March Apartment Update

Got the management report and the March financials for the Houston apartment complex yesterday. Things continue to look good. Occupancy remained steady at 93% and revenue stayed about the same as February. Expenses due to marketing, turnover, utilities, and property taxes dropped. The property had a positive cashflow of about $7,500 for the month - a nice change after running in the red for so long. The property is also in the black to the tune of $17,000 for the year.

The positive cash flow will be used to pay down some of the bills that had accrued during the lean prior 12 months. Management doesn't expect to resume investor payments in the near term, but I'm pretty confident they will happen before September. As a reminder, our loan switches from interest only to interest and principal in June (it was interest only for the first three years), so that will add about $3,000 to the monthly expenses. But this was budgeted for in our projections, so it's nothing unexpected.

Management feels the property performed fairly well during the recession and I agree. The goal of this investment has always been to make money by improving the performance of the property and selling it, rather than strictly through cashflow. I think that goal is still on track.

Bank Of America CEO Agrees - Your Home Is Not An Asset

Today, the C.E.O. of Bank Of America, at a summit of state attorneys general, said that some people should not think of their homes as an asset. He was only referring to people who live in areas where there is low population growth and where, therefore, demand for housing won't create pressure to increase home values.Personally, I agree. Even though I stopped reading his books years ago, I still subscribe to Robert Kiyosaki's definition of an asset as something that puts money into your pocket. By that definition, your home is not an asset.

Random Musings On Investing In Stocks vs. Real Estate

I was checking out my various IRAs the other day and was struck by how much better I feel about my self-directed IRA than I do my traditional (stock-based) IRAs. Most people’s retirement savings are invested in the stock market (including the majority of mine). But when I compare that with my self-directed IRA which is investing in hard money lending, I can’t help but notice how differently I feel about them.

Yes, stocks historically have risen over the long term. I know this. But I also am acutely aware that I have no control over the prices of the stocks I hold. About the only control I have is which stocks to buy and whether or not to reinvest any dividends they might pay.  So each month, I check the value of my stock portfolio and I’m fairly detached from the experience. Stocks went up in value? Yay. But I know they could drop again tomorrow. Gains are transitory, at least in my mind. As the adage says, you’ve never made (or lost) money until you sell.

But with my hard-money lending IRA, I get a check each month for a couple hundred dollars. That’s real money I see coming in each month. It can’t be taken away again by a news report of a product recall, class action lawsuit, or some other random event outside my control. It’s cash in hand. Now the possibility exists that my loan might be defaulted on, but with the loan-to-value limits I use for my lending criteria, I know even if that happens, I’m still pretty well protected.

I know there is no such thing in investing as a sure thing or a guaranteed return, but the returns my HML-based IRA are generating feel much more real to me than my stock-based returns.

Groupon Gets Into Real Estate

A real estate brokerage in Chicago is selling $1,000 discount coupons on Groupon. They are good for $1,000 cash back at closing and it's good for owner-occupants and investors. The coupons are good for one year and a total of 50 must be sold (at $25 each) for the deal to become valid. The pruchase price of the house must be over $150,000. If you invest in the Chicago area, this might be a good deal.

A Newbie Investor's Tale

Wow.. found this blog of a guy in Utah who bought an investment property in Florida. This was his first investment property, bought at the peak of the housing bubble and, as you might imagine, things didn’t quite turn out the way he had hoped.

Reading this, I am struck by several things. There were a huge number of red flags that should have alerted him that something wasn’t right. First, he got into this investment after hearing about it from a friend, who also invested. (I’d like to hear how his friend’s investment turned out.) The deal was a company supposedly buys a bunch of houses at foreclosure and sells them to investors in bulk. (Red flag. The company claims investors come to them and say “I need 50 houses.” No investor I know does that.) What the investors don’t buy, they sell to individuals like this guy. The company selling the houses will also be the management company and find tenants, collect rent, etc. and that the properties are government subsidized and have an occupancy rate of 90%. (Red flag.) The selling company tells him that loans for investment properties will only knock down his credit score by 50 points. (Red flag.) The company will provide down payment assistance. (Red flag.) Later on, he discovers, the company already had the house they wanted to sell him picked out – he didn’t even get to choose the house he was buying. (Red flag.)

