Real estate and the economic pandemic ahead …

Here’s another installment in the continuing saga of Crisis Watch 2020 …

Last time, we discussed the scope and sequence for the mutation of the current health crisis into a potential dollar crisis.

If you haven’t read it, try to fit it into your hectic sheltering-in-place schedule.

We think it’s important to have context for the deluge of data, news, and opinions overwhelming your senses. Without context, it’s just a lot of scary noise.

Today we’re considering the future of real estate in a perpetual and post-pandemic world. After all, we are The Real Estate Guys™.

And last time we looked, none of the talking heads on mainstream financial media are talking to real estate investors. So, we will.

Of course, real estate is a vast topic with a multitude of sub-sectors. Each is affected by both micro and macro factors.

All that is obviously WAY too much for a deep dive in a weekly muse.

But with only a few exceptions, when it comes to real estate, it’s really ALL about jobs and incomes.

And right now, it’s no secret the jobs market is imploding in unprecedented fashion. The Atlanta Fed is projecting a STUNNING 42% decline in Q2 GDP.

Imagine if your blood pressure, paycheck, or rents declined 42%. Ouch.

The Federal Reserve and the U.S. government (not the same thing) are frantically trying to stave off depression with both monetary policy (lower interest rates) and fiscal stimulus (government spending).

But at the end of the day, it takes real jobs to produce real income to make real rent and mortgage payments on real estate. Really.

It’s productivity that creates products and gives money its value. Money from nothing doesn’t create goods and services to consume.

More money and less production usually leads to shortages and high prices. That’s hard on everyone, but especially tenants.

So, policymakers are like Han Solo flying into the asteroid belt in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back … attempting to successfully navigate a VERY dangerous landscape.

The plan seems to be for the Fed to use EXTREME dollar printing to fund ginormous government spending, suppress interest rates, and buy almost everything from local bonds to ETFs … maybe even stocks.

Ostensibly, the goal is to prevent a collapse of asset prices and the financial system (banks and bond markets) they support.

This presumably buys time for the economy to be re-ignited, so businesses, jobs, and incomes are restored. But at what price? And will it work … fast enough?

Maybe. But it’s probably smart to be prepared in case things don’t go as planned. This crisis is unprecedented. No one really knows what will happen.

In practical terms, we think increasing liquid reserves, tightly managing cash flow, dumping marginal properties in marginal markets, and staying tight with your mortgage professional are all things that make a LOT of sense right now.

We’re guessing free cash flow, liquidity, and access to capital will all be very valuable in the very near future.

For active and aspiring syndicators, NOW is a GREAT time to expand and educate your network of prospective investors …

… preparing them to join you in taking advantage of the bargains likely coming to a neighborhood near you.

Meanwhile, some investors are choosing to sit on the sidelines until AFTER the crisis passes and things stabilize.

Waiting for things to stabilize could be a BIG mistake …

First, things don’t “stabilize” on their own. Things stabilize because intrepid investors step into the chaos and go bargain shopping.

Think about it. It’s the very act of grabbing the best deals while others sit out which puts in a price bottom and stabilizes a market.

So a stabilized market is one that’s already been picked over. If you want the best bargains, you need to be among the brave and bold.

This isn’t to suggest throwing caution to the wind and buying anything anywhere for any price. That’s dumb any time, but especially when a storm is clearly on the horizon.

But if you’re in it for the long haul, which is what true real estate investing is all about …

… then the best “price” is a whole lot less important than great long-term financing.

That’s because when the best price is available, it’s often because financing is limited, expensive, or not available at all.

So, go back and think about where we’re at in the pandemic …

A health crisis leads to a lock down which crushes commerce … taking revenue, jobs, and paychecks with it.

Real estate values start to fall because buyers are either unable or unwilling to buy … and demand slows. Of course, that usually proves to be TEMPORARY.

Meanwhile, the economic crisis means missed payments and debts going bad. Lenders get nervous and credit starts to tighten. It’s already happening.

Of course, bad debt in a debt-based system is its own next-level nightmare.

IF the economic crisis continues, the bad debt contagion spreads … collapsing credit markets and threatening the banking system.

Think 2008 … only WORSE.

When this happens, credit’s not just tight. It’s nearly non-existent.

So yes, bargains are everywhere, but you better have CASH.

That’s why we think it’s smart to convert equity to liquid reserves while both equity and great financing are still available.

Of course, when you find the right deal in the right market with the right cash flow and you’re able to obtain great LONG-TERM financing …

… then you can ride the price train down and back up again on the backside.

Remember, what happens from the time you buy until you sell doesn’t matter much as long as cash is flowing positively in between.

Plus, with the updates to the tax law, rental real estate got an additional boost to the already awesome tax reform accelerated depreciation credits.

These tax breaks reduce taxes in the future, but can now also help you reclaim taxes paid in the past. This all really helps with your cash flow early in your ownership when you need it the most.

Lastly, consider how much pressure is being put on the U.S. dollar to prop up the entire world’s collapsing asset prices and credit markets.

Gold is signaling concerns about long term inflation. Smart investors are paying attention. We hope you are too.

Will the dollar soften, crash, or collapse … causing the dollar price of real assets like real estate and gold to soar?

No one knows. But it’s certainly possible. We’ll be digging deeper into this hot topic in our upcoming Crisis Investing webinar.

But whether it’s only the 2 percent per year inflation the Fed targets … or a much higher rate which could result if the Fed loses control and the dollar collapses …

… the key to profiting from inflation is DEBT.

And the best debt on earth is real estate debt because you enjoy very low interest rates and payments which can be locked in for the long term …

… with no margin calls …

… plus you get control of a real asset that produces income for servicing the debt …

… plus you only need to put in a fraction of the price … 30% or less down payment in many cases… which means you don’t have much capital at risk if you get long term deflation …

… plus you get fantastic tax breaks to further enhance your after-tax cash flow.

Meanwhile, you earn inflated dollars which might be worth less against today’s products and services … but worth a lot when paying off that old debt.

So the key is to acquire cash flowing assets with debt. This is real estate 101, but what makes it work is INFLATION.

