Real Estate Problem SolverIntroduction
There are many areas one can invest in. Since I was 15 years old I have looked for the fastest, most effective way to accumulate a lot of wealth, with the least amount of risk. I am now 58. While looking for this road to truth, I spent a lot of time in the school of hard knocks. The school of hard knocks is a very interesting but painful school to attend. It is also the most expensive way to learn something, but when you graduate you have a PHD in what to do and not do with your time and money. The schools I attended were: Investing in businesses as a silent partner, owning my own businesses, working for another family member-in my case my father, buying publicly traded stocks and securities, penny mining stocks, commodity trading, investing in gold and silver, real estate private lending, real estate development, real estate remodeling, buying foreclosure properties. I also worked as a real estate problem solver/matchmaker, bringing business owners together with business buyers, and matching up real estate owners with real estate buyers.
Writing about all of these activities would take an encyclopedia, so we will limit this essay to the kinds of situations you can run across in the real estate school of hard knocks. I will present my solution with the given situation. There are more than one possible solution and I invite you to come up with other possible solutions as you read. If you get some value from my experiences that will hopefully lower your tuition to the real estate school of hard knocks. Feel free to e-mail me your comments, alternate solution or stories. Do, please, let me know that it is all right for me to publish them.
My Real Estate Philosophy
As a way of introducing myself, I thought you might find what lessons I have learned, after all these years of real estate, interesting. Buy real estate instead of stocks, bonds, mutual funds, or commodities. When you pick a winner in one of these non-real estate areas you can make 5-10 times your money. When you are wrong, in one of these non-real estate areas, you can actually loose up to 90% of your money. In real estate, if you are not greedy-not trying to get rich quick-in one year, you can make 100 times your money, on the upside. The downside risk is only based on how well you looked at all the possibilities ahead of time. If you did, the downside risk is reduced to only the holding time to fix a mistake. If you rush in and do not explore all the possibilities of a business venture, you can actually loose 100% of your money. In my mind an upside of 100 times profit is better than 10 times profit.
My philosophy on real estate ownership has changed in the last 15 years. I used to think that selling at the top of the market was the smart move and buying in the crash. Now I feel that buying when prices are down is still a smart move but never selling is the way to go. In order to hold on to a property in a down market you require proper planning to survive the crash. This I call a back door or emergency plan. This is have a plan and knowing what you will do if everything goes wrong with you original plan. When you have a backup plan, you rarely need it. This is the basis of my philosophy. With this understanding, you might more clearly see why I did what I did in these situations.
The Stories and article:
The area of real estate investing is one of the most complex because it is a combination of law and real estate. It is one of the most interesting because fortunes are made and lost in this area, and the numbers are so enormous. Lastly it is an area where crooks can make a lot of money and many times get away with it. Following are some stories (case histories) I have dealt with and some articles I have written on the subject of fraud in real estate. Finally, I have included an article on the basics of foreclosures and real estate in general, for your interest. I hope you enjoy them.
It was early March 2000 and I received a call from Kevin. He said that he had heard about me from some mutual friends. He wanted to speculate in buying HUD houses (Properties that the Government had foreclosed on). He wanted to buy them, fix them up and then sell them at a profit. He had heard that I had bought many foreclosures in the 1970’s and 80’s and he was hoping I could advise him. We met for lunch and he told me his life story. The important part of this conversation is that he had bought a boarded up 14 unit apartment building in downtown San Bernardino, across the street, from one of the roughest high schools in California.
By the end of the meeting, I had figured out that he had overpaid about $75,000 for the building, he had already wasted $200,000 trying to remodel it, and it was still $100,000 away from being finished. He had bought it 1.5 years ago and a large part of his costs was the interest on all his loans, related to this project. He was now broke, and in deep trouble, but in his mind, the badly needed money was coming.
It is interesting to note where he got the money to invest in this project. 4 years earlier he was given money to buy an apartment building by his father. He was given enough money that he only needed a very small $150,000 real estate loan to purchase a building in Pasadena that cost him a total of $525,000. In order to buy the San Bernardino rehab project, he first refinanced the first trust deed on the Pasadena building and jumped the loan balance to $385,000. When that money was gone he borrowed $74,000 as a second Trust Deed on both the Pasadena and San Bernardino properties. By the way, that loan cost him 15% interest and $15,000 in up front fees to get the money. Before we parted, I told him that he made a very expense mistake in buying San Bernardino. I explained that from the day he bought the building it was a sure bet that the project would fail. I then had to tell him that I would not lend him any money on San Bernardino, to save his butt.
