Real Estate vs. Stock Market: Which is Better for Building Wealth?

We compare real estate and the stock market as investment options and examine their advantages and disadvantages.

Vivian Tejada
Last Updated
April 17, 2023
Real Estate vs. Stock Market: Which is Better for Building Wealth?

If you're looking for the best ways to build long-term wealth, your top focus should be finding the right investments. Options abound, but two of the most popular are in real estate and the stock market. While both have the potential to generate substantial returns, they differ in several aspects.

By comparing real estate and the stock market as investment options, we can take deeper look at each of their advantages and disadvantages. We’ll talk about their potential for generating cash flow and passive income, tax benefits, and the role each can play in hedging against inflation. By the time we're done, you can better decide which one is a better option for growing your finances.

Tangible asset vs. paper asset

Real estate investments are tangible assets that investors can see and touch, such as a physical property, while the stock market consists of paper assets, such as shares of stock. This fundamental difference between the two investment options can impact investors' sense of security and their ability to weather market volatility.

Tangible assets such as real estate can provide a greater sense of security because they are physical, and investors can see and touch them. This can be particularly appealing to investors who prefer to have more control over their investments. Real estate investments can also provide a sense of stability, as property values tend to appreciate over time, and rental income can provide a steady stream of cash flow.

In contrast, paper assets, such as stocks, are subject to market volatility and can experience significant price fluctuations in the short term. This volatility can create anxiety and uncertainty for investors, especially during periods of market downturns. Risk-averse investors often prefer tangible assets over paper assets. 

Not to mention, paper assets are more vulnerable to economic and political risks, such as interest rate changes, inflation, or changes in government policies, which can adversely affect stock prices. Real estate investments, on the other hand, are less sensitive to market fluctuations and are less influenced by short-term economic events.

Cash flow and passive income

Real estate investing has the potential to generate stable cash flow through rental income. On the other hand, stocks can provide dividend income.

Real estate investors can purchase a property and rent it out to tenants. In turn, it can generate a steady stream of rental income. The latter can help cover expenses such as mortgage payments, property taxes, and maintenance costs. The stability of rental income can be particularly appealing to investors who are looking for a reliable source of cash flow.

In contrast, stocks can provide dividend income, but the amount of dividends paid can vary based on the company's financial performance. Dividends can be cut or eliminated altogether if the company's financials deteriorate, which can create uncertainty and volatility in the investor's portfolio.

Further, you can adjust rent over time to keep up with inflation or other economic changes. Unfortunately, dividend payments may not keep up with inflation.

Real estate investments can also offer the potential for passive income, meaning that the investor does not need to actively manage the investment to generate returns. Rental properties can be managed by a property management company, allowing the investor to earn a passive income stream.

In contrast, stocks require active management and monitoring to ensure that the investor is making informed decisions based on market trends and company performance. For most people, it can be time-consuming. It also requires a high level of investment knowledge and skill.

Leverage and tax benefits

Real estate investments offer unique advantages in terms of leverage and tax benefits that are not available with stocks.

Leverage refers to the ability to use borrowed funds to invest in an asset. Real estate investors can use a mortgage to purchase a property. This way, you leverage your investment and potentially increase returns. The use of leverage can be especially beneficial when interest rates are low, as borrowing costs can be lower, and the potential returns can be higher.

In contrast, with stocks, you typically purchase shares using your own funds. Leverage is not commonly used in stock market investments.

Now, let's talk about the potential tax benefits. Real estate investments also offer several tax benefits that are not available with stocks. For example, investors can deduct mortgage interest payments and property taxes from their taxable income, reducing their overall tax liability.

While stocks may offer some tax advantages, such as the ability to deduct capital losses, real estate investments offer unique tax benefits that can help investors reduce their overall tax liability and potentially increase their returns.

It's also notable that leveraging investments can increase the potential for higher returns, but it also comes with higher risks. Investors should carefully consider the risks associated with leverage and ensure that they have a solid plan in place to manage their debt and investment risks.

Hedging against inflation

The value of your investments over time, and inflation is one of the likely culprits. The best way to prevent this is to choose investment options that can help hedge against inflation. 

Real estate's value can appreciate over time. When this happens, your investment also grows, providing a hedge against inflation. Moreover, as earlier mentioned, you can adjust rent to keep up with inflation or other economic changes, providing additional protection against inflation.

In contrast, stocks may not always provide the same level of protection against inflation as real estate investments. Inflation can lead to higher costs for companies, such as increased wages and raw material prices, which can reduce their profitability and cause stock prices to decline. However, some stocks offer protection against inflation. These include those in inflation-sensitive sectors, such as utilities, energy, and healthcare.

Combining real estate and stock market investments

You don't need to choose between real estate and the stock market. Instead, you can enjoy the best of both worlds by investing in stocks related to the real estate market, such as real estate investment trusts (REITs) or stocks of companies involving real estate properties.

REITs are companies that own and operate income-generating real estate properties, such as office buildings, shopping malls, apartments, and hotels. By investing in REITs, investors can gain exposure to the real estate market and potentially earn a steady stream of income through dividend payments.

Moreover, investing in companies involved in the real estate industry can provide an indirect way to invest in real estate. A good example would be Zillow stocks. Zillow's dominant position in the real estate and technology market can make it a valuable investment.

So, what's the verdict?

Both real estate and the stock market have their pros and cons as investment options for building wealth. However, real estate investments may be better in terms of stability, passive income, long-term growth potential, leverage, tax benefits, and hedging against inflation. 

Weigh various factors against your own financial goals and risk tolerance. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Diversify your investments instead of focusing on just one. 

Important Note: This post is for informational and educational purposes only. It should not be taken as legal, accounting, or tax advice, nor should it be used as a substitute for such services. Always consult your own legal, accounting, or tax counsel before taking any action based on this information.

Vivian Tejada

Vivian is a freelance real estate writer based in Brooklyn, NYC providing SEO blogging services to real estate companies. Her work focuses on educating first-time real estate investors on investment strategy and explaining proptech tools to new customers.

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