What Makes Real Estate Assets Cheap – Tame Your FOMO

Because we are hard-wired to be poor investors, your family’s best bet is dollar-cost averaging in low-cost index funds. Consistent investing, over your working life, it’s as close to a sure thing as you can get.

Despite, and because of, the above truth, many people are going to dive into the real estate market.

When the masses get into trouble, you can do very well by applying this post.

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Wait for…

FINANCIAL DURESS — Once a decade, debt markets rapidly contract and everyone has a freak out.

DIVORCE — Corporate, professional or personal — vendors will hurt themselves to damage former partners

MOMENTUM — Collectively, our long-term memory is about three years long. The Great recession ran from December 2007 to June 2009. It took three years years for us to “forget” the asset price run up of 2005-2007.

If you don’t have two-out-of-three then wait. Discounts are coming!

Do work…

INFORMATION — I assume the vendor knows far more than me, and probably you

How can we improve our knowledge?

Wait & study — while waiting for the next crisis… live in the location where you’re thinking about buying. The cost of the rental will pay for itself through better information.

Fundamental Value — do this with every large investment (or purchase)…

A./ What is the net cash flow the asset can generate after current taxes, all operating costs and the investment required to keep it producing cash?

B./ What is the total capital required to purchase? Include every_single_dollar.

C./ How does the implied yield (A/B) compare to the yield on 30-year US Treasuries (currently ~3%)?

Example… across 2014 and 2015, I was unsure if I should sell, or hold. The common wisdom was long-term rates were going to rise and prices would stagnate. Tempting to switch asset classes…

I calculated my cash yield was roughly equal to the, then, 30-year rate.

I considered…

1./ My sites were exposed to the upside from Boulder County economic growth

2./ My alternative investments had lower yields than my existing investments

3./ I would crystalize significant deferred tax liabilities

4./ My existing position was good enough to meet my goals

I decided to sell a negative-yielding asset and hold the cash generators.

NOBODY predicted what happened next, long rates fell by a third, and local real estate values rose by 50%.

FWIW, long rates are back up but fear of missing out (FOMO) is driving the market upwards.

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When is our margin of safety highest?

  1. Let prices, and transaction volume, fall for two years
  2. Look for a distressed seller
  3. Look for a deal where the cost to own is less than the cost to rent
  4. Confirm your taxed, net cash yield is greater than the 30-year treasury rate

Your FOMO will tell you that the above will NEVER happen.

WRONG!

Since I graduated university (1990), very favorable conditions have happened FIVE different times where I was living.

It takes a long time to build capital and two great deals (in 50 years) will let you meet your goals.

Tame your FOMO and choose wisely!

Effective Real Estate Ownership

When you buy real estate, what’s your goal?

We want to live in a fabulous place, while getting rich on asset appreciation.

It sounds great but the choice of moving into an affluent community increases expectations, and cost of living.

“So what?”, you say.

The hidden cost can be time for our kids and marriage.

In the Great Recession, I changed course…

We aim to create a portfolio of assets enabling us to live for free in an effective public school system that’s close to nature.

In your teens, you will start to make investment decisions… how much to work, spend, save, donate and borrow. You have 50 years to create your portfolio!

Live for free:

  1. In high-school: with your parents
  2. As a young adult: a place where your roommates subsidize your cost of living
  3. Next: a house with many bedrooms — the first place I owned had the capacity to support me via roommates
  4. As soon as I “could afford it” — I made a mistake with a large, expensive to own, flash property!
  5. …but I found myself unexpectedly unemployed and we couldn’t afford it
  6. Eventually, we wised-up, downsized our home, and bought rental properties that covered our mortgage and healthcare.

When my wife is 65, the mortgage will be paid off, the kids will be educated and her retirement self-funded by the residual real estate portfolio.

How much of our cost of living can be permanently covered, or hedged, by this decision?

Most people aspire towards material goods, appearances and spending.

I urge you to patiently buy time, personal freedom and shared experiences.

Most of effective investing is learning, saving and waiting.

 

Real Estate Switching Costs

Real estate has had a good run since 2010.

It can be tempting to cash in profits.

Financial Case Study

My neighbor is just about at the point where he can net $1,000,000 dollars on the sale of his house. He’s retired and this represents a very substantial sum for him. One million dollars is also kind of a magic number emotionally as he never expected to be a millionaire.

For him to net $1,000,000 he will need to sell his place for about $1,067,500 gross.

He bought the house many years ago so, even after his primary residence exclusion, he’s going to have a tax bill of $70,000.

There will be other costs (moving, cleaning, etc…) adding up to $2,500.

So his certain costs today are $67,500 + $70,000 + $2,500 => $140,000

Putting this into his personal context…

Having paid off his mortgage by the time he retired, he has the ability to live on $1,500 per month. So he’s looking at a certain bill that’s worth 7 3/4 years’ living expenses.

