Rent control … a sign of the times?

A very big real estate story splashed across mainstream news recently, but got buried underneath (insert the sensational political headline you’re sick of) …

Oregon Okays First Statewide Mandatory Rent Control Law

 Associated Press, 2/28/19 

Okay, we admit this is a government policy … so it’s political.

But politics is easy to laugh at when it’s happening in cyberspace.  It’s a little less funny when it hits hard on Main Street.

For thousands of Main Street landlords in Oregon, politics just landed hard … right in their portfolio.

Of course, as is often the case, there’s more to the story than meets the eye.

So even if you don’t own property in Oregon … or won’t for much longer 😉 … there’s a lot to glean from this watershed legislation.

We could debate whether or not government should step into a “free” market and regulate the price of anything … from housing to healthcare to haircuts.

But it doesn’t matter if WE think they should or shouldn’t.  They do.

And as a broken financial system keeps growing a wedge between haves and have-nots … we’re guessing more politicians will try to legislate affordability.

So like it or not (we don’t), rent control is something every investor everywhere should be watching out for.

Let’s take a look at how rent control works in the real world …

Real estate investors buy property to produce income and build long-term wealth.  The more income a property produces, the more it’s worth.

In order to create more wealth, real estate investors need to create more income … which means creating more value that a tenant is willing and able to pay for.

The essence of real estate investing is using capital to acquire long-term cash flow.  This is how real estate investors think.

Make sense so far?

Politicians, whom we’re guessing are NOT real estate investors, think investment starts and ends at acquisition.

Unless you’re Warren Buffet, paper asset investors don’t buy stocks with the intention of improving the cash flow.

You just buy, own, and sell.  Maybe collect some dividends along the way.

But when value-add real estate investors buy properties in poor condition with lousy amenities …

… they’re excited about the potential to make further investments into the property AFTER the acquisition.

For example, a property without a washer and dryer might rent for $50 a month less than one with that amenity included.

So for perhaps $600 per unit additional capital invested, a landlord could acquire $600 per year cash flow.

That’s a good ROI.  It’s also a nice amenity for the tenant.

You could say the same about covered parking, self-storage, a laundry room, a workout room, free wi-fi, and on and on.

Rent control caps the owner’s ability to create positive returns by improving properties.  So guess what?  They don’t.

So crappy properties stay crappy … because the incentive to improve them is removed.

And as nicer properties deteriorate, there’s not much incentive to maintain them above the bare minimum.

With profit potential capped on the revenue side … and no cap on the fixed expense side …

… as margins get squeezed, property owners have no choice but to cut services and defer maintenance.

So rent control makes both landlords and properties cheap.  In a bad way.

And because there’s always more people on the low-end of the economic scale (part of the reason Oregon is doing this) …

… there will always be a line of people waiting to get into these “affordable” rentals … even though they’re crappy.

And with little market pressure on landlords to compete for tenants, there’s even less incentive to improve properties, add services and amenities, or lower rents.

But it gets “better” … or actually worse …

As property values decline … or stagnate relative to rising costs of labor and materials … incentives for developers to build new inventory declines too.

Rising values are what attract developers to create more supply … which is the answer to moderating rising values.

Yes, it’s sad when marginal tenants’ incomes don’t grow as fast as rents … or other inflating necessities.

But capping the property’s growth doesn’t pull the tenants up.  It pulls the properties down.

It’s a bad scene. That’s why nearly every investor we know stays away from rent control areas.

But it’s also important to consider WHY this is happening …

The Fed dropped interest rates to zero for nearly a decade, then pumped trillions of dollars into the financial system … primarily to inflate asset values (stocks, bonds, real estate).

It worked … at least for some people.

Those paying attention, with both resources and financial education … snapped up the money, rode the equity train, and got much richer.

You might be one of them … or hope to join them.  We hope you succeed.

You can’t blame people for playing the game using the rules and circumstances in their own best interests. But politicians do.

But the real issue is the financial policy wizards thought these now richer folks would then spend the money … and build businesses … and prosperity would trickle down to Joe six-pack and Larry lunch-bucket. 

In many ways, it worked.  The problem is the wealth didn’t allocate very evenly.  It never does.

Certain markets got a disproportionate share of the goodies. 

And even though Oregon wasn’t really on the list … it was nearby … and so became a collateral beneficiary /victim.

Lots of cheap money ended up in tech stocks, which blew up real estate values in tech hubs like Seattle and Silicon Valley.

