MANY lessons from Amazon’s HQ2 search …

You’ve probably noticed Amazon is taking over the world.  There’s a lot we could say, but we’ll narrow our focus to lessons for real estate investors …

In the May Housing News Report, there’s an article about Amazon’s ongoing search for their second headquarters (HQ2).

Even from just a real estate perspective, Amazon is a fascinating company to watch.  There are SO many lessons to be gleaned from watching what they’re doing … and how the world is reacting.

In case you’re new to the Amazon HQ2 story …

In 2017, Amazon put out a Request for Proposal (RFP) to bait cities across the U.S. into falling all over themselves to win Amazon’s coveted second headquarters …

… and the 50,000 high-paying jobs (average salary = $100,000 per year) that come with it.  We commented on this story at the time.

At first, there were hundreds of cities in the hunt. We said at the time we think there’s an excellent chance Amazon will pick Atlanta.

Early in 2018, the race narrowed to 20 finalists … and Atlanta’s still on the list.

Which brings us to now …

In the Housing News Report article, there’s a link to an analysis by Daren Blomquist of Attom Data Solutions.  Daren ranked the 20 finalists by comparing the cities on certain criteria defined in Amazon’s original RFP.

It’s the same process we did, except Daren used actual data … we just guessed.

Here’s Daren’s actual chart for your viewing pleasure …

Notice Atlanta’s ranked #2.  So our hunch is holding its own … so far.

Meanwhile, there several useful things to glean from this chart and the story behind it, so let’s dig in …

Single family homes are NOT an asset class

We’ve said it a thousand times, but just look at the median prices.  They range from $130,000 in Indianapolis to $1.445 MILLION in New York.

When people say, “Housing is in a bubble!” … what housing are they talking about?  Indy?  Seems pretty cheap based on median price and affordability.

And when high-priced markets start hitting the top of their affordability range, people MOVE … to more affordable markets.  People ALWAYS need a place to live.

So while it’s true that migration patterns drive prices … demand rises or falls as people move in or out … it’s often economics that drive migration patterns.

So an alert investor can get in front of growing demand and ride a wave up. That’s exactly what the folks who got into Dallas five years ago have done.

Equity happens … but not evenly

Look at the disparity in five-year appreciation rates among these markets … from just 8% in Montgomery County to 246% in Dallas.  HUGE difference!

Even in markets where median prices are similar … say Dallas and Miami… the five-year appreciation variance is substantial … Dallas coming in at 246% and Miami at “only” 71%.

So price doesn’t seem to be the deciding factor for appreciation.

And neither does property tax … as Dallas is second highest behind New Jersey (hey, New Jersey had to win at something), but Dallas is still king of appreciation.

Meanwhile Denver has the lowest property tax … half of Atlanta … yet their appreciation rates were about the same.

And price-to-income ratios don’t seem to make the difference either … as Los Angeles and New York are both equally unaffordable, yet New York has half the appreciation.

Keep it simple …

Obviously, this is just one chart … and it’s easy to get lost in the weeds.  We don’t want paralysis from analysis.  So charts like these are just the start of a deeper dive.

But it doesn’t have to be complicated.  Here’s what we look for …

What do winners have in common?

Dallas and Austin are both triple-digit appreciators … even though Dallas grew at twice the rate of Austin.  Is it just simply they’re both in Texas or is there more to the story?

Of course, 10 years ago, Dallas was coming off being one of the slowest appreciating markets in the country.  So something changed that dramatically…

What’s driving appreciation?

Prices get bid up when supply is growing more slowly than demand with capacity to pay.

So though you can see affordability based on income on this chart, you can’t see supply and demand drivers.  Neither can you see the economic drivers.

But you need to look at them.

That’s why we say you can’t study 20 markets well.  It’s too much.  Use a chart like this to pick your top three … and get to know them very well.

What markets are poised for growth?

Once you understand what makes a market like Dallas tick … and how it went from no growth to explosive growth … you can watch for similar factors in sleepy markets.

When you spot something interesting, you go in for a closer look.  If things go your way, you get there before the masses … and you get to catch a rising star!

What are the big players doing?

Big players can do research you can’t.  But that’s okay because you can piggy-back on their hard work.  It’s like cheating off the smart kid in school, except you don’t get detention.