Over the next 2 months I received periodic phone calls, telling me the progress of the fund raising. One of those updates I was told that the existing 2nd Trust Deed lender was saying that he might give Kevin the added $100,000 he needed to finish the project. At the same time, Kevin also believed he had found a bank that might refinance all the loans of San Bernardino. The difficulty with the bank loan was that the appraisal fee was $3,000, and it had to be paid in advance, even to just apply for the loan. Again Kevin asked me for money. Again I refused to put more good money down his black hole.
Then one morning I got a call from Kevin, “If I don’t make the $2,000 payment to the 2nd trust deed holder, he will start foreclosure in 2 days. Kevin also told me “The 2nd trust deed lender said that he would buy the Pasadena apartment building for what I had paid for it, 4 years ago, $525,000.” The offer had a stipulation to it. Kevin had to bring the loan current first. In my mind, if Kevin could bring the loan current, why would he even bother to sell the property for a wholesale price? I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
After hearing all of this I decide that it is time I stop saying no and help. What Kevin thought he wanted was a real estate loan for a lot of money. The truth is, that money was not the solution to his problem. The problem had to be different than what Kevin believed, which is why the problem persisted. The real situation was not more borrowing. More borrowing meant more money down the drain.
Experience has taught me, “If the problem was what Kevin thought it was, it wouldn’t be a problem.” What does this phrase mean? A businessman has a financial set back. He thinks that with some short term funding he can recover from the set back and return to the top. After looking around, our businessman will usually find the money, but strangely enough the problem doesn’t resolve. If the problem did correct itself, then the businessman was right about what the problem was, and the problem would be gone. Usually the money doesn’t help, but the businessman doesn’t understand that. He doesn’t realize that the problem wasn’t money in the first place. If it were, the problem would now be gone. Lets continue the explanation. The last money borrowed is now gone and the problem persists, so our businessman goes out to find more money to solve the problem that didn’t solve with the money he borrowed, the first time. What happens the second time? The same thing. The money is used up and still the problem continues.
Our businessman is working on the wrong problem. The problem is not money, or the problem would have been gone. Kevin thought the problem was money. It wasn’t. He had already poured $300,000 into the San Bernardino building, on top of the $209,000 1st Trust Deed loan that came about when he bought the building. Before he was finished, he spent over $500,000 in a building that needs $100,000 to finish, but was only worth $475,000, after it was finished.
What could I do? Use what the good lord gave me. 30 years of experience, on the subject of getting out of problems that I created when I was young and inexperienced. Here was the war strategy. I got Kevin to agree to turn over total management of the two properties to me. Knowing that I was managing the property and working on what I believed was the correct problem, I felt comfortable about loaning money on this deal. If I can’t trust myself to solve this problem, whom can I trust? I started by loaning Kevin $25,000 to make needed repairs to the Pasadena building, pay the property taxes and to bring the first and second loans current on the Pasadena property only. Nothing was to be spent at this time, on the San Bernardino building.
Now that I controlled the Pasadena apartment building, I discovered what repairs the building needed. The list was so long it took one man three months, full time, to fully handle it. I then did a very detailed market study and determined what the market would pay in rents. I asked the tenants for a list of everything they wanted done in their apartments to be happy. I then did everything the tenants requested and I then raised their rents 30%. After the building was full, I raised the rents another 15%. The value of the building went up and I received an offer for $725,000. This was $200,000 more than its value 6 months earlier. I put it into escrow, and then I realized that I could raise the rents some more. I raised the rents again in escrow and forced the buyer to pay another $25,000 for the building. Bringing the price to $750,000. That $225,000 profit was needed to help cover the money being lost in San Bernardino.
