It doesn’t matter what you paid – what is it worth today?

I came across this little gem of an article called Sunk Cost Bias on a blog called Litemind, and I immediately thought of how applicable it is for a real estate investor. Not that long ago Dave was suffering from a sunk cost bias of his own… he’d bought a crackhouse in Niagara Falls, ON.

Year after year it cost us money and added a lot of stress to our life. Within the first few years of owning it our property manager went on trial for murder, Dave was fined in court about fire code violations, and Dave had to constantly make repairs to keep it up to fire code.

He tried to sell it a few times. But he priced it too high to attract buyers as he wanted to at least get his money back. Finally this year he accepted that it didn’t matter what he had paid for it, he had to get rid of it. He lost money when he sold it but it was such a relief it didn’t feel like money lost.

Dave's Lovely Niagara Falls Property

Dave's Lovely Niagara Falls Property

The price you paid for your house is really irrelevant for most things except calculating capital gains or losses. When you go to sell your house, the only thing that matters is what the “market” is willing to pay for it. It doesn’t matter if it would cost twice as much to build that house. It doesn’t matter if you paid $1 for it or $500,000 for it. All that matters is what someone will pay for it today. When I look at our investments I don’t think about what we paid for each of them, I think about whether the property fits within our investing goals today. If it does, then I keep it. If it doesn’t, then I begin evaluating options.

As the blogger of Litemind points out, money spent and time invested are in the past. Failing to leave that dead end job, walk away from that bad relationship or not selling that stressful money sucking property just because you’ve invested so much in it and want to make it pay off is just “throwing good money after bad” or good energy after bad.

I really like the advice in the blog that says:

Sure, we all expect to have a good return on what we invest. It would be insane not to. Just make sure you’re not on a situation solely because you made the investment in the first place. You don’t make a bad move any better by dwelling more on it, unless you can effectively make something that changes the expected outcome.

Stop spending resources on a bad move — throwing good money after bad — immediately and start spending these resources on a new one: Cut your losses and move on!


Filed under goal setting, investing, real estate

3 responses to “It doesn’t matter what you paid – what is it worth today?

  1. Richard

    @Julie – “When you go to sell your house, the only thing that matters is what the “market” is willing to pay for it. ”

    That value of anything is limited to what someone/anyone is willing to pay for it.

    Dave bought a crackhouse in what looks like a crack neighborhood. What was Dave expecting? That was a bad investment even in a stable housing market. I think Dave was high on crack when he bought it.

  2. Thanks for your note @Richard! Dave definitely was not high on crack when he bought it – but he was fresh from a real estate investing course that hyped him up to buy no money down properties. He was high on misinformation and unrealistic expectations. The course taught him to find crappy houses that you can buy for no money down that generate good cashflow. In this case he found the perfect example of what the course taught him to find: he didn’t have to put any money down and for awhile, it put money (about $500) in his pocket each month.

    It was a tough lesson to learn – and that’s why we share it with everyone. Hopefully we can save some other newbie real estate investors from making the same mistake!

  3. Pingback: Top 8 Real Estate Articles of 2008 « Life as Real Estate Investors

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