Real estate mogul: Buying a house is your fastest path to wealth

Real estate mogul: Buying a house is your fastest path to wealth

By: Catherine Clifford
CNBC

Should you buy or should you rent? According to the numbers, renting is cheaper in every state as well as the District of Columbia.

Still, real estate mogul Sean Conlon, star of CNBC's "The Deed: Chicago," says you should buy.

"I am a true believer that you save every penny and you buy your first house. And that is still the fastest path to wealth in this country," Conlon says in the third episode of the show.

Sean Conlon
Photo by Brandon Ancil, CNBC
Sean Conlon

Conlon helps salvage the potential house flip of a couple, Chantill and Larry Greer. He congratulates them for scraping together the savings to get out of the dangerous neighborhood they grew up in.

The Greers recount being sandwiched in between two rival gangs before they had saved enough money to buy their own home. They saved their tax refunds every year and eventually were able to buy a condo in a safer area in 1999.

"Great day, that was a great day," says Larry.

Conlon, now the owner of his own real estate mortgage company, came to the U.S. from Ireland in 1990 with $500 in his pocket.

When he was 23, after a couple of years of working as a janitor during the day, painting apartments at night and stuffing his earnings in a shoe box for safe keeping, Conlon scraped together enough money to buy his first place. By 1996, he was a self-made millionaire.

"I understood fairly quickly that real estate is a tangible path to wealth," says Conlon, now 47.

He still believes real estate is the best way to grow your wealth, and many experts agree.

All the same, millennials are either less able or less willing to buy. In 2005, the home-ownership rate for adults under the age of 35 was 43 percent. A decade later, it had fallen to a historic low of 31 percent, according to a report released by Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies.

Further, even as 19 percent of households are made up of millennials, the under-35 set represents only 10 percent of homeowners.

Perhaps millennials tend to agree more with self-made millionaire Grant Cardone, who says owning a home is liability. It takes money out of your pocket, Cardone says.

For those on the fence, author of The New York Times bestselling personal finance book "Money: Master the Game" Tony Robbins suggests a third way. He says that even if you aren't able to buy, you could consider putting money into real estate as a sector.

For example, he says, millennials could invest in real-estate investment funds, or REITs.