The mid-term morning after …

If you’re an American, unless you’ve been in a coma or living under a rock, you know the United States just had one of the most energetic mid-term elections in quite some time.

The day after, both sides are disappointed … and both sides are claiming victory.

One of the advantages of being older is we’ve seen this movie before.

In our younger days, when elections didn’t go our way, we thought it was the end of the world.  Today, not so much.

It doesn’t mean we don’t care.  We do.  And certainly, politicians and their policies have a direct impact on our Main Street investing.

But it’s in times like these we’re reminded of the beautiful, boring stability of real estate.

Because while all the post-election drama and speculation plays out, people still get up and go to work and pay their rent.

And though the Trump-train just got slowed … like Barack Obama before him, big chunks of his agenda got pushed through early … and are likely here to stay for a while.

In other words, it doesn’t look like Obamacare or the Trump tax reform will be repealed any time soon.

More importantly, investors of all stripes … paper and real … now know what the lay of the land is for the next two years.

Early indications (based on the all-green dashboard of Wall Street) reveal there’s cash on the sidelines waiting to see what happened … and now that gridlock is the answer… money is pouring into everything.

We know that sounds counter-intuitive.  But while political activists push change … too much change too fast makes money nervous.

Investors and entrepreneurs need to make decisions about long-term risk and reward.  And when the world is changing too fast, those decisions are harder to make.

Way back in the lead-up to the 2010 mid-terms, we penned this piece about a concept we call “healthy tension.”  Just change the team colors and it’s just as applicable today as it was back then.

The point is that money and markets like gridlock.

At this point, from an investing perspective, it doesn’t really matter if any of us like or dislike what happened … politically.  It’s done.

Now we all just need to decide what it means to us and how to move forward … because life goes on.

So bringing it all back to Main Street …

We’re guessing all the great Trump-tax reform benefits for real estate investors… from bonus depreciation to Opportunity Zones … are here to stay.

And as we said just a week ago …  there’s probably a lot more money headed into real estate.  Nothing about this election appears to change that.

So gridlock inside the beltway means stability on Main Street.

Sure, it might be a little boring.  But real estate investors are used to boring.  And when it comes to long-term wealth building … boring is good.

Until next time … good investing!

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There’s MORE money headed into real estate …

In the swirling sea of capital that makes up the global economic ocean we all invest in …

… big fund managers are pay close attention to a variety of factors for clues about the ebb, flow, and over-flow of people, business, and money.

Right now … it seems like a BIG wave of money could be headed into real estate.

Of course, compared to stocks, these things aren’t simple to see and track.  And they’re even harder to act on.

Stocks are easy … if interest rates fall and money floods into stocks, you just buy an index fund and enjoy the ride.

Just remember … the dark side of easy and liquid is crowded and volatile.

So unless you’re a seasoned trader, trying to front run the crowd to both an entrance and exit in stocks can be a dangerous game.

But real estate is slow.  It’s inefficient.  It moves slowly.  There’s drama.

And yet, the BEAUTY of real estate is its messiness.  Embrace it.

So here’s why we think more money could be flowing into real estate soon …

Opportunity Zones

We’ll be talking about this more in the future, but the short of it is the new tax code creates HUGE incentives for current profits from ANYTHING (including stocks) to make its way into pre-identified geographic zones.

According to The Wall Street Journal,

“U.S. is aiming to attract $100 billion in development with ‘opportunity zones’…”

“could be ‘the biggest thing to hit the real estate world in perhaps the past 30 or even more years’ …”

 Private Equity Funds

 Another Wall Street Journal article says …

“Real estate debt funds amass record war chest

“Property funds have $57 billion to invest …”

Pension Funds

This Wall Street Journal article indicates BIG pension funds are getting into the game too …

“Big investors like the California teachers pension are backing real-estate debt funds …”

One reason savvy investors watch economic waves is to see a swell building … so they can paddle into position to catch a ride.  It’s like financial surfing.

Time will tell where all these funds will land, but it’s a safe bet it won’t be in smaller properties.  MAYBE some will end up in residential mortgages, but don’t count on it.

So what’s the play for a Mom and Pop Main Street investor?

Start by watching the flow …

We’ll be watching the markets and product types the money goes into.

