Those sexy numbers might be hiding something
Every year I encounter one or two new investors who want the best deal ever made in human history. He or she (but usually he) expects to buy a property with outstanding upside. For buckets under market value. The first time they do a deal. In a competitive market. The investor then proceeds to look properties farther and farther in the boonies, with bigger and bigger defects, and worse and worse tenants. Sound familiar? If so, here are a few words of advice to consider.
Risk & Reward
When you invest in stocks, your broker (should) mention risk tolerance. In stock investing, it’s common knowledge that high returns carry high risk. If you want a portfolio that offers ten plus percent return, you gotta be willing to deal with a downside. Read: you can make big returns, but you might take big losses.
Real estate is no different. Real estate markets – like other markets – operate according to baseline metrics (Cap rates, GRM, NRM, and so on). If you’re looking to beat these returns by a wide margin, chances are you’re heading for one of two not-so-great scenarios.
What’s Your Time Worth?
First, it’s possible that the time component is missing from your number crunching. Let me give you an example. A building full of studio apartments may show juicy returns on paper. On the ground, these returns aren’t quite so sexy. A property filled with small units may indeed generate lots of income. But, your turn-over rates will be bananas. Bad debt percentages on these kinds of properties are usually high. You’ll probably pay utility bills and perhaps have to maintain appliances. The tenants will call you more.
Basically, you or someone you pay will be spending time dealing with a high maintenance property and population. This will eat your on-paper gains. Certain types of properties are time-suckers. Learn what they are and avoid them. Or else make very sure you’re accounting for your time.
Banks & Insurance Companies Judge Risk Better Than You
Properties that show higher-than-average returns on paper can also be riskier. Small-unit properties like the one I mentioned carry higher fire- and water damage risks. This is why banks are more reticent to finance them, and why insurance is costly. In fact, take the banks and the insurers as a guide. What is expensive to insure or hard to finance is probably risky.
The same goes for buildings with commercial revenue. If a property has a good mix of commercial and residential tenants or even a good mix of commercial tenants, the risk may be mitigated. But, if a building looks profitable based on the occupancy of one commercial anchor tenant, you may want to watch out. With Amazon and the current trend in online retail as well as telecommuting, the market for commercial space is definitely in flux. Factor in that commercial tenancy is very sensitive to economic cycles and neighbourhood evolution. Also, when cash flow depends heavily on one commercial tenant, this indicates a high-risk scenario.
That’s why the bank demands higher interest rates, more information, personal guarantees and higher interest rates for commercial properties. Commercial insurance is more expensive. This is not robbery. Banks and insurers charge a premium because these kinds of investments are, statistically, riskier. Trust me, whatever calculations you’re making, the bank made them a long time ago. If they’re nervous, maybe you should be too! They’ve been in business longer…
Debbie Downer Does Investing
Don’t get me wrong. It’s very possible for beginners to make money investing in real estate, and even to find good deals once in a while. Simply, it’s important to be mindful of market realities and to factor risk and time into closing decisions. As your network and experience in the industry increase, so will your ability to discover and pounce on a great deal. Don’t let greed and Ego make the wrong decisions for you early on.
So, please go out and look for deals, but play safe!
Yours in property investing,
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