In One Chart: Americans think it’s better to invest in housing than the stock market — here’s why

United States

Which is the better investment, owning a home or owning stocks? If you ask most Americans, chances are they prefer the former.

A new study from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York examined consumer preferences toward being a homeowner and how their attitudes have changed over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Survey participants were asked to rate which was the better investment — a home or financial assets such as a stocks — and what factors contributed to their choice.

The study found that over 90% of respondents preferred owning their primary residence rather than investing in the stock market. A majority of survey-takers also favored the idea of being a landlord to purchasing stocks, with more than 50% of the participating households preferring to own a rental property.

The most common reasons people cited in choosing housing over stocks seemed to be about comfort and stability, rather than seeking a better return. The most commonly-selected responses were that the home was their “desired living environment” and “provides stability” and that house prices were “less volatile.”

Research has shown that residential real-estate has acted as a strong hedge in most bear markets, with the notable exception of the Great Recession. The early days of the pandemic is a prime example: The S&P 500 index SPX, +1.44% lost over 20% in the first quarter, while the Case-Shiller National Home Price Index increased 1.4%. That stock market has, of course, recovered since then.

That said, Americans were more likely to cite higher housing returns in 2021 than in the year prior, likely a reflection of the incredibly fast pace of home price appreciation nationwide.

But people’s attitudes toward the housing market have shifted over the course of the pandemic, the researchers found. “The preference for housing dipped in October 2020 and returned back to the pre-COVID level by February 2021,” the study’s authors noted.

That shift in preferences away from housing wasn’t driven by concerns about home prices. Some Americans expressed more concern about the risk of vacant rental units, while concerns about being able to make mortgage payments may have had an effect on people’s predilection toward homeownership.

People’s inclination toward owning a home may also be a reflection of their gender or education. Women were more likely to prefer housing than men, and non-college graduates opted for homeownership more often than those with college diplomas.