And right now many pundits believe (and gold is confirming) the stage is being set for accelerated inflation.

The danger, as any seasoned investor will tell you, is lack of liquidity.

But with dollars losing value and banks paying zero interest, who wants to hold cash?

This is where gold comes in … not as an investment, but as liquid reserves that can insulate you from long term inflation.

In a world where massive printing of dollars (inflation) is the singular “vaccine” being administered to prevent economic contagion …

… it’s arguably urgent to start taking precautions to prepare for the potential decline of the real value of the dollar.

The main ingredients are income property, debt, and gold.

When you mix them properly, you insulate yourself from the negative effects of inflation while positioning yourself to create real profits.

We’ll be talking more about this timely and important subject in the weeks ahead. Stay tuned!

Fed Warns of Significant Hit to Asset Prices If Crisis Grows

Another not-so-subtle clue in the news … Fed chair Powell warns that commerical real estate values could plummet because of crisis … if “financial system strain’s re-emerge”. Notice Powell makes a distinction between the economy and the financial system. Health crisis > Economic Crisis > Financial System Crisis (credit markets and banks).

The economy needs to generate revenue to make payments on the ginormous debts. If debts go bad, asset values collapse taking bonds and banks with them. Our guess is the Fed will print as many dollars as it takes in an attempt to stop it. Is the dollar strong enough to do it? What if it’s not? Get ready … to continue reading, click here >>

Fed drops a BOMB … but will it work?

You probably heard the Fed just dropped their interest rate target 50 basis points … which is economic geek speak for half a percent.

If you’re a devoted market observer, you’ve probably seen a dozen reports with as many interpretations about why they did it and what it means to everyone … except YOU.

That’s because mainstream financial media doesn’t talk to real estate investors. In fact, they barely acknowledge we exist …

… and they surely have NO idea how we think or what we really do.

They just look at investing through their “buy low, sell high” paradigm …

… and are therefore understandably obsessed with trying to divine which direction the next bloviation from the Eccles building will send the paper trading lemmings scurrying.

To Wall Street, “investing” is sprinting in and out of positions faster than the crowd. Miss a step and you get trampled.

And MOST of what they think and say means NOTHING to Main Street real estate investors.

Meanwhile, issues critical to real estate investors (and syndicators) go completely ignored … leaving you to read between the lines for clues in the news.

Not to worry! Your friendly neighborhood compulsive-obsessive newshounds here at The Real Estate Guys™ radio show are here to fill the gap.

So … what’s a real estate investor to think … and do … in the wake of this latest extraordinary tactic by a clearly concerned Federal Reserve?

Let’s break the topic into bite size pieces …

First, the CONTEXT …

This is the Fed’s first “emergency” action …

(at least in terms of a big, unscheduled rate cut … pay no attention to the billions in “not QE” printed to plug the ongoing problems in the repo market)

… since October 2008.

Hmmm … that date seems oddly familiar … didn’t something big happen back then?

And if the economy is really as strong as everyone claims, WHY is this “shock and awe” unscheduled cut needed?

We’re being told this is in response to the Coronavirus threat to the economy. Some say the Fed’s move validates the fears of a global pandemic.

Weird. Weren’t all the recent press conferences designed to calm such fears?

But there’s a MUCH bigger question to consider …

If the threat of a pandemic has closed factories and broken supply chains, how does printing more money fix that?

Hint: It doesn’t. But it does create some other side effects investors … real estate and otherwise … probably want to pay attention to (more on that in a moment).

We think there are a couple of issues at play …

First, as we’ve been saying for the last few years, there’s an important difference between economic activity (the speed of the vehicle) and the financial system it runs on (the vehicle itself).

If your car is zipping down the road to riches at 75 miles per hour, you’re feeling like you’re making great progress.

But if you don’t notice the oil pressure dropping and engine temperature rising, you won’t know the vehicle is breaking down … and your trip is in jeopardy.

Make sense?

Gold, oil, the dollar, and interest rates are all important gauges on the financial system dashboard …

… right alongside the speedometer and tachometers of employment and GDP, which measure the speed of the economy.

We think there’s a possibility the Fed is injecting liquidity trying to lubricate an engine that’s on the brink of breaking down.

Remember, the repo market crisis all happened BEFORE the coronavirus showed up.

The second major issue helping put the Fed’s latest move in context is a variation on the same theme … interest rates.

But not the “let’s lower interest rates to stimulate this already red-hot economy” use of interest rates.

More like the “let’s put a bid on bonds to prop up fragile credit markets” kind of interest rates … the “black hole event horizon” kind (which is a much bigger discussion we’ve had before).

For today’s discussion, here’s what you need to know …

The Fed doesn’t “set” interest rates. They simply set a target at which to aim their “open market operations”.

This is a confusing way of saying the Fed will buy or sell bonds in the open market in order to manipulate interest rates up or down.

When the Fed sells, it adds to supply, driving bond prices down and interest rates up. That’s clearly NOT the plan right now.

So the flip side is the Fed plans to BUY bonds, bidding UP the prices, and driving interest rates DOWN.

Here’s the important point …

Bond traders KNOW this. And they also know the Fed will pay ANY price to make it happen.

Rising interest rates would be like SAND (or worse) in the financial system’s engine … triggering a wave of defaults, margin calls, and a liquidity crisis of biblical proportions. It would make 2008 look like a bad hair day.

So what do bond traders do? (And yes, you should care …)

Bond traders FRONT-RUN the Fed and PILE into Treasuries, bidding them up, driving interest rates DOWN … to ALL-TIME lows.

Yes, we realize many headlines claim “scared” investors are fleeing the “dangers” of the stock market to the “safety” of bonds.

Maybe … but we think not.

Our guess is it’s not fear, but greed driving the flurry of Treasury bond buying.

Meanwhile, let’s now quickly consider the potential ramifications for Main Street real estate investors 

The most obvious is what we discussed last time … low interest rates create a big opportunity to restructure debt and acquire new cheap debt.

We also think TRUE safety-seekers will start migrating into real assets … like precious metalsoil, and real estate.