Then we’ll be watching for the ripple effect … because that’s probably where the Main Street opportunity will be.

For example, if money pours into a particular geography, it’s going to create a surge of economic activity … especially if the funds are primarily used for construction.

But we’d be cautious about making long-term investments in any place temporarily benefiting from a short-term surge … so it’s best to look past the immediate impact.

Think about the long-term impact … which is a factor of WHAT is being built.

Fortunately, major projects take many months to complete … so they’re easy to see coming IF you’re paying attention.

We like to plug into the local chamber of commerce to track who’s coming and going in a market place … and why.  The local Business Journal is also a useful news source to monitor.

The kinds of development that excite us include factories, office buildings, industrial parks, and distribution centers.  Those mean local jobs.

We’re less excited about shopping centers, entertainment centers, and even residential and medical projects.

Because even though they mean jobs too … they don’t DRIVE the economy.  They feed off it.

Of course, we’re not saying those things are bad … but they should reflect current and projected growth … not be expected to drive it.

Hopefully, developers are doing solid market research and are building because the local population and prosperity can absorb the new product.

Then again, when money is aggressively pumped in, sometimes developers get greedy … and areas get OVER-built.

So don’t just follow the big money.   Be sure you understand the market.

Watch for the over-flow too …

Sometimes money moving into a market creates prosperity only for some … and hardship for others.

Silicon Valley is a CLASSIC example.

As billions flood into the market through inflated stock prices, many people get pushed off the back of the affordability bus.

But even though it’s hard for those folks, they end up driven into adjacent markets which are indirectly pushed up.  It’s overflow.

That’s when you see headlines like these …

Boise and Reno Capitalize on the California Real Estate Exodus –Bloomberg, 10/23/18

“Sky-high housing prices in the Golden State bring an echo boom—and new neighbors—to other Western states.”

Sure, in Silicon Valley’s case, the flow of money is cheap capital pouring into the stock market and enriching tech companies … and their employees.

But it doesn’t matter which door the money comes in when it flows into a market.  That’s why it’s best to look at ALL the flows into a market.

And when the flow of capital drives up investment property prices in a market (depressing cap rates), even investors will overflow into secondary markets in search of better yields.

The lesson here is to watch the ebb, flow, and overflows as capital pours into both the debt and equity side of real estate through Opportunity Zones, private equity funds, and increasing pension fund allocations.

You never quite know how the market will react, but you can be sure it will.

The key is to see the swell rising early so you can start paddling into position to catch the wave.

We do it by looking for clues in the news, producing and attending conferences, and getting into great conversations with the RIGHT people.

We encourage YOU to do the same.

Until next time … good investing!

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Squish Happens

Most people believe bubbles “burst”.  When people talk about the decline of tech stock values at the turn of the century, they say “the tech bubble burst”.  Of course, lately it’s all about the “real estate bubble” bursting.  Over the last two years, The Real Estate Guys™ have taken some criticism over one of our TV shows where we said, “Real estate bubbles don’t burst”.

But we’ll stand by that.  Bubbles don’t burst – at least not as long as whatever is underneath them is real.  And there isn’t much that’s more real than real estate.

So we say bubbles are squishy.  In fact, the term “bubble” (in the context of referring to a rapid run up of prices) is really a misnomer.  Better to say “balloon”.

When you squeeze a balloon, it squishes.  It comes out the sides or goes between your fingers; it just finds someplace else to go.

So you’ve heard that real estate prices have dropped.  There’s deflation.  Equity is gone.  Everyone’s underwater.  Life as we know it is over.  It’s real estate Armageddon.

Then you see (like we did) today’s Wall Street Journal article, “Hong Kong Land Sale Raises Worry of a Bubble”.

A bubble?  Didn’t it burst?

Well, no.  Actually, it squished.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

“Government officials here (Hong Kong) grapple with how to cool off overheating property prices”.

When’s the last time you heard “overheating” and “property prices” in the same sentence?  It almost seems like an oxymoron, like “reliable copier”.

Here’s another excerpt:

“The big (land purchase) came after (the real estate developer) sold 900 apartment units in a major new residential complex over the weekend for a total of  US$541 million.”

If you do the math, that’s over $600K per unit!  In ONE weekend.  We haven’t seen THAT in the US for awhile.


