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Financial Genome Project

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  • Brandon Jacobson
  • July 19, 2018 03:30:50 PM

A Little About Us

The Financial Genome Project (FGP) is an ambitious project designed to map out the entire financial genome. It’s a comparison to the Human Genome Project. Too many of us try to navigate through the financial world without knowing where we’re going. It’s like playing Monopoly with a group of friends and not knowing all the rules.

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Chapter 27 – Should I Buy a Home?

“I’ll just relay one story, which was when I got married we did have about $10,000 starting off, and I told Susie, I said, “Now, you know, there’s two choices, it’s up to you. We can either buy a house, which will use up all my capital and clean me out, and it’ll be like … Continue reading "Chapter 27 – Should I Buy a Home?" The post Chapter 27 – Should I Buy a Home? appeared first on Financial Genome...

I’ll just relay one story, which was when I got married we did have about $10,000 starting off, and I told Susie, I said, “Now, you know, there’s two choices, it’s up to you. We can either buy a house, which will use up all my capital and clean me out, and it’ll be like a carpenter who’s had his tools taken away for him. “Or you can let me work on this and someday, who knows, maybe I’ll even buy a little bit larger house than would otherwise be the case.” So she was very understanding on that point. And we waited until 1956. We got married in 1952. And I decided to buy a house when it was about — when the down payment was about 10% or so of my net worth, because I really felt I wanted to use the capital for other purposes.~Warren Buffett, 1998

In the last several chapters, we’ve done a deep dive into the home building industry, the home ownership industry, and how changing the debt culture could improve how we purchase homes and our personal finances.  I’m sure by now, you may be wondering, “Should I buy a home?”

I’m simultaneously a huge supporter of real estate investing and an opponent of it.  Real estate investing (when done correctly) has provided outstanding returns for decades, just like the stock market.  But, while a great majority of people understand the risks of investing in stocks, many people think real estate investing is the safer option.  According to Investopedia, the average annualized rate of return for housing increased 3.7% compared to stocks returning 9.5% during the same time period.[1]  More worrisome is that people confuse home ownership with real estate investing.

Home ownership is purchasing a primary residence.  It doesn’t become an investment until you’re renting it out or you sell it for profit.  But simply purchasing a primary residence is neither a bad or good decision in itself.  Real estate investing is owning properties for rental income or purchasing properties with the sole purpose of selling them for profit.

A key to both smart home ownership and success in real estate is getting a good return on investment.  Buying a property is not safer than investing in stocks because a home is basically a never-ending liability.  Assume I use $10,000 of discretionary income to buy stock, and the stock becomes worthless.  I simply lose the $10,000 I invested.  With the very recent decision for brokerages to stop charging fees, I can now invest with no real charges.  So, if that stock became worthless, I would now lose the $10,000 without any fees or overhead costs.  Additionally, you can offset capital gain losses with gains.  This is not true if you buy a property, unless you have multiple properties, which is a less common scenario than someone having multiple stocks.

When you purchase a property, you have to pay many costs regardless of how its purchased.  Even if you buy a property without a realtor and in all cash, you’ll still pay processing fees, insurance, and you’ll always pay property taxes—forever.  So if you use that same $10,000 to put a down payment on a $100,000 house, and it drops to $50,000, you’ll still have to pay your mortgage, which isn’t affected by the home’s value after you buy it.  You can deduct the interest from your taxes, if you’re in the 10% of people projected to itemize after the tax recent changes[2], but you can’t claim the unrealized loss on the value of the home.  You’ll still pay insurance, and you’ll always pay property taxes.

So the key to buying a successful property is to focus on return on investment.  Buying a house at a discount or in a market where the home goes up in value can provide a good return on investment.  When your property increases in value, then the interest you pay on the mortgage can be deducted, only if you itemize, on your taxes based off the original mortgage loan.  If your house doubles in value, your mortgage stays the same, the interest stays the same (assuming a fixed mortgage), and you can deduct that interest from your personal taxes.  Property insurance and taxes will rise regardless of housing prices because that’s how insurance companies and how the government work, concepts I will go in detail in upcoming chapters.

So, when I’m asked, “Should I buy a home?” I answer the question with a lot of questions—which people typically dislike.  What’s your current financial situation?  What are the details of the house?  What kind of financing are you considering?  The answers to these questions determine my answer.  Unfortunately, people have a belief that buying a home is a smart and necessary financial decision.  Changing this belief is important as I discussed in the last chapter.

