they lose your money (nor, to be fair, are they rewarded when they make you money). Method 3 is a much better idea for the investor but only if the professional makes more money for you than you would have without his advice, and that this additional money is more than enough to cover the fee. There’s no way to be sure that will happen. I don’t generally have a problem with trust, but I don’t believe people whose incentives run contrary to mine will act in my best interest rather than theirs, as this denies basic human nature. If you can find an investment professional who is willing to be compensated with a percentage of your gains and refund you the same percentage of your losses, go for it, but I’m not holding my breath.

            As for calculating an hourly rate when deciding what investments to pursue, it’s not nonsensical at all. I have a day job, and I receive overtime pay when I choose to work more than the required number of hours. There’s plenty of work, and the cap of 20 hours per week is more than I would care to work (and more than I do work) in most cases. But in my situation, anything else that I do to earn money (such as management investments, be they property or financial instruments/bank accounts) must earn me (before tax) at least 1.5 times my base hourly rate per hour of effort before they become worth it. Otherwise, I’m better off just working more hours at my job, which is zero risk. Obviously, if you’re limited in how many hours you can work at your job, or if your compensation is fixed regardless of your hours, this does not apply to you, but you still might want to consider how much you value an hour of leisure time and whether each hour spent managing your investments nets you that much utility.

            I suspect that most active traders and landlords underestimate the time they spend working on their investments and managing their properties and would not find their returns so appetizing if they kept accurate track of their time, but this is just a hunch and not backed up with hard evidence.

  16. dorian says:

    Wish I was not so limited when it comes to these matters. I swear to God, just reading of this article scares me to death and I know there is so much I could do.

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