Of course, we’ve been talking about this for years. But these macro trends roll out slowly, so we’re pretty sure there’s a lot of room to get on the long-term trend train.

And while we could (and probably should) discuss what the rise of precious metals and oil say about the dollar, we’ll probably save all that for the Summit … when he have all big brains with us.

The more germane discussion for real estate investors is the effect of low interest rates on income producing real estate.

Three words: Shrinking. Cap. Rates.

As Treasury yields fall, they pull down the yields on ALL investments, including rental properties.

Of course, as any seasoned real estate investor knows, falling cap rates mean RISING prices … and EQUITY for those who acquire real estate at the front end of the cycle.

As insane as it seems, this move by the Fed suggests the bull market in cash-flowing real estate might actually be getting a booster shot.

But BE CAREFUL … because it’s easy to get sloppy with underwriting and market selection when things get hotter and even more competitive.

Always remember, unlike stocks and bonds, people still need real jobs to make income properties perform. It’s hard for unemployed tenants to pay rent.

While admitting we’re far from experts on the matter, our guess is the coronavirus crisis will come and go like the many others before it.

So the real lasting impact may not be (hopefully) loss of large numbers of human lives … or even major disruptions to America’s economy or individual lifestyle and freedoms.

But it may wake America up to the vulnerability created by an over-dependence on Chinese manufacturing …

… and a renewed enthusiasm to bring more manufacturing back to the United States.

These are the kind of durable jobs with the potential to drive a sustainable surge in demand for real estate of all kinds.

Smart investors will be watching to see if and where these jobs end up … and will jump in to ride the wave as those markets revitalize.

Yes, these are troubling times. But they’re also full of lessons and opportunities.

The odds are good that the world will not just survive, but thrive, despite the consistent parade of threats and temporary turmoil.

Real estate investing is a long-term game played best by watching the long-term trends … and letting real estate do for you what it does best …

… providing investors with a way to profit from the long-term decline of the dollar while staying mostly insulated from the wild volatility of the Wall Street casinos.

The world’s out of control …

The second decade of the last century are known as The Roaring Twenties.

Good times were fueled by abundant currency from the newly formed Federal Reserve … and the resulting debt and speculation which ran rampant.

As you may know, it ended badly.

The Great Depression ensued … an event which ruined lives, fundamentally changed the United States government, and took decades to recover from.

Today, we’re on the threshold of the second decade of this century.

And once again, the United States is “enjoying” a Fed-fueled party of absurd debt and speculation.

Will it end badly this time?

Or will the lessons learned from the 1929 and 2008 debacles provide the necessary wisdom to ride the free money wave without an epic wipe out?

No one knows.

But as we say often, better to be prepared for a crisis and not have one … than to have a crisis and not be prepared.

Last time,  we discussed some of the gauges we’re watching on the financial system dashboard such as gold, oil, debt, the Fed’s balance sheet, bonds, and interest rates.

But of course, we can’t control any of these things.

That’s why we think it’s very important to control those things you CAN control … so you’re better positioned to navigate the things you can’t.

Fortunately, real estate is an investment vehicle which is MUCH easier to control than the paper assets trading in the Wall Street casinos.

And if history repeats itself, as Main Street investors who are riding the Wall Street roller coasters get spooked … many will come “home” to the Merry-Go-Round of real estate.

For those of us already there, this migration of money creates both opportunities and problems.

Like any investment, when lots of new money floods in, it lifts asset prices.

While this generates equity, unless you sell or cash-out refinance, your wealth is only on paper. And equity is fickle. Cash flow is resilient wealth.

Meanwhile, when prices rise higher than incomes, finding real deals that cash flow is much harder. We’re already seeing it happen.

The key is to move up to product types and price points where small, inexperienced investors can’t play.

Of course, this takes more money and credit than many individual investors have. That’s a problem, but also an opportunity.

Another strategy is to move to more affordable, but growing markets.

This also takes an investment of time and money into research, exploration, due diligence, and long-distance relationship building … unless you happen to live in such a market.

So once again, this is better done at scale … because the time and expense of long-distance investing is hard to amortize into one or two small deals.

Bigger is better.

It’s for these reasons, and many more, we’re huge fans of syndication

Syndication allows both active and passive real estate investors to leverage each other to access opportunities and scale neither could achieve on their own.

But whether you decide syndication is a viable strategy for you …

… to take more control going into what history may dub “The Tumultuous Twenties” …

… it’s important to have a game plan for developing both yourself and your portfolio.

So here’s a simple process to take control of your investing life, business and portfolio heading into a new decade …

Step 1: Cultivate positive energy

It takes a lot of energy to change direction and compress time frames.

Building real wealth with control requires learning new things, taking on new responsibilities, and building better relationships.

So it’s important to put good things into your mind and body …

… be diligent to put yourself in positive environments and relationships, while limiting exposure to negative ones …

… and stay intentional about focusing your thoughts and feelings.

That’s because what you think, how you feel, and what you believe all affect your decisions and actions. And what you do directly impacts the results you produce.

Improving results starts with a healthy body, mind, and spirit. More positive energy allows you to pack more productivity into every minute of the day.

Step 2: Establish productive structure

This also takes effort. That’s why we start with cultivating energy. But being effective isn’t just about expending energy.

There’s a big difference between an explosion and propulsion.

Structure helps focus your energy to propel you to and through your goals.

Structure starts with getting control of your schedule. Time is your most precious resource … and you can’t make more of it.

But structure also includes your spaces … your home, office … even your vehicles and devices. They should be organized to keep you focused and efficient at your chosen tasks.

Yes, you can and should delegate to get more done faster.

But even if delegation is your only work (it’s not … learning, monitoring and leading your team, making decisions … those stay on your plate) …

… you’ll need spaces conducive to focus, with access to resources and information, so you can organize and delegate effectively.

Then there’s legal, financial, accounting, and reporting structures.

Once again, all these take time and energy to get together. So start by cultivating energy and taking control of your schedule.

Step 3: Set clear, compelling goals with supporting strategies and tactics.

