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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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Market Movements Make Money – Position Accordingly

Let’s face it – the Stock Market is really not for the faint of heart, especially in times like these!

Recent news and the ongoing economic uncertainty have been causing some pretty wild rides and sometimes it feels like you’re just hanging on for dear life. It can be a pretty scary place, even for the most seasoned and experienced day traders.

But without the downs, you can’t have the ups. Without the ups, you can’t have the downs. It doesn’t matter which side you’re betting on; without movement there is little potential for profit. For those players who can keep their cool during this time of fear and panic, there is money to be made.

The same essentially holds true for Real Estate. Investors want to see the real estate markets cycle because that is when real opportunities happen. Remember the old adage, ‘Buy Low – Sell High’?  It’s hard to buy low if the market is always up!

In most situations, movement means change, and change creates motivation. Sometimes perfectly good assets and real estate must be sold because of a death, divorce, partnership dissolution, retirement, downsize, loan maturity, interest rate adjustment, etc.  Sometimes the owner has simply accomplished his goal and is exercising his exit strategy to realize a profit. Sometimes the owner has just not managed the asset well. Whatever the motivation, if you aren’t expecting the change or if you aren’t properly prepared, your hand could be forced sooner than you’d like or under less-than-ideal circumstances.

Fortunately, the Real Estate markets tend to move at a much slower pace than the breakneck, minute-to-minute rollercoaster of the stock market. For those who are looking (and who actually want to see!) it’s usually a lot easier to anticipate market movement or upcoming changes and then have time to plan and prepare accordingly.  For example, information and statistics are available that show another wave of mortgages with interest rates re-setting coming up over the next few years. That could spell disaster for those owners who don’t start working on a plan to resolve the issue but it can also spell opportunity for investors who start positioning now to be ready to purchase if and when some people are forced to sell.

Ideally, owners and investors will plan and prepare to be in a position to minimize losses or to take advantage of upcoming opportunities when movements happen. Understanding your investment and the things that can affect its value are the keys to making smart investment decisions.

Smart investors are proactive, not reactive. They constantly monitor their holdings and make strategic moves to protect overall value – hedging their bets, so to speak. That way, if something changes or it the market moves in the opposite direction than what they think, the portfolio’s principal value is still largely protected. Whether it’s a stock, real estate or other asset class, every investment asset needs to be actively monitored and managed, even the passive ones. (Note: Property Management is not the same as Asset Management!)

In Real Estate, hedging or protecting your principal is often as simple as having ample cash reserves to weather through a rough spell of unexpected vacancy or repairs. The only time you really need to worry about the value of real estate is when you go to sell. Adequate liquidity can usually help you smoothly ride out a down cycle so you aren’t forced to sell at an inopportune time.

As many investors have recently discovered, a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) is a poor and unreliable substitute for an actual cash reserve account. A HELOC can and will be revoked or capped by the lender at any given moment, regardless of spotless credit or payment history.

Many real estate owners make the mistake of cannibalizing their investment by draining every drop of the operating cash flow or overleveraging the asset. Then, when something unexpected comes up or something changes, they blame the market or the real estate itself for a problem that they created by not carrying sufficient reserves. You WILL have tenant changes, you WILL have some repairs – these are eventualities that can and should be planned for by all real estate owners.

Bottom line:  Know your assets, know your investments, keep your eyes open and plan ahead. These market movements are creating a lot of opportunity and it doesn’t look like it’s ending any time soon. Batten down the hatches of your solid performers to ride out the turbulence, cut loose the dead-weights and position yourself to take advantage of the opportunities created by these market movements.

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.

Getting Started…

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The secret of getting ahead is getting started.  The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.“ ~ Mark Twain

Welcome!

This quote seemed to be the perfect way to start things off.  Getting started is probably the most important step in just about any task, investing included.  Yet it almost always seems to be the hardest.

This Blog, for instance, has been on the To Do List for months (okay, a year!) but despite the explosive growth in social media and awareness of the power of the internet, the ‘Blog Project’ always got pushed to the back burner.  It actually wasn’t the difficulty of the task that was the problem; it was the scope of the project and time it would take to understand and do it ‘right’.

The world of investing and finance and wealth can be pretty overwhelming, too.  There’s a lot of information to sift through.  There’s the anxiety and dread of making the ‘wrong’ choice.  This is, after all, your hard-earned savings and retirement we’re talking about.

But like most of the challenges we face, once you get started you’ll probably find that it’s not really as bad as you built it up to be in your mind, especially when you have a plan and a solid support team behind you.

In fact, you may even wonder why you didn’t start sooner…!

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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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