He’s also a young retiree, with parents still alive.

So he might be living another 30+ years.

Key Questions

How might the switch make things better? Whatever they are… they are uncertain benefits to be weighed against certain financial costs.

How will surplus cash be invested? Given the choice between prime residential real estate and an investment account… most retirees prefer the hidden volatility of real estate.

Do I want to leave my community? When I left Christchurch (NZ), I left behind a fantastic group of people. Community has a far stronger association with a meaningful life than cash in a bank account.

Certain types of people make new friends easily. I’m not one of those people! What type of person are you?

What Can Go Wrong

Bull Markets — Assume that you can only “move out of town” once. In our case, we lack the financial resources to repurchase our existing real estate at current market prices. If we sell, and prices rise, then we will be priced out of the market.

Neutral Markets — Real estate is expensive to transact. In the example above, the vendor is paying 13% of gross proceeds in commissions, taxes and expenses. In any new purchase I assume that I “lose” (on paper) 10% of the gross purchase value at completion. In other words, I am going to need a 10% market increase to get my money back.

Bear Markets — Can I afford to be locked into this market for many years? Vacation markets, cities reliant on a single industry (oil and gas) and secondary locations… buyers can be locked in for five plus years. Am I OK with that risk?

The Good Enough Portfolio

There’s a lot to be said for an attitude that an existing position is “good enough.”

Each time I make a choice, change or modification it’s an opportunity for expense and error.

 

Regime Change

2016-11-24-19-02-19A friend asked for my thoughts about “what he should do” regarding the changes that are about to happen within the US Government.

My quick answer was “do nothing.”

2016-11-25-16-16-29..but there is a lot we can do.

I spent the days after the election teaching my kids to read, helping with math and working on the family’s open water skills.

My advice to “do nothing” is based on the following…

#1 – if you are adjusting strategy more than once a decade then you don’t have an effective strategy // if you truly feel the need to change then there is a structural problem within your family plan

#2 – you should consider tweaking strategy when your life changes (not the ruling party) – unemployment, impending retirement, new dependents, less dependents, major illness, wealth transfers // external surprises are going to happen all the time — spend your emotional energy preparing yourself to stay-the-course, not feeding your fears

#3 – the best time to sell high-quality assets is “never”

2016-11-25-16-31-59#4 – all the emotional energy and financial wealth spent on elections is better allocated to the next generation of your family

#5 – the richest people in America are about to feel a whole lot richer // stay invested and, if you sell to rich people then, raise your prices

#6 – with Elaine Chao’s appointment, the pieces are falling in place for a major domestic infrastructure initiative — this strikes me as a whole lot better (for everyone) than nation building via Asian land wars

#7 – don’t build capacity, or leverage, to the peak // the next recession is likely to be large

#8 – there will be excellent buying opportunities in all our futures // I’ve been researching my next major purchase since before the last recession

2016-11-26-10-29-40The hive-mind has been wrong all year. Glaringly wrong!

I ask myself, “Have they ever been right?!”

Spending time infecting our minds with media noise is the worst thing we can do for clear thinking. Turn off the media, learn persuasion psychology and study history.

Know that the largest gains in your family’s human capital come from self-improvement, ever stronger marriages and educating the next generation.

  • Financially – stay the course
  • Individually – incremental positive change

2016-11-25-16-33-30

Financial Planning for Long-Term Success

2016-09-07-12-05-16November 1st is the start of open enrollment in the US healthcare sector. To celebrate, Unitedhealthcare notified me that my premiums are heading up by 25%. I wonder how the total compensation (salary, bonus, private jets, security, stock) of their senior people will compare to the next president’s cabinet?

I overreact to unexpected, but manageable, loses.

Perhaps you are the same?

2016-10-14-17-33-43It takes effort to make myself more rational, and avoid exposing my family to unnecessary suffering. Here, I include loss of happiness from worrying about the small stuff.

The antidote is to always frame negative surprises in the largest possible context.

Our premium change is…

  • …less than 1% of the increase in our net assets over the same period
  • …less than 0.25% of my family’s net worth
  • …less than 5% of my family’s core cost of living

The premium shock motivated me to take a deep dive into family assets, liabilities and expenditures.

We measure core cost of living in terms of healthcare, total taxation, education, food and housing (mortgage, taxes, insurance).

Our key discretionary items are childcare, vehicles, vacations, college funds and gifting.

2016-10-14-14-56-00When you’re looking at a budget, or a business, go deeper and consider…

  1. Sources of large changes in income // unemployment, vacancies, new initiatives
  2. Sources of large increases in expenses // lease rates, insurance premiums, tax rates
  3. Prudent future planning // long lifespans, persistent lower investment returns

What can go wrong? What can we do, when inevitable shocks arise?

