A reality check you can cash …

If you’ve been around awhile, you know there are optimists, pessimists, and realists.

Optimists see the upside and sunshine in everything.  They’re chargers and they’re not afraid to take bold … even impulsive action.

Of course, optimists sometimes run full-speed into a brick wall they COULD have seen, but chose not to … because it didn’t fit their worldview.

Still, if you take enough shots on goal, you’re bound to score eventually … so there’s something to be said for unbridled optimism.

Then there are the pessimists …

Pessimists see the dark and down-side in everything.  There’s no amount of upside that can outshine the enormous list of every possible thing that might go wrong.

Pessimists are pros at predicting problems … including many that never happen … and saying “I told you so” when things do go wrong … and worse, are often quite content to sit “safely” on the sidelines doing nothing.

Of course, you can’t win if you don’t play. 

But when your definition of winning is “not losing” … for those who see mistakes as devastating failure rather than valuable learning opportunities … that’s okay.

But perhaps there’s a productive middle-ground …

Multi-billionaire real estate investor Sam Zell says his strength is his ability to see the downside in a deal … and move forward anyway.

Zell says everyone can see the upside.  This doesn’t take any special skill or fortitude … except perhaps to keep believing after losing repeatedly.

But to soberly acknowledge the risks … and then find a path to proceed based on probabilities and a reasonable risk-adjusted return … THAT’s Sam Zell’s billionaire super-power.

Sam Zell is a realist.

We like listening to billionaires.  And we’re careful to listen to people both inside and outside of real estate … especially those who manage mega-amounts of money.

These big-time money managers have the time, the smarts, the resources, and the responsibility to gather lots of data and opinions, think long and hard, and then make great decisions more often than not.

Billionaire Jeffrey Gundlach is founder and CEO of DoubleLine Capital, which is a huge investment firm. 

Gundlach’s a renowned expert in bonds and has been recognized as one of the top 50 most influential people in the world by Bloomberg Markets.

Of course, real estate investors should always pay close attention to the bond markets.  The bond market is WAY bigger than the stock market … and directly impacts the cost and availability of money and mortgages.

More importantly, bond investors are arguably the most astute observers of the economy, the Fed, the dollar, and the politics affecting prosperity.

So when we saw a recent Reuters headline reporting on Jeff Gundlach’s comments about the economy in a recent investor call … we thought it worth noting.

“’Nominal GDP growth over the past five years would have been negative if U.S. public debt had not increased,’ said Gundlach.”

“ ‘… the GDP … is really based exclusively on debt – government debt, also corporate debt, and even now some growth in mortgage debt.’ ”

Wow.  We’d call that a reality check.

Think about that.  Five years of “growth” in a decade long “recovery” is really just a bunch of borrowed money fluffing things up.

That’s like using your credit card to remodel your house, buy a new car, and take a fancy vacation.  Your friends and neighbors think you’re prosperous.  But your income didn’t really grow … just your spending.  

Of course, if you’re using debt for productive investment … where investment returns exceed the cost of debt … then you could make the argument going into debt is smart.

That’s like using your credit card to buy new tools, remodel a property, hire a lot of workers, and then rent the property out for a profit.

Time will tell if enough of the new debt generated will be productive enough to pay for itself and add to real GDP.  Right now, according to Gundlach, it’s still net negative.

Meanwhile, we stay with our long-held belief that it’s probably wise for real estate investors to focus on niches and areas which hold up well or are more attractive in weaker economies.

It doesn’t take much smarts to do well in a booming economy.  A rising tide lifts all boats.  The biggest risk is getting sloppy and not being ready for a slow down.

But in any economy, even recessions, rich people tend to fare well. 

Of course, it’s hard to collect residential rents from the affluent.  But resort and medical are two areas where affluent people will continue to spend … even in a stagnant economy.

For working class folks and their employers … low-tax, affordable markets with good infrastructure, nice quality of life, and a business-friendly environment will likely continue to grow at a disproportionate rate.

A realist sees both the opportunity and the risks … then finds a path forward.

And for all the pessimists, here’s another reality check …

Check out this list of GDP growth indexed to notable events, including wars, depressions, recessions, and a variety of crises.

Take a look at it and ask yourself if there’s any point in the history where you wouldn’t wish you bought more real estate 20 years earlier.

Real estate is fundamental to human existence.  As long as there are people, there will be demand and opportunity in real estate.

So watch for clues in the news … to both find opportunity and to get reality checks from unbridled optimism … but don’t let the fear-mongering put you on the sideline.

Sometimes the biggest risk is not taking one.  Be bold.  Be smart.  And stay connected to people and ideas that expand your thinking and possibilities. 

Until next time … good investing!


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