The Psychology of Property Investment: Understanding Investor Behaviors

Although analytical activities—which include evaluating markets, scouting neighborhoods, and crunching numbers—form the basis of every real estate investment, they do not represent the totality of what is required to be a successful investor. Beyond numerical literacy and business acumen, effective real estate investors must also be attuned to their own psychological makeup, and that of others. This encompasses aspects such as decision-making, risk tolerance, and emotional influences.

For example, what prompts an investor to make—or not to make—a purchase decision? What is most important to an investor, seller, or tenant during the acquisition, selling, or leasing process? What does that say about their risk tolerance? Should an investor buy and rehab a property on their own, or is a turnkey rental with a tenant in-place a better fit?

Understanding and using psychological tools can enable investors to become more aware of their behaviors and decisions—and how they influence investment outcomes.

Decision-making in property investment

The decision-making process in property investment is a fascinating interplay between logic and emotion. While the ideal scenario involves making decisions based on thorough market research, financial analysis, and strategic planning, the reality is often different. Behavioral economics teaches us that investors are not always the rational agents traditional economics expects them to be. Instead, biases and heuristics can sway investment decisions—leading to irrational and less-than-optimal decisions.

For example, confirmation bias—the tendency to interpret and favor new evidence that supports one’s pre-existing beliefs—predisposes investors to seek out information that confirms their previously held beliefs, even if they may be wrong. In a desire to feel correct, investors may ignore evidence to the contrary, overlook critical red flags, or disregard alternative opportunities. Investors who are aware of confirmation bias can take steps to mitigate its influence on decision-making. This can lead to more informed, objective, and balanced investment decisions, which may result in superior outcomes.

Case study insight

A study of residential property investors revealed that many overestimated rental yields while underestimating maintenance costs, influenced by the optimistic projections often highlighted in sales pitches. Successful investors, however, were noted for their meticulous approach to due diligence. These investors sought information from diverse sources to challenge their assumptions.

Risk tolerance in property investment

Risk tolerance is often described as an investor’s psychological capacity for uncertainty regarding investment outcomes. Investors tolerate risk because bearing it can sometimes, though not always, lead to higher returns.

On a more granular level, risk tolerance concerns both the amount of risk one can handle and the types of risks one is willing to take. In real estate, this might range from investing in a fixer-upper (higher risk due to unknowns) to purchasing a turnkey property in a well-established area (lower risk due to its rent-ready nature).

Emotional factors heavily influence risk tolerance. The endowment effect, for instance, suggests that people value an object more if they own it, even if the object’s market value does not support their evaluation of its value. In real estate investing, investors may overvalue a property they own, leading to riskier holding strategies even when market signs suggest selling.

Case study insight

A survey comparing novice and seasoned real estate investors found that experience didn’t correlate with higher risk tolerance. Rather, experienced investors had a more nuanced understanding of risk. They were better at assessing different risk factors, such as location specificity or market volatility, and incorporating them into their investment strategies.

Emotional factors in real estate investing

Emotion plays a significant role in property investment. The thrill of the hunt, the fear of missing out (FOMO), or the attachment to a specific property can overshadow objective judgment. Successful property investors, however, manage to balance emotion with pragmatism. They recognize the emotional pull but do not let it dictate their investment choices.

Embracing Spartan’s core value of remaining “dispassionately objective” can be the antidote to these natural human tendencies. By acknowledging the natural inclination towards risk avoidance and emotional decision-making, investors can focus on what truly matters: the data, the trends, and the proven processes that yield consistent returns. Spartan champions this approach, highlighting that “while we are all prone to these same weaknesses, we’ve built a business based on remaining dispassionately objective.” This philosophy underlines the importance of detaching from transient emotions and adhering to established strategies that have proven successful over time.

Case study insight

In a study comparing investment strategies, those who adhered to a set of predefined, objective criteria—akin to a dispassionately objective approach—showcased more consistent performance compared to those led by market sentiment or personal attachments (Thompson & Zhang, Journal of Real Estate Research, 2020). This further substantiates the Spartan principle that sticking to proven processes ensures reliable client returns year after year.

By contrast, the psychological impact of investment decisions driven by fear or affection can lead to missed opportunities or unwarranted risks. In her paper on emotional bias in real estate investment, Dr. Emily Hartzog argues that the most successful investors cultivate emotional resilience (Hartzog, Behavioral Economics and Property Market Analysis, 2021). These investors recognize their emotional biases but choose to make decisions based on empirical evidence and strategic frameworks, which align closely with the concept of being dispassionately objective.

The mindset of successful property investors

The psychological profile of successful property investors often reveals common traits: discipline, patience, and a continuous desire to learn. They view real estate investment as a marathon, not a sprint, allowing them to make decisions from a place of strength rather than desperation.

Moreover, successful investors are often adept at separating their self-worth from their investment performance, which safeguards them against the emotional upheaval tied to market fluctuations.

To be clear, investors must understand that they should not analyze or label their investment behavior in a bid to be right or wrong; instead, investors should discover their psychological profile so that they can align their real estate investing strategy with their individual preferences, strengths, and financial goals. The key to success in property investment—or any form of investment, for that matter—lies in having clear expectations and in selecting strategies that resonate with one’s personal risk tolerance and investment philosophy.

Every investor, regardless of their persona, can find success by embracing their unique approach if they maintain ambitious, yet realistic, expectations. The most crucial factor, after all, is not your personality in and of itself—but how well you understand your own tendencies and how effectively you can set, execute against, and meet your investment expectations within the scope and constraints of your personality and market forces, respectively.

Investors who engage in regular self-reflection—where they seek feedback and learn from both successes and failures—tend to perform better in the long run. They develop a growth mindset—viewing challenges not as insurmountable obstacles, but as opportunities to grow.

Refer back to episode 63: Mindset Matters

Spartan Invest podcast with Lindsay Davis


Understanding the psychological underpinnings of property investment can provide valuable insights into how and why you and other market participants behave in particular ways. It highlights the importance of self-awareness, education, and emotional intelligence in navigating the real estate market successfully. By recognizing and addressing the psychological aspects of investing, individuals can make more informed, rational, and ultimately successful investment decisions.

And when coupled with a growth mindset, the path to becoming a successful property investor becomes clearer and richer—marked not just by the properties acquired, but also by the personal growth and learning achieved along the way.

Posted in