As prices shot up, folks in those uber high-priced markets got pushed off the back of the bus … and gravitated to nearby “affordable” places like Oregon, Nevada, and Arizona.

Of course, the folks already in those nearby affordable areas end up competing with the new people who see everything as cheap … and easily bid things up.

It’s a regional variation of gentrification … with its roots in paper asset bubbles blown up by cheap stimulus money.

But politicians are notoriously myopic when it comes to “fixing” things … especially financial problems.

As Peter Schiff says, “Good economics is bad politics, and good politics is bad economics.  That’s why you always get bad economics from politicians.”

Sadly, there are signs it could get worse as politicians try to contain the consequences of an over-financialized economy.

So even though we tout the opportunity to invest in affordable areas ahead of the crowds, it’s REALLY important to stay aware of the political climate.

If you bought into Oregon ahead of the migration …

… you’re now the proud owner of a property where the state government views you more as a public utility to be regulated than a free entrepreneur to be incentivized.

So you’ll either need to get out while the getting’s good … or not as bad as it could get … or start brushing up on your C-class property management skills.

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.


Love the show?  Tell the world!  When you promote the show, you help us attract more great guests for your listening pleasure!

A big story keeps getting bigger …

We’re just two weeks removed from an epic educational and networking experience at the New Orleans Investment Conference.

While we were there, we threw a little private party and Robert Kiyosaki, Peter Schiff, Chris Martenson, and Brien Lundin all showed up to hob-nob with our listeners.  Very fun.

During the conference, Robert Helms emceed a fascinating panel called The Future of Money, with panelists Doug CaseyDanielle DiMartino Booth and Chris Martenson.

(Side note: Chris Martenson, Brien Lundin and Peter Schiff are all confirmed for the 2018 Summit at Sea™ … and we’re still recruiting several other VERY notable speakers.)

It’s clear the future of money and wealth is on the threshold of MAJOR change.

For most people “the dollar” is synonymous with money because their income and wealth are denominated primarily in dollars. So the future of the dollar is an important topic.

Right now, the U.S. dollar is the world’s reserve currency … and Treasuries are considered the safest, most liquid place to save excess dollars.

Treasuries are Uncle Sam’s IOUs.  They’re technically called bills, bonds, and notes … but they’re all debt.

Treasuries also play a major role in how market interest rates are determined … so if you’re a user of debt, the future of Treasuries affects you also.

Yields (rates) and prices of Treasuries are a function of supply and demand.

Like apartment buildings, when investors bid prices UP, yields (like cap rates) fall. 

You may already know it, but just in case, the math is simple:  Income / Price = Rate

For example, $60,000 net operating income on an $800,000 property is a 7.5% cap rate. 

If investors bid the property up to $1 million, it’s $60,000 / $1,000.000 = 6% cap rate.

So high demand creates upward pressure on prices, and downward pressure on yields (cap rates).  Make sense?

The same with Treasuries.  As long as demand is robust relative to supply, interest rates are low.  Strong demand for Treasuries means low interest rates.

If anything substantially alters the supply / demand equilibrium in Treasuries, YOUR asset values and interest rates will feel it.

Lots of government debt means lots of Treasuries for sale.   We’re pretty sure that’s not changing soon.

But TOO MUCH supply means lower prices.  Just like when lots of houses in a neighborhood are for sale at the same time.

DEMAND for Treasuries comes from private investors (small and large), and political investors (governments and central banks).

Private investors buy Treasuries to park large amounts of cash, use as gambling chips in the Wall Street casinos, or serve as collateral in complex financial transactions.

Governments also buy Treasuries as a place to park their reserves.  China and Japan are at the top of the list with over $1 trillion each. 

Treasuries are denominated in dollars.  So countries buy dollars with their own currency, or sell things to the United States and get paid in dollars … then use those dollars to buy Treasuries.

To keep the worldwide economy going, Uncle Sam issues lots of Treasuries and the Fed prints lots of dollars.

As long as everyone trusts the dollar, it’s all hunky-dory.  And this is why so many of our big-brained friends are concerned. 

As we chronicle in our Real Asset Investing special reportChina’s been making substantial moves to undermine the dollar as the world’s reserve currency.

We recently commented on this … and the story continues to unfold.

Here’s the quick backstory …

When the dollar became the most trusted currency on earth in 1944 it was backed by gold.  In 1971 Uncle Sam defaulted on the gold backing.