Amazon is a juggernaut in American business … and their power is impacting real estate of all kinds … retail, industrial, and even office and housing in markets where they have a footprint.

That’s why SO much attention is being paid to their search for HQ2.

But another reason to watch is they’re leaders in business decision making too.  Other employers are watching what Amazon does and being influenced by it.

So when Amazon ultimately picks a city, we’re guessing other companies will cheat off their homework … and pick the same city.

The reason we bet on Atlanta is because many other Fortune 1000 companies had already chosen Atlanta as a great place to set up shop.

We don’t know what process they went through to get there.  We just know they did.  So as Amazon goes through its process … they may reach similar conclusions.

Of course, Raleigh is also home to a comparable number of big companies.

But based on the world-class airport, huge labor pool, access to higher education, major distribution, and a business-friendly environment … though it’s close, we still think Atlanta has the edge.

Then again, Jeff Bezos isn’t consulting with us, so we’ll just have to wait and see like everyone else.

Meanwhile, as the field narrows, we’ll continue to learn where corporate leaders think the best location is for their businesses, employees, and new job creation.

Until next time … good investing!


More From The Real Estate Guys™…

The Real Estate Guys™ radio show and podcast provides real estate investing news, education, training, and resources to help real estate investors succeed.

Rising rates, oil, and an angry Amazon …

Even though the Fed skipped a rate hike last meeting, someone forgot to tell the 10-year Treasury yield, which has broken over three-percent … DOUBLE where it was just two years ago.

In case you don’t know, the 10-year Treasury yield is arguably the single most important interest rate on Earth … certainly for real estate investors.

Of course, oil broke over $80 a barrel last week also … in spite of dollar strength.  So while dollar-denominated gold dipped … oil rose.

It makes us wonder what oil will do if (when) the dollar starts falling again!

Now before you check out, let’s consider what all this means to Main Street real estate investors.  

Obviously, interest rates matter because most real estate investors are liberal users of mortgages.  Higher rates mean higher payments and less net cash flow.

But as we often point out, rising rates also affect your indebted tenants.  Higher rates mean bigger payments on credit card, installment, and auto debt.

And speaking of auto-debt, sub-prime auto loan defaults have spiked above 2008 levels.  It seems consumers at the margin are starting to struggle.

Now back to oil

If you’re an oil investor … or you buy real estate in areas whose economies are

strongly supported by the oil industry … higher oil prices can be a GOOD thing.

For everyone else, it means gas … and all petroleum derived products … andanything produced or transported with oil-derived energy … are all getting more expensive.

And for your working class tenants … the cost of filling up their commuter cars is getting worse too.

So until all this “wonderful” inflation makes its way into wages, working class people are still getting squeezed.

All that to say, it’s probably a good idea to tread lightly on rental increases unless you’re very sure your tenants can handle it.

But of course, these are the fairly obvious concerns.  But there’s something even MORE ALARMING circling on the horizon …

Pension Problems Potentially Pinching Property Owners

(Sorry.  Peter Piper purposely pressured us to print that prose. ‘pologies …)

In a recent post, we highlighted a SHOCKING proposal by the Chicago Fed to punish property owners by imposing an additional one-percent property tax … to pay for Illinois’ severely under-funded pension plan.

Of course, Illinois isn’t only the place with pension problems, so be on the lookout for a punitive tax proposal coming soon to a neighborhood near you.

This is why we continually point out it’s REALLY important understand the markets you’re in.

It’s like buying a condo in a troubled complex, but never bothering to review the HOA financials …

YOU might be hyper-responsible, but if the HOA’s in trouble … you could be too, because they have the the power to assess YOU to pay for it.

As we pointed out at Future of Money and Wealth, governments sometimes do desperately dumb things when they’re facing financial challenges.

Don’t Slap an Amazon

The latest case in point comes to us from the super-city of Seattle … home of Amazon, Starbucks, Boeing and several other mega-employers.

You may have heard, the city council of Seattle voted 9-0 to impose a “head tax” on all businesses doing over $20 million in GROSS revenue.

The original tax proposed was over $500 per person.  But after businesses complained, they backed off to “only” about $275 per head.

