12/28/14: Ask The Guys – Insurance, Taxes and Measuring Success

For our final broadcast of 2014, we take on a flurry of challenging questions from our loyal listeners.

In the studio saying good-bye to the old year and preparing to welcome the New Year:

  • Your libacious host, Robert Helms
  • His old lame sighing co-host, Russell Gray
  • Father time himself, The Godfather of Real Estate, Bob Helms

It's time to Ask the Guys!Ending one year and beginning the next is a GREAT time to ask questions….about the past, about the future, about the big picture and about what’s happening inside us.

Not sure what all that means, but it sounded mystical.

Instead, we sent Walter down to the email room to hustle up a new batch of questions for us to wrestle with on this edition of Ask The Guys…

As always, we have to remind you that we’re not lawyers, accountants, or investment advisors…we’re just three old dudes who’ve seen and done a lot.  So anything we have to say shouldn’t be construed as professional advice for your particular situation.  It’s just our personal opinions and some ideas you can check out with your own professional advisors.

But we’re sure you already knew that.

Some of the questions we get into for the episode of Ask The Guys:

What’s the difference between an independent contractor and an employee?

This was specific to hiring an on-site property manager, but it’s a great question for anyone hiring anyone to do anything.  And the reason it’s important is not just because of payroll tax, withholding and reporting…but it also affects your liability and insurance coverages.

It’s also important to know that just because you and the employee / contractor agree on what their status is doesn’t mean the taxing authorities or insurance carriers will.

So rather than guess and hope (an all too common strategy), we recommend you detail the role and responsibilities, then consult with your tax advisor and your insurance attorney. (Yes, there are attorneys for insurance too…and if you’re not familiar with what they do or why you need one, check out this past episode of The Real Estate Guys™ radio show.)

And speaking of insurance…

How do insurance and entities like LLCs work together to protect landlords?

Another great question (which is why we picked it)…

Attorneys always want you to have an entity to create a liability shield.  The problem is that lenders will seldom, if ever, make a loan to an entity on a residential property 1-4 units.  So unless you’re paying cash, using an LLC is problematic.

Does that mean you have to leave your assets hanging out in the open?

Not necessarily.

First, you can safeguard your non-real estate assets in entities.  Talk to your asset protection attorney about how to do this.

Next, you can set up a firewall of insurance policies to fund your defense against attacks…and to pay any judgments or settlements that arise.

But be aware that your CONSUMER policies (like your homeowner’s policy and any umbrella liability policy you may have) probably will DENY any claim for a commercial venture…like a rental property.

So go and listen to the aforementioned past episode on insurance and talk to your COMMERCIAL insurance agent about Commercial General Liability insurance, Directors & Officers insurance…and maybe even Errors & Omissions insurance for YOUR management company.  And then talk to your professional property management company about THEIR policies…and how they protect YOU.

Of course, as interesting as all THAT was, the reason you do it is because you’re using real estate to GROW YOUR WEALTH…otherwise, there’s nothing to worry about protecting.

So even though we answer more questions in the episode, for the purpose of this blog, we’ll wrap up on this one…

How do you measure how well your portfolio is doing?Portfolio analysis is fun!

There’s a LOT of different metrics people use to measure portfolio performance.  And if you’re a finance whiz, a stats nerd, or just an obsessive compulsive number cruncher, you can quickly get lost in the weeds.

To complicate matters, most financial analysis is done by measuring net worth in dollars.  The problem with this is that as a unit of value the dollar is constantly fluctuating.  And though it’s had a recent run UP, it has a 100 year history of going DOWN.  That’s why a penny candy from 1965 costs 50 cents today.  But you still only get ONE piece of candy.

So to us, there’s just a couple of things to focus on, which can tell you how you’re doing and keep your accumulating units of value…and not just dollars.

In other words, would you rather have 1 house that goes from $50,000 to $250,000….OR would you rather have FIVE houses…not matter what the dollar price is?

The argument for the latter is that in any economic environment, measured by whatever the currency de jour is, five houses are better than one.

