Is your house really an asset?

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If you ask this question to Indians, the answer is an emphatic yes. It is a prevalent notion that buying a house is akin to building an asset. The desire and need to own a home is hard-wired into the Indian psyche. It might be a good idea to pause and think over this question again, Is your house an asset? To answer this question, you need to define what is the meaning of an asset!! But defining asset is not easy since there are numerous definitions - two interesting ones are :

1) An asset is something that you own, where as a liability is something you owe.

2) An asset is something that generates money for you, where as a liability is something that takes away money from you.

The second definition sounds very logical and if you go by this definition, almost anything you own is NOT an asset. This controversial definition was given by Robert Kiyosaki of Rich Dad Poor Dad fame. This definition leads him to conclude that a self-occupied house is not an asset. Watch this interesting video on Youtube :

Robert Kiyosaki explaining that house is a liability!!

I don’t exactly agree with Mr. Kiyosaki even though I am inclined towards not buying a house. I believe that calling house a liability does not change anything apart from turning the traditional thought process on its head. The ultimate goal for buying an house is a) Personal satisfaction of owning a house b) Increase social status.

Indians think of the house purchase as a form of investment, which is incorrect. Let us step back and think about why anyone wants to invest their money? The whole purpose of investment ( be it in stocks, mutual funds, FDs, house or gold etc. ) is to beat the inflation and grow the money. The intention is to increase the financial net-worth so that a person can enjoy life and be mentally peaceful during any emergencies.

So is buying a house an investment? Yes and No. Let me explain this.

You may know of your friends & family who bought a house very cheaply few years back and the current price of the house is quoting much higher. But are they enjoying their current life or are they financially stretched owing to a huge chunk of earning going as EMIs? Is this sacrifice of constraint in present living state worth the investment for future self-owned house? If you are stretched too much today, then your house is definitely a liability.

Another question to ask is, when someone sells a house what happens to the money earned? Assume one of your friend bought a house for 30 Lakhs say five years ago and now it is quoting at 70 Lakhs. If he sells the house today earning a cool profit of 35 Lakhs (minus bank and other miscellaneous expenses). What happens to this 35 Lakhs? The most probable answer is that it is spent on buying another house. Did you know of anyone who sold his house pocketing a huge profit and then spent that money on a foreign trip or paid for medical emergency? In majority of cases once you buy a house, the money invested just remains as a house, you sell this to buy a bigger/better house.

If you think about any other investment, the same does not hold true. Any money earned through stocks or mutual fund immediately goes into some expenses be it for children’s education or buying that big car. But a house remains a house even across generations and the money is locked in that house. So any house bought on a huge loan only turns out to be an asset for the next generation (since they got it for free) and not for the person who bought it. I strongly believe that with nuclear family being the trend and with more globalized world, children will not care about the ancestral house and may not be living in it.

As a fact, most people who buy houses/apartments on huge loans are taking significant risk compared to the returns given by that house during their lifetime. Thus to me it implies that house is a liability.

A rough indication below will indicate that a house bought on loan cost much more than it seems :

  • Down payment in cash [the cash gets locked up even before you are living in that house]
  • Monthly EMI [Major portion of EMI is interest in initial years]
  • Intermediary Fees [if bought through a broker]
  • Miscellaneous Fees [e.g. lawyer fees, society fees, loan processing fees for banks]
  • Government dues [registration fees, electricity charges, house taxes, VAT/service tax]
  • Premium paid for Insurance of house
  • Maintenance/upkeep for the house

An important point to note here is that typically the amount of money (interest) you pay during loan tenure to the bank, for taking home loan is approximately same as the principal (~purchase price of house). The worst part is that EMI usually follow the upward trend, as the cost of fund increases for the bank, making the house much more costly to the end-customer.

Hence buying a house may become a liability rather than an asset due to the inability of buyer to identify and understand the risks involved. This is actually true for any investments but for house purchase the stakes are much higher and risks runs much deeper.

Here are some tips to make your house an asset rather than a liability:

  • Try to purchase a house which is priced a little less than what you can afford. Keep some buffer rather than stretch your finances.
  • Keep a target of 100% ownership in next five years
  • Buy a house which is 2-3 years old or new but fully completed. An under-constructed property is certainly more risky & hence inherently costly but it may seem cheaper upfront
  • Buy a house when you can afford to pay 30% or more down-payment and plan to pre-pay the loan within 5 years
  • Better to buy a house in tier-II city and rent-out the house rather than make it self-occupied in tier-I city. You can save on tax that way and also avail HRA.
  • Stay on rent in good locality to enjoy your present life. The rent from your house in Tier-II city should compensate for the expenses incurred on that house.

Some related resources:

Real Estate Bubbles and California's Economic Growth  Part-1, Part-2, Part-3

Buy Vs. Rent calculator Link here

Some old posts from this blog

Link1 : How to buy apartment in Bangalore?

Link2 : Get rich by staying in rented house?

Link3 : Reverse Mortgage doesn’t work in India?

Link4 : Real estate real returns?

Link5 ; Buy Vs. Rent 

Can you afford to loose your job?

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This is an interesting question asked by Deepak Shenoy on his blog. I wrote a post on similar lines almost two years back (surviving layoffs), although I could not complete the post. Interestingly cutting expenses is not the advise he wants to give. Here is the quote from his blog

Why aren't you telling me to cut expenses?

