Put all your eggs in one basket … then diversify

The blessing and curse of real estate is that trends develop slowly. 

This makes them easy to catch, but also easy to miss … unless you make it a priority to pay consistent attention.

We scour the news daily.  We’re always looking for opportunities, lessons, and trends.  But they’re not always obvious.  In fact, they usually aren’t.

So it’s not answers we’re looking for.  It’s better questions.  The clues in the news simply capture our attention so we can dig deeper.

And because real estate trends move slowly, there’s often plenty of time to investigate … and then move into position to take effective action.

This recent headline reminds us of the process, and some great lessons for real estate investors …

Salt Lake City Tops U.S. In Diversity of Jobs; Las Vegas is Last 
– Bloomberg 2/15/19

Now Salt Lake City isn’t necessarily a market normally associated with diversity, but according to this report, it’s tops for diverse job opportunities.

Of course, jobs are uber important to real estate investors.  After all, jobs are the best way for tenants to get the money to pay rent.

Plus, any market with abundant jobs is going to attract more people … adding to the demand for rental properties.

Perhaps even more importantly … a diverse selection of job types is probably a good indication an area has multiple economic drivers.

Economic diversity is a very important component of stability and resilience.

This should be obvious, but it’s amazing how many investors rush into markets chasing a trend driven by only one big story.

Of course, if that one big story changes for whatever reason, then so does the trend in the market.

Consider how things worked out for real estate investors who rushed in for the oil boom in North Dakota’s Bakken or the Amazon HQ2 boom in New York.

Time will tell, but we’re guessing while some Opportunity Zones will be fantastic successes … some will end up being big busts too.

One story usually isn’t enough.  And there’s no need to move too fast when it comes to catching an uptrend in a real estate market.

Sure, when you take a measured approach, you might miss out on quick gains gleaned from front-running the fast-to-act speculators.

But if you view real estate as a long-term investment, then you’re looking for long-term trends.  Best to let the trend strengthen before getting in too deep.

Besides, there’s plenty to do while you’re watching the trend develop.

Consider our approach to Salt Lake City … since this is the focal point of the headline we’re talking about today.

Salt Lake City popped up on our radar a few years back and we started watching.  The more we saw, the better it looked.

In 2017, Salt Lake City appeared in a report of metros with a low percentage of rent burdened population.

In a related commentary about why we think this metric matters, we pointed out …

“… 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 suggested to …

“Look for metros which are affordable locally based on a low percentage of rent burdened population, with increasing affordability … and also affordable nationally when compared to the average rents of other metros.”

Markets that looked interesting based on this metric were Kansas City … along with Oklahoma City, Cincinnati, Louisville, and Salt Lake City.

Since then, and perhaps to no surprise, we’ve built relationships with boots-on-the-ground teams in both Kansas City and Salt Lake City.

Sometimes it takes time to identify and study a market, then get to know the right people … rather than just jumping into a “good” deal in a “hot” market.

Sure, when the market ends up being great, you’ll always wish you moved faster …

… so it’s wise to get good at seeing opportunity, doing your homework, and building relationships sooner.

But again … the blessing of real estate is it moves slowly.  So you don’t have to be a racehorse to win the real estate investing derby.

Nonetheless, you do need to move.  You can’t win or finish a race if you’re still standing at the starting gate.

So when you see a positive market metric, be quick to start the process of exploration … but cautious about leaping into a deal before you look.

And as you explore a market’s potential, whether you’re just starting out or already have a sizable portfolio, consider how to use diversification as a tool for building resilient wealth.

There are several ways to diversify …

Choose economically diverse economies to reduce your exposure to any one industry or sector of the economy.

Invest in multiple units when you can.  More doors provide multiple streams of income and less dependency on any one tenant.

Invest in multiple markets.  Even diverse individual economies can suffer setbacks, so being in more than one market can help mitigate the risk.

Syndicate or invest in syndications to become even more diverse faster.

Syndication pools your money with others’ … and provides scale you might not have on your own … so you can own more units, in more places, with professional management.

The bottom line is real estate is a great “basket” to put all your eggs in … while also providing the ability to create resilient wealth through strategic diversification. 

Until next time … good investing!


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Reality or Mirage?

Today’s Wall Street Journal reports that MGM Mirage is cutting the price of  the condominiums in its spectacular City Center project in Las Vegas, Nevada.  How big a cut?  Thirty percent!  We’re not sure what their margin is, but that’s probably all of it and then some. Ouch.

Worse, it’s probably still not enough. But only time will tell.  The cuts are a little surprising to us, but clearly they’re the result of a major reality check for MGM Mirage.  And this post isn’t really about Las Vegas, MGM or City Center.  It’s about the LESSONS available in this situation for all of us.

Lesson #1 – The market sets the price. Whatever MGM needs to cover its cost is interesting, but only to MGM.  The market decides what its willing to pay.  In this case, MGM is hoping it’s just 30% off.  Before it’s all done the market may want more.

Lesson #2 – The market is fickle. Three years ago people were willing to pay more. That’s why MGM sold so many.  People had equity, unemployment was half what it is today, financing was readily available for almost anything related to real estate  – even condo-hotels.  But a funny thing happened on the way to the closing table.  Okay, not so funny.  But the stream of foreign money through Wall Street into mortgage backed securities got shut off almost over night, taking with it equity and working capital.  A market heavily driven by momentum did an abrupt 180.  Whether you’re rehabbing a fixer upper or building a skyscraper, if your success requires you to find a ready,willing and able buyer (or in MGM’s case, thousands of them), you better get to market fast – because things can change.

Lesson #3 – Have a Plan B. Donald Trump’s Plan A was to sell the condos in his Las Vegas project, just like MGM and every other developer participating in the Las Vegas rush for real estate gold.  When Plan A bit the dust, he converted the project into a hotel.  Still a tough gig, but the goal is to get some cash flow to hold the property until things improve.  Rich Dad Advisor and Robert & Kim Kiyosaki’s investment partner Ken McElroy says they only do deals they can afford to stay in for 10 years.  Plan A may be to build or fix up for quick sale, but Plan B is to structure the deal so it still makes sense if they have to hold.  Plan A is a win and so is Plan B.

Lesson #4 – Understand the other party’s needs, wants and desires. When you’re in a deal that’s going sideways, whether for reasons under your control or those not (certainly MGM could not predict, much less control the mortgage meltdown), it’s easy to fixate on your own pain.  If buyers aren’t willing to close on City Center, should it be assumed they are unwilling because of the price?  Could they be unable because of lack of financing?  Could they be afraid of reduced rents on their units due to the soft economy?  Until you know what the issue are for the other party (again, in MGM’s case, thousands of them), you might give up or give away profit unnecessarily.

Lesson #5 – Use Creativity to Protect Profits (or minimize losses). Certainly we don’t know all the considerations for MGM, and presumably these are extremely smart people, but we know many investors who are in contract for units in City Center and we haven’t heard any discussion of owner financing.  We know that condo-hotel pricing has all but disappeared. For many buyers getting a conventional third party loan is an impossibility.  But what if City Center carried back the financing?  It doesn’t get cash, but it gets an asset (a mortgage). For those buyers who need income to service the mortgage, couldn’t MGM as the hotel operator, steer more guests into the unit? After all, they still get their operator’s share of revenue, plus they get the mortgage payment.  The owner may need to kick in a little cash flow to feed the mortgage, but better than losing one’s deposit. After all, it’s still one of the premier properties in the country.  Where do you think values will be in 20 years?

You may not be a Big Time Operator like MGM.  But real estate is real estate and when you watch what’s happening for the BTO’s, many of the lessons will apply to you.