So when you develop dollar equity in a property (something that is happening to more investors right now), you’re actually falling behind.  You’re better off, if the cash flow will support it (VERY important consideration) to extract equity from an appreciated property and use it to either enhance your cash flow and/or accumulate more properties.

Think of it this way…

Imagine you have a $150,000 property (call it Property A) with $100,000 equity in it.  A let’s say it produces annual net operating income of $3,000.  This means you have a 3% cash flow on equity.

If Property A appreciates five percent, or $7,500 in a year, you have an equity growth rate of 7.5%.  That’s because $7,500 growth divided by $100,000 of equity is 7.5%.  Make sense?

Of course, this is only nice on your financial statements…like when your stock holdings go “up”…but it’s really useless until you access the equity by refinance or sale.

Are you with us so far?  Take a breath…it’s only math.Do the math and the math will tell you what to do

Now, let’s say you pull $50,000 of equity out of Property A at a cost (interest rate on the loan) of 5% per year.  Your fully amortized (and largely deductible) payment is $268 a month or $3,216 per year.  So now you’re “negative” by $216 a year (the $3,000 you have coming in before less the $3,216 you have going out on the bigger loan).

Sounds bad, right?

BUT…you have $50,000 in cash (the proceeds from the new loan).

So let’s talk about CASH FLOW…because this is the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT indicator of your portfolio health.  It’s like your heart beat.  If it stops, then NOTHING ELSE MATTERS.

If you spend the $50,000…you’ve given your portfolio a cancer called negative cash flow.  Do NOT do this.

However, if you INVEST the $50,000 in another property…call it Property B…and let’s say it’s a $150,000 property…and you realize a 10% cash on cash return…NOW you have $5,000 a year coming in on the $50,000.

This is MORE than enough to handle the new net negative of $216 per year on the refinanced Property A.

It may SEEM complicated.  But it’s basically simple.

If you can conservatively invest money at a rate higher than it costs to borrow it, then you can make a profit on the spread.  It’s called “arbitrage”.

And the 10% cash-on-cash return on Property B is obviously TWICE the 5% cost of accessing the equity from Property A.  That’s why the math makes sense.

Okay…moving on….

Now that you’re comfortable with the CASH FLOW in your new arrangement, let’s take a look at the Equity Growth Rate (EGR) of Property A…

You now have $50,000 equity remaining in Property A (you started with $100,000 and pulled out $50,000).  And let’s say Property A goes up $7,500 just like before.

But this time, $7,500 growth on $50,000 equity is a 15% EGR.  That is, you DOUBLED your EGR by REDUCING your equity in the property.  That’s LEVERAGE.  And as long as the CASH FLOW makes sense (which we’ve already covered), it all works.

But MOST IMPORTANTLY, you now own a SECOND property (Property B)!More properties is better than more equity

So let’s take inventory…

BEFORE:

You own ONE property (A) valued at $150,000 with $100,000 of equity and $3000 annual positive cash flow.

Assuming $7,500 annual appreciation, your equity growth rate is 7.5%.

AFTER:

You own TWO properties (A and B).  The combined value is $300,000 and you still have $100,000 of equity.

But NOW, your annual positive cash flow is $4784 ($5000 less $216).  So you went from $3000 positive cash flow to $4784.  That’s a $1784 improvement on the previous $3000 cash flow…or a 59% pay raise!

Good job.

Now, assuming each property appreciates $7500 (a total of $15,000), your equity growth rate is 15% ($15,000 on $100,000).  So you’ve increased your equity growth by 100%!

Good job again.

Plus, you’ve diversified your income and equity growth over TWO properties…so not only do you get richer faster, you do it more safely too.

Good job again…again.

All this to say…

Measure the health of your portfolio based on CASH FLOW.  Once you know it’s POSITIVE across the portfolio, measure how hard your equity is working by CASH FLOW on equity.

Measure your wealth in units of real assets…and don’t be deceived into thinking that equity is real.  More properties is better than more equity…even though more properties will create more equity.

See?  It wasn’t that bad.

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