Buffett Says Buying Home Was Third-Best Investment He Made

Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett
Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett. Photographer: Nelson Ching/Bloomberg

Billionaire Warren Buffett said buying a home was the third-best investment he ever made, after the rings he bought for his first wife, Susan Thompson, and, after her death, his second wife, Astrid Menks.

“For the $31,500 I paid for our house, my family and I gained 52 years of terrific memories with more to come,” Buffett wrote to shareholders of his Berkshire Hathaway Inc., in a letter released Feb. 26.

Buffett, the world’s third-richest man, still lives in the house he bought in Omaha, Nebraska, more than five decades ago. He said home ownership makes sense for most people, especially after a slide in prices and record-low interest rates.

The U.S. home ownership rate has fallen to the lowest level in a decade amid record foreclosures and a plunge in property values after a five-year boom. The S&P/Case-Shiller Index of prices in 20 cities is down 31 percent from its July 2006 peak.

“A housing recovery will probably begin within a year or so,” Buffett, 80, wrote in the letter. “In any event, it is certain to occur at some point.”

Berkshire, based in Omaha, owns manufactured housing maker Clayton Homes Inc. of Maryville, Tennessee. It also owns Minneapolis-based real estate company HomeServices of America Inc., the second-largest brokerage in the U.S. after Parsippany, New Jersey-based NRT LLC.

Clayton Model

Berkshire’s experience in financing the manufactured housing it builds and sells through Clayton Homes should serve as a model for Washington policy makers planning a reform of the nation’s housing system, Buffett said. The regulatory changes target Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the mortgage-finance companies under U.S. conservatorship.

“A house can be a nightmare if the buyer’s eyes are bigger than his wallet and if a lender -- often protected by a government guarantee -- facilitates his fantasy,” Buffett wrote. “Our country’s social goal should not be to put families into the house of their dreams, but rather to put them into a house they can afford.”

Buffett’s annual letters to shareholders have won him the nickname “the Oracle of Omaha,” because he muses about topics such as how investing is like baseball and how Wall Street bankers are like Pied Pipers.

Buffett built Berkshire, once a failing textile mill, into a $215.6 billion company through investing in firms he says have superior management and the ability to create long-term value. Units of the company makes candy, produce power and sell flight time on private jets.

The shares were worth about $15 each when he took control of the company in 1965. The Class A stock rose 2.9 percent to $131,300 at 4:15 p.m. in composite trading on the New York Stock Exchange, the highest closing price since October 2008. It has gained 6.9 percent in the past 12 months.

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