I could, and this is advice you will get all over the internet. Cut your expenses, hunker down, don't eat out, sell the car and take public transport, change clothes only every other day and so on. Yes, you can do this. But this is easy preaching. It's not practical because you will do it anyhow, if you have to……

Cutting expenses is temporary and defeating. Sometimes doing so gives you a false sense of security - such as: if I cut this and that, I can survive two years! Yes, but like the joke goes:

Preacher: If you stop drinking, the women, the eating out, sweets, salty and fried things , you'll live to be a hundred!

Patient: But what's the point if I can't do any of them? ("Toh jee ke karunga kya?")

Don't do it unless you absolutely have to.

I dis-agree to some extent. Here are my  comments to his post on this. I know that advise on cutting expenses is spread all over internet. The point is not to cut down everything and live like a sage. It will not be practical, but reducing expenses by certain amount will, not only help financially but also help mentally. I know of folks who go out dinning almost 3-4 times a week, which can be reduced to 1-2 times a week. One of my friend goes out for shopping every weekend. It has become a ritual to him. With a job loss you can skip 1-2 weeks in a month or you can reduce the amount that you used to buy every week. It is all about striking a balance and keeping a certain check on your expenses.

I would rather suggest to act pro-actively instead of re-actively to a job-loss. It is well known that job-loss is going to be very common in coming years. So isn’t it wise to prepare for it pro-actively during the time you have a job rather than to react after a job-loss? Here are some tips to prepare pro-actively while you have a job:

  • Keep an emergency fund, but do not dig into it unless it is an emergency.
  • Get a  good job-loss insurance if available
  • Have a personal family health insurance, since with job-loss your corporate insurance also goes away too
  • Do not dig into your PF (question was asked on Deepak’s post), It is necessary to understand the importance of PF, which is for building corpus for post-retirement rather than emptying it for a temporary situation of job-loss
  • Continue to develop your professional skills (even if you have 20-30 years of experience)
  • Develop some hobby and get deep into it. You will hear numerous examples where hobby gets converted to a business or earn extra income
  • Nurture a good network of friends (more specifically in your industry)
  • Try to have a work-life balance and spend time on maintaining good health. Illness during job-loss is not going to help you
  • Everyone understands the importance of diversifying investments, so for those who are not married it may not be bad idea to think of a similar diversification when you get married. Choose a spouse working in a different industry rather than your own. If you are a software engineer, diversify by marrying a fashion designer or an architect. It will spread the risk of both of you loosing job at the same time.

All of these tips are just common sense. But I will accept that it is easy to preach than to follow them.

Do you have any more suggestions?

India also needs a Plain Writing Act

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Text ure

[Photo by : Casey Cripe]

U.S President Obama made the Plain Writing Act of 2010 as a law on October 13, 2010. India needs a similar law as well. I looked at a random sample of policy wording document [PDF] from Reliance General Insurance for a HealthWise Policy. Here is the “pre-amble” part:

WHEREAS the Insured designated in the Schedule to this Reliance HealthWise Policy having by a proposal and declaration together with any statement, report or other document which shall be the basis of the contract and shall be deemed to be incorporated herein, has applied to Reliance General Insurance Company Limited (hereinafter called “the Company”) for the insurance hereinafter set forth and paid appropriate premium for the period as specified in the Schedule.

NOW THIS POLICY WITNESSETH that subject to the terms, conditions, exclusions and definitions contained herein or endorsed or otherwise expressed hereon the Company, undertakes, that if during the period as specified in the Schedule to this Policy, the Insured/Insured Person shall contract any disease, illness or injury and if such disease, illness or injury shall upon the advice of a duly qualified Medical Practitioner require any such Insured/Insured Person, …blah blah.

It is simply a lot of gobbledygook text making it very difficult for average person to understand, and more so with English not being our primary language. This is prevalent in every government document as well as financial document. The content is not written in the form that an average person would understand. It seems that such language usage is often meant to confuse and divert the reader’s attention.

As an example, the above text can be made much simpler in following manner without loosing any of the context or the meaning:

The insurance contract between insured Mr X and Company is formed based on the proposal and declaration submitted. The insurance contract is based on the appropriate premium paid during the period as mentioned in this document.

The company promises to pay amount Rs Y if the insured person Mr X acquire any disease, illness or injury during the policy period. This amount paid is subject to terms, conditions, exclusion as defined in this document. The company requires that the advice of a duly qualified Medical Practitioner.. blah blah…

Jyoti Sanyal in his book Indlish provides an interesting historical reason behind such officialese language in our official documents. As per him, this type of language originated from babus working for East India Company. Unfortunately Indians adopted this not only in English but also in many regional languages.

The advantages are obvious for having a law for plain writing.  It will

  • Make it easy for customers to understand what they are signing
  • Bring transparency in the process and deals
  • Reduce any mis-selling of products
  • Reduce legal actions arising out of confusion between consumers and service providers.

I strongly believe that majority of mis-selling happens due to lack of understanding of the terms and conditions while signing up for any service. Hence such a law will be an important step in protecting consumers from fraudulent service providers. What do you think?