“In China…home prices have risen as much as 25% in the past year and land values have doubled.”

That’s this past year, as in 2009.  You know, when US prices were in their third year of decline.

Now, consider where much of the money that fueled the US real estate bubble came from.  Get it?

The bubble squished.  But if your perspective is too narrow, you might think it burst.  Especially because that’s what everyone says.  And if you think bubbles burst, then you will quit the game and hide in your FDIC insured bank account.  Meanwhile, as the dollar crashes, you’re savings become worth less and less.

We have two main points:

First, real estate is an asset class unlike any other.  It’s real (permanent).  Gold and other commodities can also make this claim so, in and of itself, being real doesn’t make real estate utterly unique as an investment.

But, unlike virtually every other investment, real estate’s value is not universal.  Real estate values vary by markets and sub-markets, and those markets are global as we can clearly see.

Compare that to gold, which is also real.  If an ounce of gold is selling for $1200, it’s the same price all over the world.  There’s no squish, except to another asset class.

To really look at it right, you can’t think of real estate as an asset class.  You almost have to think of each property, or at least each market or sub-market, as an asset class.  So when one is down, another is up.  Squish.  Like stocks and bonds, gold and the dollar, etc.

But the big thing (our FAVORITE) that makes real estate unique, is that it can be financed with bank or private funding and debt serviced by tenants.  This makes it VERY conservative when structured properly.  Why?  Because even if the property declines in value, as long as it produces enough net operating income to amortize the loan (meaning the tenants are paying down your loan) some day it will be paid off.  Then it just generates cash flow forever.  That’s a beautiful thing.  Form that perspective, squish doesn’t matter that much.

Our second main point is that right now many people are forming new financial paradigms as a result of what they’re seeing and experiencing.  The people who lived through the Great Depression came out of it with very powerful convictions about how they viewed and handled money.  There were many great attitudes such as frugality, saving; and loyalty and appreciation for the opportunity to work.  We would all be better off by adopting these attitudes.

However, many of those same people missed out on some of the greatest opportunities in modern history because they brought a lot of fear and rigidity out of the trauma of the Depression.  Many people were hyper-conservative.

To be clear, we aren’t suggesting anyone should take risks they aren’t comfortable with.  And we aren’t criticizing anyone’s personal investment philosophy – no matter how conservative it might be.  We’re certainly more cautious about the risks we take these days.

We are merely suggesting to be mindful of the temptation to be hyper-conservative in terms of your willingness to be an investor.  If you won’t invest in your education or take time to investigate opportunity, you’ve probably decided “investing is too risky” and have effectively quit.  You think the bubble burst, the game is over, and there is no opportunity.  Or it’s so far off or you’re so out of position that you’re on investing sabbatical.   This is probably not you, or you wouldn’t be reading a blog like this.  But, there are lots of people who have quit – or are in various stages of quitting.  Make sure you know who you are and that you’re honest about it.

Now is a great time to be getting started (or re-started).  Talk to the people you know about real estate investing and see what they say – and watch what they do.  How are their attitudes changing as a result of the last three years?  What’s their game plan going forward?  Ask yourself those same questions.

Remember, squish happens.  As an investor, you want to pay attention to the flow of capital and try to be on the right side of squish.  And since you know squish happens, be sure to structure your deals to survive if you’re on the wrong end of it.   We’ll be talking more about this in the future.

Most of all, make sure you take the right lessons out of this Great Recession.  The right lessons are those that make you a better investor, not those that push you back to being merely a saver or a non-participating observer.  Invest in your education.  Investigate and evaluate opportunities.  Keep your head in the game, even if you’re on the sideline temporarily.

We’d love to hear from you!  Use our feedback page to tell us how this recession has affected your investing philosophy and strategy.  What are the people around you saying and doing?  Where do you see opportunity and why?  What are you doing to broaden your horizon, increase your education and increase your network?

Oh no! Vacancies are up!

If you’re a regular follower of The Real Estate Guys, you know we like to see the opportunity in every problem.  This is the time of year when all the reports on the previous year – as well as the the predictions for the New Year – are all over the airwaves and internet.

One that caught our eye is from the Wall Street Journal on January 7th:  U.S. Now a Renters’ Market – With Apartment Vacancy Rates at 30 Year High, Landlords Cut Prices 3% in 2009.

