Real estate is very volatile, much more so than people realize.
When I was a kid, my father was transferred almost like clockwork, every 2 years. (he was very good at what he did and was constantly sent out to head up a new operation; once it was stable, rinse and repeat, until he quit.)
We lived all over the country, and luckily always lived in new construction houses. My folks never made money on real estate, due to numerous factors... but mostly because: as your home appreciates in value, other homes in the area are appreciating, too; the prevailing home prices in the market, which have been incredibly volatile the last 20 or so years, especially so in the suburbs.
Additionally; owning a home is a huge investment, in more than just a mortgage. Owning a home will mean you'll face significant expenses maintaining it, making repairs, and perhaps remodeling it, just to keep from losing money.
And trends have changed quickly in the last 2 decades or so. For example, my folks moved into their current home in 1998. Their kitchen in particular and the rooms in general are woefully barren of electrical outlets by 2016 standards. But a lot has happened in ~20 years. At that time 56k internet was just then available that summer. Now it's normal for a family to have multiple computers, a laptop, and other devices like an Ipad, Kindle, etc. all in the same room.
Anyway, Nobel-prize-winning economist Robert Shiller is famous for his studies of the housing market, and his data suggests that housing prices have grown at a compound annual rate of just 0.3% during the past century (inflation-adjusted), while the S&P 500 has averaged roughly 6.5%.
Anyway, the moral of the story is: Compared to other investment vehicles, housing isn't really a good investment. Other vehicles can also be leveraged (in part in particular) if you desire, and many times without the exorbitant additional transaction costs/fees and time that comes with buying/selling real estate.
The only difference is that to be truthful, the average joe doesn't know how to trade derivatives or manage foreign exchange portfolios etc., so they will probably lose money. This is where houses can come in. They're good investments, for people who don't know how to invest in other investment vehicles because they require little education (don't need a masters in finance or years of experience trading) and little strategy (usually just buying & holding - sometimes renovating).
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