NEW YORK -- When housing prices are falling and investment analysts are frothing about a collapse of the real estate market, there still is no safer place for your money than the home in which you live.
The truth of the statement lies in the historical evidence. It showsthat while price declines do occur they are rare and relatively short-lived, and that housing prices recover with the economy and often grow faster than it.
Still, you would have to be hard of hearing not to detect the shrieking of the sirens, the screeching of the alarmists, the blare of the headlines. Houses unsold after 12 months on the market! Sellers cutting prices by $50,000!
So what? Homeowners know that no matter what the market analysts say, they do not lose money on their houses until they choose to sell or have to sell.
Some of the bearish comments come from academia, some from writers seeking to cash in on homeowner fears, some from brokerage house analysts who tend to view a house solely as an investment rather than a place in which to live.
This week a brokerage house analyst commented sagely that thousands of people who bought houses three years ago have a loss on their investment, a statement that bears little resemblance to facts or reality.
Most of the people who live in those homes would, in fact, be surprised and mystified to hear that they had lost money, since nowhere in their checking accounts or tax records is there any evidence of such losses.
The tendency to view housing solely as an investment, and to measure its value by the month and year rather than by the decade, is reflective more of a Wall Street trader's mentality than that of a homeowner.
Traders constantly price their portfolios, homeowners do not. Traders live day to day, homeowners live for long-term goals. Traders can do little to improve the value of their shares, homeowners constantly make improvements.
Moreover, homeowners are constantly paying down the mortgage, obtaining tax benefits and enjoying the kind of physical protection for one's head that no stock, bond or other security can provide.
After examining the claims of housing doomsayers, Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies, an impartial assessor, offered this reassurance:
"Contrary to popular reports about the impending home price crash, today's homeowners have little reason to worry." They backed it with statistics showing that except for brief periods, housing keeps pace with the economy.
"While it may be necessary to ride out a short-term down cycle, over time home prices tend to rise at or above the general rate of inflation, making housing a solid investment and key component in the financial security of the current and future generations of elderly Americans."
They offered the hypothetical example of a household that in 1974 bought a typical single-family home in Boston for $89,144 (1989 dollars).
Assuming the buyers had a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage and still owned the home in 1989, the paydown of the mortgage principal and appreciation in prices would have boosted equity in the home by $140,192.
At that price they would have had an inflation-adjusted compound annual growth rate of 15.1 percent.
Had they purchased the house in 1980, paying a higher price but enjoying greater inflation during the 1980s, real equity would have grown at 24.6 percent annually.
And even if the house had been purchased in 1986, when the explosive Boston market was near its peak, the homeowner would have realized equity gains of 16.9 percent in each of the following three years.
Let the doomsayers shout, let them denounce housing as an investment, let them try to frighten you with predictions of doom. Safe in your own home, you can ride out the storm, knowing better times lie ahead.