NEW YORK (AP) -- As stocks tank and investors wander in the wasteland, they might pause to give thanks for having made at least one great investments. They may in fact be sitting in it as they read this.
It is their home.
Two-thirds of American households are homeowners, and relatively few of them have ever had to suffer the losses and anxieties with their homes that may have accompanied their investments in stocks. Homes simply are a much safer investment.
They're not just safe, but consistently rewarding, the biggest reward being a financial foundation beneath one's feet and a roof over one's head. A stock can't offer the same foundation, nor keep you dry in a rainstorm.
From 1989 through 1999, the market value of existing single-family homes rose by nearly 50 percent, from $89,500 to $133,300. On the basis of down payments rather than full price, the gains were much more.
While stocks met a sad fate beginning a year ago, homes remained loyal to their owners. By last August, the U.S. median sales price of existing single-family homes had risen to more than $142,000.
And now, in a stock market beset by uncertainty, volatility and big losses, housing markets have remained remarkably sturdy. There are big exceptions, of course, but small compared to the disaster in stocks.
By chance and choice, homeownership has a favored status in America, especially appreciated by owners now refinancing their mortgages at falling rates, and maybe cutting their monthly bills by $100 or more.
While renters contribute their share, studies suggest owners are more active in voting, and in school and community affairs. They're taxed for owning, but such taxes and mortgage interest are income-tax deductible.
Owners also help keep the nation's housing stock updated. They're deeply involved in improvement projects, nearly $180 billion worth a year, and that activity may stimulate another $100 billion in related spending.
Those figures comes from the latest annual housing report by Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies, released this week. It estimates that every year 26 million owners make home improvements.
And why not? Improvements are one of the best investments an ordinary American can make, even when other investments, such as stocks, are mercilessly battered. Moreover, a stock once bought seldom allows you to improve the entity represented by that stock. Homeowners have that option.
Money spent on improving a home, all or a good portion, also tends to come back in the sale price. A new kitchen might more than pay for itself, a bath almost, and a home office by maybe 70 percent, according to estimates by the National Association of Home Builders.
And so for you small investors berating yourselves over a dismal experience in the stock market, take solace. Your home prices are holding up better than stock prices and you've got superior tax deductions.
And if you choose to refinance, you may put $100 or so spending money into your pocket each month, now that it's needed. And above all, you've got a roof over your head.
End Adv PMs Thursday, March 22.
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