Personal development guru Tony Robbins reminds people …
“Success leaves clues.”
The idea is that success isn’t purely a product of blind luck or extreme innate ability. For guys like us, that’s REALLY good news.
Success is much more a matter of developing the knowledge and discipline to take aggressive action based on proven patterns and principles.
So if you carefully observe both what a successful person does and how they think, you can often replicate their thinking, behavior, and results.
Similarly, if you’ve had success in one area of life, you can probably apply those principles to other endeavors and achieve success there too.
That’s why we pay attention to successful people … even those who aren’t real estate investors.
So we perked up when we saw this headline …
– Yahoo Finance 4/28/20
Of course, notwithstanding his investment in Berkshire Hathaway Home Services, Warren Buffet isn’t really a real estate guy.
But Warren Buffet is arguably one of the most successful, famous, most admired investors in modern history. There’s probably a lot to learn from him.
And since we need a timeout from our intense monitoring of the macroeconomic tsunami forming on the horizon …
(we’ll do a deep dive on our upcoming Crisis Investing video training series)
… today we’re looking at what real estate investors can learn from Warren Buffet.
After all, at nearly 90 years old, Buffet has seen his fair share of crises. Few people on earth are as experienced at navigating stormy economic times and building wealth in spite of frail financial infrastructure.
So according to the Yahoo Finance article and accompanying interview video, Buffet’s first tip is to learn accounting.
Tip number two is do NOT invest based on charts (an approach referred to by stock traders as “technical analysis”), but rather to focus on “buying good businesses instead.”
As with most brilliant people, there’s a lot of wisdom packed into just couple of sentences. So let’s take a moment to unpack it and look for principles we can apply to real estate investing …
TRADERS attempt to buy low and sell high … going from cash to asset to cash. The mindset is to accumulate cash.
INVESTORS seek first to acquire a stake in a profit-generating enterprise. They focus on accumulating cash FLOW … or what we call the ongoing efforts of others.
Of course, they’re happy to buy low and enjoy some capital gains too. But the purpose of buying is to acquire cash flow.
In real estate, flippers and wholesalers are TRADERS … they hustle to go from cash to asset to cash.
The difference between a stock and real estate trader is the real estate trader has the ability to improve the asset (add value).
So the real estate trader has some degree of control over creating the capital gain they wish to realize. The stock trader does not.
But whether in stock or real estate trading, the long-term financial performance (the accounting) is less important than the short term “mood of the market” (the technicals).
If the market is hot and new buyers are piling in … especially if those buyers are equipped with cheap credit … then it’s a lot easier to sell high to the next guy.
This investment philosophy is sometimes called “The Greater Fool” because your exit always requires someone coming along willing and able to pay more.
And when rising prices are dependent upon healthy credit markets and abundant jobs, and one or both crash, the line of greater fools gets short real fast.
So the challenge, as many traders just discovered, is hot markets can turn cold quickly … and you can end up a reluctant long-term holder.
Of course, with leverage (margin on stocks, or mortgages on real estate), you may not be able to hold on for the long-term. Then it’s a wipe out.
Mortgages are far more forgiving than margin debt on securities, but negative cash flow on a negative equity property is no fun either.
On the other hand, real estate INVESTORS are much more like Warren Buffet …
… except instead of buying businesses, real estate investors are looking to populate portfolios with profitable cash-flow producing properties.
This is a very timely discussion, because in challenging times like these, QUALITY matters.
And when it comes to sound investments, quality is cash flow.
To survive and thrive long-term, it’s important to look for sound properties … in relatively strong markets … managed by great teams … and serving a viable demographic.
Yes, many markets are weak now … and getting weaker. Ditto for demographics. But some aren’t. And some are well-positioned to bounce back better when things open up again.
So it’s not all doom and gloom. In fact, markets which are dipping now, but positioned to bounce back soon, could present great acquisition opportunities.
This isn’t the time to sit out or tip toe through the trauma.
However, you’ll need to know how to look at the operating financials of an income property … the accounting of real estate.
Warren Buffet says, “that’s got to be like a language to you.”
In other words, you’re not looking at the entrance price, exit price, and profit potential. You’re looking at how to hold for the long term in between.
The Yahoo article refers back to an annual letter Buffet sent his investors way back in 1988 …
“Our favorite hold time is forever.”
– Warren Buffet
In Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey explains it’s important to “begin with the end in mind.”
When you approach real estate as a commodity to trade with your end game being cash … then you’ll focus on short term circumstances and structures to produce short term results.
Then, at the end of the transaction all you end up with is cash.
Worse, cash in the bank pays next to no yield, and with the Fed printing trillions, there’s a possibility (probability) cash will lose value.
So to protect your “profit” you’ll need to quickly find another asset to buy.
But when you approach real estate as a “going concern” … a business … then you underwrite, structure, and manage it very differently … for the LONG term.
It’s not a date, it’s a marriage.
This matters more than ever right now …
It’s not a stretch to think prices for many properties will be falling as the damage done by the COVID-19 shutdown permeates through the economy.
We expect a big chunk of the damage to metastasize through credit markets, further weakening the economy and letting a lot of air out of property prices.
This is a very challenging environment for real estate traders. It’s hard to buy low and sell high when prices are falling faster and farther than any value you might add.
Meanwhile, many investors will sit on the sidelines and let viable deals go by because they don’t want to “pay too much”.
But if you have a 10 or 20 year hold horizon (remember … “our preferred hold time is forever”) …
… it’s less important what you pay today versus having a viable property and structure you can live with long term.
Sometimes prices can fall so you could theoretically buy lower. But if it’s because the availability of capital or credit if limited, it might hider your ability to buy with an optimal structure.
Also, real estate isn’t a static commodity. If the property is in good shape and you pass at the higher price, the lower later price could be because the condition of the property or tenant mix deteriorates.
So sure, you might wait and get the lower price, but is it a better buy? Maybe not. That’s why we say if the deal in front of your make sense, buy it.
Lessons from Warren Buffet’s career suggest that quality is present in all markets.
The time to buy is when an individual deal makes sense and can be structured for the long haul.
If the bust becomes a boom, all ships rise with the tide.
But if the boom becomes a bust, only the well-structured property ownerships will survive to the next boom.
Investing is different than trading. And success is simply a matter of focusing on the relentless execution of the boring basics.
Sure, it’s fun to flip the hot property and find yourself neck-deep in a pile of green paper.
And if you’re short on liquidity, you may need to do that from time to time (though we prefer syndication as a preferred path to having more cash to invest with).
But if you’re aspiring to build a portfolio of properties and a pile of passive income, then it’s wise to take a long-term approach and focus on fundamentals as a proven path to resilient prosperity.
Until next time … good investing!