Another problem I see all the time is the confusion behind real estate economics.  Under normal circumstances, interest rates and home prices are inversely proportional; however, most people think a lower-interest environment is better for buying a property.  This is because lenders and realtors have tricked us into focusing on the monthly mortgage payment.  All the fees, taxes, etc. are hidden in the mortgage payment and people focus on that.  Car salespeople do it all the time.

Buyer: How much is this car after all the fees, insurance, and taxes?

Salesperson:  It’s only $300 a month!

People like me:  That’s not what I asked.

One of the scariest philosophies I regularly hear is when military members believe we should buy a home at every assignment.  Depending on which service and career field we’re in, we could move frequently.  The idea is buying a home and then renting it out creates a large rental income portfolio.  There are many mainstream news articles that propagate this philosophy.  I’ve researched literally dozens of these articles and behind every successful rental property acquisition, is a purchase based off return on investment.  The articles we don’t see however, because they’re not written, are about the countless military members stuck with bad acquisitions.

The liabilities I discussed earlier mount up and consume all of their discretionary income, and they end up selling at a loss, short selling, or foreclosing.  All of these outcomes could have negative impacts lasting years.  In the 20 years I’ve been in the military, I’ve seen more unsuccessful property acquisitions than successful ones.

So, before asking, “Should I buy a home,” first consider if you’re financially ready.  Then make sure it’s a good return on investment.

  • Do you know how long you intent to stay in the home? Decide how long you intend to keep it, so you can see how much risk you’re willing to take with the purchase price.  The longer you plan on staying in the house, the more price volatility you can absorb.
  • Are the total housing expenses under 30% of your salary? I’ve always been a fan of the vanilla financial advice of not exceeding 30% of your salary (take-home pay is preferable), on all housing expenses (including utilities, insurance, and routine maintenance).  People who spend too much money on their household care called, “Money poor, cash rich.”  That’s not a good thing.
  • Do you have 10% or more for a down payment? The goal is to get to a 20% loan-to-value ratio so you can stop paying Premium Mortgage Insurance (PMI).  If you’re using a VA loan, you won’t have to pay PMI, but you still should have a sizeable down payment.
  • Are you in a secure job and, for all intents and purposes, in good health? Like I mentioned above, buying a property is a gigantic liability.  If you lose your job or experience significant health issues, then you won’t be able to make your payments.  You may be able to settle with your mortgage company on delayed payments, but nothing stops the tax collector.  Federal and state taxes exponentially go up with the fees and interest of missing payments.
  • If all of these conditions are good, then if you were to ask me, “Should I buy a home,” then my answer would be yes. If you answer no, to any of these, I would tell you to be cautious and that you’re certainly not making an investment.


[1] https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/052015/which-has-performed-better-historically-stock-market-or-real-estate.asp

[2] https://taxfoundation.org/90-percent-taxpayers-projected-tcja-expanded-standard-deduction/

The post Chapter 27 – Should I Buy a Home? appeared first on Financial Genome Project.

Chapter 26 – Change the Debt Culture

“Some people aren’t really all that they ‘post’ to be.” ~UnknownIn my controversial last chapter, I discussed why your home is not an asset.  I also talked about how our culture is backwards when it comes to how we view debt.  For example, one of the most popular posts on social media, in terms of … Continue reading "Chapter 26 – Change the Debt Culture" The post Chapter 26 – Change the Debt Culture appeared first on Financial Genome...

Some people aren’t really all that they ‘post’ to be.~Unknown

In my controversial last chapter, I discussed why your home is not an asset.  I also talked about how our culture is backwards when it comes to how we view debt.  For example, one of the most popular posts on social media, in terms of engagement, is when someone posts that they bought a new house or a new car.  According to a Realtor’s Real Estate summary, 90% of homes bought in 2018 were financed.[1]  So, the most engagement on social media comes from when we take on the most debt.  In this chapter, I’m going to discuss what happens if we were to change the debt culture of our society, and the impact it would have on our economy.

The first step to change the debt culture is for people to be more open about personal finances.  Specifically, imagine if we discussed the financing details of our new home or car purchase on social media.  Instead of just posting, “I bought a new house,” we could also add, “I put 3% down and got a 4.2% interest rate on my a 30-year mortgage.”  Many of us experience the keeping up with the Jones’s effect.  So, when our social media friends or neighbors buy a new house or car, it puts social pressure on us to also a buy a new house or car.  I would like to see this same effect applied to financing details.

I would love to see social pressure on putting a bigger down payment than our social media friends or neighbors, or getting a better interest rate, or financing for only 15 or 20 years.  To get a bigger down payment, we need to save more money.  To get a better interest rate, we need to improve our credit score.  To finance for less than 30 years, we should strive for a good financial position where we work for higher income and lower expenses.  This social pressure could yield major benefits by being more open about the financing of our purchases.