What can go right? How can we increase our exposure to large positive outcomes?

  • Children
  • Education
  • Capacity to help others with high-value work
  • Equity investments
  • Voluntary simplicity – our greatest wealth creator

2016-10-15-09-42-33While no one can predict the future, the 30-year bond (2.5%) is indicating that prospective returns are likely to be less than any of us have seen across our adult lives.

Historically, financial freedom targets net assets equivalent to 25 years of core cost of living. While that might be true historically, have a careful look at your joint life expectancies and quantify your longevity risk.

Young couples need to consider 50-year retirements, with 0.5-1.0% real rates of return (before taxes, fees and expenses).This possible outcome is far different than what I was taught in school, or even considered five years ago.

High Finance

2016-09-24-10-14-55Keep your ears open this week. There will be a rare opportunity to learn about finance.

For my international friends, many of the American techniques (in the news) are available in your home countries. I have been applying finance, across four continents, for more than 25 years.

2016-09-25-18-48-42The overall financial system works great. However, when I try to explain certain shortcomings to my friends, their eyes glaze over and I lose them.

I wish I was more skillful.

Whether your favorite billionaire is a Cuban, a Koch, or a Buffett, we can learn a lot from insiders. A constant refrain from wealthy insiders is “complexity creates opportunity for the system to be gamed for economic benefit.”

Finance is a complex system. The system has been gamed extensively.

  • Offshore accounts (Panama Papers type stuff)
  • Thinly-capitalized investment vehicles, with lots of debt
  • Applying non-cash losses today, while deferring cash gains to tomorrow
  • Receiving preferential tax rates on gains associated with financial work
  • Using trusts to avoid estate and generation skipping taxes
  • Using special accounts to shelter income and gains across generations
  • Income reclassification to avoid income and payroll taxes

If the collective wants to run the system like that then I’ll bow to its will. However, I’m not sure the collective knows what’s up.

2016-09-28-10-43-49-1Like professional sports, my beef isn’t with the system. What irks me is the lack of integrity when insiders pretend the system is different than reality. The politics of the people I named above are different but their observations are often similar.

I’m grateful I can explain my personal reality without fear of banishment or loss.

Living a life you can disclose saves a lot of suffering.

Wisdom

2016-06-20 09.38.59Last month, Dr. John wrote an excellent blog about medical wisdom. I’d urge everyone to read it. I took that post one step further and read Ending Medical Reversal, which was recommended in the article. If you want to make better life decisions then you need to make time to read and consider the book. At a minimum, ensure that the book is read by a leader within your family, firm or practice.

Aside from the specific examples, which are fascinating, I hope you take the following away from the book.

2016-06-18 08.42.46-2HUMILITY – medicine is a global field where we have tens of thousands of our brightest humans spending trillions of dollars. The book makes are strong case that 30 to 40% of that expenditure provides no net benefit to humanity.

The authors lay out numerous examples where billions are blown for no net benefit. It is a wonderful reminder of our shared capacity for irrationality and misjudgment.

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2016-06-18 08.44.11PARACHUTES – one of my favorite parts of the book is when they explain that there aren’t a whole lot of parachutes left in medicine.

What does this mean?

If all of humanity has to jump out of an airplane then nearly all of us are all going to do dramatically better if we’re giving a parachute.

A parachute is an intervention with big positive outcomes for a large slice of the population.

What are parachutes that you can apply in your life?

They probably include items like: exercise, germ theory, antibiotics, vaccines, not smoking and seat belts. In a capitalistic society, there’s a clear role for government to play in keeping society focused on the big ticket items.

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2016-06-18 08.33.54EXPECTATIONS – let’s say you do your part and follow the “parachutes,” what’s a reasonable expectation from modern medicine?

Keeping in mind that 30-40% of modern interventions are bunk, I was left with an expectation that most procedures will usually make most people a little better.

That’s it.

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If we have the courage to consider:

  • widespread error
  • limited number of high-value options
  • realistic expectations

then we might find that there are new resources to focus on parachutes in other areas of our society. The cost of the status quo is often hidden from view.

There are plenty of good ideas: universal basic health services, early-childhood programs, pre-K, drug treatment, parent coaching and financial literacy training (see Kristof at the NYT). Other authors prefer infrastructure projects.

Whatever your preference, it’s clear that uninformed choices can waste valuable resources.

 

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A final note about change.

Even clearly harmful treatments can take a decade to exit the system (plenty of examples in the book). Strangely, I took this as a message of hope.

You might not be able to reform the healthcare system but you can certainly make better decisions within your own life.

Keep at it.

Ultimately, the truth wins.