You might think this comes first, and perhaps it does.

However, you can cultivate energy and establish fundamental structure as a universal foundation for just about any goals.

But whenever you choose to do your goal setting, it’s important to establish a very clear and compelling mission, vision, set of values, and specific goals for yourself, your team, and your portfolio.

This clarity will help you more quickly decide what and who should be in your life and plans … and what and who shouldn’t.

When you have clarity of vision, strategy and tactics become evident.

Step 4: Act relentlessly

We think it’s important to “keep your shoulder to the boulder” … otherwise it rolls you back down the hill that you’re working so hard to climb.

Fortunately, as you use your newfound energy and structure to act relentlessly towards your goals, you’ll eventually enjoy the momentum of good habits.

Lastly, be aware that this is a circular process … not a linear one.

You’ll keep doing it over and over and over. That’s why having an annual goal setting retreat is an important time commitment on your calendar.

We don’t know if the 2020s will be terrible or terrific at the macro level.

But history says those at the micro level who prosper in good times and bad are those who are aware, prepared, decisive, and able to execute as challenges and opportunities unfold.

Those are all things each of us can control.

The world has gone MAD …

In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a LOT going on in the world as we sail into a brand new investing decade …

In addition to wars and rumors of wars, a growing number of notable people are publicly expressing concerns …

… not just about the economy and financial markets, but the system itself.

Perhaps the most notable is Ray Dalio of Bridgewater Associates, the largest hedge fund in the world.

In a recent article, Dalio warns …

“The World has Gone Mad and the System is Broken”

Dalio’s essential thesis is the system of free money has created a series of negative trends that will eventually converge into a fundamental and epic re-set.

“This set of circumstances is unsustainable and certainly can no longer be pushed as it has been pushed since 2008. That is why I believe that the world is approaching a big paradigm shift.”

Of course, just because he’s successful doesn’t mean he’s right. But Dalio is certainly well-qualified to have an opinion worth paying attention to.

But as we’ve learned from studying smart people, understanding what they’re saying takes some time and effort.

We think it’s worth it. Because any “big paradigm shift” involving the financial system affects EVERYONE … including lowly Main Street real estate investors.

If you’re new to this discussion, consider making a modest investment of time and money to watch our Future of Money and Wealth presentation, “The Dollar Under Attack”. It’s helped a lot of real estate investors see a bigger picture.

It’s important to understand the difference between the “economy” (activity) and the “system” (the structure supporting the activity … including currency, banks, credit, and bond markets).

Remember, the economy was humming along leading into 2008 … booming, in fact. But the system was faulty under the hood, and ultimately broke down.

Just like a car, the economy can go faster or slower … but only while it’s mechanically sound.

If the vehicle’s systems fail, then the car is incapable of speed … and may not even run at all.

Then, when the car breaks down, your skill as a driver is meaningless, except perhaps for avoiding catastrophe when it happens.

In all cases, you end up on the side of the road going nowhere.

The same is true with the financial system and your skill as an investor. If the financial system fails, it can sideline a lot of people … including you.

Of course, the financial system, like a car, has gauges … indicators of performance, health, or impending failure.

But not all gauges are easily seen. And reading them requires education.

That’s why we hang out with smart people like Chris Martenson, Peter Schiff, Brien Lundin. G. Edward Griffin, and Robert Kiyosaki.

Even better, each of these guys are connected to lots of other smart people like Danielle DiMartino Booth, Mike Maloney, Grant Williams … and many more.

You may not yet be familiar with some of these names. Except for Kiyosaki, none of them are serious real estate investors … and that’s GOOD.

As we learned (the hard way) in 2008, when you live in an echo chamber of people who all hope … even need … the economy and financial system to be functional …

… there’s a tendency to ignore or discount even the most obvious problems.

As Upton Sinclair said …

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

There were warning signs leading up to 2008. Peter Schiff and Robert Kiyosaki both saw them and publicly warned people. Very few listened.

Unsurprisingly, both Schiff and Kiyosaki stopped getting invited on to mainstream financial shows. Wall Street’s not likely to advertise on programs outing a failing system.

And people making millions in the mortgage business weren’t interested in hearing how the mortgage markets were about to implode. Ditto for real estate, stocks, and bonds.

However, smart investors are wise to look beyond their own normalcy bias and the filtered news which is produced by people whose livelihood depends on a rosy narrative.

Risks are ever-present … and the worst are those you don’t see coming.

But before you go full fetal freak out, we’re NOT saying the end of the world is nigh. After all …

“A bend in the road isn’t the end of the road … unless you fail to make the turn.”
Helen Keller

But if Dalio and others are correct, then there’s more than a reasonable probability of substantial changes to the financial environment we’re all operating in … then it’s worth preparing for.

After all, it’s better to be prepared and not have a crisis, then have a crisis and not be prepared.

Remember … ignoring risk isn’t optimism, it’s foolishness.

Legendary real estate investor Sam Zell says one of his greatest assets is the ability to see risk and move forward. You can’t navigate a hazard you don’t see.

So what are some things our smart friends are watching heading into 2020?

Gold, oil, debt, the Fed’s balance sheet, bonds, and interest rates.

These are like the dashboard gauges for the health of the financial system.

Right now, at least three are blinking red … gold, debt and the Fed’s balance sheet.

It’s also important to note that those three are also leading indicators for bonds and interest rates.

That’s because if the world loses faith in the dollar, they won’t buy U.S. debt, which is growing at a staggering rate.

In spite of all their bickering, Congress and the White House manage to agree to big time spending.

And if the world loses its appetite for U.S. debt, then either interest rates rise (something which directly affects nearly all real estate investors) …

… or the Fed needs to buy up the new debt with freshly printed money. This is called “monetizing the debt” … and would show up on the Fed’s balance sheet.

Some say this “monetization” could lead to hyper-inflation. Others think it means the U.S. could go into decades-long stagnation like Japan.

Maybe.

The difference is Japan doesn’t issue the world’s reserve currency and enjoys a friendly relationship with the country that does (the United States).