Not surprisingly, the world dumped dollars which triggered excessive inflation (rising prices, loss of purchasing power).  The U.S. quickly came up with a plan to save the dollar.

Uncle Sam made a deal with Saudi Arabia … for oil to ONLY be sold for dollars and the Saudi’s would invest their profits in Treasuries.  Clever.

Then the Fed raised rates to nearly 20% to “break the back of inflation.”  If you wonder why inflation is scary, look at life in Venezuela right now.

Inflation is caused by too many dollars in circulation relative to goods and services available.

High interest rates slow borrowing.  It’s a long story, but new dollars are born when you borrow.  Reducing borrowing slows the birth of new dollars.

High interest rates also suck excess dollars into banks and Treasuries, as people and nations save for yield (interest).

These moves shifted demand for the dollar from Uncle Sam’s savings (gold) to the oil and bond markets. 

Back then, the U.S. had the biggest manufacturing economy, most productive workforce, the strongest military, and very little debt.

Of course, MANY things have changed … and more change is likely coming to an economy near you.

Today, no one cares about gold … except China and Russia, who are accumulating hundreds of tons a year.  Hmmm… that’s interesting.

Coincidentally, Russia and China are the #2 and #3 military powers in the world behind the United States.

China is now the largest manufacturing economy and top importer of oil.  Russia is the #2 seller of oil … behind (wait for it …) Saudi Arabia.

Russia and China recently made a deal to trade oil in Chinese currency (the yuan) … instead of dollars.   

China already has major oil producers Iran and Venezuela on board the petro-yuan train.

And now there’s talk China will “compel” the Saudi’s to deal in yuan too.  When you’re the big customer, you have negotiating leverage.

China also recently announced plans to create a yuan-denominated oil contract, which some say is a big step towards creating a robust yuan-backed bond market.

And to top it all off, it’s been reported China is flirting with the idea of backing those petro-yuan contracts with gold.

The Chinese are infamous for seeing a good idea and copying it. 

Right now, it seems China has reverse-engineered the dollar’s rise to dominance and is simply copying it … and it looks like they’re making steady progress towards their goal.

The BIG questions are …

What does it mean to YOU and what can YOU do to grow and protect YOUR wealth?

Of course, that’s a HUGE discussion and we’re working on something BIG to address it.

For now, when you think about the future of money and wealth, here are some things to consider …

Investors, many probably born after 1971, are piling into Bitcoin … driving it up at an insane rate.

Motives we’ve heard for Bitcoin-mania include moving wealth into an “asset” which can’t be simply printed out of thin air.

Interestingly, Bloomberg reports that online searches for “buy Bitcoin” have exceeded “buy gold.” 

Some use the border-less nature of Bitcoin to escape capital controls and discreetly move wealth out of totalitarian jurisdictions. 

Of course, some are buying Bitcoin simply because “it’s going up” and they want to strike it rich in dollar terms.

Meanwhile, plans have been announced to launch a Bitcoin futures market … just like already exists for gold.  

Ironically, futures markets are the very mechanism many pundits claim gold prices are suppressed with … to discourage those concerned about the dollar from seeking safety in gold.

We’ll see what happens to Bitcoin.  Meanwhile, Russia, China and several other nations continue to accumulate gold.

As for the U.S., it’s all about the red-hot stock market.

Of course, as our friend Simon Black points out, the top performing stock market is Venezuela. So a booming market isn’t necessarily the bellwether of a healthy economy.

Where does real estate fit into all this?

History says real estate fares pretty well when shift happens.

Even in chaotic financial times, people still need a roof over the head, crops still need to grow, commerce goes on … and real estate is at the center of human activity.

Of course, that doesn’t mean all real estate investors everywhere make it. 

We took it hard in 2008 because we weren’t prepared for a sudden shift.  We’re working hard to be better prepared today.

One thing’s for sure … there’s never been a more important time to get SERIOUS about your financial education and strategic network.

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.

Forecasts, fallacies and fortitude …

As of this writing, the Fed hasn’t yet announced their economic forecasts or whether they’ll raise interest rates.

The talk on the street says the Fed will raise by 25 basis points (.25%).

History says a recession is coming … because 10 of the last 13 times the Fed engaged in a rate hike campaign, that’s what happened. They’re not particularly skilled at “soft landings”.

The Fed also has a dismal record for economic forecasts. They chronically see sunshine even when clouds are forming. But that’s not why Wall Street pays attention to them.

