I do not have a pension but have a rental property (which breaks even). Question is, do I invest in more properties or take out a pension ?
I am worried if I go down the pension route I would lose all if there is another down turn.
Investing in property hoping that it will gain value is usually foolish; real estate increases about 3% a year in the long run. Investing in property to rent is labor-intensive; you have to deal with tenants, and also have to take care of repairs. It's essentially getting a second job.
I don't know what the word pension implies in Europe; in America, it's an employer-funded retirement plan separate from personally funded retirement. I'd invest in personally funded retirement well before buying real estate to rent, and diversify my money in that retirement plan widely if I was within 10-20 years of retirement.
Diversification is one aspect to this question, and Dr Fred touches on its relationship to risk. Another aspect is leverage:
So it again comes down to your appetite for risk. A further factor is that if you are successfully renting out your property, someone else is effectively buying that asset for you, or at least paying the interest on the mortgage.
Just bear in mind that if you get into a situation where you have 10 properties and the rent on them all falls at the same time as the property market crashes (sound familiar?) then you can be left on the hook for a lot of interest payments and your assets may not cover your liabilities.
I think the real answer to your question here is diversification. You have some fear of having your money in the market, and rightfully so, having all your money in one stock, or even one type of mutual fund is risky as all get out, and you could lose a lot of your money in such a stock-market based undiversified investment.
However, the same logic works in your rental property. If you lose your tennant, and are unable to find a new one right away, or if you have some very rare problem that insurance doesn't cover, your property could become very much not a "break even" investment very quickly.
In reality, there isn't any single investment you can make that has no risk. Your assets need to be balanced between many different market-investments, that includes bonds, US stocks, European stocks, cash, etc. Also investing in mutual funds instead of individual stocks greatly reduces your risk.
Another thing to consider is the benefits of paying down debt. While investments have a risk of not performing, if you pay off a loan with interest payments, you definitely will save the money you would have paid in interest.
To be specific, I'd recommend the following plan -