So we’d say the United States situation isn’t exactly the same as Japan. But what do we know? We’re just two dudes with microphones.

Maybe there are clues in the news …

The world’s super-rich are hoarding physical gold
Yahoo Finance, 12/10/19

Hmmmm … it seems the “fear” trade … those looking to park wealth someplace “safe” are choosing gold … in addition to, or instead of U.S. Treasuries.

If instead of Treasuries, you’d expect interest rates to rise as bond prices fall due to less bidding.

But while there’s currently only a little upward pressure on rates, it’s not much … so someone must be buying them. Chris Martenson says it’s the Fed.

In other words, the Fed might be starting to monetize the debt.

So it’s notable the “super-rich” are following the lead of the world’s central banks in acquiring gold. No surprise, as of this writing, that gold is trading at a 7-year high.

In other words, if Chris Martenson is right, everyone (except the Fed) would rather own gold than U.S. debt denominated in U.S. dollars.

But we know Uncle Sam can’t default. The US can print an unlimited number of dollars. So no one is avoiding Treasuries because they don’t think they’ll get paid back.

The concern must be the value of what they’ll get paid back with … the dollar.

Think about your paradigm of wealth. Do you denominate wealth in U.S. dollars? Are you ready for a “big paradigm shift”?

Buckle up.

The new decade should be an exciting ride … scary and dangerous for those not strapped in with the right education, information, portfolio structure, and tribe.

Education, preparation, and tribe have never been more important. If you’re not seriously investing in those things, perhaps now is the time to start.

Meanwhile, we’re bullish on Main Street.

We think real people who do real work and own real assets will fare much better than those counting on paper promises from Wall Street, bankers, politicians, and pensions.

If you’re a fan of real estate and other real assets, you’re already on the right track. Now it’s time to take it to the next level.

Something weird is happening with mortgages …

Real estate investing is largely the business of using debt to acquire streams of income and build oceans of equity.

In the hands of a professional real estate investor, mortgages are like a super-charged power tool … making the job of wealth building easier, faster, and more profitable.

Of course, powerful tools in the hands of amateurs can do a lot of damage … hacking off chunks of equity or creating wounds which hemorrhage cash flow.

But in all cases, for any investor who has, or is building, a lot debt in their portfolio … it’s wise to pay close attention to the condition of credit markets.

Sometimes new tools create opportunity. Sometimes there are hints that something might be breaking down.

In a little more esoteric corner of our news feed, we noticed a potentially concerning headline …

MBS Day Ahead: Another Chance to Watch MBS Suffer
Mortgage News Daily, 8/27/19

For the uninitiated, MBS isn’t referring to the controversial crown prince from Saudi Arabia. They’re talking about Mortgage Backed Securities.

Mortgage-backed securities are the vehicle Wall Street uses to funnel investment dollars into Main Street real estate.

As you may recall, it was Wall Street stuffing toxic sub-prime mortgages into the MBS they sold to institutional investors that triggered the 2008 financial crisis.

So it’s well known that MBS suffering can lead to serious Main Street suffering, especially for aggressive users of mortgages … like real estate investors.

The notable takeaway from the article is this chart which shows mortgage rates have decoupled from 10-year Treasury yields …

image

Source: Mortgage News Daily

According to The Real Estate Guys™ secret decoder ring, this means mortgage rates aren’t falling as far as fast as those of the 10-year U.S. Treasury bond.

This is notable, because it’s generally accepted among mortgage pros that the two are inextricably linked … because it’s always been that way.

But not now. Weird.

Of course, it begs the question … WHY?

According to the article, bond “traders are citing increased supply … with an absence of buyers …”

Now you can see from the chart, this has only been going on for a couple of weeks … so perhaps it’s just a little anomaly and nothing to freak out about.

But just like some war vets have panic attacks when a backfiring engine pops like live ammo, we get a little spooked when the bid on MBS dries up.

After all, it was MBS going no bid was the nuclear bomb which ignited the 2008 credit market collapse.

No one is saying another Great Financial Crisis is imminent … although for the aware and prepared, it could be a HUGE opportunity …

… but softness in MBS demand is a dot on the curve worth noting.

Looking at some other dots …

US home price growth slows for 15th straight month
Yahoo Finance, 8/27/19

“The market for existing-home sales remained soft in June despite some boost from lower mortgage rates as consumers remain wary of high home prices …”

Remember, home prices reflect the value of the collateral for mortgages being packaged up and put into mortgage-backed securities.

When property prices are rising, lenders (the buyers of MBS) see their security go up in the form of greater “protective equity” which insulates them from loss in the case of default.

Also, equity gained from rising property values creates greater incentives for the borrower to make the payments.

Sometimes, in a rising price environment, as lenders compete to make loans, they’re willing to take on more risk at inception …

… because they believe rising property values will increase their security over time.

So whereas a lender might really want 20-25% protective equity (75-80% loan-to-value) … they might be willing to originate a loan at only 10-15% to get the loan.

Then, as prices rise and equity builds, the lender quickly ends up with the protective equity they’re looking for.

But when prices slow or reverse, you’d expect the opposite …

FHA sets limits on cash-out refinancing
The Washington Post, 8/27/19

“Beginning Sept. 1, FHA borrowers will now be limited to cash-out refinancing a maximum of 80 percent of their home value.”

We’ve also heard rumors that Fannie Mae will be limiting access to cash-out loans on multi-family properties.  Stay tuned on that one.

Is this a meltdown? Hardly. But it’s a subtle shift in the wind which bears watching.

Meanwhile, rates are GREAT. Loans are still largely readily available.

And if you’ve got lots of equity and cash flow, now could be a great time to liquefy equity using long term debt while paying careful attention to cash flow.

If there’s a chance prime properties in solid markets will be going on sale in the not-too-distant future, you’ll want to be prepared to go shopping.

Meanwhile, there are still affordable rental markets offering reliable cash flows TODAY.

Repositioning equity from high-priced markets to affordable cash flow markets or product niches can be a great way to make your balance sheet work harder … without having to wait for a recession (or worse) to provide bargains.