Author’s Note: The escrow fell through and the building was kept until this update, December 5, 2004. The building is now in escrow for $1,583,000
What did I do about San Bernardino? I contacted the seller/lender and asked him if he would like me to pull the security guard out of the building and let him have it back in foreclosure. He didn’t want it back, even though he pretended that he was willing to do that. He offered me $25,000 in incentives to get me to personally lend the money necessary for the completion of the building, so he wouldn’t have to take it back. For 3 months he tried to get me to put money into the building, with the idea that once I put my money in I wouldn’t walk away from it. The real story was that I wouldn’t put a dime into that black hole until I figured out how to make it recover at least $100,000 of Kevin’s lost money. I asked for a $70,000 discount on the note, and offered to pay him off. We negotiated for two months. Just when I was ready to finish the deal, the seller sold his note to someone else for only a $30,000 discount. I was not able to make the money I wanted because now the new note holder wanted 100% of interest and principal due. This threw a monkey wrench into my negotiating. All this time, I had a buyer standing in the wings to buy the building from Kevin while I was negotiating. I was then forced to sell the property to this buyer and Kevin recovered only a little bit of his investment. The lender and I were both playing a high stakes poker game. I lost this round. If I could have gotten the payoff reduced, Kevin would received a large hunk of money from an “as is” sale. This is what I call playing “Craps” on a very big Monopoly board.
Author’s Note: The buyer, thinking he was going to put $125,000 to finish the remodeling, notified me, after one year, that he had spent $300,000 to finish the building. The apartment building values were increasing rapidly during this time period, so Kevin’s project was increasing in value at the same time the buyer was going deeper and deeper into construction costs. The buyer made out all right in the end. If the market had died, he would have lost $200,000 on this building after Kevin had already lost a fortune. It’s all about timing, isn’t it?
Kevin learned that money alone was not the answer to his problems; he needed a Genie, to turn his turkey into a swan.
Janet is the daughter of one of my oldest and wealthiest friends and clients. We have been doing real estate deals together since 1975. Janet and her husband started buying distressed real estate in Phoenix Arizona in 1994, which was 8 years ago when it was the thing to do. It was now Dec 2000. The market appears to be slowing down and did after September 11, 2001. Janet had been continually borrowing money from her father, whenever things got too difficult. She later sold everything in Phoenix and bought property in Northern California. Then in 1999, one year before I was brought in, she started buying real estate in Kansas City. One day Janet’s father called me and asked for my help. He had loaned his daughter $200,000 and felt that everything she owned was upside down. (Loans more than the market value.). This was further complicated by the fact that if she sold her properties, to pay off her father, the capital gains taxes would eat up any cash, from the sale. On top of all this, Janet kept asking for more money to keep up the payments on the properties that had a negative cash flow and didn’t have enough rental income.
He hired me to help his daughter and agreed to pay my fee. I would work with this 40 years old kid, to get her to return her fathers $200,000 and make herself totally debt free. Janet and I met. She was brilliant. She did know what she was doing, as far as picking good real estate deals. She owned, at the time of our meeting, 10 properties located in 2 different states, and there was $500,000 in equity. If we could get it out, before her father had a stroke things would be great. Janet agreed to the arrangement, happily, if I would be her adviser, not his. Her father agreed to fund whatever money was requested as long as I approved it. Also I had to be the one to ask Janet’s father for the money, since the upset between the farther and daughter was getting unbearable.
This is what we did. A list of needed repairs was created for each of the 11 properties. Bids were received and the work ordered to be done within 30 days. This was not to take months. It had to be done immediately so we could go to step two. Step 2 was to put on the market all of the expensive Northern California property. To my disbelief, Janet wanted to move her family, to a new city, in the middle of all this and her father agreed to let her do it. She had found an old run down house that she felt was undervalued. That meant that her old residence was put into the group of properties to sell. Sell is what we planned to do. Everything was to be put on the market, and sold at the best price to be gotten, but sold regardless. The property in Kansas was to be repaired and fully rented. The properties that could be sold at what we thought was full retail, were also put on the market. The plan was that when everything was sold, the father would get paid off; the loans on the remaining properties would be paid off and the balance of the cash would be put into the bank. Since all of the Kansas deals appear to be a good investment, Janet could now continue to buy more Kansas property, (she had only been spending $25,000 on each deal) but for all cash. The rents coming in would generate enough income for her family to live on without having to ask for money from dad or touching her investment nest egg. That was the plan.
I forgot one last thing. Because many of the properties had been bought years ago on a 1031 exchanges (tax-free exchange), the capital gain tax was going to eat up the cash proceeds. That was one of the traps Janet fell into. She felt she couldn’t sell without buying a replacement. Of course by not liquidating before starting anew, she would never get out of debt with her real estate lenders or her father. The solution, for this problem was simpler than one would think.
