Seeking status the Warren Buffett way

Mood of the Market

A couple of weeks ago, in his 2010 recap letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, CEO Warren Buffett explained his belief that "homeownership makes sense for most Americans, particularly at today’s lower prices and bargain interest rates." Keyword: makes sense. These days, sensible seems to be what the post-recessionary American housing consumer is shooting for (though sometimes even the best of us miss our mark).

Sensibility is a near synonym for responsibility, one of the key pieces to the puzzle of "What Investors Really Want," as explored in the recent book by behavioral finance sage Meir Statman.

Statman surfaces what often manifests as a conflict between responsibility and at least one other line item on investors’ wish lists, though, when he makes a strong case that "investors want high status and respect."

In the context of real estate, status-seeking and responsibility have not coexisted in recent memory, until recently, and were in active conflict during the subprime era. (Exhibit A: the real McMansion-flaunting-then-foreclosure travails of the "Real Housewives of Atlanta." And Orange County. Ooh — and New Jersey.) As far as I could see, when it came to status and social responsibility in real estate at the top of the market, I expected that not only would the twain never meet, they wouldn’t even be friends of friends on Facebook.