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Tools of the Financial Trade: Real Estate Investment for Building Wealth

This is the second in a series of articles about Real Estate Investing as a Financial Tool.  Read the series from the beginning or click on the links below to learn more about each of the strategies presented.

Real Estate Investment is a versatile financial tool and can be used to help achieve any or all of these investment objectives:

  • Wealth Building
  • Portfolio Diversification
  • Tax Advantages
  • Appreciation Potential
  • Cash Flow Creation
  • Community Support
This post will explore how real estate investment can be used as a strategy to effectively Build Wealth for your overall portfolio and/or financial goals. 

Wealth Building

Real estate investments can help you to acquire assets capable of growing equity and increasing investment capital.  This strategy can be applied quickly or slowly over time, depending on the project, goals, individual capabilities and appetite for risk.

Fast Track

‘Flippers’ use real estate as stepping stones to amass lump sums of equity in a relatively short period of time.  Most often, they purchase a property at well-below market price (often foreclosures or fixers), then turn around and sell as quickly as possible for a profit.

This can be a great way to build significant capital in a relatively short period of time (less than a year).  However, it can come with some significant drawbacks, notably the time, expertise and labor required to prepare the property for resale, higher taxes on short-term gains, and of course the ever-present profit-eroding ‘Unexpected’.  This includes repairs, property expenses, debt and carrying costs, market changes, purchase/sales costs, selling period, etc. that weren’t adequately planned for or anticipated.

It’s easy to get excited when calculating all the potential profits on a transaction but many people forget to also prepare a potential ‘worst-case scenario’ or a contingency plan for the unexpected or underestimated costs that are bound to come up.

Since profits from this method are usually only realized when the property sells, having to hold it even just a few months longer than anticipated can quickly erode returns, especially if financing is involved.

Similarly, many people purchase new construction homes with little or no money down with the intent to sell in a year or two as phases are added, the neighborhood stabilizes and values appreciate.  In the 2008 housing market crash, many buyers purchased without proper due diligence and adequate investment capital.  When financing froze and home sales literally came to a screeching halt, people found that they were unable to sell, unsuited to being an impromptu landlord or unable to afford the monthly costs of owning a rental home, in some cases even with a tenant in place.  Timing is a critical factor, especially when banking on future profits to make up for interim negative cash flow.

Building wealth rapidly is an exciting prospect but be sure to do your homework up front.  Inexperienced and/or under-capitalized investors can quickly find themselves in over their heads and/or with a very expensive learning experience!

Project-by-Project

Slower-paced wealth building usually involves a slightly longer time frame, often 3-5 years or so.  This strategy is typically used with development and construction or ‘value-add’ projects, where an investor will purchase, lease or option a project property and take specific, calculated steps to improve or add to its overall value over a certain length of time with the intent to then re-sell and realize profits.

Land development can range from working with the local city to establish zoning, permitting, platting, subdividing, etc. to putting in the infrastructure (roads, curbing, utilities, etc.) for future construction and actually building on the land.  Each step of the development process can add value to the property, with  investment capital and costs recouped through sales or refinancing.  Many developers look for ways to control the risks involved in the development and construction process, such as lining up a lease or buyer for the property before building or prearranging for higher-cost construction financing to convert automatically to a lower-rate permanent loan after a set period.

Development and construction projects can be quite lucrative but can also carry significant risk to initial investment capital and hefty up-front costs.

Value-add project improvements can include capital or cosmetic repairs like upgrading units, replacing a roof, repainting, resurfacing parking lots, as well as strategic asset management action like leasing vacant space to increase net income, restructuring or extending leases, putting more efficient management systems in place,  fractionalizing ownership, refinancing with a different/better loan product, etc.

Funds to pay for capital improvements are either calculated into the purchase price up front and/or paid for by  existing cash flow from the property.  Strategic actions usually will need a stabilization period for the property to show consistent performance at new income or expense levels.

Investors using this wealth-building model either become, joint-venture with or hire a project manager who is responsible for executing the improvement plan for adding value to the property.  Expertise is obviously an important factor and depending on the scope of the improvements, may involve a great deal of coordination with sub-contractors or other professionals.  Timing can still be a major factor in realizing profits with this wealth-building method, especially if there are heavy up-front costs or if the building is completely vacant.

