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BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- Stocks haven't earned their keep for a decade, and bonds are paying less than the rate of inflation. While investors may be better served by looking elsewhere, the $64,000 question is "where?"
The best investments as alternatives to securities are those with an intrinsic value, which means they will become scarce and remain in demand over time while being functional so they could potentially serve a purpose other than as an investment.
Good examples are, surprisingly, in real estate, specifically farmland and rental properties, as they provide income and should appreciate in value as the market has shifted in their favor. And certain timeless collectibles can serve that purpose as well.
To begin the process, the best advice when considering buying something outside your area of expertise is to get a professional appraisal. And if it's a collectible item, it's also worth taking the next step and asking an expert trader: "What would you pay for this in cash right now?"
A few other suggestions are: Don't form a personal attachment to an investment because profit should be your only motive; speculative bubbles are common and prices don't rise forever; and if something is being hawked on TV as a "collectible," don't buy it because if there is real demand, the seller will likely make more, dimming the prospects for future price appreciation.
For most collectible assets such as cars, musical instruments and watches, hobby clubs abound. Joining one will make allies of others who share your interests and know the local market. They can also refer you to reliable sellers and, eventually, eager buyers.
Here are five alternatives to stock and bond investments worth considering:
Hands down the single best investment you can make now is in multi-family housing. The data backing up the booming demand for rental housing is overwhelming.
The single-family home market has collapsed and is going to be underwater for years to come. But where are all those people who have been foreclosed on or who can't qualify for the now tough-to-get home mortgage loans going to live?
They're becoming renters. According to a recent study by Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies, the number of renter households increased by an average of about 692,000 per year, from 2006 to 2010, while the number of owner households fell by about 201,000 annually.
That trend is likely to pick up steam, because the nation's apartment vacancy rate dropped to 5.9% in the second quarter, the lowest since 2006, according to the real estate research firm Reis Inc., while the percentage of people who own a home dropped to 66% in the second quarter -- the lowest since the first quarter of 1998 and down from a peak of 69% in late 2004, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Further evidence is that new multi-family housing construction is slow by historical standards because it's so difficult to get financing, according to the National Association of Home Builders. This is a great opportunity for someone willing to put up with the challenges of being a live-in landlord because lenders give a big break on the down payment to owner-occupiers. And mortgage interest rates are at historical lows.
Given the outlook for inflation and increasing demand, there is great leverage to raise rents, so it's conceivable that a multi-family owner-occupier could cover the building mortgage payments with rent income and live for free within a few years, while getting a tax break on depreciation. But being a landlord is demanding and not for a shrinking violet.