After all, sometimes markets don’t crash suddenly or at all. They simply recede slowly for a season before ratcheting back up.  So sitting on the sidelines waiting for “the big one” could take your entire career. Base hits win games, too. Never swinging means you’ll never get on base.

Meanwhile, it’s probably a good idea to pay close attention to credit markets on the macro level and cash flow on the micro level.

Until next time … good investing!


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Finding High Yields in a Hot Market


Everyone loves a hot market! But hot markets have their disadvantages. 

When markets heat up … prices go up … and yields go down. 

But that doesn’t mean investors are stuck. 

There are things you can do to adapt and keep cash flow up … without having to change markets. 

We sat down to chat with our good friend John Larson to find out how he has made the most of one of the hottest markets in the last ten years. 

In this episode of The Real Estate Guys™ show, hear from:

  • Your heating up host, Robert Helms
  • His hot-head co-host, Russell Gray 
  • Managing Partner of American Real Estate Investments, John Larson

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Adapting in a hot market

Dallas, Texas, has been a hot spot for real estate investors for the last decade. But .. like any market … the tide is starting to turn. 

After 2008, the rules of the market changed. 

Dallas stood out because it had not one … not two … but multiple drivers. 

It had population. It had education. It had transportation. It had a business-friendly environment, low income tax, medical finance, tech distribution … it was the whole package. 

It ended up being the best real estate market of the past ten years … and it’s not over yet … but yields have changed a lot. 

So, what’s an investor to do?

As Managing Partner of American Real Estate Investments, John Larson has had to adapt to the changing Dallas market. 

Many people knew John and his team as the Turnkey Single Family people in Dallas … but his company has had to change what they do while maintaining the big picture of WHY they did it. 

Debt syndication and using your retirement to make money now

John says that the Dallas market is hotter than ever … but in 2017, the cap rates on the single family homes started to get compressed. 

“You can only push rents up so far,” John says. “The values of homes kept going up because of the demand, so property went up as well.”

John says his investors came to him primarily for cash flow. They were looking for passive income. 

So, John needed to find some new ways to provide that cash flow that investors came for in the first place. 

The first project they took on was debt syndication … partnering with a developer and syndicating funds on the debt side. 

“We came in as lenders to buy the lot and get the construction completed and get those units leased as office space,” John says. 

A debt investor is someone that wants to have predictable income flow again, and it’s not as risky as other ventures … with the opportunity for BIG returns. 

At some point, you have to graduate from single family houses and move to the next level, like multifamily or office space. 

John says there are great deals to be found … but you have to do a little nosing around. 

And you can’t beat the opportunity for passive investing. 

With debt syndication, investors can be very hands-off and get as high a return as possible

Especially for the investor who is looking to lend money from their IRA or 401k, debt syndication is a great passive experience for them and a great way to maximize their retirement accounts. 

Many people don’t understand that they can put their retirement dollars to work … but as soon as you can self direct your retirement funds … you’ve opened up a whole world of alternative investments. 

Because of the nature of a retirement account, you can’t have a current benefit. It is really for tomorrow, not for today … so passive investments just make sense. 

These are solid deals in solid marketplaces … but people have a hard time getting their minds around why someone would want to use debt. 

In good deals, the asset pays back so quickly that there’s not a lot of risk on either side. 

It really just depends on how your personal investment philosophy fits in. 

Keep your money working 

If someone is looking to put their money to work in a debt syndication type of deal, the big question is … how long is this deal going to take?

John says that the longest term he has done so far was with a new construction project … that was 18 months. 

The average term for a deal is usually about one year. 

“We want to get you money back within a year and have another deal lined up for you so you can keep your money working,” John says. 

Keeping your money working … that’s the key to finding high yields in a hot market. 

Learn more about the Dallas market and how John and his team are finding new ways to create cash flow without changing markets by listening in to the full episode. 


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.


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Jerome Powell has spoken … now what?

In our last edition, we discussed what gold might be revealing that the Fed isn’t … while waiting to see what Fed Chair Jerome Powell would say to Congress.

But now the great and powerful Powell has spoken … and there are a couple of notable nuggets worthy of an inquisitive real estate investor’s attention.

According to this report by CNBC, the Wizard of the Emerald Printing Press told Congress …

“… the relationship between … unemployment and inflation … has gone away.”

If you’re not a faithful Fed watcher (and therefore have a life), you might not know about the Phillips curve. It’s been a guiding principle for the Fed interest rate policy for a long time.

It goes without saying (but we’re saying it anyway) that interest rates are important to real estate investors.

After all, debt is arguably the most powerful tool in the real estate investor’s toolbox. And interest rates profoundly affect both cash flows and pricing.

Many investors rely on their mortgage pro for interest rate guidance. Most mortgage pros watch the 10-year Treasury. But Treasury prices are strongly impacted by Fed jawboning and open market activities.

By watching further up the food chain you can get more advance notice of the direction of rates … and better position yourself to capture opportunity and avoid problems.

Through their comments, Fed spokespeople … chief among them Chairman Powell … send signals to those in the market who care to pay attention.

Of course, sometimes a little interpretation is needed. In this case, it seems to us Powell is being pretty clear.

The Phillips curve … which presumes that full employment leads to higher wages which leads to high inflation (prompting rate hikes to preempt it) … “has gone away”.

In other words, don’t assume high employment will trigger the Fed to raise rates.

But just in case the message wasn’t clear enough, Powell also added …

“… we are learning that the neutral interest rate is lower than we had thought …”

In other words, there’s a NEW normal in town … and the Fed is abandoning (just like Peter Schiff has been telling us they would) rate hikes and tightening.

But unlike Peter Schiff, the Fed is just now figuring this out.

So the great and powerful Wizard pulled not one, but TWO doves out of his hat.

(For the un-initiated, when the Fed is “hawkish”, it means tightening the currency supply by raising rates … while “dovish” is easing … like quantitative easing … and lowering rates)

It seems the Fed looked over the economic landscape … (and over their shoulder at the real estate guy in the White House) …

… and concluded the punch bowl fueling the longest recovery in history needs to be spiked again.