The second step to change the debt culture is to improve our financial literacy.  When I was in high school, our economics project was to get a simulated job and income and then to simulate an adult life.  The people with higher simulated incomes were encouraged to buy a home, start a family, and get a nice car.  The people with the lower simulated incomes (like me), were encouraged to get an apartment and find a way to live on the remaining income.  The problem was, we never discussed what buying a home included.  We never discussed the impact of having an optimal credit score, and we never discussed what amortization meant.  The problem is that many adults still don’t understand how an interest front-loaded, amortized mortgage works.  We need to improve our financial literacy to change the debt culture.

The third and last step I’ll discuss in this chapter is to change the American dream.  I discussed this a little in the last chapter.  Until the recent Financially Independent and Retired Early (FIRE) culture emerged, for many, the American dream was to get a great job with a high income, buy a nice house, a nice car, go on an annual vacation, start a family, and then retire in your upper 60s.  And hopefully, in the final 20% of our average life span in America, we can stop working and spend time with the family we created.

I would love to see the “American dream” change.  When we strive for the highest income, we often sacrifice our family and health, and work for jobs in unpleasant conditions.  As our income grows, the taxes we pay increases progressively.  This means that as our income grows, we get taxed more.  Regardless of your income, many of us are socially pressured to buy houses and cars above our income levels.  To keep our incomes high to afford the house and car, we work harder and longer, so we work right through our kid’s childhood.  When we finally retire and have time to spend with our families, our kids are now implanted into their jobs and don’t have time to spend with us.

Many people in our culture react violently to people pursuing a different path.  Entrepreneurs (excluding Multi-Level Marketing schemes) are chastised in the first couple of years as their business grows.  The FIRE community takes a lot of heat (no pun intended) from people who are stuck in the system. One of the most popular personal finance celebrities, Suze Orman, has come out against the FIRE movement.[2]  I share some of Suze Orman’s cautions, specifically, as it relates to the future or health care costs.


 If we change the debt culture in America, it would represent a recessionary action, but I would caution thinking that’s a bad thing.  In America, we measure growth based off production and consumption regardless of how it was achieved.  We do the same thing to measure a person’s growth as well.  When we see people on social media buying new houses and new cars, we assume growth.  This is the opposite of how we should be thinking.

For many middle-class Americans, purchasing a home plunges their net worth by assuming a massive liability.  We tell ourselves it’s a good investment because we hope the house will appreciate, and in 30 years, it will be paid off.  With cars, they’re a massive liability for many, and they depreciate.  This is the same way the Federal Government works.  We produce and consume through deficit spending, while the national debt continues to grow.  Both the government and its people can’t continue this debt-fueled growth for much longer.

If the government or its people decided to put every next dollar to paying down debt, it would represent a loss to future consumption.  Instead of buying a new car, we would pay off our current car.  People would delay purchasing new homes until they have a substantial down payment (e.g., 20% or greater).  It would create a recession.  This would be a good thing.

For most landscaping, you must prune your trees and bushes.  This creates stronger roots and puts you in control of the shape and future of the plant.  Nature does this all the time.  It temporarily destroys to maintain balance and strengthen the base.  This is how the recession would be if we all stopped consuming and paid down our debts.  To change the debt culture, we would need to change our consumption culture.

I went on Twitter and asked some of the pillars of the FIRE community what would happen if we changed the debt culture.  Everyone agreed that paying off our debts would be a recessionary, but healthy action.  Follow me on Twitter and see for yourself.

[1]  https://www.nar.realtor/research-and-statistics/quick-real-estate-statistics

[2] https://yourmoneyoryourlife.com/suze-orman-fire-movement/

The post Chapter 26 – Change the Debt Culture appeared first on Financial Genome Project.

Chapter 25 – Your Home Is Not an Asset

“Repeat after me: Your home is not an asset.” ~Robert KiyosakiGrowing up poor, and not having any personal finance education by my parents or school, I thought the American dream was to graduate from college, get a good job, and buy a home.  Then you save money until you’re 60 and retire.  School taught me … Continue reading "Chapter 25 – Your Home Is Not an Asset" The post Chapter 25 – Your Home Is Not an Asset appeared first on Financial Genome...

“Repeat after me: Your home is not an asset.” ~Robert Kiyosaki

Growing up poor, and not having any personal finance education by my parents or school, I thought the American dream was to graduate from college, get a good job, and buy a home.  Then you save money until you’re 60 and retire.  School taught me that this was the American dream, and the cornerstone, the “you made it moment,” was buying your own home.  Most of us learn the same thing, and it’s wrong.

