Given the current buyers market, some investors may find property more attractive, never mind rewarding, than stocks; and for those convinced that the federal government’s borrowing-spending binge will bring a nasty bout of inflation down the road, real estate is the hedge for you.
“As inflation occurs the value of your property will go up,” says Todd Huettner, president of Huettner Capital, a Denver-based real estate financing brokerage. “Then there’s the financing. You’re borrowing dollars when they’re cheap today and paying them back when they’re worth less.”
That and a sea of foreclosed properties make your dollar go a very long way.
But depending on how you get into real estate, it can be a time consuming, complex and (as the recent bust proves) risky proposition.
There are many ways to invest—in properties or funds; in commercial, residential or industrial; in single-family homes or condos. Each strategy has advantages and disadvantages, but experts say there are a few principles that hold true across the board.
First, do your homework. “Don’t feel obligated to do the deal if you don’t have all the information you need,” advises Gregor Watson, managing partner at McKinley Capital Partners, a $30-million dollar real estate fund in California. “Just because it’s free doesn’t mean it’s a good deal.”
That means examining market dynamics for the segment you’re considering, knowing how financing works, understanding all the aspects of the deal. “If it’s outside your area of expertise, hire professionals,” Watson says.
Be skeptical of deals that seem too good to be true.
“Be careful of the real estate agents—they’re out to make a sale,” says Marty Sumichrast, an entrepreneur, venture capitalist and real estate investor.
And finally, expect things to go wrong. “What if you had a vacancy and needed a new roof and a water heater, all in 30 days?” Huettner asks. “If you see all the things that could go wrong, you’ll usually end up being okay.”
With those principles in mind, you need to figure out how you want to invest. That choice will depend on your personal and financial goals and predilections.
REITS And ETFS
George Van Dyke, an independent financial consultant in Towson, Maryland, advises his clients to use real estate investment trusts, EITS, and exchange-traded funds, ETFs, to diversify into real estate. The vehicles are fast and easy ways to get into different properties, geographical areas and real estate classes.
“With publicly traded securities you can remain liquid,” he says. “If you can’t tolerate the risk, you’re not forced to go and sell a physical piece of real estate, which could take months.”
It’s also relatively simple to limit risk by using a trailing stop loss order, which automatically sells an asset if it drops below a certain predetermined price.
“If the real estate investments we utilize go up for an extended period of time, it is possible to lock in years of gains,” Van Dyke says.
With REITs and ETFs, you don’t have any of the hassles or liabilities that come with being a landlord or a property owner. But some investors are looking to be more hands-on. And, Van Dyke notes, you may be missing out on some money.
“The returns that you would get on a physical piece of real estate would exceed what you would get on a publicly traded security,” he says.
Residential: Single Family
For many, the next step up is investing directly in a property.
“Residential is the easiest and lowest risk,” Huettner says. “You don’t have to have a few million bucks to get involved, and you can get a 20-year fixed-rate loan at a really low rate, putting down 20 or 25 percent.”
The simplest approach is to buy a house or apartment unit to rent, especially since most of us are familiar with home ownership.
“If you’re starting in single family, buy in the neighborhood you’re working in,” Isaksen suggests. “You’ll know about the area. You’ll be able to get there easily.”
When looking for properties, consider how the home fits into the neighborhood and the current housing market. If a property is dirt cheap, ask yourself why.
“Is it because it’s a three-story townhome in suburbia?” Watson says. “Don’t just look at price. Make sure the product matches the market.”
Isaksen advises making sure you’re in the middle tier of the neighborhood in terms of size and price.
“You don’t want to be the highest end home on the block,” he says. “You don’t want to have to lead the market.”