NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- As both a mortgage banker and an active investor in the stock market, I'm quite familiar with the often-asked question: Which is a better investment, stocks or real estate?
The short answer is a home. Scholars of finance may say otherwise, especially over the long term. But given the tax breaks, the leverage and the consistency of price gains over time, a primary residence, or even an investment property, wins -- at least in my book.
Sometimes, though, one needs to be reminded of this, and the past week's carnage in the stock markets has done just that. Big time. On Monday, my portfolio was down 6%. On Friday, it was down 2%. And that portfolio is diversified across sectors and asset classes.
Actually, the first thought was that if that money had been invested in property, it wouldn't have seen that sort of steep decline in just a couple of days. Housing has had its hard moments in the past decade, but even then the declines come over a matter of months. The prices are sticky, as economists say. You never get that the eyes-glued-to-CNBC, I-can't-look-at-my-portfolio, full stomach-gut punch you get from stocks collapsing across the board. (The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 1000 points at the open Monday!)
The only bright spot in the current market rout is that the Federal Reserve is unlikely to raise interest rates now in September, as had widely been expected. With stocks as shaky as the San Andreas Fault, an interest rate hike could set off the big one and remove all the ground we've gained through monetary policy since the financial crisis.
And this gives homebuyers or homeowners a window. We saw interest rates dip below 4% again on Friday and Monday.
Sure, eventually rate increases will come, and barring a recession or stock market decline like the one during the financial crisis, a slow series of small increases might not be a bad thing for housing. It would prevent a bubble, which we are dangerously close to creating in some markets, particularly on the West Coast.
Even here in Denver, for instance, we had been seeing 20 to 30 bids on a single property until a recent cooling, which may be part of the crash in natural resource-based economies, local and global.
But remember: An increase in interest rates could have an even worse effect on stocks. Just watch investors flood into U.S. Treasurys or CDs if the day ever comes when they can make a safe 4% a year on their money, especially if they are in or near retirement.
The stock market roller coaster may offer thrills, but there are easier ways of making money. Or, at least, they're easier on the nerves.