Robert Kiyosaki wrote Rich Dad Poor Dad in 1997 and his book was one of the first mainstream financial books exposing what was wrong with the American dream—specifically, buying a home.  I read his book in 2006, and it changed the way I looked at the world.  Most Americans idolize college, and this created the massive student loan bubble we’re facing now.  After graduation, we encourage people to work hard for a company, which creates employees who slave away their lives, paying increasingly higher income taxes.  People are then encouraged to take their taxed income and go into debt to buy a home.  This is the American dream.

Prior to the 2008 housing financial collapse, it was believed that housing prices would always go up and, with interest rates being the lowest in decades, not buying a house was folly.  Despite growing up low-income, my parents bought a house in the early ‘90s under the same premise; they ultimately foreclosed on the home when they divorced.  And yet my 17-year old mind couldn’t fathom how the perfect investment could be foreclosed on.  After getting my business administration degree with a focus on economics, I understood the math behind it; after reading, Rich Dad Poor Dad, I understood the psychology behind it.  And in 2008, when housing prices collapsed by 50% and the America lost $10.1 TRILLION[1] in home prices drops and stock market losses, everything I learned was confirmed.

My final conclusion: Your home is not an asset!  Let me explain.

For the last two decades, I’ve seen this continuous cycle of college debt, finding a job, then buying a home. We saddle ourselves with college debt, and to learn how to be an employee.  Then we’re told to seek the highest-paying job, often times at the sacrifice of our mental wellbeing, physical health, and family relationships, wherein we use our highly taxed income (see Chapter 3 for details on salary taxes).  to buy a house.  Oftentimes houses are 4-10 times our annual salary, and to “afford” them, we are encouraged to take out amortized loans.  Are you envisioning the cycle I’m talking about?  It’s a vicious cycle that constantly pushes us to go deeper into debt by getting a higher degree (with more debt), working harder for a higher paying job (with more personal and family “debt”), and then buying a bigger house (with more debt).

Why does nothing change?  It’s because we’re told buying a home is buying an asset.  Until this philosophy is changed, this vicious cycle will continue.  In Chapter 6 – Assets and Liabilities , I mentioned  the equity in your house is an asset.  The equity is the difference between the value of your home and how much you owe on it, and yet we have somehow made buying a home synonymous with building equity.  Furthermore, we’re told that housing prices tend to generally go up.  So, if you pay your mortgage every month, for 30 years, and the house’s value goes up, you’re building equity, which is a good thing right?

Again, this is what the “system” wants you to believe.  Most housing loans are 30-year mortgages, but in the last decade, 15-year mortgages have become popular among the slightly more financially literate and advantaged.  We often demonize banks for the way mortgage loans are structured, due to banks front-loading the interest in the first half of the loan, with very little going to the principal portion of the mortgage.  But remember, banks take on huge risks by giving loans 4-10 times the annual salaries of the applicants.  Banks hold the liability when owners default on their loans.

Front-loaded interest is one of the reasons why a home is not an asset.  We take out very large loans and very little of the payments actually go towards principal for the first 5-10 years.  Like I mentioned above, the only asset your home provides is in equity.  If equity is the value less the mortgage, the monthly mortgage payment does very little to pay down that mortgage.  To bring in everything already mentioned, the student loans we take have interest, to get us the good jobs which are highly taxed, and then we buy a house where very little of the mortgage payment actually goes to the mortgage.

So, while home equity is literally considered an asset, it’s only an asset when you’re calculating your net worth.  I talk more about net worth in Chapter 6 – Assets and Liabilities, but your net worth doesn’t mean a lot; it’s just a measurement.  Equity in the asset column isn’t working for you, and remember the key to financial independence is to make assets work for you.  Some people call home equity a “Lazy Asset” meaning it does little to advance your financial position.  One of the benefits of having home equity is the ability to take out a different loan called a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC).  So, our “vicious cycle” basically says, go into debt by buying house so you get the pleasure of going deeper into debt?


