A Michigan reader named Pete asked me a question that I thought I had answered before, but clearly I need to go down this street again.
He asked: "What do you think of remortgaging my current home in order to buy lake property as an investment? The property appears to be appreciating at about 6 to 8 percent a year. I also plan on renting the cottage year-round, which will generate enough income to pay about a third to half of the increased cost of my new mortgage. Any input would be most welcome."
Well, Pete, may I be frank?
Don't do it.
When it comes to investing in anything -- stocks, bonds or real estate -- you should invest only as much money as you can comfortably afford to lose.
But don't just take my word for it. I put Pete's question to a number of financial experts, and here's what they had to say:
* Dee Lee, a certified financial planner in Cambridge, Mass., and author of "Women & Money: Your Personal Finance Guide," said: "I am not a big fan of using the equity in your home to invest in property. You put your asset at risk."
* James R. Cotto, managing director of investments for Cotto & Padovani Financial Strategies Group in Mount Kisco, N.Y., warns his clients against making a long-term investment with a home equity line of credit. In general, Cotto advises people to put no more than 33 percent of their net worth into real estate. If you still want to pursue this investment strategy, Cotto said, you should ask these questions: Do I have enough income to service the new debt? How long do I want to hold the property? "Be prepared for unforeseen costs," he said. "Realize that your plans can have glitches."
* Sheryl D. Garrett, a certified financial planner and founder of the Garrett Planning Network, a nationwide network of fee-only financial advisers, said: "Most people would not be served well by leveraging their home further than it already is so that they can get into another very illiquid, geographically non-diverse single property."
Garrett said if you want to invest in real estate and "you don't have the money other than to borrow out of your own residence, then that may be a good sign that you're not diversified enough. You likely need to be investing in other assets, such as stocks, bonds and mutual funds, rather than locking your money into other illiquid avenues. It's a big headache."
Still not persuaded?
* Ric Edelman, author of several best-selling books about personal finance, including "Ordinary People, Extraordinary Wealth," is blunt about using your home as your investment piggy bank.
"The only time it makes sense to tap into your home equity for real estate purposes is to pay for home improvements . . . or to generate greater liquidity," said Edelman, who is chairman of Edelman Financial Services Inc. of Fairfax. "Borrowing money to invest in real estate is little more than speculation."
Since I know people will ignore all this good (and free) advice, I asked the experts when it makes sense to use either a home equity line of credit or home equity loan to invest in rental property.
"When you've got so much equity in the house that if you borrow $50,000, you wouldn't be hurting if the deal fell through," Lee said.
If you're going to use a home equity line of credit, understand that many of these loans have adjustable rates and the interest rate will likely increase, cautioned Geordie Crossan, a certified financial planner and president of California's NBS Financial Services Inc.
Most important, limit the equity line of credit to the down payment, then use conventional financing for the balance on the second home or property, Crossan said.
Finally, Garrett said to make sure you fully understand what it takes to be a landlord.
"You must look at it as a part-time job unless you hire a manager to manage the property for you," she said.
And, Garrett added, make sure there is enough cash flow so that you can comfortably make the mortgage payments on both properties.
"You need to have enough extra money to do things such as renovations [both] initially and annually," she said. "Work through your projections about profits. All properties should be cash-flow positive, to the tune of 20 percent or more."
Remember Pete's question? He said the rent he expects to receive wouldn't fully cover the increased cost of the new mortgage. That's not good, the experts say.
People, when you use your primary residence to buy investment real estate, just keep in mind you're not investing. You're gambling with the place you call home.
Researcher Lorraine Denis-Cooper reported for this column.
Michelle Singletary discusses personal finance Tuesdays on NPR's "Day to Day" program and online at www.npr.org. Readers can write to her at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments and questions are welcome, but please note that they may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.