Tuesday, April 2, 2013

How to Make Money with Real Estate Foreclosures and Short Sales

So You Wanna Be In Real Estate....

"He made How Much?", "they sold it for what?", are just some of the expressions I have been hearing from people who are always looking for "Quick" money in real estate. Let's get something straight about Human Behavior first. No one tells you the nitty gritty. No one talks about their losses or their hardship for the deals that didn't work out. People will, however, embellish and puff their accomplishments to make it look like they did much better than they actually did. All this being said, and taken with a grain of salt, now you are ready to listen to some practical advice from a person who has been investing in foreclosures and short sale properties for over 20 years.
To begin with, real estate investing is never a short term investment or "quick money" business. The nature of the investment prohibits it from being so. Real Estate is a non-liquid asset. That means it cannot be sold quickly when it needs to be sold. The current market conditions and surplus of foreclosure properties, gives today's investor a sense of false achievement in thinking he can get properties "on the cheap" consistently. Do not misunderstand me, there are plenty of properties available at a substantial discount, but this is not always the case. The current surplus should be absorbed within the next 24-36 months.
So how do I profit from foreclosures and short sales? The answer, like many other ways to make money is.........WORK. Yes work. First, determine your market area. Pick a subdivision, a side of town, a town, county, whatever is manageable for you to drive and visit properties. Second, be prepared to learn about every property currently available in that market area. If you really want to make a home run, then you have to know every inch of the playing field. Third, engage Realtors to work for you. Offer them a bonus in addition to the standard commission if they bring you the property you wind up with. In the long run, it will not cost you that much, and you will be presented with a better cache of potential properties. Fourth, get your financing in place before you go anywhere. If you are paying cash, be prepared to show proof of funds. If you are financing the deal, get a bona fide qualification letter from your mortgage lender. The best thing to do is get a line of credit from a local bank. If you get one of these, you can write a check like a cash buyer and then find long term mortgage financing later.
Know your construction costs. Most foreclosed properties have some degree of remodeling required. Many of them have substantial work to be completed. You could have a contractor come in and give estimates, but they will usually eat up your budget pretty fast. The better way is to hire an estimator to give you the figures. Many times they will just tell you it is "$2.75 per square foot" or whatever the price is that will give you the ability to do your own estimating. When you do hire a contractor, interview several and tell them this is what the budget is, can they do it for that or less?
NEVER NEVER NEVER buy a property from the individual seller directly. Too often the Seller has taken off with the money, not paid the mortgage company and you wind up with a deed on a property which will soon vanish to a secured Creditor. Oh, and yes, your money is gone. Sure there are laws, but good luck getting your money back, or even catching the person. Always use a Realtor, Attorney, Title Company and Surveyor on your transaction. By using them, you will better insure your chances of not making a costly error.
Once you have your estimates, take another look at the investment. The acquisition cost, the remodeling cost, the selling cost and your initial investment had better be more than 10% return on investment after all the dust settles, or you are better off buying treasury bonds.

Michael Sims has been in the Chicago Real Estate Market and is active on a daily basis, you can reach him at 815-791-7467 or email at michael.sims@att.net

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Arrogance of the Entrepreneur

To be a Captain of Industry, a King of the Hill, Master of Your Own Destiny; these are all the caveats of being an Entrepreneur.  While our business environment encourages free enterprise and the proliferation of small business entrepreneurial spirit, all to often that spirit turns to arrogance.  So how does it happen?

Take a small business owner who has a service business that provides a health care customized product and maintenance service for the product.   The product and the market niche is specialized and manageable for the business owner whom has built the business from scratch.  Starting out in his/her basement while working for a larger corporation  he transformed the part-time additional income enterprise into a thriving full-time business capable of sustaining his living expenses and affording his family a comfortable style of living.  All of which has been fueled by Entrepreneurial Spirit and probably some charisma as well.

At what point does the Entrepreneurial Spirit turn to arrogance?  Typically this occurs when the business owner is challenged to expand an area of his business operation that is not the primary line of business he is used to operating.  In my business this is the procurement of commercial real estate space in which the business owner is to locate/relocate his business.  All too often I have run across a business owner, whom having experienced enough success to expand their business, is now in an ego-boosted position lease or buy an office, industrial building, manufacturing facility or, construct a building from the ground up.