The purported purpose of the tax is helping the homeless, which is a noble cause.  But regardless of how you or we feel about it, what matters is how the employers feel … and they’re NOT happy.

Amazon fuming after Seattle votes to tax high-grossing corporations to help the homeless

“ ‘We are disappointed by today’s city council decision to introduce a tax on jobs,’ [Amazon Vice President Drew Herdener] said in a statement.

 “ ‘While we have resumed construction planning… we remain very apprehensive about the future created by the council’s hostile approach and rhetoric toward larger businesses, which forces us to question our growth here…’ ”

 Starbucks Corp., another of the 300 businesses that will have to pay the job tax, seconded that.

 Think about this …

These are two pre-eminent brands and major economic drivers for Seattle and its surrounding neighborhoods … and there are 298 other big businesses also affected.

While they’re not likely to all pack their bags and move out in the middle of the night, Amazon’s comments make it clear they’re also not committed to staying or growing.

Again, it doesn’t matter how YOU feel about these companies, the homeless problem, or the role of government in redistributing wealth …

… what matters is how employers feel and what they choose to do when slapped with taxes or regulations.

Because if these companies go in search of a friendlier environment, one area will lose current and future jobs … and others will gain them.

As real estate investors, we want to be on the right end of that shift.  That’s why we’re always watching for clues in the news.

Until next time … good investing!


More From The Real Estate Guys™…

The Real Estate Guys™ radio show and podcast provides real estate investing news, education, training, and resources to help real estate investors succeed.

The disrupted American Dream …

One of today’s most popular buzzwords is “disruptive”.  It describes an event, idea, or invention that upends the status quo in some aspect of life or society.

“Disruptive technology” is used for everything from Amazon to Uber.

And as we’ve previously discussed, many of these things impact real estate and investing.

But disruption transcends technology.

Donald Trump’s election and Brexit are two examples.  The world appeared to be on one course … then boom.  A new direction.

So, political norms, societal norms, government and business models …almost everything is being disrupted right before our eyes.

In fact, disruption is so commonplace, it’s become the new normal.

But really, disruption is nothing new.  It goes back to pre-historic times.

The wheel was disruptive … and revolutionized the world (sorry, we had to…)

Farming was disruptive.  It changed the entire societal model … accelerating labor specialization, commerce … even banking.

The printing press was disruptive … connecting human minds past and present at greater speed, for lower cost, and with greater accuracy than ever before.

The U.S. Constitution was disruptive … protecting private property rights for the common man … the foundation on which all personal wealth is based.

That’s a personal favorite. 😉

Radio, telephone, personal computing, the internet, smart phone … all disruptive … each one taking idea sharing to never-before-seen levels.

Trains, automobiles, and airplanes all disrupted the transportation norms of their time … allowing people and their possessions to circulate faster and less expensively.

Now blockchain technology … at least for now … is threatening to disrupt how freely money and wealth circulate.  And governments have noticed.  Uh oh.

Of course, history shows with every disruption, there are winners and losers.

For every railroad baron or millionaire automobile maker, there were thousands of wagon-makers and liveries put out of business.

So while disruption isn’t new … the rate is unprecedented.  The world we live and invest in is evolving at a dizzying pace.

Blink and you miss huge opportunity.  Or worse, you get wiped out by a trend you didn’t even see coming.

The faster the world is going … the further ahead you need to look.

 So with this mindset, here’s a headline that caught our attention …

Why it makes more sense to rent than buy – Market Watch, 1/13/18

Obviously, a real estate headline.  But disruptive?  Seems pretty mundane.

After all, the rent vs. buy debate has been going on forever … usually linked to temporary circumstances favoring one side over the other at the time.

But this article references two interesting reports …

One is the ATTOM Data Solutions 2018 Rental Affordability Report.

It notes … buying a home is more affordable than renting in 54 percent of U.S. markets, but 64 percent of the population live where it’s cheaper to rent.

Hmmm …

Looks like folks prefer to rent where they want to live than buy where the numbers make sense.  Apparently, buying just isn’t that important to them.

Which leads to the second report, A Revision of the American Dream of Homeownership.

This one’s a premium report, so the link’s to the press release … but look at the title … “a REVISION of the American Dream”.

