This market metric may matter most …

“Live where you want to live, 
but invest where the numbers make sense.”

– Robert Helms

Nice quote.  But it assumes you know what numbers to look at … and whether or not they make sense.

Many times, investors focus primarily on numbers related to the PROPERTY …

… things like rent ratio, gross-rent multiplier, cap rate … and of course cash flow after debt service.

Those are all SUPER important … and you should pay attention to those.

BUT (you knew it was coming) …

Individual properties exist in local markets, which are affected by both macro and regional factors.

Macro factors are things like interest rates, tax rates, and how other markets compare to yours.  Sometimes people move to find greener pastures.

Regional factors include local taxes, landlord laws, economic drivers, supply and demand fundamentals, net migration trends, etc.

So it could be a mistake to focus solely on the property’s numbers.  The market’s numbers matter too.

If your prospective property is in an area with downward trending regional factors, you might end up … as stock traders say … catching a falling knife.

Think Detroit many years ago …

Once the RICHEST city on the planet, Detroit boasted a population of about two million people.  Strong incomes, lots of prosperity, a robust real estate market.

Slowly … for many reasons we won’t delve into now … Detroit’s regional drivers began to weaken.

So even though the numbers on a property in Detroit back then might have looked good at some point during the decline …

… the regional market trend was working against you over the long term.

And just as a rising tide lifts all boats, a receding tide lowers them.

So we think it makes a lot more sense to pick your market BEFORE you pick your property.

Our approach is to pick a market first, then build a local team, and then let the local team help find the right properties.

This way, when you’re running numbers on a specific property, it’s in the context of a market you think has a stable or rising tide.

One market metric we suspect will become increasingly important going forward is rental affordability.

That’s because the long-term trend of net “real” prosperity for working class people has been down … and that’s probably not changing any time soon.

Of course, even if we’re wrong … and we’d love to be … being in affordable markets isn’t a liability.  Again, a rising tide lifts all boats.

But if an area is NOT affordable, you may not have a healthy supply of tenants able to pay your rent …

… and you risk being on the wrong end of a price war to maintain occupancy.

Of course, determining a market’s rental “affordability” is a tad more complicated than just running a pro forma P&L on a specific property.

For example, if rents are low, is the area automatically “affordable”?  Or if rents are rising, is the area becoming less affordable?

Not necessarily.

Affordability is about the ratio between wages and incomes, how many people in an area can afford the area’s rent, and comparing one market to another.

Maybe in an area where rents are rising, wages are going up even faster.  More people start moving in to earn those higher wages, which increases the number of people who can afford the rent.

So rents could be rising, yet the area is becoming more affordable.

Like we said … it’s a little complicated.

Fortunately, there are smart people who study these things and produce fancy reports we can peruse for clues … about markets, trends, and where opportunities are.

New York University’s (NYU) Furman Center cranks out all kinds of research related to housing … including their recently released 2017 National Rental Housing Landscape report.

Page 10 of this report caught our eye because it charts 53 big city areas (“metros”) and compares “share of renter households that were rent burdened” in 2015 versus 2012.

They define “rent burdened” as those tenants paying 30% or more of their income on rent.

Obviously, when a smaller percentage of people in a region are rent burdened, it means a greater percentage can afford to pay whatever the going rent is … and absorb increases in rent or other living expenses.

This puts a little recession insulation in your income property portfolio.

So a number that “makes sense” for a market could be a low percentage of renters who are rent burdened.

Of course, it’s also wise to understand why rents are low relative to incomes.

It could be driven by falling rents (bad), rising wages (good), increases in rental stock (maybe bad), net in-migration (good), or any combination of those and other factors.

So we’re not here to suggest simply because an area is becoming more affordable, it’s automatically a great market to invest in.

But it’s a clue … and worthy of further investigation.

What’s nice about the NYU Furman report is it compares 2012 to 2015 … so you can see whether a metro is trending better or worse for this particular metric.

If a market is more affordable in 2015 than it was in 2012, it’s positive in terms of the number of people who can afford to pay the going rent.  More qualified prospective tenants is a good thing.

Of course, if affordability is driven by primarily by falling rents and rising vacancies, it’s a red flag.

But markets with increasing affordability, and stable rents and occupancies, should probably end up on a short list of markets to pay a visit to.

We’d probably further narrow the list to cities where median rents are in the middle to lower price range compared to other markets …

… because if there’s macro-pressure on renters … say rising expenses in food, energy, healthcare, taxes, or interest … they may move to more affordable areas to find some budget relief.

In tough times, people don’t typically move to more expensive areas. They look for places that are more affordable compared to where they are.

Again, it’s EASY to invest in a rising tide.  But it’s always smart to be ready for if (when) the tide goes out.

All things being equal, a market with rents to the mid-to-low range on a national scale is probably safer when sailing into uncertain economic seas.

So have some fun in the report … toggling between page 6 (median rent by metro) and page 10 (share of rent burdened households).

Look for metros which are affordable locally based on a low percentage of rent burdened population, with increasing affordability from 2012 to 2015 …

… and also affordable nationally when compared to the average rents of other metros.

Kansas City is best for lowest population of rent burdened, with a solid improvement from 2012 to 2015 … and it’s more affordable nationally than two-thirds of the list.

Oklahoma City, Cincinnati, Louisville, and Salt Lake City all also look pretty strong based on these metrics.

