photo Terrie Schauer Alex Avery

Interview with Alex Avery : The Wealthy Renter’s Real Estate Advice for Covid-19

 

Real Estate Advice for Covid-19: What The Wealthy Renter Has to Say About Investing Now

How Are You Using your Covid-19 Crisis?

Covid-19 Crisis has us transforming confinement-psychosis into new pass-times. Amateur bakers and hair-stylists are popping up all over the place.

I admit I’m going through a lot of flour these days, but I also decided to have as many interesting conversations as possible. My goal is to connect with people who have insights, especially on Real Estate investing during the Covid-19 Crisis. Last week, I spoke with a favorite real estate author of mine, Alex Avery. His book, The Wealthy Renter, changed the way I look at home-ownership.

Is this a good time to get into the Real Estate market as a home-owner or an investor? See what the author of The Wealthy Renter, Alex Avery has to say. Here’s some of his Real Estate Investment Advice During the Covid-19 Crisis.

Is Your Home an Investment?

Avery’s thesis is that home-ownership (in the principal residence sense) isn’t the “investment” it’s touted to be. He’s suspicious of the advice that we must all “stop throwing money away on rent”. When he unpacks this statement, it appears as questionable investment advice. Home ownership makes investment sense as a premise if – say – a savings of 2000$ or whatever per month on rent justifies using a large amount of seed-capital (read: down-payment) to then carry a (possibly larger) mortgage payment.

For an investor, the answer is often “It doesn’t”.

Use Your Capital Wisely

In investment terms, capital should be placed where it generates the best returns (correcting, of course, for risk – eg. betting on the horses might give you good returns, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a sound investment). If we use our hard-earned seed capital as a down-payment for a single-family-home, our returns will be sub-par.
What return does this so-called “investment” generate?
  • It provides no cash flow or dividends.
  • Maintenance- and interest costs are out-of-pocket and not tax deductible.
  • Home owners have a tendency to spend MORE money on maintenance, upgrades and extras than owners of rental properties.
  • The mortgage on our homes get with after-tax dollars (read: with 50 cents out of a possible 1$).
  • We don’t have tenants to help pay our mortgage.
  • Yes, a principal residence is an appreciating asset, unlike – say – a car or a washer/dryer set. But then rental properties appreciate too.

Your Home as Consumption Not Investment

Avery’s distinction can be summarized as follows: the money you put into your home – in the form of a down-payment, as upgrades or as mortgage payments – is basically a form of consumption. If you have disposable capital and cash-flow that you want to “consume” in a single-family home as a lifestyle choice, go ahead. Avery himself admits to being a home-owner. But it makes more sense to view a principal residence as an object of consumption and not as an investment.

 

How Do I Make My Real Estate Plans in the Covid Crisis?

Avery has a few points of advice on this question.

  1. He advises that, if you have plans to buy a home, it may be wise to review how much leverage you take on. The economic downturn, he projects, will be more check-marked than V-shaped.
  2. As an asset class, Avery sees residential rental buildings doing fairly well. Federal and provincial governments have launched stimulus plans that secure the minimum income of the vast majority of workers. As a result, he doesn’t see massive residential rent defaults in the cards.
  3. Beware of commercial Real Estate. Commercial rentals were on a downward trajectory before the pandemic. Retail had begun to move online pre-Covid. Many companies were already running experiments in tele-work. The Covid Crisis will accelerate both of these trends, probably irreversibly.
  4. If you want to invest, choose a market with “land constraints”. For example, Toronto is bounded by the Green-Belt, the island of Montreal by water, and Vancouver by the sea and the mountains. Avery sees these markets as being more “recession proof” than, say, secondary markets like Quebec City, Calgary or Kingston. In the American crisis of 2008, markets like New York fared better than, say, Las Vegas, where builders could keep constructing ad infinitum.

 

When Everyone Has an Opinion, Who Should I Listen to?

Covid or not, Avery’s last piece of advice turns on where we get advice on Real Estate investing decisions.

  • Your father-in-law who bought his home in the 70s and hasn’t been in the Real Estate market since? Probably not the best source.
  • Your real estate broker who makes commission on home purchases or sales? Also not the best source of advice, because there’s an obvious conflict of interest at work (he or she gets paid when you sell or buy ANYTHING, not when you make good investment decisions).
  • Active players in the real estate industry. Investors, economists, experts with established track records in their field, or professionals make money whether a transaction takes places (accountants, independent consultants, property managers etc.). They are probably better sources.

Want to Learn More?

Purchase Alex Avery’s book The Wealthy Renter here.

Or check out my book The Mindful Landlord.