Have you ever noticed how buyers flock to purchase property in droves when real estate prices are at their peak, yet buyers are relatively scarce when prices are most affordable? Notwithstanding the fact that this occurrence defies the generally accepted investment strategy to “buy low and sell high”, one can’t help but wonder why attending social gatherings during the real estate boom years of 2005 and 2006 would inevitably lead to engaging in a conversation about someone’s real estate investment and the promise of future profits to be derived from the venture. It’s not all that surprising that many of those recently boasting about their real estate exploits have softened their tone while seasoned investors, dormant for the past six or seven years, have begun to once again start purchasing lucrative investment property. Despite news about the recent real estate and financial industry tribulations that the public is seemingly bombarded with every day, the last few months of 2008 provided a relatively quiet, yet dramatic, surge in real estate sales.
The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) has reported that residential home sales have increased by an astonishing 115% when the last quarter of 2007 is compared against the same period for 2008. Have the experienced investors purchasing all of this property been ignorant to the steady stream of media reports warning of declines in real estate values? The answer is no, they have simply been waiting for the right time to emerge like a small swarm of locusts to steadily reap houses for sale like crop. In fact, their buying presence has been so prominent that national housing inventories of homes for sale have significantly decreased during 2008’s final quarter, a reliable sign that demand is beginning to once again catch up with supply.
But how do these brave souls know precisely when they are buying at the bottom of the market? Do they throw caution to the wind and simply force themselves to muster the courage to purchase property despite the fact that values may continue to decline in the future? The simple answer is that savvy real estate investors do not purchase property with the expectation of immediate appreciation in value. Rather, investment real estate should be purchased based on the property’s potential for positive cash-flow. Positive cash-flow occurs when a property’s rental income exceeds the owner’s costs to maintain the property. Consequently, when a property provides a positive cash-flow, a decline in real estate prices is of little concern since the owner can simply enjoy the income his property generates until the market revives and the property can be sold for further profit.
During the real estate boom years our nation became blindly infatuated with the appreciation of real estate prices, which represents the amount of value that a property will gain over time. So called house “flippers” brazenly leveraged money to buy numerous properties with the expectation that their values would increase, thus enabling them to sell the properties for handsome profits in a short period of time. These novice real estate quasi-moguls, often addicted to HGTV and other television shows created to promote the industry like Flipping Out and Flip This House, regularly failed to consider property cash-flows prior to making their purchases. Why bother when real estate values will always continue to appreciate, thereby alleviating the need to hold properties for long? After the housing bubble burst, many of these speculators realized that they shouldn’t have built their investment houses out of sticks, and social gatherings became pleasant once again.
Seasoned investors build their investments out of bricks by carefully and conservatively analyzing a property’s cash flow potential prior to purchasing. The primary reason that these investors have been sitting on the sidelines for many years is that most real estate prices have been far too high to generate positive cash-flows and a reasonable return on investment. It hasn’t been until recently that both residential and multi-family housing prices have retreated to levels where rental income will cover monthly mortgage payments and other operating costs. Further, with the construction of new housing and apartments decreasing to a virtual halt, a still rapidly growing local population, and many families displaced from foreclosed properties, an investment property’s owner is free to choose from a tenant base that is now stronger than ever. One can clearly see why a decline in real estate sales prices typically accompanies an increase in monthly rental prices.
No matter what the year 2009 holds in store for real estate investing, it is essential to remember that investing in real estate should always be considered over a long term. Although the opportunity for a “quick flip” may present itself, the distinguishing benefit to sound real estate investments is their ability to provide income no matter what the economy throws your way.