You might agree or disagree.

But it doesn’t matter what YOU think the Fed SHOULD do. We’re pretty sure they’re not asking you. They’re sure not asking us.

They think what they think. They do what they do. And THEY are the ones behind the curtain with their hands on the levers.

Our mission as a real estate investors (accumulators of mass quantities of debt used to control assets and cash flows), is to watch and react appropriately.

So here’s some food for thought …

Fed “dovishness” usually translates into higher asset prices … primarily stocks and real estate. Equity happens!

It’s EASY to get enamored of equity growth based on momentum (price changes) and not fundamentals (income). Be careful.

Sometimes the Fed loses control or misses a major problem until it rolls over the market.

If your portfolio is anchored with strong fundamentals, you’re more resilient.

Equity is wonderful, but fickle and unproductive.

If your balance sheet is telling you you’re rich, but your cash flow statement doesn’t agree, you’re not really rich.

Read that again.

The key to resilient real wealth is durable passive income. And rental real estate of all kinds is a time-proven vehicle for building durable passive income.

But wait! There’s more …

It’s no secret President Trump wants to weaken the dollar … and has been pressuring the Fed to make it happen.

Based on the Fed’s recent shift of direction, it seems it’s not just interest rates headed down … but the dollar too. The currency war could be about to escalate.

And remember … the dollar has a 100+ year history of losing purchasing power.

So if you’re betting on the direction of the dollar long term … we think DOWN is the safer bet. And right now it seems that what the Wizards are planning.

This is where real estate REALLY shines.

That’s because an investor can use real estate to acquire enormous sums of dollars TODAY (via a mortgage) which effectively shorts the dollar.

Those dollars are used to buy tangible, tax-advantaged, income-producing, real assets which not only pays back the loans from their own income …

… but unlike debt, grows nominally (in dollars) in both income and price as the purchasing power of the dollar falls (inflation).

That’s why we say, “Equity Happens!”

And when it does, it’s a good idea to consider converting equity into cash using low-cost long-term debt, and then investing the proceeds in acquiring additional income streams and assets.

Of course, you can only do that when the stars of equity, lending, and interest rates all align. Right now, it seems they are.

We think last week signaled an important change of direction. And while the financial system is arguably still weak, it’s working …

… so it might be a good idea to do some portfolio optimization while the wheels are still on.

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.


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Ask The Guys – Getting Started, Analyzing Deals, and Understanding Cycles

One of the best parts of our job is hearing from our amazing audience … and in this week’s episode we have more great questions from all of you.

That’s right, it’s Ask The Guys!

We’re talking about getting started in real estate investing, analyzing deals, understanding how economic cycles affect real estate investing … and more.

Remember, we are not legal or tax professionals. We don’t give advice … just ideas. Join our quest to answer your questions!

In this episode of The Real Estate Guys™ show, hear from:

  • Your book-smart host, Robert Helms
  • His street-smart co-host, Russell Gray

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Getting started in real estate investing

Our first question comes from Daryl in Boonville, Missouri.

Daryl wants to know the best ways to get started investing in real estate.

Lots of folks find themselves interested in real estate investing … but they don’t really know where to start.

There are so many books, blogs, podcasts, and seminars on the subject. It can be a little overwhelming … yet the basics of real estate are pretty simple.

What’s the best way to get started? Well, it depends on what you have to start with, where you want to go, and what you want to do.

But generally speaking, real estate is done with debt.

The first place to start is to take an assessment of where you’re at in terms of debt. Begin work on preparing yourself to be an efficient, effective borrower.

Go meet with a mortgage professional. Find out what your credit score is as far as real estate is concerned, what your documentable income is, and what types of loan programs you would qualify for.

Figure out what you need to invest.

Typically you need credit, a down payment, and technical advisors … like a football coach, you need to build your team.

Next, think about what you’re trying to accomplish. Most people want to grow … so it really starts with education and understanding your borrowing power.

Education doesn’t have to cost you a lot of money … but it will take your time.

Set aside and budget your time to be serious about investing. Go to a seminar or class. Join a local real estate investment club. Read books about the type of real estate that you’re interested in.

A great way to get started if you don’t have a lot of capital is to offer to help someone who is busy doing the thing that YOU want to be doing.

A lot of folks who are successful in real estate investing have more money than time … you might have more time than money.

The opportunity to lend a hand in exchange for learning can be huge.

You might even consider your first deal as a partnership in some way. One of our favorite ways to partner is through real estate syndication.

Syndication simply means a lot of people putting their money and their time together to do something.

Make sure that the person … or people … you are partnering with honestly know what they are doing.

Analyzing and understanding deals

Chris in Sun Valley, California, wants to know how to better analyze and understand deals.

First of all, there’s no such thing as a bad question … except the one you don’t ask.

Everybody who is at the front of the line was once at the back of the line … everybody who owns real estate today started with their first property.

It’s true that analyzing deals is one of investing’s critical skill sets.

If you’re analyzing deals for income, you need to understand an income statement for a piece of property.

One way to do this is to look at other deals. They’ll come with pro formas. You’ll be able to look at the financials … and then go out and look at other real world deals.

You’ll learn by doing that research … and once you feel like you’ve got the fundamentals down and understand the basics of financial analysis, you can take things to the next level.

The other side of the coin is actually analyzing the market, analyzing the physical construction of the property, and analyzing the condition of the neighborhood.

Like so many things in real estate investing, if you can find somebody who is active in the space and learn by helping them … you’ll pick up a lot.

You can’t get really good at analyzing deals by reading textbooks and taking classes … you will also need hands on experience.

So, start with basic education … and then, find a mentor.

Learning about the economic cycle

Laura in Austin, Texas, is looking to learn more about how real estate plays into the economic cycle … and how it’s affected by ebbs and flows. She wants to know what resources and topics we can recommend.

First up is a book by our dear friend Peter Schiff called How an Economy Grows and Why It Crashes.

It’s a simple book that is done in a way that makes the economy easy for everyone to understand … but it is also super, super powerful.