The idea that something so foundational as the American Dream is being … disrupted … is something worth thinking about.

Market Watch did another article based on this report … “Renting is better than owning to build wealth – if you’re disciplined to invest as well.”

Some might say it’s a hit-piece on real estate to entice millennials to put their savings in the stock market rather than a home.

But that would be cynical.

More interesting is the possibility there’s really a disruptive trend developing in terms of the way society views home ownership.

Consider this …

We have a friend who’s a very successful millennial, who can easily afford to own any kind of car … several of them … if he wanted to.

He doesn’t.

Now that he’s discovered ride-sharing, he sees no value in owning a car … not as a status symbol or an investment.

We’re not suggesting this guy’s viewpoint represents the millions of millennials out there.  But it’s worth noting.

Millennials are a big, powerful demographic rolling through the seasons of life … just like the baby boomers did.

Except millennials aren’t like Boomers …they live in a different world and view it through their own lens.

Career, opportunity, family, community, home ownership … roots … are very different today compared to 50 years ago.

In a world where you may change jobs a dozen or more times in a career, and you operate in a global economy, with a social network that’s not local, but virtual …

… home ownership can go from being stabilizing to burdensome.

The sharing economy is changing the way people think about the value of owning things they simply want the use of.

Absent paradigms of ownership, sharing is arguably more efficient.  But for the first time in history, it’s logistically possible.

No generation before has had as many options for sharing as there are today.  

And while pay-per-use seems like a no-brainer when discussing a depreciating asset like a vehicle, Market Watch isn’t the first to argue a home isn’t a great investment.

The pioneer in the “your home is not an asset” mindset is none other than our good friend (and boomer), Robert Kiyosaki.

Of course, Robert’s an avid real estate investor, so his issue isn’t real estate.  It’s about respecting the difference between consuming and investing.

Investing is about profit.  But when you consume, you want value … the right mix of quality, service, and price.

Some people rent their residence because they get a better value, have less responsibility, enjoy more flexibility and variety …

… and it frees up money to invest in rental properties.  They get a better ROI.

So they own real estate … just not the home they live in.

If there’s a new attitude about home ownership working its way into the marketplace, it could lead to a new experience in landlording too.

Because now you might have more affluent, well-qualified tenants competing for longer term tenancies in nicer properties in better areas.

Stable people with good jobs and incomes, who want to live and keep a nice home in a good area, but don’t want the responsibility of home ownership … can be great tenants.

They can also be a way for you to collect premium properties while someone else pays for them.

It’s a trend we’re watching.

Until next time … good investing!


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The Real Estate Guys™ radio show and podcast provides real estate investing news, education, training, and resources to help real estate investors succeed.

Amazon’s primed to ignite a real estate market …

You’ve probably heard Amazon has been shopping for a second home.

In typical corporate fashion, Amazon put out an RFP (Request for Proposal) and many North American cities have been falling all over themselves hoping to win the big prize.

And who can blame them?

After all, Amazon is projecting FIFTY-THOUSAND jobs … with an average annual salary of $100,000 … which is $5 BILLION per YEAR … PLUS another $5 BILLION in capital investment.

That’s a LOT of new economic activity to cram into one metro.

Think about it.  Fifty-thousand jobs is enough for every single man, woman, and child in the cities of Cerritos, CA; Harrisburg, PA; or Galveston TX.

Of course, none of those cities are in the running because they’re too tiny.  But the potential impact on whatever metro wins is substantial.

Amazon says they aren’t going to announce until 2018, so we’ll have to wait and see where they end up … and what kind of incentives they get out of the deal.

A quick perusal of the RFP outlines what Amazon is looking for.

Here are some highlights about what Amazon wants in a market …

  • A metro with more than 1 million people
  • A stable and business-friendly environment
  • Urban or suburban locations attractive to technical talent
  • An international airport within 45 minutes with direct flights to key cities
  • Close to freeways
  • High capacity connectivity (fiber optic and cellular)
  • Access to large, educated labor force
  • Attractive community and quality of life for employees

Here’s what Amazon wants in a deal …

  • Access to mass transit to the site
  • “Scale and creativity” in real estate options (it’ll be interesting to see what this looks like)

There’s more, but these are the biggies.