"I built my house with a contractor and the office cannot be that difficult" the business owner thinks to himself/herself.  While the two may have similarities, nothing could be further from the truth.  Albeit it is a nice project to take on in addition to his regular business activities, reminding him of his former days in the basement working the "second job".  The task at hand is much larger than anticipated and it very quickly consumes his entire work day leaving little time to effectively manage the business.  Shortly thereafter the business begins to suffer from his involvement with the new building project.  It take an inordinate amount of time from day to day and the cash flow may be affected.

Leasing or purchasing an existing space is none the less as distracting to the small business owner.  Leasing professionals can streamline the process and aid in the negotiation.  Brokers may know the pitfalls of purchasing a commercial property more readily than the Buyer who may only purchase one or two in their lifetime.  If a specialist in real estate can prove themselves and add value to the transaction, why do so many business owners feel that the real estate professional is a minor player in the transaction and sometimes worthy of not being paid?

Part of the problem exists with crossover brokers.  These are brokers who act as general practioners selling just about any property they can sell.  Jack of all trades and master of none!  Would you feel that the same person who sold you a home could also effectively sell you an office condo?  Why not?  Its all basically the same is it not?  Not quite. 

The purchase, sale, leasing and construction of commercial real estate is tremendously different from that of residential real estate.  Zoning compliance, construction, permits, taxation, licensing, inspections, environmental compliance, and much more are entirely different from the same named functions in residential.  One bank President told me with regards to commercial real estate, that he wanted a professional to do the work, just like he wanted a dentist to work on his teeth and not try to do it himself.  While perhaps the job would get done, it would be a lot less painful letting the dedicated professional handle the situation for him.

After years of experience with all types of clients, today I try to limit my time to the type of clients that value my services.  In return, they wind up with a very good foundation to continue running and growing their valued business.  Leave the headaches to the professionals who deal with them all the time is the easier softer way that allows the business owner to concentrate on his/her primary business.

My BFF Listed With Someone Else!

So it goes like this.  My best friend has been having financial trouble for about the last 2-3 years and is into foreclosure like 40% of the properties around here.  For the last 18 months he has been picking my brain about the best way to handle his situation.  While I am not an attorney, I have had considerable amounts of experience with short sales and foreclosures.  Many of the people I have helped are very grateful and happy with the service.  So why did I not get the listing? A number of reasons come to mind, the first is Brand Association.  I am a sole proprietor broker.  While I have oodles of experience, I am not affiliated with a national chain.  Clients have a perception about what brand association can do for you.  As we all know, buying brands is typically more expensive in the long run and any savvy buyer recognizes the value of generic over the higher priced "brand".  The second reason he stated was that my competition was offering "free legal service" which is an oxymoron if I ever heard one.  What he really meant to say is that the competition has a lawyer who will not collect a fee until the closing.  While I have attorney's who work with me and offer the same service, my BFF did not ask me if that was available.  Thirdly he said the competition took the listing at 5%.  Here is where the ego of the drowning man gets between him and the water.  Eventually the short sale/foreclosure will happen and the informed short sale specialist will be up on the current regs.  In November 2012 FNMA and FHLMC agreed to up the negotiated commission to 6% for distressed assets thereby setting the base line for real estate commissions.  Since the homeowner in a short sale situation is not going to receive any funds other than a relocation fee from the transaction, why quibble about commission rates?  The only reason is that it makes the (trapped) property owner feel like they are negotiating something.  Pondering the entire situation further and reviewing why I did not get the listing, I can attribute it to one point and one point only.  I did not communicate with the prospect enough and lost the deal to someone else as a result!

Update: My BFF just called and said they only had one showing in 2 weeks and wants my advice...