The intent of this chapter is not to prevent people from buying homes.  My intent is help people understand that buying a house is not a cornerstone event in a plan for financial independence.  It is NOT investing in real estate.  Investing in real estate typically implies a rental property earning rental income.  Buying a home, or rather, the process of taking out a massive loan, should not be a key objective.  It’s strange that when someone takes out a massive loan to buy a house, we praise it on social media.  Congrats! You made it.  We need to change the narrative and here’s how:

  1. We need to teach kids about loans and amortization. We need our culture to promote not exceeding 30% of annual income to all housing expenses at a young age.  And we need to teach how credit scores work BEFORE getting credit cards.
  2. Your loan paperwork should have the value of the loan you’re getting and also the amount you’ll pay at the end of the home loan. For example, I took out a 30-year $219K mortgage at 4.35%.  If I paid the mortgage for the whole 30 years, I will have paid a total of $488K ($173K in interest).  Go to this site and enter your mortgage details to see what your current or future loan is.  https://www.mortgagecalculator.org/
  3. We need to talk about home loans just like we talk about credit cards or student loans. Instead of mortgage payment, we should say minimum payment.  It’s unorthodox to hear people paying their mortgage off early.  We need this to be normalized.
  4. When taking out a mortgage, there should be one page per cost. For example, there should be a whole page explaining what Premium Mortgage Insurance (PMI) is and how it impacts the loan value.  There should be a page on insurance and property taxes too.
  5. There should be an amortization table that people should have to initial on Year 1, Year 15, and Year 30 to show how much interest would be at the end of the loan.
  6. We should all strive for no more than 30% of our income for housing, a 20% down payment or a plan to quickly get to 20% equity-to-loan-value to get rid of PMI, and pay off mortgages early. If all three of these conditions aren’t met, then you shouldn’t be counting your home purchase as an investment.

[1] https://www.businessinsider.com/2009/2/america-lost-102-trillion-of-wealth-in-2008

The post Chapter 25 – Your Home Is Not an Asset appeared first on Financial Genome Project.

Chapter 24 – Home Building Industry Oversimplified

“Repeat after me:  Your house is not an asset.” ~Robert KiyosakiWe’ve discussed home ownership and the home building industry in the last couple of chapters (see the Table of Contents).  In this chapter, I want to visually display how complex the home building industry is by oversimplifying it.  All the amounts are fictional and rounded.  … Continue reading "Chapter 24 – Home Building Industry Oversimplified" The post Chapter 24 – Home Building Industry Oversimplified...

“Repeat after me:  Your house is not an asset.” ~Robert Kiyosaki

We’ve discussed home ownership and the home building industry in the last couple of chapters (see the Table of Contents).  In this chapter, I want to visually display how complex the home building industry is by oversimplifying it.  All the amounts are fictional and rounded.  All the percentage rates will also be fictional and easy to calculate.  We’ll ignore all the extra stuff like taxes, fees, and insurance.  Let’s dive into the home building industry oversimplified.

Like nearly everything in the Financial Genome, it starts with the federal government, specifically the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department determining interest rates and how much a bank must have in reserves (or actual cash).  Let’s say we have a bank with $10,000,000 dollars in cash.  The federal government says banks must have 10% reserves at all times before loaning money to people.  This bank has $10,000,000 which means it can loan out $90,000,000.    Just like that, $90,000,000 appeared in our economy.

Now, let’s say there’s a home building company.  It wants to buy land, build homes, and then sell the homes.  The company has $10,000,000 in cash and applies for what’s known as a jumbo corporate loan.  The bank requires a 10% down payment, so with the $10,000,000 in cash it has, the company takes out a $100,000,000 loan.  The home builder gives $10,000,000 to the bank in cash as a down payment and the bank gives the home builder a $100,000,000 loan (technically, the home builder only took out a $90,000,000 loan, but this is an oversimplification).  Wait, how did that happen?  Didn’t we just say that the bank only had $90,000,000 to give out because it has to keep $10,000,000 in reserves?  Yes, but with the home builder giving the bank $10,000,000 in cash as a deposit, the bank now has $20,000,000. It can now loan out $180,000,000 dollars.  And just like that, with only $20,000,000 in cash, there’s $180,000,000 extra dollars in the economy.

So, now the home builder company has a $100,000,000 loan.  The bank charges a 1.2% annual interest rate on the loan.  That’s .1% a month.  Remember, this is an oversimplification, which as I’m typing this, I realize I’m failing already.  So, .1% interest rate on a $100,000,000 loan is $100,000 a month.  Home builders usually take 1-2 years before selling their first home, so they ask for additional money from investors.  Let’s say investors give the home builder $1,200,000 in cash to pay the bank for the first year of home building.  In month 1, the home builder pays the bank $100,000 in cash.  With only being required to maintain 10% cash reserves, the bank can take that $100,000 and loan an additional $900,000.  $900,000 isn’t enough money to give to home building companies, but it is enough to loan individuals money to buy homes.

