Squish Happens

Most people believe bubbles “burst”.  When people talk about the decline of tech stock values at the turn of the century, they say “the tech bubble burst”.  Of course, lately it’s all about the “real estate bubble” bursting.  Over the last two years, The Real Estate Guys™ have taken some criticism over one of our TV shows where we said, “Real estate bubbles don’t burst”.

But we’ll stand by that.  Bubbles don’t burst – at least not as long as whatever is underneath them is real.  And there isn’t much that’s more real than real estate.

So we say bubbles are squishy.  In fact, the term “bubble” (in the context of referring to a rapid run up of prices) is really a misnomer.  Better to say “balloon”.

When you squeeze a balloon, it squishes.  It comes out the sides or goes between your fingers; it just finds someplace else to go.

So you’ve heard that real estate prices have dropped.  There’s deflation.  Equity is gone.  Everyone’s underwater.  Life as we know it is over.  It’s real estate Armageddon.

Then you see (like we did) today’s Wall Street Journal article, “Hong Kong Land Sale Raises Worry of a Bubble”.

A bubble?  Didn’t it burst?

Well, no.  Actually, it squished.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

“Government officials here (Hong Kong) grapple with how to cool off overheating property prices”.

When’s the last time you heard “overheating” and “property prices” in the same sentence?  It almost seems like an oxymoron, like “reliable copier”.

Here’s another excerpt:

“The big (land purchase) came after (the real estate developer) sold 900 apartment units in a major new residential complex over the weekend for a total of  US$541 million.”

If you do the math, that’s over $600K per unit!  In ONE weekend.  We haven’t seen THAT in the US for awhile.

More…

“In China…home prices have risen as much as 25% in the past year and land values have doubled.”

That’s this past year, as in 2009.  You know, when US prices were in their third year of decline.

Now, consider where much of the money that fueled the US real estate bubble came from.  Get it?

The bubble squished.  But if your perspective is too narrow, you might think it burst.  Especially because that’s what everyone says.  And if you think bubbles burst, then you will quit the game and hide in your FDIC insured bank account.  Meanwhile, as the dollar crashes, you’re savings become worth less and less.

We have two main points:

First, real estate is an asset class unlike any other.  It’s real (permanent).  Gold and other commodities can also make this claim so, in and of itself, being real doesn’t make real estate utterly unique as an investment.

But, unlike virtually every other investment, real estate’s value is not universal.  Real estate values vary by markets and sub-markets, and those markets are global as we can clearly see.

Compare that to gold, which is also real.  If an ounce of gold is selling for $1200, it’s the same price all over the world.  There’s no squish, except to another asset class.

To really look at it right, you can’t think of real estate as an asset class.  You almost have to think of each property, or at least each market or sub-market, as an asset class.  So when one is down, another is up.  Squish.  Like stocks and bonds, gold and the dollar, etc.

But the big thing (our FAVORITE) that makes real estate unique, is that it can be financed with bank or private funding and debt serviced by tenants.  This makes it VERY conservative when structured properly.  Why?  Because even if the property declines in value, as long as it produces enough net operating income to amortize the loan (meaning the tenants are paying down your loan) some day it will be paid off.  Then it just generates cash flow forever.  That’s a beautiful thing.  Form that perspective, squish doesn’t matter that much.

Our second main point is that right now many people are forming new financial paradigms as a result of what they’re seeing and experiencing.  The people who lived through the Great Depression came out of it with very powerful convictions about how they viewed and handled money.  There were many great attitudes such as frugality, saving; and loyalty and appreciation for the opportunity to work.  We would all be better off by adopting these attitudes.

However, many of those same people missed out on some of the greatest opportunities in modern history because they brought a lot of fear and rigidity out of the trauma of the Depression.  Many people were hyper-conservative.

To be clear, we aren’t suggesting anyone should take risks they aren’t comfortable with.  And we aren’t criticizing anyone’s personal investment philosophy – no matter how conservative it might be.  We’re certainly more cautious about the risks we take these days.

We are merely suggesting to be mindful of the temptation to be hyper-conservative in terms of your willingness to be an investor.  If you won’t invest in your education or take time to investigate opportunity, you’ve probably decided “investing is too risky” and have effectively quit.  You think the bubble burst, the game is over, and there is no opportunity.  Or it’s so far off or you’re so out of position that you’re on investing sabbatical.   This is probably not you, or you wouldn’t be reading a blog like this.  But, there are lots of people who have quit – or are in various stages of quitting.  Make sure you know who you are and that you’re honest about it.

Now is a great time to be getting started (or re-started).  Talk to the people you know about real estate investing and see what they say – and watch what they do.  How are their attitudes changing as a result of the last three years?  What’s their game plan going forward?  Ask yourself those same questions.

Remember, squish happens.  As an investor, you want to pay attention to the flow of capital and try to be on the right side of squish.  And since you know squish happens, be sure to structure your deals to survive if you’re on the wrong end of it.   We’ll be talking more about this in the future.

Most of all, make sure you take the right lessons out of this Great Recession.  The right lessons are those that make you a better investor, not those that push you back to being merely a saver or a non-participating observer.  Invest in your education.  Investigate and evaluate opportunities.  Keep your head in the game, even if you’re on the sideline temporarily.

We’d love to hear from you!  Use our feedback page to tell us how this recession has affected your investing philosophy and strategy.  What are the people around you saying and doing?  Where do you see opportunity and why?  What are you doing to broaden your horizon, increase your education and increase your network?

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