Is Your Primary Residence an Asset? Yes, But…

I was having lunch with a colleague a week ago and he said the following to me: “Your primary residence is not an asset but a liability because you have to continually pay for it. You don’t own your house. The bank owns it.”

This got me thinking because years of education has taught me that a house is an asset since assets are defined as anything that produces value. A house can be rented out to produce rental income. Indeed, it is an asset according to this definition.

But technicalities aside, I do understand what my friend was trying to say. After some googling, I found that this concept derives from the book Rich Dad, Poor Dad in which Robert Kiyosaki explains that a house generates negative cashflow and therefore is a liability for you.

He is wrong. It is not the house that creates the negative cashflow. It is the mortgage. The problem is, for most people, in order to afford a house, they need to accept the mortgage because they simply don’t have enough cash to buy a house outright.

It is this connection that the bank has concocted that fools people. When you buy a house, you get an asset, but it doesn’t end there. Two sets of assets are created. The first asset is the house, which you hold. The second asset is debt, which is held by the bank. Houses tend to go up in value, but not always. House prices tend to move up only slowly and are volatile. The asset the bank holds, on the other hand, is much more valuable. The bank holds debt. It produces income no matter what. Even if you default, the bank simply takes your house. Effectively, when the bank lends you money to buy a house, it is doing two things: (1) directing cashflow from you to itself and (2) transferring risk from itself to you. The cash the bank would have held would have sat in a vault doing nothing but by lending it to you, that cash now generates interest that flows to the bank. Rather than buying real estate itself and suffer from the risk of volatile prices, the bank simply puts that risk on you by lending to you. It gets a steady income while you wear the risk.

I am not against buying a home. What I advise against is the debt. Unfortunately, when most people buy homes, it is connected to debt. It is like coffee. Research shows the antioxidants in coffee prevents prostate cancer in men. But if you put four teaspoons of sugar in your coffee, the sugar will hurt your health. Likewise, even though a house is great for you, the debt that is attached is what will work against you. If you need to buy a home, I recommend you buy a small home to minimise the debt. Otherwise, pay off the debt as quickly as possible. Rent out spare rooms. I have nothing against buying a house as an investment, but it is best to stay out of debt.

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