Oh no!

If you’re a landlord competing for tenants and trying to eke out positive cash flow, this is bad news.  The problem, as the article (and common sense) details, is a lousy US job market.  People are “clustering” (moving in with friends and family), so even though the people are still out there, the demand for rental units is down.

Stop right there.  Have you ever clustered?  There’s nothing more fun (not!) than moving back home with mom and dad – or sharing a bathroom with a roommate.  As soon as things get better, what is the FIRST thing you want to do?  Get a place of your own!  Hold that thought.

Now, let’s go down memory lane.  Do you remember when every 3rd person you met was a real estate investor?  Folks with no experience and very little real estate education rushed in to buy real estate to make a quick buck – or in some cases, a quick tens of thousands of bucks – as the flood of money pouring into real estate created hyper-appreciation.  Ahhh….those were the days!

But now those days are over.  Lots of those rookie owners are now facing not only their first, but undoubtedly the worst, real estate correction in their lifetimes.  While some have already been wiped out, many others are still struggling to hold on.  But they don’t want to be real estate investors any more.  In fact, they never really were real estate investors.  They were mutual fund investors (i.e., hands-off-just-send-me-the-statements-showing-my-net-worth-growing investors) who ended up in real estate because it was the hot commodity at the time.

In other words, they are what true real estate investors affectionately call “Don’t Wanters”.  Maybe you have some properties you don’t want,  so you’re a Don’t Wanter.  But, we’re not talking about having a problem property (that’s just part of the game), as much as we’re talking about people who are leaving real estate investment never to return.  They don’t have the heart to stick it out during the tough times.  Maybe we should call them Quitters (not in a bad way – real estate investing isn’t for everyone).

This is where the true blue investors have opportunity.

How much effort is going into job creation in the US right now?  We know that’s a loaded question.  But we didn’t say how much effective effort is being put out.  Just how much effort?  There’s no question that it’s a top political priority.  If this current group doesn’t fix it soon, a new team will get a chance.  But sooner or later someone is going to fix the problem.  If you don’t believe that, then it’s time to move somewhere else (how’s your Chinese?).

Meanwhile, people struggle. They cluster. They hunker down and watch expenses.  They save when they can. And they dream longingly about the day they can get out on their own.

What about builders?  Are they cranking out new rental units?  Heck no!  The credit crunch and economic uncertainly have put the kibosh on that.  And in certain markets, there simply isn’t any room to build anything new even if someone wanted to.  Markets like San Jose and San Francisco California.

Hmmmm.  Arent’ those two of the three markets the Wall Street Journal article said led the decline in rental rates?  (Yes, they are – as you’ll see when you read the article).

Do you see the picture yet?

Amateur investors with rental properties in markets “that had brisk growth until the recession” (again, quoting the Wall Street Journal) – whose properties are now experiencing declines in income.  Those declines might be temporary, but when you want out, you don’t think long term. You just want out.

Might the Quitters be interested in selling?  Since income properties are valued by the income they produce (more income equals more value and vice versa), those properties are worth less (not to be confused with “worthless”) now.  That is, they’re on sale.

Meanwhile, potential tenants are clustered on the sidelines waiting for economic recovery to give them the jobs they need to move out.  And with few new units coming on line, they will be competing for the available units – which seem to be abundant now (hence the price declines).  But again, the population didn’t substantially decrease – so at its core, the demand is still there.  But without jobs, people are…well, let’s say “enjoying each others company” more often.

Conclusion?  Now might be a great time to strategically acquire rental properties from don’t wanters in markets with good prospects for recovery, but poor prospects for an increase in supply. Because when you combine growing demand with capacity to pay (jobs) with limited capacity to increase the supply, you have a formula for increasing cash flow and value.  But if you wait until all that happens, you’ve missed it.

As Wayne Gretsky once said, you have to “skate to where the puck is going, not to where it is.”

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Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

Here we are the end of the first decade of the new millennium.  For old geezers like us who remember when George Orwell’s 1984 and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey were speculations into the future, just saying “2010” is weird.  And if you’re not in the geezer group, you might not even recognize the title of this blog as the opening verse of an old 60’s rock song.  What does that have to do with real estate?  Nothing really.  The point of this blog is that as we enter this new decade, more and more positive signs keep popping up.  We’re here to help make sure you don’t miss them.