Day traders, hedge fund managers, and other players in the Wall Street casinos fixate on the Fed … hoping to be on the right side of whatever flow of cash results from anything they do or say.

Their mantra is “buy low, sell high” to generate cash flow. It’s a fast-paced, high stakes game perfect for adrenalin junkies.

It’s also a game which generates brokerage fees, highly taxable capital gains, and big bonuses. So both Wall Street and Uncle Sam love it.

Meanwhile, real estate investors sit off to the side … casually interested in what the Fed does … but much more concerned with collecting rent, watching expenses, and managing cash flow.

Cash flowing real estate is pretty boring. And super sexy. Like a faithful wife or girlfriend.

But if the Fed’s likely hike is signaling a higher probability of recession, what’s a real estate investor to do?

Here are some thoughts gleaned from a Business Insider article quoting legendary real estate investor Sam Zell

“Sure, I’m always looking for unlocked potential … but everybody wants to look at how good a deal can get. People love focusing on the upside. That’s where the fun is. What amazes me is how superficially they consider the downside.

For me, the calculation in making a deal starts with the downside. If I can identify that, then I understand the risk I’m taking. What’s the outcome if everything goes wrong? What actions would we take? Can I bear the cost? Can I survive it?”

Zell also says, “… taking risks is really the only way to consistently achieve above average returns … in life, as well as in investments.”

In other words, success is not about avoiding risk, but rather in understanding, accepting and managing risk … and only taking it on when the upside is worth it and you can afford the downside.

Here are some things for real estate investors to think about in preparing for the possibility of recession …

Consider increasing liquidity

Right now, there’s a lot of equity in both stocks and real estate. If you’ve got excess equity on your balance sheet, it could be an ideal time to convert some of it to cash.

Yes, it’s tempting to be fully deployed in good times. But if things slow down, cash is king. And if asset values fall, the market’s going to take the equity anyway. Better for you to grab it first.

Emphasize durability of cash flow

It’s a lot more fun to push rents to increase net operating income, and you should always look to optimize income. But earn it by delivering better value and not just by riding a hot economy.

If times get tough for your tenants, they’ll start looking for value. When they do, make sure they find YOU at the top of the list.

Look for ways to trim expenses, lock in solid tenants with competitive longer-term leases, and restructure debt with an emphasis on stability.

You may leave a little on the table, but consider it recession insurance.

Gravitate towards affordable markets

If recession comes, businesses and households will be much more aggressive in seeking value.

Once you know you’re competitive in your current markets, consider expanding your portfolio into markets that are likely to be popular with people and businesses looking to save.

Over-priced markets and properties will probably recede. While affordable markets and properties will likely benefit from increased demand.

Watch for “Sea Change”

Sometimes recessions are just bumps on the road of business-as-usual.

Sometimes recessions are part of a much broader transformation.

There are MANY things going on in the world which are far from business-as-usual. Like recessions, they can be unnerving, but they also create opportunity.

The dollar’s future as the world’s reserve currency, technology’s impact on labor, unprecedented global debt, the ascent (and now slowing) of China … are some of the many macro-factors we pay attention to.

Each of these has the potential to change the investing landscape in substantial ways.

Consider this CNBC headline …

‘Made in China’ could soon be ‘Made in the US’

“Contrary to widespread belief, China isn’t the cheap place to manufacture that it once was, and rising costs have been forcing manufacturers to explore new countries to make their goods.”

The article quotes the president of a Chinese textile firm …

“Add in the possibility of a lower corporate tax to as little as 15 percent, as proposed by Trump, and the U.S. becomes a no-brainer for many manufacturers …”

Could hard times in China lead to a resurgence of the U.S. rust belt?

Here’s the point …

Recession in and of itself isn’t necessarily a “bad” thing. It’s an event. In fact, it’s a regularly recurring event.

Recession isn’t necessarily universal or global. In other words, it doesn’t affect all industries, people or locations the same way at the same time.

A recession in one place can lead to a boom in another and vice-versa as people, businesses and money flow to and from challenges and opportunities.

Like winter, a recession is a season. It may not be as fun as the sunshine, but for the prepared it’s not a big deal.

Going back to the wisdom of Sam Zell … acknowledging the reality of the downside isn’t a reason to hunker down and do nothing. Doing nothing has its own downside.

The world is full of very real threats … and that’s GOOD. It creates movement from which pockets of opportunity emerge.

Because, as Sam Zell says “… taking risks is really the only way to consistently achieve above average returns …

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to become a well-informed and diligent risk-taker.

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.