After year 1, the home builder paid $1,200,000 in cash, which allowed the bank to loan out $10,800,000 to individuals ($12,000,000 less the 10% cash reserves).  In one year, an additional $190,800,000 appeared in our economy from only $21,200,000 of cash.  The home builder completed its first home and is ready to sell it to you.  The bank only requires a 3.5% down payment (not exactly fictional).  Your new house costs $200,000, so you need $7,000 in cash.  You give the bank $7,000 in cash and the bank gives you $200,000.  The bank can now loan an additional $63,000 ($70,000 less $7,000 is $63,000).  You give the home builder $200,000 and the house in yours.  Congratulations!

The home builder’s monthly payment to the bank is only $100,000 a month and you just gave it $200,000.  That $100,000 difference is the home builder’s oversimplified profit.  In reality, the homebuilder determines profit by taking what it sold that individual house to you for less the cost of the individual house to build.  In my oversimplified explanation, I’m actually showing what’s known as the Statement of Cash Flows.

As you can see, as long as the home building industry is operating positively, the true money maker is the bank.  The more loans it gives out, the more cash it generates, which allows the banks to loan out more money.  This process can keep going until something changes.

The Federal Government has complete control of the home building industry, and ultimately, its citizen’s ability to buy a house.  If the reserve requirement goes up, less money can be loaned out.  If interest rates go up, loans become more expensive.  Additionally, if the Federal Government doesn’t properly address employment, less people will buy new homes or will default on their loans. This limits cash in the system and reduces the ability for banks to loan money.

I wanted you to have a solid, albeit oversimplified, understanding of this concept because the next chapter will be slightly controversial.  Readers of Robert Kiyosaki’s “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” were shocked to hear that their home was not an asset.  The American Dream of owning a home wasn’t what we thought it was.

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Chapter 23 – Home Building

“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” ~Maya AngelouIn Chapter 22 – Land Ownership, we discussed the commoditization of land on our planet.  The land can be owned by an individual, a company, or a government.  Land is typically … Continue reading "Chapter 23 – Home Building" The post Chapter 23 – Home Building appeared first on Financial Genome...

The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.~Maya Angelou

In Chapter 22 – Land Ownership, we discussed the commoditization of land on our planet.  The land can be owned by an individual, a company, or a government.  Land is typically taken from native people by a conquering government. Sometimes this is done by force, and sometimes this is done simply by squatting.  These methods are how much of the middle and west U.S. was colonized.  It wasn’t until the Homestead Act of 1862 did the American government come up with real guidelines of what land ownership entailed.[1] In most developed countries, the government piece-and-parcels the land out to its citizens.  The most common usage of this commoditized land is to build homes.  In this chapter, we’re going to focus on the home building industry.

The majority of home building activity is done by large public companies and small, but highly resourced, private companies.  There are hundreds of small, privately financed companies and, in 2006, the ten biggest homebuilders represented 35% of new houses being built.[2]  Both types of companies get loans, buy huge amounts of land, and then build properties on the land.  Individual home owners go through a similar process of securing a loan to buy a home.  It’s fascinating to me that all this is done primarily through the transfer of debt with little actual cash trading hands.

Typically, changes in local employment availability will determine the local home building industry.  Wealth distribution typically determines the size and quality of the homes in each area.  I say typically, because a cliché, but true, saying when it comes to building a home is “location, location, location.”  This means that home buyers may place equal weight on a specific location as some buyers would put on tangible considerations like schools, crime rates, value, etc.  These ideal locations and places with superior tangible considerations means home buyers will sometimes suffer long commutes.  Los Angeles continues to rank #1 in the worst commutes in both distance and quality.[3]

Commutes can also be impacted by local population density.  For example, friends that live in the Texas, live in neighborhoods where homes come with one acre per home.  My previous home in Bossier City, Louisiana has more tightly packed neighborhoods with a small backyard and above average sized backyard.  In Washington D.C./Virginia, where I currently live, there are townhomes which are physically connected to each other.  There are almost no front yards and the back yards are as big as a large closet.  The city seems to have more people than available housing.

When cities start running out of available housing, the prices will start to rise quickly.  I’m paying three times as much for the same size house in Virginia than I was in Louisiana, despite the Virginia house being 60-years older.  This, of course, is supply and demand.  Housing prices are impacted by changes with supply and demand, sometimes independent of each other.  For example, in California, the demand can be high irrespective to the available supply which drives up the prices of similar houses.  Some cities are in unfavorable locations and have an adequate supply, but the demand is missing which lowers the price of housing.  For example, the mayor Akron, Ohio, says “We have a city of 200,000, with the capacity for 300,000.”[4]

Individuals build homes as well.  Instead of a conventional home loan, individuals receive construction loans. Once the house is built, these are converted to traditional loans.  There’s quite a bit of conflicting data available on whether it’s cheaper to build your own home versus buying it from a home builder.  Conventional advice suggests that the more customization or niche demands you have (i.e., off the grid requirements or ornate finishing) the more building your own home becomes cheaper.  If you’re fine with the homogenous design and features offered by a home builder, then you’ll more than likely save money buying the house.