Possibly the biggest red flag came when it came time for him to actually get the loan. The “down payment assistance” provided by the company involved them wiring the 20% down payment into this guy’s bank account. He had to sign paperwork saying he wouldn’t move the money or withdraw it, etc. Folks, this is fraud! The company basically is putting this money into his account to fool the lending bank into thinking he has his own money available for investing. And of course, when closing actually rolls around, the amount he needs to come up with is a little more than the amount the company fronted him, so he needs to add in a few thousand of his own money as well.

The selling company also promised him a $5,000 cash incentive and a $5,000 escrow account that could be used for repairs to the house, etc. Although he did get his $5,000 incentive, the $5,000 escrow account never showed up. And of course, that promise was never made in writing. Then the property management company sold his account to another management company. At least the new one sounds like a real management company. Of course, then the repair bills started coming in, tenants stop paying rent, etc. etc. You know the story. It comes time to evict and he makes the mistake of not treating this like a business. He wants to give his tenants more time to pay the rent. Eventually, he did start the eviction process and, lo and behold, the tenant comes up with the rent. This happens multiple times. No surprise to anyone who has done this before. Eventually, the tenants played this game one time too many and actually got evicted. They moved out but, of course, trashed the place before they left. That’s all he’s posted so far, but I’m pretty sure how the next bit goes...

I know he got into this at the height of the real estate bubble. Those were heady times. I also made stupid mistakes. But really, the number of red flags in this deal would have even scared me off. He hasn’t finished writing his story yet and I’m curious to see how it turns out. Anyone want to take bets on if he still owns the place or not? I’m sure he’s underwater on his mortgage, so selling may not be an option. The title of his series is “Life As A Landlord,” so maybe he’s still got the property. Anyway, it sounds like he’s learning a lot.

Shaun Gets Nostalgic

I recently spent some time reading Savvy Saver’s blog – particularly her posts about her 4-plex and how that investment has been going for her. She’s had it for 4 years now and it seems to be going well. She and her husband are managing it themselves, so they do have the occasional tenant headache they have to deal with, but all in all, it seems to be doing well for them. I am encouraged that they have held the property this long and that they didn’t jump off the REI bandwagon like so many others have done.

Reading all that has made me slightly nostalgic. Passive investing in nice, but truthfully, I do miss having a more hands-on approach to real estate investing. I really enjoyed rehabbing houses. (I didn’t really enjoy dealing with tenants that much though, so I don’t feel the urge to become a landlord again.) My passive income from hard money lending is nice and I actually am making more per month than I was typically getting from my rentals. Of course, I am also missing out on some of the benefits of property ownership, the biggest being the depreciation write-offs. The flip side is that I don’t need to worry about 1041 exchanges or any of the more complicated tax stuff that goes along with those write-offs.

Still, looking back over all the real estate investing I’ve done, I do miss the hands-on rehabbing stuff. I tend to enjoying creating order out of chaos, which is basically what you are doing when you are fixing up a foreclosure that has been trashed by the previous owner. Hard money lending is truly passive and requires little of my time (thanks to my partner), but it doesn’t make for exciting blog posts.

I’m still on several mailing lists for rehab and foreclosure properties. I’m starting to see the real estate market pick back up in my area (or at least, it appears to have stopped falling). I’m getting the itch to rehab again. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll be able to scratch that itch any time soon. We just remodeled our house, which used up most of my credit line. I’ve recently switched jobs and I don’t yet have a feel for how busy I will be here. (Coordinating rehab projects sometimes takes a bug chunk out of my day, not to mention visits out to the property.) Most of my funds are tied up in hard money deals. But I am glad I have a self-directed IRA. Once I have enough funds in there, I could start using that money for either rehabbing or renting property. That day is a ways off though, but it is something to keep in mind.

I remember reading once that financially savvy people know there are many ways to make money whereas those with less financial knowledge think a paycheck is the only way. I see lots of ways and it’s difficult to choose. I guess that’s a good problem to have.