A December 19th Wall Street Journal headline says, Down Payment Standards Eased.  Well, that certainly caught our attention.  The gist of the article is simple:  Mortgage lenders and mortgage insurance companies are beginning to loosen their lending standards.  This, the Journal says, is a sign of increased confidence in housing.

You can read the article yourself, so we won’t repeat it here.  But we do want to point out a couple of ideas we think are worthy of consideration.

First, the looser standards are being applied on a market by market basis.  This acknowledges the obvious truth that real estate values are local.  This fact creates both opportunity and challenges for an out of area investor.   How do you know which markets are recovering and which ones are still declining?  While knowing what to research to figure this out is one thing, actually having the time and resources to do it is another.  How convenient when huge companies have already done some of this work for you!  So, it seems to us that any market where the looser standards have been applied might be of better-than-average interest.

Also, the article talked about the toughening of lending standards by Fannie Mae, who they say just raised its minimum credit score from 580 to 620.  That alone just took lots of people out of the running to buy a home.  While that might seem negative toward new buyers driving up values, it also means more people will need to rent.  As a property manager, if you’ve been running credit reports on prospective tenants, there might be an opportunity to pick up new customers in the 580 to 620 range.  Of course, you take more risk when you lower your standards, but unlike these automated underwriting engines that just lop people off the list at a specific point, you can be a little more personal.  There are a lot of people in this economy whose once pristine credit is tarnished because of unemployment or strategic mortgage default.  This doesn’t mean they will be poor credit risks when renting a place to live from you.

The landscape continues to change.  With every shift, problems and opportunities are created.  The signs are all around you, so keep your eyes open.  Think about what you are seeing.  Form hypotheses and develop action plans to take advantage of the shifts.  When we’re at the end of the next decade looking at 2020, where will you be?  The actions you take in this next year will be the foundation for the answer to that question.

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WSJ says House Flipping Make a Comeback

We noticed an interesting headline it today’s Wall Street Journal.  “House Flipping Makes a Comeback”.  That brought back fond memories of easy equity during the days of “irrational exuberance” in real estate.  Of course, there’s a dark side to irrational exuberance which we’re sure you don’t need to be reminded of.

So why did this article catch our interest?

The star of the article is a real estate “investor” in Phoenix…really? Phoenix?  We thought Phoenix was a train wreck.  Or, is their opportunity in chaos?

Anyway, this guy in Phoenix went to an auction and bought a house that was formerly worth $1.3 million.  He paid just under $489,000.  He then sold it to a woman for $699,000.  That’s about $210,000 in quick profit.  In The Real Estate Guys’ world, we call this “found” equity.  It’s “found” because he didn’t do anything to the property to make it worth more.  It was worth more than what he paid for it at the time he bought it.  The bank left money on the table.  He found it.

Sounds easy, right?  How many of those would you like to to do in a year?

The article goes on to talk about different markets and statistics.  It provides some insight into bank motives. Blah, blah, blah.  This isn’t to be critical of the Wall Street Journal.  But they write for a different reason than we do.  We’re thankful they brought the topic up.  Now we have something to build on.

What we’re interested in is HOW to do it.  Though we’re not experts in purchasing foreclosures, we have certainly done our share of “found equity” deals.  Based on our experience, here are some tips if you decide to play this game (which can be very fun and profitable!):

ALWAYS know your exit before you get into the deal. And ideally, you want more than one.  The article doesn’t say if the Phoenix guy had his buyer identified BEFORE he bought the property, but that’s the way we would have played it.  With a buyer in hand, you show up at the auction (or go into the open market) and look for a property that your buyer wants.  If you know what they’re willing to pay and you can buy it for less, then you have margin and a quick and known exit.

Make sure your buyer is real. That is, he’s ready, willing and able (as in financially capable of buying).  If you’re a real estate agent, this is basic.  If you’re a newbie flipper, it’s gold.  You don’t want to be stuck holding the property.

Make sure your margin is more than 6%. Even though 6% on a $300,000 deal is $18,000 and it sounds like doing that 10 times a year might be a decent living, it’s the same as if you were a real estate agent.  The difference is a real estate agent isn’t putting his own capital at risk.  If you’re going to take more risk, you need to receive more reward.