In 2014, 50,000 individuals built their own homes. [5]  To me, it’s not important how many people built their own homes.  I do think it’s important to focus on how the home building industry is founded largely around debt.  If you’re a frequent reader of this website, you know that the entire Financial Genome is built on the belief that the whole system is real (and legitimate), and it’s enforced by a government.  If either of these two conditions cease to exist, or are weakened in any way, the entire system gets put at risk.  I’ll save apocalyptic planning and the lack of a government for another chapter, so we’ll keep the enforcement by our government intact.  In 2008, we got a glimpse of what happens when people get insight into how complicated and crazy our system truly is, and what happens when our beliefs are challenged.

For most people, the dream of owning a home is simple, and we assume the system that supports the dream is also simple.  A company buys land from the local, state, and federal government.  A company builds a house on that land and sells it to you.  You buy the house and have achieved the “American dream”.  This is how it would work in an all-cash system which we don’t have.  We have something less secure, and the USA saw it unfold in 2008.

We’ll stay out of the political and ideological arguments in this chapter, but I believe the start of the 2008 financial collapse actually started in 1995 when President Bill Clinton changed the Community Reinvestment Act which forced banks to lend to more low-income families.[6]  This started a slow departure from what banks were willing to risk when they issued loans, the risk people were willing to take in getting loans, and finally, what practices the government were willing to enforce.

To force banks to loan to low-income families, the government provided default protection to many banks.  This made banks more comfortable with taking risk and issuing loans.  With interest rates dropping, people felt they could take more risk with a mortgage, despite the rapidly rising housing prices.  People were focused more on the monthly mortgage payment and less on the purchase price of the home.  Banks saw this as an opportunity and provided alternate mortgage types to keep the focus on the monthly mortgage payments such as Adjustable Rate Mortgages and even Interest Only mortgages.  The euphoria was so great that banks starting loaning money to people with barely any income.

Banks realized that the government only provided insurance on a small percentage of the loans, so other banks provided more insurance to help banks loan more money.  The insurance premiums were low because the insurance policies invested in mortgages that were bundled and traded like stocks.  These insurance policies became so popular that the insurance companies started to need their own insurance policies.  Resultingly, banks started providing re-insurance policies that were cheap because they too were invested in these securitized mortgage bundles.  The government enforced it all and also invested in the securitized mortgage bundles.  In less than two years, the bubble popped in 2008.

The home building industry came to a screeching halt.  Home building companies and the banks that primarily dealt with home financing went bankrupt and either disappeared or were bought out by bigger banks.  That was an oversimplified version of what actually happened, but the basics are all there.  It changed the whole fabric of America…or did it?

In 2019, we’re facing similar issues.  There are slight variations that may protect us this time such as increased down payment requirements.  A 20% down payment used to be the standard for home buying.  This protected the buyer, the bank, and the home builder by providing more cash (and liquidity) into the system.  Banks are required to have greater cash reserves when they loan to home builders and home buyers now.  The government is slightly more awake this time.

The home building industry is interesting.  For the most part, it’s an industry built entirely on loans with barely an cash transferring in the system.  If you’re thinking about purchasing a home in the next five years, it’s important to evaluate the home building industry for trends.  One of my favorite sayings in personal finance class was, “A house is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it.”  This was important to me because many people fall into a trap of thinking a house has an intrinsic value to it and your mind anchors on that imaginary price.  Also, the saying should be changed to “…willing and able to pay for it.”  If the economy is in a recession, there may not be someone able to buy a house and get the loan for it.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will be working to create a feed of important reports that Wall Street and economists normally read.  I’ll update this chapter when that feature is available.

[1] https://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/homestead-act

[2] http://www.valueline.com/Stocks/Industries/Industry_Overview__Homebuilding.aspx

[3] https://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2017/11/06/survey-la-ranks-1-most-stressful-commute-in-us/

[4] https://www.washingtonpost.com/realestate/the-other-housing-crisis-cities-where-home-prices-are-low-because-people-have-left/2018/11/28/

[5] https://www.census.gov/construction/nrc/pdf/quarterly_starts_completions.pdf

[6] http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1877351_1877350_1877322,00.html

The post Chapter 23 – Home Building appeared first on Financial Genome Project.


