Many property managers first get into the property management business because they own investment properties and are already managing them. “Why not add a few more? The infrastructure is already in place!” This rationale brought me into this exciting world of property management.
Becoming proficient at investments is an ever-evolving process. It takes a lot of easy education (reading the investments guru rags) and hard education (making costly mistakes with leveraged property investments).
This current economy has really put investment decisions I’ve made in the past 8 years under the microscope. In a hot real estate market, investment decisions have a lot of leeway to succeed. The converse is also true in a bad economy and leads me to ask questions like: Did the properties I bought maintain value (relatively speaking) or did I misread the area? Do renters want to live in these homes when much more choice became available? Can I sell any of these investment homes in a flat or declining real estate market?
Tough questions. And, unfortunately, some tough answers.
When I look at my investment decisions, I’ve come away with these 4 takeaways:
1. Cash (flow) is always king. Properties always cost more in terms of vacancy, repairs, and fix up than expected. I remember an investment guru telling me, “If you need to pull out a calculator when analyzing a real estate deal, the deal isn’t good enough to buy.” Amen to that. When declining rents hit, I was hit hard as well.
One effective tool I’ve used is to liquidate some 15 and 30-year mortgages into interest-only. This has dramatically helped cash flow on my property portfolio. When the economy improves, interest rates will rise and I may need to pay the piper. But then I can look at refinancing or selling the investment homes in a rising real estate market, as opposed to selling in a buyer’s market.
2. Buying cheap isn’t always good. For a while, I loved telling the story about buying a home on my credit card. Not anymore. The problem is the home isn’t in a great area (making it tough to rent or sell) and has needed significant fix-up funds through the years. Sometimes there is a reason why homes can be bought on the cheap.
I like to defend this decision by saying, “At the time I bought it, it was a great deal in a transitional area on the rise.” I must have missed the newsflash at the time; in an overheated real estate market, almost every area is considered “on the rise”. This reminds me of two sports quotes that seem apropos:
a. “Having ‘potential’ means that you haven’t accomplished anything yet.” I never read any articles on Michael Jordan’s potential, but rather about his performance.
b. “Yeah, he has great talent. But there are a lot of talented people in prison.”
3. I like a well-rounded real estate investment strategy; it does the body good. We get many calls from prospective clients looking for options on what to do with their properties. I’m with you! Options are good! Good options are even better!
My idea of a well-rounded real estate portfolio consists of this:
A. Nice, expensive homes that will rise when the market comes back. Cash flow won’t be great, but will generate a nice chunk of cash when the market goes up. Then they need to be sold!
B. Cash flow properties that generate hundreds of dollars of positive cash flow a month. These will subsidize other properties that aren’t cash flowing. They probably won’t see any great amount of equity build-up (even in a rising market), but they will keep you solvent and smiling!
C. Long-term holds will be nice investment pieces for retirement. They are solid homes in solid neighborhoods that are really a mixture of the A & B properties above. They will give average cash flow and equity build-up, but should be easy to rent to good tenants for a long time.
4. The most important takeaway (by far) is to buy investment homes right (aka at a big of a discount as possible). This can cover up a whole lot of other mistakes. As another investment guru told me, “You make your money when you buy. Period.”
Best of luck with your real estate investing!