Don’t put all your money into one deal. It will be SO tempting when the “no miss” deal comes along.  But remember, this is real estate. Something ALWAYS goes wrong.  It doesn’t necessarily mean you lose money, but it might be tied up for awhile, so you lose opportunity.  Side note:  If you don’t happen to have $500K sitting around like our friend from Phoenix apparently did, go find 10 friends who have $50K and do a small syndication.  Now no one has all their money in one deal.  And if this whole process takes 90 days, $200K on $500K is a 40% return in 3 months.  That’s 160% annualized.  We’re betting there are some investors out there who would want to get in on that.  If you decide to go this route, make sure you visit with your attorney first.  Syndicating isn’t something for the newbie do-it-yourselfer.

Did we mention to have a plan B? And C and D?  If your buyer falls through, have 2 or 3 more lined up.  If possible, be prepared to “Flip and Hold”.  This is what we call buying a property for cash, then refinancing it to get most of the money (or if you bought it low enough and wait a bit, you can sometimes get ALL your money back out).  Then rent the property for enough to float the mortgage and expenses.  Obviously, this is more complex and there’s some math to do to make sure it all makes sense.  And we know that getting loans on certain types of properties (and cash out loans in general) is harder to do today than in the past.  We recommend knowing your financing options BEFORE you buy, even if you don’t plan to hold.  You never know how it’s going to work out.  The more options you have the safer you are.

We obviously could go on and on (we’re experts at that).  This topic is too deep for a simple blog post.  But it should get your brain whirring (which is always a good thing).  Our recurring theme is that there is a lot of money to be made in real estate right now simply because most people still aren’t ready to play.  This guy in Phoenix made 200 grand because other people weren’t there bidding.  And what a great service he provided for his buyer!

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Don’t Be So Negative! Just Change Your Perspective

If you’re left brained (logical), we probably already lost you at the headline.  But this isn’t a blog on positive thinking (not that we have anything against that).  We’re talking about negative equity and how it gets measured.  More importantly, where are the opportunities?

Just before Thanksgiving, the Wall Street Journal ran a headline that “One in Four Homeowners are Underwater.”  This isn’t because California slid into the ocean, but is one of the lingering effects of the mortgage meltdown that began over three years ago.

The article says that 10.7 million households had negative equity (about 23% of all households) according to research firm First American Core Logic.  Nearly half of those, or 5.3 million households, owe at least 20% more than the current value.  And nearly 10% of those (520,000) had already received Notices of Default.  An even more telling statistic came up later in the article, when the Mortgage Bankers Association was cited as stating that 7.5 million households are 30 days or more late on their mortgage payments.

What we think is interesting is that 24 million households, which would be about 50% of all households, have NO mortgage.  Therefore, they have equity!  But just because they aren’t in imminent danger of losing their property doesn’t mean they didn’t suffer loss.  If your property went from a fair market value of $500,000 down to $250,000, then you lost $250,000 of net worth.   Last time we looked, that’s bad.  Especially if you were counting on using that equity, through a reverse mortgage or moving to a less expensive area, to help fund a chunk of your retirement.

Of greater interest is one line buried in the middle of the article which said that First American Core Logic had changed its methodology for calculating these numbers and “using the old methodology, the portion of underwater borrowers would have increased to 33.8%”.  Wow!  That’s 1 in 3.   Think about that.  Go outside and look up and down your street and count every third house.  Underwater!

Of course, it doesn’t really work that way.  There are certain areas that are more underwater than others.  We’ve been talking a lot about Dallas lately.  This is a market that didn’t lose value anywhere near as much as say, Phoenix or Las Vegas.  In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal, citing First American, homeowners in Nevada, Arizona, Florida and California are more likely to be underwater.  Funny, but weren’t those once the hottest appreciating markets?

So what does all this mean?

Well, our headline had double meaning.  Obviously, changing the methodology for generating the statistics resulted in a report of 23% of households underwater, instead of the nearly 34% under the old methodology.  If you’re watching trends, this might mislead you.   Lesson: Always be sure to dig a little deeper when relying upon statistics.

The bigger lesson is that one person’s problem is another person’s opportunity – and not necessarily in an opportunistic way.   In other words, someone doesn’t have to lose (worse than they would anyway) for you to win.

