Real estate is NOT an asset class …

When the talking heads on mainstream financial media talk about real estate, they often refer to it as an “asset class.”

And lately, they say real estate is “in a bubble.”

No wonder so many of them are mystified about how the real estate guy in the White House goes about his business.  But that’s a different discussion.

Today, we’re focused on the huge difference between how real estate investors and paper investors see the world … and why it matters.

Because the way you think affects the way you act … which affects your results.  

If you pay too much attention to people who don’t understand your business, you’ll probably make bad decisions.

Folks who deal in “commodity” assets like stocks, bonds, currencies … even precious metals, oil, food and other resources …

… think in terms of charts, graphs, trends, and asset classes.

By “commodity”, we mean a group of individual items which are all identical. 

So an ounce of gold, a share of Apple stock, a U.S. Treasury bond, a barrel of oil, the U.S. dollar, or a bushel of wheat …

… are all virtually identical in any market, anywhere in the world.  They’re essentially commodities.

 And because they’re traded in hyper-efficient, highly-visible, globally accessible exchanges … there’s no room for negotiation.  Only bidding. 

So instead of the Art of the Deal, there’s just the speed of the bid. 

But real estate is different.

There’s ALWAYS room for negotiation.  Properties don’t trade in packs.  Every geography is unique … right down to the neighborhood and property.

Here’s a recent article from ATTOM Data Solutions, who does a great job putting out lots of data rich content … 

Equity Rich U.S. Properties Increase to New High in 2018 

– February 5, 2019 

We like equity, so naturally this caught our attention. 

The article cites a recent ATTOM report which reveals in Q4 2018 … “U.S. properties were equity rich” … at the highest level since Q4 2013.

Of course, a mainstream pundit might surmise this means the “asset class” of real estate is in a bubble.  Watch out below!

But as ATTOM points out …

“… the report helps to showcase a story of the West coast markets having the highest share of equity rich homeowners versus the South and Midwest market, who continue to have stubbornly high rates of seriously underwater homeowners.”

Forget for a moment they’re only talking about houses …

… as opposed to industrial, resort, retail, office, multi-family, farmland, self-storage, residential assisted living, RV parks, campgrounds, student housing …

… and any of a myriad of other sectors of real estate.

Not sure how all those diverse sectors get lumped into one “asset class”.  Unless Earth is an asset class.

Obviously, in just the sub-category of single-family houses … there’s a big difference in price-setting dynamics in the West Coast versus the South and Midwest.

And even while some properties are at record levels of equity …

 “… more than 5 million U.S. properties were seriously underwater — where the … balance of loans … was at least 25 percent higher than the property’s … value, representing 8.8 percent of all U.S. properties with a mortgage.” 

Apparently, while equity is happening in some markets, in others the opposite is true.  At the same time.

So it seems not all the individual units in the “asset class” of housing are uniformly priced … or bubbling up together … or even moving in the same direction.

Yes, we realize “stocks” as a class has both winners and losers on the same day.  Some are up and some are down.

And yes, we realize an individual stock can be up one day and down (way down!) the next. 

But the entire lot of individual units move in lock step. There are still millions of shares of Facebook stock out there … and if it tanks, it tanks everywhere at the same time.

There’s no negotiation.  No deal making.  Just a high-speed bid. 

But this isn’t about whether stocks are good or bad … or whether stocks are or aren’t an asset class. 

Our point is … real estate is NOT an asset class.  And this means there are ample pockets of opportunity in niches and neighborhoods.

And those opportunities are often found in unlikely places.  

Here’s another ATTOM article …

Top 10 Seriously Underwater Metro Areas – February 8, 2019

Not surprisingly, there are a few rust belt cities on the list of underwater cities. 

Until recently, net job losses in manufacturing has hampered economic recovery in many of these locations.

Of course, recent job growth in manufacturing is setting the table for a resurgence in rust belt communities … and creating opportunity in comeback markets.

Meanwhile, a couple of markets where we have boots-on-the-ground teams popped up on the underwater list … including Cleveland and Memphis.

So now we’ve gone from the macro picture of the “equity rich” United States housing market …

… to discovering the macro picture is made up of a blend of the high-equity West and lower-equity Midwest and South.

But even the metro level is too macro for practical Main Street investing.

Consider Memphis … a metro we know VERY well thanks to our long-time friend,  Terry Kerr 

Remember, Memphis is a top 10 underwater metro. Sounds like a loser, right?

Not so fast.

Thanks to Terry Kerr, we discovered Memphis 10 years ago.  And Terry told us about a little sub-market of Memphis called Frayser. 

If Elvis is the King of Rock and Roll … then Terry Kerr is the King of Turnkey in Frayser. 

We won’t bore you with all the great reasons why Terry focuses on Frayser.  That’s not the point of this muse. 

But because we’re interested in Frayser, we pay attention. And this little gem popped up …

Home values in Frayser on the rise – January 17, 2019

“According to the Frayser Community Development Corporation, the areas’s median home selling price has nearly doubled in the past two years.”

“The prices of homes in Frayser are rising higher than in any other part of Shelby County.”

There much we could say … and MANY lessons.  For now, just remember, this is happening in a metro that’s top 10 underwater. 

Frayser is a place both macro and metro watchers have probably never heard of.  But we have.  That’s the value of having a great local team.

Our main point today is …

Real estate is NOT an asset class.  Each sector, region, metro, neighborhood, property, and ownership are unique. 

To find hidden gems, it’s important to go from macro to metro to micro with the help of savvy boots-on-the-ground experts.

So when you hear chatter about the “everything” bubble including real estate … those are trend followers talking about commodity assets at the macro level.

But no one in the real world buys real estate at the macro level.

In the trenches of Main Street, street smart and well-connected investors find and negotiate unique deals at micro level … finding great opportunities in the crevices of inefficiency. 

 It’s one of the many reasons we love real estate.

Until next time … good investing!


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