First, the father did a 1031 exchange with Janet for one of the big profit houses. The father sold Janet his personal residences for no money down. Now Janet rented her father the house he lives in. So much for capital gains tax on the $150,000 profit in that one big sale. The second big profit was in the house Janet currently lived in. That was tax-free under the current laws. Since the other houses sold had smaller profits, it was decided that the business decision to get out of debt was more important than avoiding paying any taxes.
Author’s Note: That was the plan. So what happened? Janet decided she didn’t want to sell the junk in Kansas and fired me. She refused to pay her father back and as of December 2004 he had not seen a dime. Father has deducted what she owes him from her inheritance, which will be put into a trust administered by her brother for the benefit of the grandchildren. Real estate in California skyrocketed after 9/11/01 terrorist attack and her properties all doubled in value.
Summary: Everyone thinks that his or her problem is not confrontable and therefore unsolvable. I have found that someone other than myself can solve my un-confrontable problems in 10 min and I can do the same for them. It is not a question of being smarter, or more experienced, though experience helps a lot when coming up with easy solutions, quickly. It is really that we all are willing to confront someone else’s problems much easier than our own. When we are willing to confront our own problem head-on, solutions begin to appear miraculously. What I do is help people take their mountains and turn them into molehills. The molehills are then flattened with ease.
The Real Estate Fraud Articles:
These articles were published individually at different times. Here they appear all together, as parts 1, 2 and 3.
Fraud in real estate, are you being victimized? (Part I)
Rip off artists appear in all shapes and sexes. They usually are nice looking, well dressed and very smooth talkers. They, in conversation, tell you about a financial killing they made, or are in the middle of closing. Then they change the subject. A really smooth talker never asks or suggests you invest. They wait until you beg and plead with them to let you in on their great deal. At this point you are HAD. That means, " your goose is cooked and you are invited to the feast, because you are the main course." The logical question is how do you know, before you lose your money that you are going to be ripped off? The answer is independent research, and lots of it.
1) Find a friend, or a friend's friend who is an "expert" in the specific field of investment you are considering. Ask lots of questions and listen to him. Ask him or her how to make sure you are protected. In the years, 1990 to 1995, eight people I know paid the same real estate trainer over $5,000 each to show them how to buy real estate for "NO MONEY DOWN." The trainer claimed she got results. Not one of the students, all of who got to know each other, after years of trying, ever bought a property for "No Money Down."
Recently the same trainer is offering to get her students 100% financing on real estate, even with bad credit. The MARK (the name for a con artist's pigeon) thinks he is paying for an education. The education is that you are $5,000 poorer and you have the name of a loan company that will charge you 8.5% on a 1st Mtg. and 11% on a 2nd mtg. I will tell you how to find such a lender yourself and it will only cost you a phone call.
2) See an attorney or an accountant to review the deal, especially the paperwork. I have seen contracts that if you just read it yourself, word for word and think about what it said you would run like a wolf is chasing you. He is. One simple real estate contract allowed the con man to take the money out of the joint account before he did the repair work. He took the money and never did any work. Never release money until you have everyone's signature on the paperwork and your adviser has read the whole contract, word for word. If you cannot afford an attorney, do not do the deal. It is better to not make a profit than to loose what you already have. "A fool and his money are soon parted." Don't be the fool.
3) Get to know this person. Who are his friends? Who does he work with? What information does the real estate commissioner or the "Better Business Bureau." have on him or her? Ask for the names of people who have already invested with the "con artist", made their profit, and are out of the deal. Do not ask anyone who has gotten in but hasn't gotten out yet. Multi-level people love to have you talk to people that have just entered the group, just before you have.
One of smoothest people around was a securities investment adviser in Santa Barbara. He got hundreds of people to invest with him because hundreds of people had already invested with him. None of them did the level of homework they should have. The few people, who did do independent research, smelled a rat and didn't invest. Many of his investors have lost their whole life's savings; the rest just lost a lot of money, but will recover. If you think I am trying to scare you, then you are absolutely right. "Money should come in rapidly and be spent very slowly.