If you’re a regular listener of the show, maybe you’re already picking up on where this is going.  Obviously, we see a lot of opportunity in a landscape covered with problems.  Problems are every entrepreneurs dream!

With 7.5 million people behind on their mortgages and millions of those with negative equity, they can’t refinance or execute a traditional sale to get relief.   Millions have negative equity of over 20%, so they don’t qualify for the government sponsored loan modifications.  And according to this same Wall Street Journal article we’ve been discussing, Sanjiv Das, head of TARP recipient Citigroup’s mortgage unit, mortgage companies are reluctant to reduce mortgage principal over worries about “moral contagion, with people not paying their mortgage or re-defaulting because they believe the bank would reduce their principal.”

So banks won’t modify.   Homeowners can’t refinance or sell for enough to pay off the loan.  Problem, problem, problem!

But what would it look like if an astute investor were able to buy the home on a short sale, taking advantage of today’s fabulously low interest rates, and then rented the house to the former homeowner for a payment that the now tenant could afford?

You could even go one step further and provide a lease option to the former homeowner, with a price point designed to make you (the investor) a nice profit, even through the re-purchase price would look like a bargain to the former homeowner.  It’s still less than their original mortgage (which was paid short when you bought the property).  Do you think the former homeowner turned tenant would be willing to pay a little bit more than market rent to stay in their home knowing they have an option to get it back?  Do you think they would take better care of the property than the average tenant?  Do you think they are more likely to stay long term, thus reducing your exposure to vacancy and turnover expense?

Put yourself in the position of every party in such a transaction.  Are there positives for everyone?  Eveyone’s situation is improved.  Win-win-win.  We  like it!

This blog is already too long, so we’ll leave you a homework assignment.  Especially, it you’re sitting there thinking to yourself, “Great, but I can’t afford to do anything.”  Go listen to our show on reverse mortgages.  Then look for the stats in this blog.  Then go outside and count the houses.  Do the math.

We get giddy when we think of all the opportunity in today’s market.  But of course, it’s all a matter of perspective.

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Problem or Opportunity?

Sorry – not a particularly catchy title for this post – but it’s still an important concept that merits reinforcement.  In Equity Happens, we talk about how real estate investing is a business of fundamentals.  When you master the fundamentals, then you master the business.  In this case, the fundamental we’re talking about is one’s attitude towards “adversity”.

Watchers, victims, people who are waiting for “someone” (like the government) to do “something” see adversity as a problem.  “Oh my gosh. There’s a big problem. Someone needs to do something!”

Doers, entrepreneurs, capitalists (you know, the people the government likes to take money from to fix the problem while often blaming them for causing it – oops, didn’t mean to let that slip out) look at adversity and say, “WOW! What a great opportunity!  Everyone is crying in their soup, brain-locked with fear and unwilling to act.  All I have to do is be creative and bold, and I can convert this adversity into an opportunity!”

Case in point:  Today, the Wall Street Journal reports that real estate developer Young Woo is planning to convert the top 40 floors of AIG’s 66-story building into luxury condominiums.  The Journal reports that Woo bought the distressed building (though actually, it was the OWNER that was distressed, not the property) for $150 million or $105 per square foot.  If you don’t know, that’s cheap.  He couldn’t build it for that.

After conversion, Woo hopes to sell the condos for close to $2,000 per square foot.  Even after all his expenses, he could realize a profit of $500 per square foot or roughly $600,000 per condo!  Not too shabby.

Of course, the plan looks good on paper and Woo has to actually execute the plan in order to realize his profit.  But that’s what America and real estate is all about.

You may not be ready to take on a 66 story conversion project, but the principals apply at any level.  The marketplace is full of distress and adversity right now.  That means there are lots of opportunities IF you can see them, and IF you have the courage to lead.

Think and DO is better than Wait and See.

Start with education.  Learn the fundamentals.  Watch other investors.  Learn from their successes and mistakes.  Build relationships with experts you can call on when you’re in the middle of a deal.  It’s always good to get lots of brains on the problem.  But remember, it’s YOUR money and YOUR opportunity, so do NOT wait for someone else to empower you or assure your success.  When you’ve done your homework and you see your opportunity, then YOU make the call – and go make equity happen for you.

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.