THE MOTIVATION “A choice architect has the responsibility for organizing the context in which people make decisions.”  ~Richard ThalerI’ve spent nearly two decades helping people with their finances.  The most common feedback I receive is, “I never knew about this.  I wish someone taught me this before.”  This is where the motivation came from to … Continue reading "Motivation" The post Motivation appeared first on Financial Genome...


“A choice architect has the responsibility for organizing the context in which people make decisions.”  ~Richard Thaler

I’ve spent nearly two decades helping people with their finances.  The most common feedback I receive is, “I never knew about this.  I wish someone taught me this before.”  This is where the motivation came from to start my website.  There are hundreds, if not thousands, of personal finance blogs and websites.  There’s significantly less economic websites and blogs, but there are still many.  The motivation behind this website is to combine the information from economic websites and the recommendations from personal finance sites to help you navigate your way through the Financial Genome.

You can read more about the motivation for this site on my About page.  The inspiration came from my interest in visual graphics of economic data.  The chart below specifically caught my eye.  It’s a couple of years old now, but it shows the consolidation of the companies involved with the world’s mass-food production.  They key takeaway of the picture is that only about 10 companies control the world’s commercial food production.  That was fascinating to me, and I wanted to tell everyone.  So, I started a website.

Who owns all the food?

For now, this website is a simple blog.  I have a full-time job, I’m married, and have kids, so I’m limited to publishing one article a month.  I’d like for this site to develop into an interactive website where people can explore any aspect of the Financial Genome.  For example, if you were interested in food production, you could navigate through the picture above and all the stock symbols and other financial information of those companies.  This would show you other fascinating data such as ~11% or $18.4B of Coca-Cola’s stock is owned by Berkshire Hathaway—the company managed by the famous investor Warren Buffet.[1]

The motivation isn’t just to show you the financial aspect of the world around us.  I’d also like to explore how different people can exert influence on the financial genome around us.  For example, in the picture below, someone graphed out the conspiracy-theory fueled obsession with the Bilderberg Group.  This group is rumored to control the world using their massive wealth, power, influence, political affiliation, and positions.  It’s difficult to see, but you can do a Google image search for “high-res Bilderberg Group” and zoom in.

The Bilderberg Group

I mentioned that this Bilderberg Group is conspiracy-theory fueled because according to normal news stations, this group is just an advisory council that meets regularly in lavish settings.  It reminds me of an award show for the wealthiest people in the world.  Some of the people involved in our generation’s biggest conspiracies attend these meetings, such as the Rothschild family (believed to be the wealthiest family in the world ever by conspiracy theorists).  So, if you wanted to research these conspiracies you would have to sift mostly through mainstream media.  The picture below gives you a good indication of who actually owns the mainstream media.

Who own’s the media companies?

In this picture, the bigger circles own the smaller circles.  The internet and television are the primary sources people get their information, so basically Disney, NBC, and CBS own most of the world’s televised media.  You can find similar graphics showing who owns just the news websites.  Some of these companies are public companies with public shares being traded and owned and some are private companies.  Wealthy people can own controlling interests in these companies and control the information we use to research these same people.  It’s not just individual companies or people I’d like to track either.

Countries and governments control large amounts of commodities, companies, and political interests.  These are done primarily through Sovereign Wealth Funds (SWFs).  The graphic below is a quick snapshot of the growth of SWFs since 2000.  Some of these SWFs are bigger than countries, in terms of assets under management.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

My end goal is to have a website and/or app that combines the tracking services of personal finances sites such as Mint while overlaying your specific impact to the financial genome all the way up to a Sovereign Wealth Fund.  What could you do with this information?  The primary goal is to allow people to make better decisions.  Not all entities in the Financial Genome are nefarious, but many are self-serving.  I’d like to expose all your options so you know how the impact of your decisions.  Borrowing a term, I read in the book, “Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness,” I’d like to improve the choice architecture in the Financial Genome.[2]


I’ll unlikely be able to increase article production beyond one a month, so you can expect at least one a month.  I’d like to refine my stock tracker so it’s more interactive.  The motivation of the Financial Genome Project was not to be a solo affair.  I’d like to start creating a team of people creating content and developing interactivity of the website.  I hope you find the information interesting, and that you support the project by Liking the posts and Sharing it with your friends on all the social media platforms.  Thanks for all your support in 2018!

[1] https://www.businessinsider.com/warren-buffett-letter-2018-berkshire-hathaways-biggest-stock-holdings-2018-2

[2] https://www.behavioraleconomics.com/resources/mini-encyclopedia-of-be/choice-architecture/

The post Motivation appeared first on Financial Genome Project.

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