A detailed cost analysis is essential for any development or improvement project, along with a healthy cushion or reserve fund for the ‘Unexpected’.

Long-Term Outlook

One of the biggest criticisms of real estate is that the investment capital or equity cannot be as easily converted to cash as liquidating a stocks and bonds account.  However, building wealth patiently over time with real estate is how many business and family dynasties were created.

‘Buy and Hold’ is a term often used with much longer investment time frames, often 10 years or more.  Long-term wealth-building can been used strategically in an investment portfolio to achieve various long and short-term objectives depending on what is purchased and how it is structured.

Land-banking is the practice of buying an empty lot or raw piece of land with the anticipation that it will become more valuable over time.  Ever hear of the phrase, ‘Dirt Cheap’?  Unimproved land is less expensive to purchase and costs less to own than property that has a building already on it.  Land-bankers strategically purchase in areas that they consider to be or will eventually be ‘in the path of progress’ as towns and cities grow and develop new communities.  This can happen quickly, take years or may never happen at all if development is slow, takes a different path than anticipated or if environmental or other challenges arise that make development difficult or cost-prohibitive.

Investment Real Estate can be any residential or commercial property purchased for growth and/or profit potential.  Many people buy a second home or break-even rental property in anticipation that eventually over time, it will appreciate in value as most real estate has done historically overall.  This is often referred to as an ‘Appreciation Play’.

Income property is purchased with the expectation that it can generate enough income through rents or leases to ideally provide a source of income for the investor or to at least cover its own expenses for property tax, insurance, ongoing maintenance, repairs and other expenses associated with ownership.  Even property free and clear of any financing will have operating and administrative costs that need to be planned and prepared for.

One of the truly powerful wealth-building abilities of real estate is the ability to leverage your initial investment and increase its earning and growth potential exponentially.

If part of the purchase price is financed there will be loan payments to account for but if those costs are also covered by income generated by the property, the tenants ultimately pay down your loan, thereby increasing your equity and building your wealth in the process.

Obviously, financing adds another variable and additional risk to the equation.  Operating costs and loan payments are due regardless of vacancy or other interruptions in income.  Highly leveraged properties and under-capitalized, inexperienced owners can be a dangerous combination.  Investors need to carefully examine the past and projected performance of the property as well as their ability to manage the asset.  Again, a reserve fund is a wise way to help manage property cash flows and avoid being prematurely forced to sell.

Leverage is simply another tool and can be used as responsibly or irresponsibly as the investor wielding it.

Bottom line:  Build wealth at a pace with which you feel comfortable and can afford.  Expect the Unexpected. Partner with discretion, integrity and experience.  Any investment or project is only as good as the people involved.

This is the second in a series of articles about Real Estate Investing as a Financial Tool.  Read the series from the beginning or click on the links below to learn more about each of the strategies presented.

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Tools of the Financial Trade: Investing in Real Estate Makes Sense

I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again:  Real estate investment is an incredible financial tool.

Why use the term ‘tool’?  Because a tool can be used to help you do the job you want when you need it.  You might need a little instruction and practice to use it properly and with as little risk or harm to yourself as possible (ever bang your thumb with a hammer?!) but ultimately, a good tool can help leverage your time, effort and money to get a job done more quickly, efficiently and effectively.

And as any artisan or craftsman knows, having the just the right tool for the job can make a huge difference.  But a tool is just a thing.  It takes the energy and know-how of the person using it to make it work and to get the most out of it.  It’s also important to have as many different tools in your toolbox as possible – so that you can pull out just the right one exactly when you need it.

Real Estate Investment is a very versatile financial tool.  It can be used in different ways to accomplish different results.  If you can only carry or learn to use a few tools, it makes sense to pick ones that can be applied in as many situations as possible.

Investing in real estate as a financial strategy makes sense for many different reasons, including:

  • Wealth Building
  • Portfolio Diversification
  • Tax Advantages
  • Appreciation
  • Cash Flow
  • Community & Economy
Over the next few posts, we’ll take a closer look at each of these potential investment objectives and how Real Estate Investment can be used to help achieve them.  
 
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To Dare Mighty Things means to Take Risks

Theodore Roosevelt, circa 1902

Image via Wikipedia

‎”Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt

When it comes to investing, there are no guarantees and nothing is ever completely risk-free.  Really.  There are investments with projected lower volatility and there are ways to help mitigate risk but there is no way to completely eliminate risk all together.