Monday, June 4, 2012

How To Buy an Office Building with Growth Potential

            Some investors buy into an office building for current income and possible long-term appreciation in value, there are also investors who seek out growth situations; i.e., office buildings which for one reason or another are throwing off less than their maximum income.  Such an investor may be interested in increasing the building’s income so that it can be resold at a substantial increase.  Others will want to retain the building for its income.  A syndicator frequently is in the latter position.  He cannot syndicate a building which is already showing its maximum income since the interest he takes in the property (in return for his services) will reduce the return to a point where outside investors will not be interested.  So he must look for a building which can be purchased at a price relatively low in relation to its potential return.  If he then can develop that potential, he will be in a position (and entitled) to take a share of the return himself.

            While in may respects the procedures in buying a property for public syndications are the same as for private investment, there is one significant difference.  The syndicated property must be more salable as an investment, both in terms of lesser risk and a more regular return.  The public will buy such a property much more quickly than one projecting a far-off return (for example, upon refinancing) or depending for its success on special circumstances.

  1. Selecting the Property:  The property to be syndicated should have as many attractive features as possible.  These include large and impressive size, pleasing architectural design, a known name or address, and location on a full block or a corner.  These will make it easier to sell to investors as well as to tenants.\
  2. Figuring the Profit Potential:  In most cases, the property as presently operated will not be able to throw off the rate of distribution which is necessary to make the syndication a success.  It is here that the syndicator earns his pay, for he must think up ways to make the property more profitable.  There are no hard and fast rules for doing this;  it ultimately depends on the experience and imagination of the people involved.  But for illustrative purposes, here is a list of possible approaches for an office building:
    1. Convert the basement -  Man older buildings have extensive basement space which was intended for storage or similar non-income purposes.  Such space can be converted into a restaurant or retail stores.  In one case, a building had a delivery ramp into the basement; it was converted into a garage which returned a sizable annual profit.
    2. Close up an entrance – Many buildings have separate entrances on the main street and on the side street.  Closing up the main entrance creates a valuable commercial space; at the same time, the building retains its address even though its entrance has been changed.
    3. Automate and update – Since the biggest operating expense is payroll, cutting labor costs is an important way to increase the return.  Automate such services as Doorman, Concierge, Security, etc.  if and only if it is possible to do so without diminishing quality of service provided to the tenants.  Update electronics and install technological amenities which are being offered by the majority of competition.
    4. Grant food service concessions – A common sight in many large office buildings is the mobile coffee dispenser which services the tenants.  This and similar concessions can add to the revenue from the building.
    5. Consider an outside cleaning service – In many cases, it will save you money to have the building cleaned and maintained by a professional organization.  Although they must charge you enough to make a profit, they very often are so much more efficient, through the use of mechanical aids and time-saving techniques, that your cleaning bill is substantially reduced.  Even if you do not engage such a service, review you own staff carefully to see if costs can be cut.
    6. Reduce the cost of utilities – In one case, a syndicator purchased three adjoining buildings and was able to have them all serviced by a single electric meter, which saved a considerable amount.  In another case, however, the building owner was realizing profit by paying for electricity at wholesale rates and selling it to his tenants at retail. 
    7. Rent out management office – Very often in a building formerly owned by a small group, the management offices will be quite lavish an sometimes used by the owners for other business purposes.  This space can be converted to rental use, while the management office is put elsewhere.
    8. Modernize the premises – Modernization is an excellent way to increase a building’s profitability since it paves the way to higher rents.  However, never modernize a building located in a deteriorating neighborhood unless you feel sure the trend is being reversed.
    9. Add escalator clauses to renewed leases – Even though the compeititve situation may not permit higher rentals, your bargaining position may be strong enough for you to add escalator clauses for taxes and labor when leases are renewed.  These permit you to recapture such increased costs in the future in the form of additional rent.
    10. Refinance the mortgage – This is a common procedure in syndications.  But you should be absolutely sure you have the fight to prepay the present mortgage.  Also remember than money conditions in the future may not make refinancing as profitable as it now appears.
  3. What to Look Out For:  Assuming the property you have in mind has the necessary profit potential, you must then ascertain the possible risks and verify the historical data that have been presented to you.  In this connection, the following points should be kept in mind:
    1. Length of present tenancies – You will have considerable difficulty in syndicating an office building in which many leases are expiring in the first few years, even though there is every indication that the tenants will renew.  If you are offered such a building, it may be worthwhile for you to buy it personally and hold it for a year of so, until renewals are made.  Before you sign the contract of sale, it is important to check every existing lease to determine that the present tenants are bona fide, to see if any leases have short-term cancellation clauses, and to verify the schedule of renewals.
    2. Length of leasehold – If the proposed syndication is of a leasehold, the term remaining must be sufficiently long to make it salable.  On occasions, a shorter leasehold of, say 35 years is offered, but this will normally interest only the professional investor.
    3. Trend of neighborhood – This is one of the most important factors affecting future projections.  A building with very fine “historical operating costs” can turn out to be a failure due to a shift of the business section or of the particular industry or trade to which the building caters.  And in a smaller community, a shift of only a few blocks can be a disaster.
    4. Taxes  For both of these, it is not sufficient to rely on the historical data alone.  The local tax assessor, reading the purchase price in the newspaper, may check his records and decide his appraisal value is much too low.  This is a particular danger when you purchase from the builder since the original assessment, based on cost, may never have been changed.
    5. Repairs – An understated amount for repairs may indicate a skimping on necessary maintenance, which will mean extra expense in the near future.  An unusually large amount for repairs in the past may indicate that the seller found it necessary to do considerable work in order to make the property salable.  Or it may merely mean that amounts which should have been capitalized were deducted as repairs for tax purposes.
 If you are in the market to purchase an office building or other income producing property do not hesitate to call me.  We provide acquisition, disposition and property management services.  Sims Commercial Real Estate  815-791-7467

