Jan 20
Note, this began as a discussion between myself and another well known Milwaukee investor.
 
I have been an investor in Milwaukee real estate since the seventies. I have seen the market roller coaster many times. My belief for the coming months is:
 
In the next 12-18 months, we will get to near 2008 levels of correction both the mid-upper end of the market and the lower end, with the middle being less affected. Trump could make it worse, or Trump could make it better. It is not in Trump’s nature to not be involved an issue of this potential magnitude.
 
Mid-upper, 350k-1.5M range depending on the location, valued home sales will suffer as interest rates rise and the limits on tax and interest deductibility make them less affordable for those who are currently, marginally able to have such a home. In some markets, such as south FL and NYC, we’ve already seen discounting in the upper segment. It will get worse. Not many people, including politicians, feel sorry for the overextended Yuppie with the leased BMW in the drive of his McMansion that is filled with furniture bought on credit while working at a job he got with his degree that came with a significant college loan debt.
 
Low value (sub 100k) homes will take the hit as wages have remained static and interest are rising. We have been returning to “soft” underwriting. This is a segment where homeowners are more likely to quit when it gets hard. Those owners will fail. Unfortunately, no one in power truly cares when a poor family loses their home. The Dems say they care, but many secretly rejoice as each failure allows them to increase their political base by verbalizing outrage and empty promises of help. The Reps loyalty is more to the bankers than the homeowners. Rand Paul cannot change the world by himself.
 
Learning from the 2008 debacle, the government will prevent the full-on implosion of the middle. Too much economic and political damage if the voting class loses their homes again. But I still expect a 10-20% discount when owners must sell.
 
Throughout my career, when owner-occupied housing has suffered, rents and/or occupancy rise. Beginning in 2008 and continuing to this day, we’ve seen the most robust rental market of my career. In 2005-2007 we had our worst vacancy rates as every good tenant was suddenly, and temporarily, a homeowner.
 
When the economy is terrible opportunities abound.
 
In Carter’s 1980, prime rate was 21% at one point. Nobody was buying, well nobody but me and a few of others. I bought a hundred fifty units in the ten years between 79 and 89 when owner-occupied mortgage rates were consistently over 10% and rental mortgages near impossible to obtain.
 
In 79-89 we bought properties that worked at the 10-12% interest we were paying. I structured my buys so that I survived and made enough to support my family. When rates fell, values increased. Interest rate chart.
 
The longer the downturn goes on, the higher number of tired landlords, or their estates, will be seriously motivated to sell. They will create ways to make to make sales happen. Much of my purchases in 79-89 were owner financed because banks were not even enthusiastic about lending to owner-occupants at the time.
 
The combination of Amazon and remote working arrangements killed most commercial property value. My daughter does something important for AT&T corporate. She has worked from her living room for the past five years, and AT&T sold her former office.
 
The Chinese are selling off their US holdings.  WSJ: Chinese Dumped $1 Billion of U.S. Real Estate in Third Quarter, Extending Recent Retreat (Dec. 4, 2018)
 
Millennials don’t buy homes. They live in mom’s basement, or they rent. 
 
My three-year view:
 
I have good feelings about residential rentals across most segments. This will only hold true if:
• You have fixed rate financing; or
• You structured your purchases so that they still cash flow at 12% interest.
 
I think flipping will be a flipping foolish thing to do for the foreseeable future. Even if you are buying well today, you are buying higher on the price curve than you will be selling at three to six months from now.
 
Keep your powder dry for the next six to twelve months, i.e., hoard cash. Opportunities will abound.
 
Warren Buffet: “Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful.”
 
Jimmy Buffet: “If life gives you limes, make margaritas.”
 
Further reading: (A lot of WSJ pay-walled articles, but they do some of the best research.)
 
 
 
 
 
 
Dec 02

Last week my son sent me the following text:

I read this from time to time and thank you for it

The Public Policy Forum a few months back said Milwaukee’s really short of low-cost rentals. If more people went into the business, researchers said, it could help. Yet Ballering, who’s owned for 32 years, told his son to find another occupation: “It’s such a difficult business,” said Ballering.

“There’s better things to do with your life.”

Not what a city in need of rental housing wants to hear from entrepreneurs who provide it.

Source: http://archive.jsonline.com/news/opinion/59534347.html/

The back story:

My son was nearing high school graduation.   I asked him what his plans were.  He said that he was going to follow me into the rental business.  He was initially upset with me when I told him no.  Today he is happy as a partner at a major marketing firm.