It has taken us years to wrap our minds around this stuff. The reason we cover broader picture economics and not just real estate is that every real estate investor is first and foremost an investor.

We all swim in the economic sea of the financial system that we are blessed … or cursed … with. So, it is imperative that we understand it.

There is definitely a lot you can learn by listening to people who have different opinions.

The Summit at Seais a great place to do that. We get people who come in with so many different backgrounds and from many different niches and markets all over the world.

We also recommend studying the Federal Reserve and the bond markets … because that is where interest rates derive from.

Study demographics … because that dictates where the people are.

Then, understand the way CEOs think about business … and where they want to be and don’t want to be.

Taxes are another area you’ll want to learn about.

In the United States, we’ve now made real estate arguably the most tax advantaged investment anyone can make … which should attract even more money into real estate going forward.

Like any ecosystem, there are lots and lots of components … and you’re not going to master them all. But if you can understand the relationships between them, then you can get into conversations with the masters in each area.

There are lots of great books, podcasts, and conferences to expand your knowledge. Be sure to check out the resources available on our website. We particularly recommend a video series we did called “The Future of Money and Wealth.”

Brian Tracy says that if you read an hour a day in whatever area of interest you have, in 10 years you’ll become a nationally known expert.

We believe that’s true. It happened to us.

More Ask The Guys

Listen to the full episode for more questions and answers.

Have a real estate investing question? Let us know! Your question could be featured in our next Ask The Guys episode.


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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.


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A reality check you can cash …

If you’ve been around awhile, you know there are optimists, pessimists, and realists.

Optimists see the upside and sunshine in everything.  They’re chargers and they’re not afraid to take bold … even impulsive action.

Of course, optimists sometimes run full-speed into a brick wall they COULD have seen, but chose not to … because it didn’t fit their worldview.

Still, if you take enough shots on goal, you’re bound to score eventually … so there’s something to be said for unbridled optimism.

Then there are the pessimists …

Pessimists see the dark and down-side in everything.  There’s no amount of upside that can outshine the enormous list of every possible thing that might go wrong.

Pessimists are pros at predicting problems … including many that never happen … and saying “I told you so” when things do go wrong … and worse, are often quite content to sit “safely” on the sidelines doing nothing.

Of course, you can’t win if you don’t play. 

But when your definition of winning is “not losing” … for those who see mistakes as devastating failure rather than valuable learning opportunities … that’s okay.

But perhaps there’s a productive middle-ground …

Multi-billionaire real estate investor Sam Zell says his strength is his ability to see the downside in a deal … and move forward anyway.

Zell says everyone can see the upside.  This doesn’t take any special skill or fortitude … except perhaps to keep believing after losing repeatedly.

But to soberly acknowledge the risks … and then find a path to proceed based on probabilities and a reasonable risk-adjusted return … THAT’s Sam Zell’s billionaire super-power.

Sam Zell is a realist.

We like listening to billionaires.  And we’re careful to listen to people both inside and outside of real estate … especially those who manage mega-amounts of money.

These big-time money managers have the time, the smarts, the resources, and the responsibility to gather lots of data and opinions, think long and hard, and then make great decisions more often than not.

Billionaire Jeffrey Gundlach is founder and CEO of DoubleLine Capital, which is a huge investment firm. 

Gundlach’s a renowned expert in bonds and has been recognized as one of the top 50 most influential people in the world by Bloomberg Markets.

Of course, real estate investors should always pay close attention to the bond markets.  The bond market is WAY bigger than the stock market … and directly impacts the cost and availability of money and mortgages.

More importantly, bond investors are arguably the most astute observers of the economy, the Fed, the dollar, and the politics affecting prosperity.

So when we saw a recent Reuters headline reporting on Jeff Gundlach’s comments about the economy in a recent investor call … we thought it worth noting.

“’Nominal GDP growth over the past five years would have been negative if U.S. public debt had not increased,’ said Gundlach.”

“ ‘… the GDP … is really based exclusively on debt – government debt, also corporate debt, and even now some growth in mortgage debt.’ ”

Wow.  We’d call that a reality check.

Think about that.  Five years of “growth” in a decade long “recovery” is really just a bunch of borrowed money fluffing things up.

That’s like using your credit card to remodel your house, buy a new car, and take a fancy vacation.  Your friends and neighbors think you’re prosperous.  But your income didn’t really grow … just your spending.  

Of course, if you’re using debt for productive investment … where investment returns exceed the cost of debt … then you could make the argument going into debt is smart.

That’s like using your credit card to buy new tools, remodel a property, hire a lot of workers, and then rent the property out for a profit.

Time will tell if enough of the new debt generated will be productive enough to pay for itself and add to real GDP.  Right now, according to Gundlach, it’s still net negative.

Meanwhile, we stay with our long-held belief that it’s probably wise for real estate investors to focus on niches and areas which hold up well or are more attractive in weaker economies.

It doesn’t take much smarts to do well in a booming economy.  A rising tide lifts all boats.  The biggest risk is getting sloppy and not being ready for a slow down.

But in any economy, even recessions, rich people tend to fare well. 

Of course, it’s hard to collect residential rents from the affluent.  But resort and medical are two areas where affluent people will continue to spend … even in a stagnant economy.

For working class folks and their employers … low-tax, affordable markets with good infrastructure, nice quality of life, and a business-friendly environment will likely continue to grow at a disproportionate rate.

A realist sees both the opportunity and the risks … then finds a path forward.

And for all the pessimists, here’s another reality check …

Check out this list of GDP growth indexed to notable events, including wars, depressions, recessions, and a variety of crises.

Take a look at it and ask yourself if there’s any point in the history where you wouldn’t wish you bought more real estate 20 years earlier.

Real estate is fundamental to human existence.  As long as there are people, there will be demand and opportunity in real estate.

So watch for clues in the news … to both find opportunity and to get reality checks from unbridled optimism … but don’t let the fear-mongering put you on the sideline.

Sometimes the biggest risk is not taking one.  Be bold.  Be smart.  And stay connected to people and ideas that expand your thinking and possibilities. 

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.


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