Nest-Egg Recall

A Seattle whiz who got rich off the real-estate crash tells you what to do,now that relying on your house has proved a dismal investment strategy.

This week, The New York Times announced that the era of treating home ownership as a means to fortune is over. Reporter David Streitfeld quoted economists who say real estate will never again be the path to wealth it once was. But what Streitfeld doesn't say is what all we Gen Y-ers should do if we ever hope to retire someday. So we looked to local investor William Fleckenstein, one of the rare people who got rich off the recession, for advice. (Hint: That dream you have of playing the market, then quitting your job at 40 to make pottery? Give that up.) Fleckenstein made money by being a pessimist. His Capitol Hill office is home to a taxidermied bear—a reference to his pre-recession strategy of betting that the stock market and real-estate prices would go down. He also started renting a decade ago, so he remains untouched by the real-estate collapse. He agrees with the Times' conclusion that the days of real estate as a near-sure-thing investment are over. But how you should invest is a tougher question, he says. Fleckenstein has some pointers about what not to do: Don't buy real estate in the hope it will make you rich, and don't jump into investments du jour—currently Treasury bonds. And while he doesn't really believe you should just leave your money under your mattress, Fleckentstein is a fan of standard savings accounts and their teeny-tiny interest rates. "One of the bad lessons" that people have been taught over the course of the past decade, he says, is that "markets will always be there to bail you out, so you don't need a safety cushion." On the contrary: "It makes sense to have some money in just plain savings." As to how you might actually hope to retire some day, Fleckenstein says the best thing you can do is hire a professional to manage your cash (cough like him cough). "Nobody tries to practice medicine on themselves," he says.

 
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