Does Investing In Real Estate Still Make Sense

Sky-high prices. High rent multiples. Falling cap rates. Negative cash flows. Government rules piled higher and deeper. Persistent talk of real estate bubbles. If you're beginning to question the wisdom of investing in real estate, you're not alone. Open any business newspaper or financial magazine. You're bound to see dire predictions about the end of real estate.

But wait. Before you draw a conclusion ask yourself, can you name a more profitable alternative? A portfolio of S&P 500 stocks that yield dividends at a rate of less than 2.0 percent a year? U.S. Treasury bonds that pay interest of 4.0 to 4.5 percent. Corporate bonds that might give you a point or two more interest than treasuries? Hedge funds? Private equity? Commodities? Savings accounts? Certificates of Deposits? I challenge anyone to run the numbers that will show the superiority of any of these choices.

Even the leading advocate for stocks, Jeremy Siegel (Stocks for the Long Run, Irwin, 1994), has been eating humble pie. Siegel has now tempered his advice and forecasts total returns from stocks of six to eight percent a year (before adjusting for inflation and taxes).

Six to eight percent! That's hardly the kind of return that will build wealth and help you achieve financial freedom. That's hardly the size of return necessary to fund a comfortable retirement (assuming that you want to retire prior to age 75 to 80). The fact is that in recent years, investors have pushed up property prices thus lowering relative cash flows because they are learning this undebatable truth: Historically, real estate investors have dramatically out-earned their fellow investors who have tried to accumulate wealth, income, and financial security via stocks. (As to bonds, commodities, and hedge funds, the investment landscape is littered with the shriveled net worth of those who attempted to navigate those rocky roads to real wealth.)

I personally know dozens of people from ordinary walks of life whose rental properties helped them build net worths that exceed $1,000,000. I have never met anyone similarly placed who has built a comparable amount of wealth through any alternative investment. As I travel to give talks throughout the United States and throughout the world, the people I meet generally tell me the same thing. They know many who have profited big in property. They know few (or none) who have scored big by investing in stocks, bonds, or commodities.

As you will see as you continue through this book, the total returns available today from real estate still greatly exceed other investments. Without a doubt, investor demand will remain strong—which will continue to push property prices higher. In other words, the investment climate in real estate is evolving just as I predicted in earlier editions of this book.

Here's my reasoning: Nearly everyone now realizes that the United States, Japan, the UK and Continental Europe face an emerging age wave of seniors. Increasingly, these forthcoming seniors understand that neither government social security programs nor corporate pensions can possibly provide them the income (and money for medical care) that they will need to enjoy a prosperous (or even a comfortable) retirement.

Likewise, a growing number of age wave investors no longer listen to those 403(k)/IRA fairy tales that narrated a happy ending for all who would send Wall Street a few hundred dollars a month. In response to their recent wake-up call, investors have kicked off a "frantic search for yield" as the New York Times recently put it.1

To accumulate the wealth they need and to make up for the money they lost in stocks, tens of millions of age wave investors need a safe, inflation-protected after-tax yield of 12 to 15 percent per year (or more). At present, only real estate offers realistic opportunities to achieve such results.

In the third edition of this book (2000), I made the following analysis and prediction:

All types of investing present more difficulties today. And no doubt, investing will become more difficult in the future.

1 In February 2005, Argentina signed a debt-restructuring plan whereby the country agreed to pay its bond investors 34 cents for each dollar owed. Just a few days after stiffing its creditors, The Wall Street Journal reported that "yield starved [italics added] investors would entertain giving Argentina another chance."

Too many people with money are chasing after too few good investment opportunities. Tens of millions of us expect both longevity and prosperity. How will we all succeed? We won't.

Why won't we? Why can't we? Because as I then pointed out, there's "not enough money to fund the idealistic hopes and dreams of everyone ... [consequently] property prices will continue to escalate and cash yields will continue to fall." In their scramble for retirement income (i.e., cash yield), age wavers will buy property.

For those 50-plus million age wavers who need an inflation-protected source of income (as well as inflation-protected asset values), no investment beats property. Even at today's "high" price, and "low" rental yields, property produces much more income per dollar of investment than stocks, bonds, or annuities. If you were to ask, "In general, will property prove as profitable during the next 10 years?" I would answer, "Probably not."