Again, this isn’t a final conclusion about great housing markets.  But it’s one set of numbers to consider when looking for markets to investigate.

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.

Certainty in uncertain times …

Sometimes when the world seems to be spinning out of control and not much makes sense, it’s helpful … even necessary … to cling to something stable.

Headlines are filled with wars, rumors of wars, natural disasters, senseless murders, endless divisive vitriolic political rhetoric, greed, corruption, hypocrisy …

And that was just last week.

No wonder so many Americans love to just veg out and get away from it all by watching some football … oh wait.

When it comes to investing, it’s easy to go “full turtle” … retreating into our shells, hunkering down until the storm passes.

History says that’s not a winning strategy.

After all, there have ALWAYS been wars, disasters, corruption, and a zillion reasons to pull the covers over our heads and wait for morning.

But is there ever a time when looking back 20 years, you wish you would NOT have bought more real estate?

We’re guessing folks in 2015 wish they bought more in 1995.  And those in 1995 probably wish they bought more in 1975 … and those in 1975 wish they bought more in 1955 …

You get the idea.  And if you know history, there was a LOT of crazy stuff that happened in the world during each of those 20-year periods.

But one thing’s been SURE … real estate’s been among the safest places to build and protect wealth from the storms.

Yes, the cynics out there can point to individual cases where a real estate investor took some lumps in a downturn.  We’re on that list for 2008.

But it wasn’t real estate’s fault … it was how the portfolio was structured.

Otherwise, how do you explain people like Ken McElroy and many others who THRIVED with real estate investing during the same period?

It’s easy to ride an upside wave on a sunny day when a rising tide is lifting all boats.  Everyone’s an expert sailor in good weather.

But when the storm comes, you find out who really knows how to sail and has prepped their ship for the INEVITABLE tough times.

However, there’s a BIG difference between being in just a rowboat versus a truly seaworthy vessel.  The rowboat is much more easily tossed about in rough water.

So with everything going on in the world … and real estate getting tossed into the conversation of bubbles about to burst in all “asset classes” … we thought it’s a good time for …

Making the Case for Real Estate

This could be a book, so we won’t expound each point.

We’ll leave it to you to think, research, debate, and discuss these items with your friends … even and especially those who are prone to disagree.

Real estate is eternal, essential, and easy to understand. 

It’s been around forever and will continue to be necessary to support human existence.

The business model is simple … people or businesses use your property and pay you rent.  No Ph.D. needed.

Real estate markets are inherently inefficient.

That might sound bad, but it’s good.  The less of a commodity something is, the easier it is for pricing to be more subjective than objective.

Real estate markets are really hard to manipulate.

Many paper asset markets are “influenced” by power players to create spreads through profitability.

Because traders can’t deal in large blocks of properties to push prices around … they don’t.

Real estate is supported by the power players.

To the extent real estate can be manipulated, all the incentive for anyone big enough to do it … government, central banks, industry … is to support it.

No one attacks real estate to drive it down.

Real estate is financeable with cheap long-term debt.

Even 20% down with an 80% loan, producing 5 to 1 leverage, is considered “conservative” … and qualifies for some of the cheapest long-term money in the market.

There’s no margin call if a property’s value drops.  As long as you keep making those payments … using the tenant’s money … you’re okay.

Real estate mitigates counter-party risk.

This is a REALLY important point because we’re guessing the VAST majority of paper asset investors are quite unaware of the counter-party risk pervading their portfolios.

Bank accounts, brokerage accounts, insurance contracts, bonds (and any mutual fund or investment containing bonds) are FULL of counter-party risk.

When you own real estate, you own it.  It’s a real asset, not a promise.  It’s not someone else’s liability, where if they default you have nothing but an IOU.

Real estate allows you to switch out debtors.

Some might argue if a tenant defaults on their lease, it’s the same as if a bond issuer defaults on their payments.

No.  Real estate is VERY different.

To our previous point, if a bond issuer defaults, your bond is worthless.  It’s only a promise whose value is dependent on the counter-party (the bond issuer).

When a real estate tenant stops paying, you still have the property.  You can evict the tenant and replace them with someone who will pay.

Good luck doing that with a bond.

Real estate provides a hedge against both inflation and deflation.

You might have to put your thinking cap on for this one.

Obviously, with inflation, real assets go up in dollar value.  Inflation is why a 3-bedroom home purchased in 1960 for $10,000 is worth $200,000 today.  The dollar got weaker.

Deflation is the opposite.  The dollar gets stronger (try not to laugh) and it takes LESS dollars to buy the same real asset.

So now, a $200,000 property might fall to $100,000 or less.

But if you only put 20% down … or $40,000 … and the tenants (whose paychecks goes farther as prices are falling) pay off your property …

… at some point, you have a property that’s paid for.  So you’re in for $40,000 and the property is “only” worth half what you paid for it, or $100,000.

Did you lose?

Real estate provides certainty in an uncertain world.

We could go on and on, but there’s the point …

There’s no guarantee with investing.  It’s about taking thoughtful, mitigated risks for an attractive risk-adjusted return.

And while you can’t just throw a dart at a map, pick any property and haphazardly structure the deal, financing, and management …

… history says properly structured properties in solid markets are proven long-term winners no matter what’s going on in the world.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to …

… focus your education and networking on finding markets, teams, and properties which provide a high level of certainty in uncertain times.

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.