Fraud in real estate, are you being victimized? (Part II)
The phone range and Peter was on the other end of the line. "Willard, I have a friend of mine that has a real estate problem." I said, "Send him over." Two hours later, Jerry sat in front of me terribly upset. Three years earlier, he had been talked into buying a 4 unit building in partnership with Smooth Talker, a knowledgeable, smooth talking real estate salesman. Smooth Talker offered to find the property, arrange the financing, manage the building and even put up the down payment. Jerry was told that all he had to do was use his perfect credit to qualify for the loan and then sit back, wait seven years and the money would come rolling in.
Smooth Talker also promised that the two of them would do more deals and Jerry would make over $100,000. What Jerry did not know and would not figure out until 3 years later, was that Smooth Talker had no intention of splitting anything and Jerry could kiss his perfect credit goodbye! 3 years ago, Smooth Talker had Jerry and two other buyers, buy three buildings, located on one street. The buildings cost $150,000 each. Smooth Talker put up $1,500 down payment for each property, while at the same time, telling the buyers that he was putting in $12,000.00 for each. There was an unexplained difference of $10,500 each.
Smooth Talker also collected a $9,000 Real Estate commission on each. Smooth Talker also agreed to take the building in as-is condition, with no inspections and without requiring the seller to make any repairs. There were, unknown to Jerry $10,000 worth of air-conditioning as well as other work that needed to be done on the building.
Smooth Talker had those other two buyers borrow from the Federal Government a remodeling loan of $48,000 to make the needed repairs. When those other two buyers each got their loans, Smooth Talker took all the money and said he spent it on Jerry's building. Let me clarify that. Smooth Talker stole the money from the other two investors, telling them he used it on Jerry's building. That is still stealing. My research later showed that he did almost no repairs to any of the buildings, and what little repairs he did have done, were not even paid for.
Smooth Talker cheated the poor workers out of their pay. No one could ever understand what he was doing. He even collected rent, pocketing any cash. When the buyers wanted an accounting. Smooth Talker wouldn't even supply it. When I came on the scene and demanded, as a matter of law, an accounting of what was received and spent. Smooth Talker didn't have any proof of what happen to all the money.
Jerry wanted out of the partnership but Smooth Talker didn't want the building sold; but he did want to make sure he got his due, if it was. He gave me a statement showing that he had put in $34,000 (which was not true) into the building and wanted that before any split of profits. This would have left Jerry receiving $5,000 and Smooth Talker making $46,400 on the whole deal.
To avoid being in this kind of a situation, I advice the following, before doing any sort of real estate deal; a) Evaluate your risk. What is your downside? Have a real estate expert study the deal. b) Set up operating and reporting guidelines with your partners. Put everything in clear English. c) Have everything reviewed by an attorney or an accountant. d) Choose your people partners with care.
Fraud in real estate, are you being victimized? (Part III)
Jonathan's Story: Jonathan had the sadist story I ever heard. You decide how the story turns out. It was 1997 and I received a call from Jonathan. He had received my letter asking if he wanted to sell his business any time soon. He asked me to come out and see him. Jonathan was 81 years old. He owned a woodworking factory that had been going for 40 years. He also owned two commercial factory buildings and had a beautiful residence that was debt free.
His wife, Janet, also 81, was the sweetest woman I ever met. They were both healthy and they loved each other dearly. They had no children or grandchildren. Janet had nieces and nephews on her side of the family. Jonathan had no living relatives of any kind. When I met Jonathan I adopted him. Sounds like the perfect picture, doesn't it. It was until 5 years ago.
Jonathan received a letter from Nigeria explaining that if he would front them some cash to pay off some government officials, they would pay him millions of dollars out of what the government owed them. You may have heard this story. It has been on 60 minutes. In fact Jonathan had heard this story; the problem was that he thought that his contact was different. They showed him legal documents, had Nigerian attorneys certify the validity of them and they did everything else necessary to con a rich old man into believing that his ship had come in.
Over the next 3 years, Jonathan stopped paying his real estate loans, borrowed on his factory equipment, ran up $500,000 in credit card charges and cleaned out his wife's separate bank account, all without telling her anything. Every payment to Nigeria was supposed to be the last one, and Jonathan was hooked. When I found Jonathan he couldn't raise what he thought was the last $10,000 necessary to finish the deal. His creditors were getting very upset and were ready to sue him.
