By Ozzie Jurock
Received tons of email ... Not all favorable. Some people wish to bet me money - some a case of beer, that real estate is going to go down ... just wait and see. Likely they are all the people who never bought anything. If you go to www.realestatetalks.com you can see some 16,000 people arguing for more than 14 years the ups and downs of Vancouver real estate. It is always the same guys and gals that argue collapse and (yep) often the same that argue that eventually we will always be higher (because of monetary expansion creating it).
So, take it easy. If you had listened to the experts who were dispensing the best advice available 20 years ago and locked yourself and your wealth into a plan which guaranteed to remit the then prevailing 'safe amount' of an income stream of $500 per month (a lot back then - pocket-change today) for the rest of your life, imagine the desperate poverty that you would retire to today. Stone soup would be a luxury.
Yes, we need more money now but who knows what this money will be worth tomorrow. Yes, we need more income, but who can possibly know the state of the world three months from now ... much less 20 years from now? Nobody knows for sure the 'what and where' of interest rates and inflation rates and the value of money. It's just not possible.
What we do know is that the safety that was inherent in the projected big income of 20 years ago is a pitiful joke today.
Yep, forecasting is never easy - particularly when it's about the future. Crystal balls crack, vaunted talk-show soothsayers wither and drop off the television scene and the books that were treasure maps wind up in the remainder bin at the bookstore. In the last three decades stock markets have surged up and crashed down. Certain mutual funds that looked like they were blue chips sprang leaks and sank while others soared like rockets only to burn out and fall back down. Through all of this the average folk watched their savings chewed away by insidious inflation.
However, in all the turmoil of this sound and fury, one asset has weathered the changes. Three decades ago, had you bought good quality real estate you would not be concerned about your future today. That real estate would have kept up with inflation, remained secure in value, and steadily appreciated. Sure, there would have been some temporary dips. There has to be because real estate is cyclical in nature. But one thing is certain - over the years, the base values have been steadily increasing. Back to that purchase 30 years ago - today it would be paid off and clear title - which means either a mortgage-free home (no more monthly 'rent' payments to the bank) and/or a steady rental income courtesy of your tenants.
Put into perspective, if you place a good portion of your assets into real estate today, you won't have to worry about tomorrow. It doesn't matter how wild or turbulent the economy or the marketplace. It's like riding a horse with one spur - if half the horse goes, the other half has to go along with it. No matter how deep or tempestuous the water, you're going to be floating on top of it.
Let's review something all of us already know. The Chinese have used real estate holdings for wealth creation for 2,000 years. All huge fortunes were either started or extended with real estate. Home ownership (the most common form of real estate holding) has been the single largest factor in the accumulation of wealth for the average North American, firstly because of straight appreciation due to inflation, secondly, due to the leverage involved and thirdly real estate has a use and therefore always a value.
This basic principle of appreciation holds true for pretty well any healthy major urban center. Let's take Vancouver, B.C. for an example.
In 1960 the average Vancouver home sold for $13,105. Thirty-eight years later in 1998 the average sale price was some $310,000. Almost a 2,300 per cent return. But in March 2008 the average sale price was $895,000. Almost a 6,830 per cent return. That's on the price. Play with the return on down payment of $655 and you get tens of thousands per cent returns
If this kind of appreciation is going to continue, you have to be on the conveyor belt. If you're not, you're going to be left so far behind that it will be financially disastrous. And here we're only talking from the perspective of a place to live. This isn't even addressing the investment aspect of those monies outside the family home.
When you combine appreciation with leverage, you unlock the great secret of achieving the optimum result with real estate investment. And as you can see from the foregoing numbers, the 'lever' can lift you up or the 'appreciation', if you're on the wrong side, can crush you down.
When your gain is measured on the capital invested, not the actual price of the property, some really astounding results come into focus. But the game is not as simple as it used to be. The goal posts move. The only constant is that everything is always changing. The secret of surviving and prospering is the ability to adapt to the changes.
The 1980s were very forgiving for the amateur. Benign with a capital 'B'. That 'B' could also represent 'Bucks' and 'Brainless'. Back then if you had a few dollars you could buy any piece of real estate, anywhere, and you would make money. Even if you could barely hear thunder and see lightning, it was almost impossible to make a big enough mistake. If you paid too much, it only meant that you had bought a little too soon. The clock and the calendar made you into a financial wizard. Thanks to inflation, prices soon caught up to you and bailed you out.
Still, there were lots of people in the early 1980s who managed to lose all their money in real estate. Those were the people who put their money into the wrong syndications, limited partnerships or real estate investment trusts. But we'll talk more about that later. In the late eighties fortunes were made.
But after the 1980s the real estate world became less forgiving. For some investors the times were downright terrifying. All of a sudden there was the sudden change. Markets fluctuated area by area both as to volume of sales and prices. Different real estate categories rose or fell without any apparent linkage to each other. You could see in one market area the average single-family detached home rise in value by 40 per cent while in the exact same market area downtown condos slumped in value by 12 to 20 per cent (Vancouver 1990-1995).
The people who tried to play by the old rules found themselves playing someone else's game. And most of the time they were handed their heads. Was it possible to avoid the dangers and yet at the same time prosper with the good stuff) Yes it was, but you had to put aside location, location, location, and instead you had to read the trends, position yourself as to the timing and then implement some new techniques.
To be successful real estate investors we must understand ourselves. That means we have to understand our investment objectives in relation to the risks we are willing and able to tolerate. But having done that we then must understand that aspect of 'ourselves' that is part of the New Consumer.
Published in the Vancouver Sun, Thursday, May 01, 2008
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