Frances Cook: Buying a home is no longer a ticket to financial security


If your vision is to buy your own home, pay it off, and consider yourself financially sorted, I have bad news for you. I strongly disagree with that plan.

Getting a roof over your head is important, don’t get me wrong.

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Buying a home means a level of security, knowing you can stay somewhere long-term, that you can live your life with pets, the décor and household changes that matter to you.

You’ve set an agreed price of the house at the time of buying, that you can now focus on paying off.

Sure, interest rates may change over that time, but rent increases have far outstripped those, at least in recent years.

Eventually you pay it off entirely and slash a major cost out of your budget.

But here’s why it’s not a ticket to financial security.

A house is never entirely free. Even once the mortgage is gone, you still need to pay rates, insurance, keep the maintenance up to date.

You also can’t eat your spare room. Or take the grandkids on a trip to the zoo after selling a square of the front lawn.

So it’s costing you money. And it’s highly unlikely to make you money.

This is why, in the midst of the angst about our monstrous house prices, one silver lining stood out to me.

New Zealanders are becoming increasingly interested in investing, particularly in assets like shares.

Hatch polled its investors, and found that 35 per cent don’t invest in property. Fourteen per cent said they simply couldn’t afford it. Meanwhile another 14 per cent are looking to invest more in shares soon.

Hatch did this through their investor Facebook group, so to be clear, it’s not a scientific poll.

But it is backed up by a credible scientific survey carried out by the Financial Markets Authority, released in November last year.

Their “Attitudes towards New Zealand’s financial markets” survey showed property investing was falling, down 5 percentage points to 9 per cent last year, while more people were buying shares, bouncing up to 20 per cent.

There’s a clear mood for change away from what was once New Zealand’s favourite asset type.

The attraction is clear to me. You can start investing in shares from where you are, with what you have.

Only have $5 a week? You can invest that into shares.

Get a couple of pay rises? Divert some more into shares.

You don’t have to wait until you’ve built up a deposit of $100,000, or $200,000. You can start your money working for you, and earning money, as soon as you decide it’s a priority.

You can use this to fund a career hiatus, maternity leave, or your entire retirement if that’s what you choose.

Having money coming in the door gives you far more options that simply reducing one of your basic living costs.

Even if the house is sorted, you still need to eat, pay for electricity, and hopefully indulge in a few of life’s pleasures.

Sure, if you only focus on shares investing then you’ll need to pay rent. But if you build up enough of a nest egg over time, your investment income can cover that and more.

In an ideal world, I want both a paid off home and investments earning money for me, in order to consider myself financially secure.

But if I have to choose, I’ll take the investments every time.

This column is general information only, and not individual financial advice.

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