As terrible as this sounds, Jonathan was the 3rd person that I have met in the last 10 years that has been stung by this scam. I cried. I know that at least $500,000 was sent. Jonathan thinks he sent closer to $1 Million. Jonathan decided that it was fate that sent me to him. He may be right. By the way my company name is Kismet Real Estate Investments, Inc. Kismet means Fate, Destiny, Karma, etc in Turkish, Indian, and Arabic. Time was very short, we had work to do and fast.
His wife knew nothing of what was happening, and I had to get Jonathan to tell her that they had gone from being millionaires to destitute in one conversation. Jonathan told his wife the truth. She forgave him. (Now that's love.) Her one concern was that she didn't want to loose her home. We were but a few weeks away from the creditors coming down on his business and her mortgage free house. In one clean swallow, they would put her into bankruptcy, a one-bedroom apartment and living on social security, which would have actually killed her. How much can one take at that age?
I went to work. First I promised Janet that no one would take her house away from her. She needed to trust ME, a total stranger, to not put the nail in the coffin. I do not know if I could have made the decision she had to make. We put her house in an irrevocable trust for her family when she died. That meant she had to give up ownership of her house, to me, a total stranger, in order to continue to live in it the rest of her life. Next we sold his two buildings to an investor who would work with us. The loans on the two buildings were equal to the market value at that time.
We then found a buyer for the worse of the two buildings and made a deal with the Small Business Administration, to lower the interest rate and payments on the remaining building. Those payments are about 30% of current market rents today. By making those very low payments, the lender who is on the building and the business equipment was happy. The result of all this was that Jonathan was able to keep his factory running and make just enough to pay his current living expenses.
Then the creditors, eight of them, started suing Jonathan, one after the other. Each tried to take the assets of the business. There was nothing to take. Some tried to go after the commercial buildings. That failed as they had been sold. One tried to go after the house. I arranged for someone friendlier than the bank to buy the bank's judgment at a discount and hold it until it doesn't make any difference. The bankruptcy attorney said we would never get away with what we were doing. He said that Jonathan needed to file Bankruptcy. Jonathan decided that he trusted my ability more than the attorney's advice. It has been 3 years now and all is quiet on the northern front. Jonathan and Janet are now 84 years old, still healthy, and still in love.
Everyone thinks that his or her problem is un-confrontable and therefore unsolvable. I have found that someone other then myself can solve my un-confrontable problems in 10 min and I can do the same for them. It is not a question of being smarter, or more experienced, though experience helps a lot to come up with easy solutions quickly. It is really that we all are willing to confront someone else's problems much easier than our own.
When we are willing to confront our own problem head on, solutions begin to appear miraculously. What I do is help people take their mountains and turn them into molehills. The molehills are then flattened with ease.
Foreclosure; the basic procedure:
In order for foreclosure to occur in California, there are certain basic things that have to take place. How this works, in the case of a Deed of Trust, called a ‘Non Judicial Foreclosure,’ goes like this - with regard to the time line.
The borrower (property owner) does not make the monthly payment to the person or institution that he or she borrowed money from. Technically, a default occurs the moment the first payment is missed. However, for practical purposes, most lenders do not really start the foreclosure proceedings until after the third payment is missed. A few only wait until the second payment is missed, but this is rare.
The procedure, once started, is continued on through to the end unless the property owner stops it by bringing the loan current (bringing it current means to make all back payments owed to the lender).
· Day 1 - A notice of default is recorded.
· Within 10 business days - The Notice of Default (NOD) is posted on the property, mailed to the property owner and published in a countywide newspaper.
· After 3 months - A sale date can be set for the property to be sold, in order to repay the lender their money. The Notice of Sale (NOS) is also posted on the property, mailed to the property owner and published 3 times in a countywide newspaper. The publications are one week apart, announcing the public auction.
· The recording of the notice of sale must be done at least 21 days before the sale date. A notice of sale is sometimes sent to the I.R.S, if necessary - it is not in all cases.
· 7 days before sale date, if this is a court action, the 7-day rule may apply.
· 5 business days before the sale date - The right of the property owner to re-instate the loan (bring the loan current) expires.
· Sales Date - the trustee, for the benefit of the lender to recover his or her money, sells Property to the highest bidder at a public auction.
Should we Buy, Sell or Hold real estate in this Market?
