Your House Is NOT A Damn ATM (and 5 Other Things We Agree On)

Inspired by this weeks’s entertainment, I got thinking about the commonalities of real estate, economics and investment blogs, whatever their slant.

I think there’s a lot we can agree on.

Your house is not a damn ATM

If you put a HELOC (home equity line of credit) on your home, be damn careful what you use it for. Spending it on consumer goods, excessive renovations and entertainment are right out (forget about the 52″ plasma). Reasonable renovations and smart, careful investments can count, but you need to be cautious and a HELOC should never be your sole source of investment funds (see the next point).

Canadians need to save more

Our national savings rate went from better than 10% of after tax income in the early 90’s to only a few percent. We’re not as bad as our friends down south, but this is going to be a potential long term problem for many Canadians as we get older.

Live within your means

This shouldn’t surprise anyone, but it’s not quotes often enough. David Chilton, author of the Wealthy Barber, probably the best book on financial planning for retirement ever written, lives in a house of less than 1,000 sq ft (see the great interview on CBC’s The Hour here). I drive a used VW, live in an older townhouse and don’t really carry any consumer debt. I don’t really see that changing too much, except sizing up as my family grows.

Give money away

No one ever went broke by donating money to charity and it’s an important habit to get into particularly when you don’t have any money. 10% is a great goal, and you should also donate your time. If you want to make sure you’re hitting your 10% goal, try adding up your volunteer time at minimum wage or $10/hr and see what that does. Giving your time and talents to those who need your help when you barely have anything to give teaches us about what’s possible (and trust in God, but that’s another post).

Diversification can be a good safety net

There’s no doubt that your asset mix should reflect your goals and the time in your life. When you’re young (like me) and have few obligations, but high earning potential, you can handle more risk. When you’re getting to be 50-60 you should be looking for some more stable, fixed income assets with a lower risk profile. You should use the advice of a good financial planner. One big caveat on diversification though – as Warren Buffett says, “Wide diversification is only required when investors do not understand what they are doing.” Invest in what you know, and if you’re really serious about investing and building a business, keep to what you know. This leads us to:

Diversification is for the weak

Warren Buffett doesn’t buy tech companies because he doesn’t understand them. I avoid complex market plays (shorts, etc) because I’m not as familiar with them. I buy stocks I know and trust like Coca Cola, Cogent (makes some great fingerprinting hardware) but the majority of my active investing goes into real estate. I gained a lot of knowledge by osmosis, working on a team managing other people’s properties and because I made a point of learning as much as I could. The 3 years since I bought my first property have also been full of some great lessons.
If you really understand tech stocks, or mining, or real estate, put your money there. The nice thing about real estate is everyone has at least a little familiarity with it and we’re all capable of learning. What each person needs to decide (with some help) is what mix of diversification vs. single minded focus is right for them.

Look Behind the Curtain

There’s a lot of sources for information and opinion. You should do a lot of research on your own, and also pay for other people’s analysis. I trust REIN’s analysis more because they don’t sell real estate. Same deal with the IMF; they couldn’t care less if you or I buy another piece of real estate. I also listen to sources like RBC for their housing affordability index. Sure, they sell mortgages, and more activity in the housing sector is good for them. I think Garth Turner buries his good points in a lot of rhetoric intended to sell more books. Does it make their opinion worthless? No, you just take it with a grain of salt.

There’s a lot we can agree on, and a lot more that bloggers, professionals and friends can be doing to help people out.

Photo credit: Stuseeger

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  • Hi Chris,


    I’m a big fan of the middle way. Ironically this post will never get any trackbacks 🙂


    • A

      Thanks Rachelle, it’s so true. Just wanted to put it out there and see what people thought.