Although being in rental housing has done well for me, it is a harsh business.  There is little to no appreciation for the amount of work and risk involved. Many who enter the industry leave broke and broken. Your properties get damaged, your tenants do not pay and, to quote the late Rodney Dangerfield, we get no respect.

The government, who would benefit from successful rental housing, seldom support us or gives us the tools we need to succeed.  As an urban housing provider, you become responsible for the misdeeds of your tenants, while those who commit crimes are often not prosecuted.

There is an eviction crisis.  Yet instead of putting resources towards the causes, poverty and social issues, those claiming to want to solve the problem are providing more resources to free legal helps so that the nonpaying or disruptive tenant can stay a month or two longer due to an undotted i or uncrossed t.

So, yes, being a marketing professional seems like a much better life.

May 27

The Milwaukee Journal is reporting that a provision in ACT 317 may stop attorneys from representing pro bono eviction clients.

The small change included in Act 317 “has a potential chilling effect” on lawyers volunteering at clinics like the Eviction Defense Project, said Dawn Caldart, director of pro bono and professional development at Quarles & Brady, a Milwaukee-based national law firm.

This article, like many others on evictions vilifies owners.

We need to get the other side of the story out there
 
… the one with frivolous legal defenses whose only goal is delay
… the one where tenants that strive to meet their obligations are the ones that ultimately are paying for those who tenants that do not
… the one where twenty million dollars a year of rent is not paid in Milwaukee county alone
… the one where mom and pop, moderate income owners are struggling to pay their own bills because the rent isn’t paid
… the one where elderly duplex owners are refusing to rent the other unit due to problems with prior tenants
…the one where no owner benefits when tenants fail and must be evicted.
 
Nov 03

The Milwaukee Journal reports

Lax city oversight allowed sham nonprofit to snag and flip Milwaukee properties

The article has nothing to do with a landlord, and everything to do with with fraudsters using real estate as the vehicle for their criminal activity.
.

Yet just like the other non-landlord related articles in the series, the html title tag is “Landlord Games:…” , the caption to the attached video reads “Some Milwaukee landlords game the system, taking advantage of potential renters and home buyers” and the footer:

Read the investigation

To read the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Landlord Games investigation, which examines ways landlords game the system and how city officials allow it to happen, go to jsonline.com/landlordgames.


 Certainly not a “landlord game.”  But the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel continually mis-captions anything negative about housing as being  “landlord” caused.

Jul 19

Perhaps excluding the likes of Amazon, Google, and Tesla, most well run, and effective businesses can achieve 10, 15, 20% or more sustainable improvement every couple of years by applying “Fresh Eyes” to their procedures and processes.

Your business is doing well, at least you think so. But you know it would do better if only you could just … [put your challenges and opportunities here] You say ‘I’ll jump on doing that next week, or after the vacation, or after Labor Day or by the end of the year.’ Sorry, buddy. Ain’t happenin’. You said the same last year and the year before and…

Let’s be honest you can’t see the opportunities and obstacles, and if you do, you cannot act on them. The excuses your staff and you have created to avoid doing what must be done have been internalized and are no longer even noticed. Processes that were in place and working have fallen by the wayside. You step over great opportunities sitting on your front step every morning, without even noticing them anymore or worse, curse them for being in your way.

We are blind to missed opportunities and obstacles because we are too close. In the past twenty-five years, I went from 175 to 200 pounds. I did not see even one of those pounds sneak up on me, but they are here today. Your business is the same, slowly getting fat, but not noticed.

‘Well, I’ll just have my staff take a look and make changes.’ Sorry, they have worse baggage than you.

What we’ve done at my company for many years now is to hire a temporary set of “Fresh Eyes.” This person must be a potential superstar, who is available to work for a couple of, or a few months. They are never hired to fill a current role.

Rather the “Fresh Eyes” position is to question everything we do. You know how it is easier to tell someone how they should run their business or their life than to do the same yourself. That is what we are looking for in a “Fresh Eyes” person.

Typically we hire people outside of the rental industry, so they have a different perspective than us. We’ve had a former Health Department inspector, a former Alderman, a couple of former community leaders, a former manager of a temp service. I lean towards people different than us, but who have proven themselves as leaders and producers.

The goal is to hit a sustainable 15% improvement with a two to four-month commitment to work with the “Fresh Eyes” employee.

To get value full value from this experience, you must remember that “Ego is the Enemy”* and do not allow yourself to feel insulted or defensive of your soon to be former bad ways.
——
*Ego is the Enemy is the title of a book on Stoicism by Ryan Holiday – It is worth the read. Find it on Amazon.

“MY OPPONENT IS MY TEACHER. MY EGO IS MY ENEMY.”
— RENZO GRACIE


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