It has been said, “Buy land, they aren’t making any more of it.” It is really a true statement. Of course there is a lot of land to be had, some very very cheap. Other land like beachfront is very limited and over the years gets even scarcer. I have a book in my library written in 1964. It talks about buying California land. It makes reference to the expansion of Los Angeles into the surrounding neighborhoods, as would be expected.
It also talks about land prices in the desert and other outlying areas where city expansion even today has not happened. Funny, land that was never going to be useful for anything for at least 100 years was selling in 1964 for $40 per acre and is today dirt-cheap worthless land for $200 per acre. Even junk real estate has gone up 500% in 38 years.
So lets look at the question: Is real estate a “buy and hold” investment or a “buy and sell” investment. First I would like to investigate why people have actually lost money buying real estate. We are not talking about “no profit” or “breaking even” owning real estate, we are talking about actually losing money. Let me tell you a story of where I actually lost money, and a lot of it. In 1987 to 1989, the real estate market went up double in 3 years, much as it has been doing in between 2000 and 2002.
I bought 2 houses in rent control West Hollywood, with the idea of building 9 condominiums. Expected profit was to be $1 Million. The market turned south in 1990 and stayed that way until 1995, when it began to go up 5% per year. I lost that property which today would have made me $2-3 Million. Why did I loose it, when if I would have held it for 10 years, I would have been much richer than if I would have been able to build and sell those condos in 1990?
The mortgage payments on the houses totaled $6,600 per month, including taxes and insurance. The market rents were $4,500 per month, which I couldn’t get because West Hollywood rent control would not allow me to raise the rent, even when a tenant moved out. I was locked in to $3,200 rent which meant I was loosing $3,400 per month or $40,800 per year. Since I needed to hold the property for 10 years, which was 2000 before getting a great price for the property or the build condos, I needed to have the ability to put $408,000 cash into the property. This was after paying $700,000 for the property in 1990. I didn’t have the staying power at the time.
Real estate investors usually do not just buy one property at a time. They tend to own many. I have owned up to 30 properties at one time. I know people who have owned and managed 100 houses or 100 units at one time. It is not being able to support the negative cash flow that can wipe out everything you worked years for. If you understand this, and do not get excited by big profits and greed, you will avoid these kind of deals.
In hindsight, if you think this was not a good risk, you would be correct. At the time it appeared that the condos would be built and sold within 18 months and my partners and I would be $1 million richer. Things are not always as they seem in real estate. Of course if you had a mortgage payment of $2,000 and rent of $2000 including taxes and insurance. You would never have this problem. Or would you?
I know it appears that rents would never go down, but in real estate recessions they do. We never believe that our loan payment will go up but they do also. If you have an adjustable rate loan, maybe with a 6 month teaser rate, you will find your payments going up $150.00 per month every year and it doesn’t take more than a few years before the yearly increase gets expense to support, especially while property values are flat or dropping.
When buying property to hold, these risks must be taken into consideration so that you are not surprised by them but are in fact fully prepared for these eventualities. When people buy at the top of the market they always tell me they are in for the long run. But in fact they usually sell out at the bottom, after being hit real hard by the negative cash flow.
On the other hand, people who buy in bad markets, get increasing rents, decreasing interest rates and appreciating property values guaranteeing the investor success. By the time the market peaks out this investor is making 100% profit on the appreciation, double the rent needed to pay the mortgage and the ability to support the property for another 10 years if the market drops and the investor has not sold. Risk free, at this point, unless the investor borrows all his equity out to buy two more deals.
The bargain buyer is in the exact same situation as the top of the market buyer, except he owns 3 houses, not one. I had four friends who, in the late 1970’s, did this exact thing. They each owned 10-30 properties. One of them owned only beachfront Malibu properties. The result was the same for all of them. By the bottom of the market in 1983, all of them had lost everything. Two of the four also got divorced in those 3 years because of the financial stress from a falling market.
Lessons to learn: First, do not think you are smarter than the people who passed this way before you; you’re not. Second, markets never go up forever, have not performed as if they will. Third, if you are not prepared for the worst, it will kill you. If you are prepared, it will only hurt a little. You will survive and come away much richer in the end.
About the author:
Willard Michlin is an Investor, Business Broker, California Real Estate Broker, Accountant, Financial Distress Consultant, Well known Public speaker and Administrative/Business Consultant. He can be contacted at his Ventura, California office by calling 805-529-9854 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org See other article by Willard at http://www.kismetgroup.com