If you choose to invest, you will have to expose yourself to some kind of risk at some point.  The good news is that you get to choose.  And it is your choice.  Own it.  Own it when you prosper and own it when you don’t.  When you authorize funds to be sent, you make the choice to invest.  It might be good, it might be great, it might be not-so-good, and on occasion it just might be a spectacular disaster!

No one has a crystal ball.  The best any of us can do is to research and learn and grow.  The only way to grow is to learn from our mistakes and missteps.  Sometimes we want something so badly (like a guarantee) that we ignore many of the warning signs that, on hindsight, were right there staring us in the face from the start.  Sometimes unforeseen variables come into play.  Sometimes things just don’t pan out as projected.

Don’t beat yourself up for a bad call (and certainly don’t beat up your broker!)  It’s impossible to completely eliminate your mistakes just like it’s impossible to completely eliminate risk.  But there are a few things you can do to help you mitigate and manage the fallout:

  • READ, READ, READ…and then read some more!  Read every word on every page of every document about every investment or project or private placement.  Make sure you understand all of it (including the risks) before opting in.
  • Beware the Guarantee.  Immediately red flag anything ‘guaranteed’ for intense scrutiny and further research.  Seriously.
  • Check out the people involved.  People can make or break a project no matter how great the idea.  Follow the leadership and follow the money (salary, distribution and profit structures).  Good people put their investors first.
  • Document everything.  Keep copies of all signed paperwork, documents, information and communications.  Following up phone calls with a summary email is a great way to help keep track of conversation details.  Dated docs make it easier to reference back to details (especially at tax time).
  • Learn.  Review the investment or project to pinpoint what went right and/or what went wrong.  Being able to objectively identify the elements or activities of a success or failure will help you to apply that knowledge to future projects.  If you let yourself get emotional, too busy pointing fingers and blaming everyone (including yourself) then you’re not going to be able to learn and grow from the experience.

Next time you get the chance, read or listen to a biography of someone you admire.  Chances are they’ve experienced just as many failures as successes.  Everyone gets it wrong some of the time, even the professionals, especially the professionals if you consider the number and volume of transactions handled.  You can travel once a year and never run into any problems but if you fly once or twice a month, chances are you might get delayed or lose your bags every now and then.  

If you want to keep going places, you have to put it all into perspective and then get back on the plane!


Investment Strategies – What to Expect

First and foremost, it is important to note that we are NOT attorneys, certified public accountants, certified financial advisors, registered investment advisors or securities brokers.  We do NOT provide legal or financial advice, nor do we make any recommendation or endorsement as to any particular investment, advisor or other service or product, or to any material submitted by third parties or linked to this site.  It is essential that readers are aware that anything and everything posted, reposted, linked to or shared on this weblog is solely for information and discussion purposes.  

Our goal here is to help promote financial literacy and awareness by providing tips, tools and suggestions for further research to help people better understand the ins and outs of income property, commercial real estate and related investments, a field that as a Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM)  we ARE very qualified (and more than happy!) to talk about.

We strive constantly to find relevant and practical ideas from a variety of sources and perspectives that will appeal to investors as well as industry and business professionals.  Whether by choice or necessity, many of us often wear several different hats through the course of conducting our business and personal affairs.

In sharing information and ideas through this forum, we hope to provide fresh insight, options and potential solutions to the issues and challenges that owners, brokers and investors face, especially during these unique economic times.

As we present and explore various topics directly or indirectly related to money, investment property and commercial real estate, we invite you to comment on, discuss and offer constructive feedback for our posts so that we can better address the topics and issues that are most relevant and of interest to our readers.

Feel free to contact us directly if you would like to contribute content, suggest topics, or if you have specific questions about your personal situation or a particular scenario that you would prefer to discuss privately and confidentially.

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Disclaimer

Please note that we are NOT attorneys, certified public accountants, certified financial advisors, registered investment advisors or securities brokers. We do NOT provide legal or financial advice, nor do we make any recommendation or endorsement as to any particular investment, advisor or other service or product, or to any material submitted by third parties or linked to this site. Anything and everything posted, reposted, linked to or shared on this weblog is solely for information and discussion purposes.

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