But that's not the right question. Instead you should ask, "In general, will income properties offer investors higher returns with lower risk than any other investment?" In response to that question, I would answer, "Absolutely."

Here's why: Today nearly anywhere in the U.S. (yes, even California) you can find income properties that provide unleveraged net rental yields of 6.0 to 7.5 percent. In lower-priced areas of the country, you can find net rental yields that climb above 12 percent.

Yet rental yield reveals only a small part of the story. To calculate your property's total returns, add to the rental yield the gains you will receive from leverage (financing your investment), amortization (paying off the mortgage with rent collections), inflation (a rise in consumer prices; i.e., the CPI), appreciation (price increases that result when demand overwhelms supply—as we will continue to observe), value creation (property improvements, more effective management), buying below-market and tax shelter (1031 exchange, depreciation, tax credits).

When you sum these individual sources of return you will achieve a total annual yield of 15 percent (or more). When you educate yourself through books, seminars, and market research, you can earn even bigger gains. When you enhance your knowledge, you will learn how to find and/or negotiate bargain prices. You will learn how to recognize those neighborhoods and cities that are poised for rapid appreciation. You will learn to improve dramatically the use(s), management, and appearance of your properties. In doing so, you will collect higher rents and experience fewer vacancies.

Without a doubt, you can still outperform other investments with real estate because the property market in general offers greater annual cash yields. More importantly, you can boost your rewards from property through education, enterprise, intelligence, market strategy, and creativity. You will not find similar opportunities with stocks, bonds, and annuities.

Yet no two property investors need travel the same path at the same speed. You can adopt tactics and strategies that fit your goals, talents, time, and financial capabilities.

You can choose to invest in net-leased commercial properties and essentially put your investments on automatic pilot. You can spend evenings and weekends fixing and flipping. You can buy a fourplex, move into one of the units, and simply let your tenants pay for your home. You can actively pursue foreclosures and REOs. You can convert apartments to condos or perhaps houses to offices. With real estate, you choose from these approaches or dozens of others. In this book, "investing in real estate" refers to an enticing range of profitable possibilities.

No matter what situation you currently occupy; no matter how little (or how much) time, cash, or effort you wish to invest; no matter where you live; you can surely put together a property plan that when executed with thought will lead to financial independence—a financial independence that not only offers material rewards but, more importantly, provides the life you want to live.

In Chapter 1, I contrast real estate to stocks, bonds, and annuities. Yet please realize that I do not mount this review merely to persuade you to invest in real estate. Rather, I do so to emphasize that because real estate currently excels relative to other investments, more and more people want to own property. And most of us who currently own plan to own more. Even people who aren't particularly interested in property want to invest if for no other reason than to diversify away from paper assets into real assets.

We are experiencing large gains in property prices because—contrary to media madness—investment property remains undervalued relative to its competitive alternatives. Be aware. When I say investment property, I do not mean single-family houses or condos that sell for $1.5 million and bring in $3,000 a month in rents. I am referring to properties that yield a positive cash flow when purchased using typically available financing. Or alternatively, properties that you can buy at a discounted price; properties that stand out as prime candidates for improvement; properties in undervalued locations; and properties that you can convert to a more profitable use.

Every type of investment goes through cycles of short-term setbacks. So I make no firm predictions about the next six months or even the next several years. Even though I expect the bull market in property to roar on (for the reasons stated), I realize that an economic downturn, a sharp spike in interest rates, or perhaps overbuilding (in some markets) can create a temporary stall. (Again, too, I emphasize that I refer to investment [cash flow] properties that bring in rents that reasonably relate to the price of the property. Certainly, many coastal metro area condos, houses, and small apartment buildings fall short on this criterion.)

Even though property prices may hit a downturn, my personal wealth remains predominantly invested in property. Why? Because as I look five, ten, fifteen, or twenty years into the future, my properties—and your properties too, if you apply the knowledge and ideas you'll learn throughout this book—will have yielded superlative total returns. Start now and like most long-term property investors, you will enjoy a lifetime of financial freedom and investment security that only property can provide.

Questions or comments? Contact me at [email protected]. For more about how to invest profitably in today's market, go to garyeldred. com.

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