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.)
 
 
 
 
 
 
Aug 29

For years I struggled with setting rents. Too much under market rents and the properties did not perform as well as they could. Too much over market rents, they sat vacant and do not perform as well as they could. There seems to be a theme developing here. 😉

To succeed you need to know what others are charging for rent in your very specific market. To that end, we spent a lot of my time, my staffs’ time and effort trying to collect comparable rents.

Ten, fifteen years ago our team manually enter details from for rent ads in the local papers, Craigslist, Zillow and anywhere else we found them. Then we would combine that information with city property records, trying to get an accurate view of what the market rent was for a particular unit. This was expensive and annoying.

We tried freelance data collectors through oDesk (now UpWork) to collect and correlate the records. Better, but still costly and the results still were not exactly what I wanted.

Then I saw promise in AI and Machine Learning, using tools like BlockSpring. Better results, but then Craigs and others started blocking automated collection tools.

We went back to manual data collection where we had to and automated what we could.

We were doing the rent surveys once or twice a year due to the hassle and costs. Quarterly would be better to catch trends.

I had looked at Rent-O-Meter in its early days. It seemed promising but had far less data than even our rudimentary data set.

Last October I relooked at Rent-O-Meter. Wow. We have been using it ever since.  They have both a free version and a free trial of the “Pro” version that goes for about $200 per year.  Setting one rent wrong will cost you more than that. You may want to take a look.

Note: while this may sound like an ad for Rent-O-Meter, it is not.  I’m just a happy, paying customer of theirs.

Feb 23

The first question you must ask is ‘What is the market for similar units today?’

Market rates can change quite a bit in both directions.

If an area is suddenly overbuilt or there is the loss of a major employer, rents can go down. In those cases even keeping the current rent may cause you to lose a great tenant.

If the rents have gone up a lot, then you may be leaving too much money on the table.

You can look at a bunch of local ads and Craigslist to get an idea. This can be a lot of work. I cheat and use rentometer.com (they have a free level, but we do enough to make the pro version worth while) Then go and look at their comps to see where you should be as all three bedrooms in Anytown, USA are not created equal.

For a great tenant we do not raise to market, but will often raise a bit. There is a cost to turning a unit in prepping, advertising and lost rent.

If you are not planning on selling the place, getting the last 5% of rent  may be a fools errand. On the other hand if you are selling a place, 5% of additional rent can be thousdands of dollars of added value.

Dec 28

It is clearly advantageous for most people who have businesses or itemize their personal deductions to pay as many deductible items as possible in the next couple of days.  (Of course, check with a tax pro and not rely on some landlord you found on the internet before acting)

This could include property taxes, general bills due in the next 60 days, and state estimated income taxes. Perhaps if you have subscription based software etc., you could get a discount by switching to annual instead of monthly payments and move that payment into 2017. Same if you are on an installment plan with insurance let’s say.

We paid as much as we could and I’m feeling a bit broke today.  Knowing so many others had to do the same, it got me to thinking.

My prediction is retail and things like autos and refrigerators are not going to sell well for at least the first quarter of 2018 as so much was spent by small business owners in the final two weeks of 2017.

If you are into the stocks and options, perhaps there is an opportunity to make some money, knowing that the economy will be depressed for a couple of months as people recover from the forced spend to move tax deductions into 2017. (But again, don’t take my advice as I am Just A Landlord)

Dec 02

When I was just a wee lad of six or seven I was given a book for Christmas, The Way Things Work.

I do not think any gift had made as much of an impact on my life as this. Learning so many fundamentals of mechanics, physics, electricity, plumbing etc as a grade school kid was a foundation that helped me understand so much of what I needed as a small landlord that initially had to make all my own repairs.

These fundamentals also helped me succeed in my prior career in manufacturing.

How different my life would have been if instead I had gotten the Tonka dump truck I thought I wanted for Christmas.

Today, when deciding what gifts to give my grandchildren, I try to find gifts that may impact their lives as much as this book impacted mine.

In fact writing this post brought back such memories, that I just bought a used copy for myself.


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