The Oracle of Omaha both admitted his misguided call on the housing market, and made another one this week.
In this year’s Berkshire Hathaway letter to investors, Warren Buffett admitted he was “dead wrong” about last year’s prediction the housing market would inch back up in a year or so. Fair. But then our friend the “oracle” subsequently predicted its recovery again.
"People may postpone hitching up during uncertain times, but eventually hormones take over," Buffett wrote. "And while 'doubling-up' may be the initial reaction of some during a recession, living with in-laws can quickly lose its allure."
This isn’t a ridiculous notion. As a soon-to-be-newlywed, I’m quite sure my hormones would take over after living with my in-laws for a few months; perhaps I’d even be hormonal enough to go buy a house. But it still seems odd that a man who just admitted he was wrong about something, would make what is functionally the exact same prediction ... just a year later.
With companies like Acme Brick, Clayton Homes, Shaw Carpet and Johns Manville as subsidiaries of Berkshire Hathaway, it’s not surprising that Buffett wants the housing market to rise to normal levels. He’s also said on numerous occasions that he feels the bogged down market is one of the reasons for the saggy overall economy.
But are the hormones of young potential homeowners enough to stake all that on? I’m not sure.
Unemployment for 20-somethings is the highest among any age group, and their student loans are mounting. Given these obstacles, it’s difficult to believe that this group would even consider buying a house, much less qualify for a mortgage.
In his Monday appearance on CNBC, he offered some more advice: Go out and buy distressed houses and then rent them out. Perhaps this is his solution for those hormonal married couples still living with the ‘rents who can only afford houses at rock bottom prices.
But that solution is pretty dicey, even if you know what you are doing. While homes are extremely affordable right now, buying up foreclosures is risky business. This article from Business Insider shows you the perils — and the ethical predicaments — from a foreclosure pro’s point of view.
He also said because the number of “for sale” signs will surpass demand home prices will be driven down, making it a buyers' market. He went so far to say that if “it was practical,” he would buy “millions” of homes.
Still, it might be more practical for Buffett to buy millions than for us newlyweds to go out and buy even one.