Of course, a business doesn’t have to be Amazon to want these things.  They just have enough clout to make a public spectacle of it.

Meanwhile, there are some things to think about as you watch this unfold.

Primary jobs create secondary and tertiary jobs.

Amazon boasts it’s “been a catalyst for development in downtown Seattle with an abundance of restaurants, services, coffee shops …”.

So it’s not just 50,000 Amazon jobs at stake … it’s billions in local commerce as Amazon’s employees spend big chunks of their salaries in the local community and create lots of non-Amazon jobs.

Amazon claims every dollar they invested in Seattle generates an additional $1.40 for the city’s overall economy.

So on a $5 billion investment, that’s ANOTHER $2 billion in economic juice for the winning geography.

And while local landlords may not rent directly to many of Amazon’s $100,000-per-year workers … Amazon employees’ spending will create lots of lower paying jobs for potential tenants.

It’s a safe bet Amazon’s presence will be good for landlords.

Other employers may follow the leader.

Most companies aren’t big enough to do the kind of research Amazon is doing.

We’re guessing more than a few employers looking to expand or relocate may just decide, “If it’s good enough for Amazon, it’s good enough for us.”

Some businesses may move to the area specifically to be near Amazon.  That’s even more primary, secondary and tertiary jobs.

Again, all very good for landlords.

Don’t end up paying for the farm the city gives away.

Sometimes in their zeal to notch political points or a marquee win, government officials can blow their budgets landing a big fish.

But the big fish … in this case Amazon … doesn’t pay the price.  They’re usually exempted through “incentives.”  Instead, the bill ends up with the locals.

We’re not saying that’s happening here.  We don’t know the terms of any deal.  But it’s something we’ll look at closely when the final deal’s announced.

It’s been reported San Antonio dropped out of the running because of concerns they “would not be highly competitive from a ‘real estate and incentives perspective.’”

San Antonio’s mayor is quoted as saying, “Blindly giving away the farm isn’t our style.”  It probably shouldn’t be yours either.

So pay attention to what the winner pledges … and whether it’s likely to affect property owners or small businesses.

If you’re not careful, you may end up moving in just in time to pick up your share of the tab for the incentives.

The real estate opportunity will develop slowly.

Even though all this is in the news, there’s no easy way for Wall Street hot money to front-run investors into Main Street real estate.  It’s too cumbersome.

So even though you’re watching the opportunity develop on the front page of mainstream financial news, you have a good chance to get in while the getting’s good.

As plans are announced, the impact on local housing, land, retail, and commercial space will become more apparent.

Once the market is announced, the FIRST thing to do is get boots-on-the-ground and build a team.  They’ll help you find the pockets of opportunity.

Our bet is Amazon will pick the best LONG-TERM deal.  They’ve been playing the long game for their entire existence, and Wall Street seems fine with it.

We’d be shocked if the final criteria for Amazon’s decision are primarily financial incentives, which are most important early.

We think the front runners are probably those cities with great infrastructure in terms of airport, freeways, mass transit, education, population, and connectivity.

Cities who don’t already have all this in place probably can’t make investments big enough fast enough to win … no matter how much tax savings and real estate they give away.

Another reason to think the winner will be a bigger metro is the burden of any incentives must be borne by the people and businesses already there.

Many hands make a light load.  If each voter’s slice of the burden is too big, the politicians and Amazon might have a big PR problem.

Amazon’s smart.  If they want big perks without upsetting the locals, they know they’ll need a bigger population to share the load.

But since you’ve read this far, we’ll go out on a limb and say if we had to place a bet (and we don’t), our money would be on Atlanta.

It’s huge, has great everything, and gives the new HQ proximity to both Latin America and Europe.

Of course, we could be dead wrong (and often are), but it’s fun to speculate.

Is Amazon a prime opportunity for real estate investors?

Time will tell, but it’s certainly a story worth watching.  The odds are good.

Any time this much economic activity is pointed at a single market, there’s certainly going to be a lot of opportunity.

The big question is when and where.  Stay tuned!

Until next time … good investing!


 More From The Real Estate Guys™…

The Real Estate Guys™ radio show and podcast provides real estate investing news, education, training, and resources to help real estate investors succeed.