Eric Fry

Joseph Saylin did not like to take chances. He didn’t trust people very much and he didn’t trust paper wealth very much. He trusted dogs and real estate…and that’s about it.

Joseph Saylin, my grandfather, was the son of Latvian immigrants. Joseph worked hard… always. And saved money… always. He was ambitious. He was a physician at the age of 21, a lieutenant in the US Army at the age of 24, a captain at 27, a major at 31, a colonel at 35. “I was always the ‘boy this’ and the ‘boy that,’” he would often boast during his twilight years. “I was the ‘boy doctor’ and the ‘boy colonel.’ A lot of guys were jealous. But they didn’t even think about how hard I worked.”

Don’t get the wrong idea; Joseph was not one of those all-work-and-no-play guys. In his 1912 high school yearbook from El Monte, California, he offered the following senior quote:

“I am very fond of the company of ladies.”

To be sure, Joseph knew how to play; but more to the point of our tale, Joseph also knew how not to play. In other words, he did not play in the highflying stock market of the 1920s. Joseph parked his savings in real estate. Between 1923 and 1973 he bought a variety of houses and office buildings in Southern California.

He once bought 4,000 acres of sand and sagebrush in Utah, just because it was so cheap. He called it “the ranch” and always tried to drag his grandkids up there for long weekends. But his youngest grandchild, your editor, always refused to take the 12-hour car ride just to look at sand and sagebrush.

Fortunately, Joseph also bought properties of greater aesthetic and/or investment value. He purchased residential and commercial properties in Venice Beach, Brentwood, Arcadia, Orange and Lake Arrowhead. He even owned a gas station in Torrance. He always bought them cheap. Unfortunately, he often sold them cheap as well.

If only he had held onto his large house on South Rockingham in Brentwood, California (yes, the same Rockingham made famous by a former professional football player with anger management issues), he would have tripled or quadrupled the ultimate size of his estate.

But no matter, Joseph was not hurting financially. Throughout two World Wars, one Great Depression, one hyperinflation and numerous lesser crises, he maintained course and speed: Buying Southern California real estate, while using little or no debt financing.

Joseph’s frugal tactics served him well. He accumulated a small fortune during his 86 years on this planet.

He might have amassed an even larger nest egg, if his wife had not devoted her golden years to traveling around the world — first-class — with her best friend. These two feisty, 70-something women would book around-the-world flights on Pan Am and disembark wherever their whim dictated. India, Egypt, Israel. In fact, my grandmother was in Israel in 1967 when the Six-Day War broke out.

Joseph’s lifelong commitment to real estate served him extremely well. Importantly, he made most of his money during the postwar years, when America was in the sweetest “sweet spot” of its entire history. As a result, American real estate was a “strong buy” from many, many decades. It may still be a “buy,” but it probably isn’t a “strong buy.”

Now that the latest US housing boom has gone bust, a few select portions of the US real estate market may have become “strong buys” once again. But the US economy is unlikely to provide a multi-decade tailwind to housing prices like it did after the Second World War.

Of course there will still be opportunities here in the United States. But some of the best real estate bets may be in the fastest growing economies of the world. Therefore, the would-be real estate tycoon may want to cast a glance overseas and consider the opportunities that beckon from foreign shores.

Obviously, buying a beach house in Ecuador is not the same thing as buying a beach house on the Jersey Shore. But maybe that’s a good thing.

Eric Fry
for The Daily Reckoning

Eric Fry

Eric J. Fry, Agora Financial's Editorial Director, has been a specialist in international equities for nearly two decades. He was a professional portfolio manager for more than 10 years, specializing in international investment strategies and short-selling.  Following his successes in professional money management, Mr. Fry joined the Wall Street-based publishing operations of James Grant, editor of the prestigious Grant's Interest Rate Observer. Working alongside Grant, Mr. Fry produced Grant's International and Apogee Research, institutional research products dedicated to international investment opportunities and short selling. 

Mr. Fry subsequently joined Agora Inc., as Editorial Director. In this role, Mr. Fry  supervises the editorial and research processes of numerous investment letters and services. Mr. Fry also publishes investment insights and commentary under his own byline as Editor of The Daily Reckoning. Mr. Fry authored the first comprehensive guide to investing internationally with American Depository Receipts.  His views and investment insights have appeared in numerous publications including Time, Barron's, Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune, Business Week, USA Today, Los Angeles Times and Money.

  • Tee

    Could this be the first hit of the new GS Siewert PR team only asking

Recent Articles

Advance Notice of the Next Market Crash

Chris Mayer

News flash: The future is uncertain. (Gasp!) But given this uncertainty how are you supposed to invest successfully? It would be nice to ride stocks on the way up... and bow out before the crash... but few are able to do it without sheer luck. Chris Mayer, searching for a successful method, looks back to the 1929 market crash for clues...


A New Bank that Challenges the US Dollar’s Reserve Status

Liam Halligan

As owner of the world's reserve currency, the US has enjoyed a cushy spot in the global economy. But with the rise of a group of rival countries the dollar's reserve status is under attack. And if it somehow gets knocked off its perch, the effects throughout the world (and in the US in particular) would be disastrous. Liam Halligan explains...


Diverse Opportunities in the Boomer-Controlled Market

Greg Guenthner

The US population is aging. The total number of births in the US peaked over seven years ago. And as the Baby Boomer generation enters retirement, it's becoming clear that there's no easy way to offset the trend. And that presents some unique investment opportunities most people have overlooked. Greg Guenthner explains...


5 Min. Forecast
What Your Grocery Bill Says About Your Investment Future

Dave Gonigam

Despite rapidly rising food prices, American households still spend relatively little on groceries. And while plenty of factors contribute to lower food costs in the US, that can lead to serious competition... and that means a good investment opportunity is right around the corner. Dave Gonigam explores...


New Index Points to a Steep Drop in Asset Prices

Chris Mayer

Wouldn't it be convenient to know how fragile or how prone to cracking up the stock market... bond market... and housing market are? Well, Chris Mayer recently created a new index that does just that. And it's signaling that a sharp drop in asset prices is a high possibility. Read on...