Friday, January 27, 2012

What Is A Good Real Estate Investment?

A “good real estate investment” can mean different things to different people. For this article, the definition of a good real estate investment is:

“A real estate ownership interest, whether a personal residence or rental property, that increases one’s net wealth by a fair rate of return on their invested cash equity; for the corresponding amount of risk they are taking by owning a relatively high risk asset.”
What that means is that if you are going to put your invested cash equity into real estate, your net worth should improve by a greater amount than if you invested in a similarly risky asset. And “invested cash equity” isn’t the property price; it is how much cash you took from your bank account to acquire the property, which includes your down payment, plus closing costs, plus rehab costs.
Realize a lot of things can go wrong with real estate ownership, so you had better get a fairly high return on your invested cash equity for it to be a “good deal”. So you ask, how would one figure that out?
For investment properties
Your returns are part cash flows and part appreciation in value. For example, if your property rental income minus expenses produced $250 per month positive ($3,000 per year); and your invested cash equity was $50,000, that’s a cash on cash return of 6.00% ($3,000/$50,000). And that is a pretty darn good deal in real estate.
To add to that, let’s say you project net appreciation in value contributing an extra 1.0% or 2.0% return per year (after subtracting your projected estimated costs of capital repairs and improvements). Summing the cash flows and net appreciation could equal about a 8% to 10%+ projected return per year on a long term basis; and if you achieve those numbers….. that is a good real estate investment!
Some investment properties don’t cut it! Most fancy condos or beach houses, where the net rental income is very low compared to the purchase price, usually have projected negative cash on cash returns. So if you buy a fancy property with negative (4.0%) cash on cash returns, even if it appreciates 2.0% per year, you are typically at a 0.0%, or worse, return on your equity cash investment. And that isn’t a deal most experienced investors would take.
For personal residences
You will also be putting down a large amount of cash equity and the calculations are really a little more complicated and difficult because you need to look at how much you are paying in housing expense versus how much that amount would be if you were just renting someone else’s property. So the overall question again is, “Is your wealth going to improve by owning the property?”
Some general guidance herein. As a general rule, if you are not planning to own it for at least five years you will most likely not be adding to your wealth. Any appreciation in value will not compensate for the 8.0% to 10.0% transaction costs on the buying and selling of your property. And even worse, the monthly ownership expense is usually higher than if you just rented a similar property. Therefore, if you don’t plan to own the property a long time, and the longer the better, you will probably do better renting and leaving the hassles and costs of ownership to a landlord.
So a good real estate investment is really one that will increase your net worth over time. The longer you own it, the better the chances for that appreciation in value and wealth building.
As proof positive on this, find someone who has owned real estate for 20, 30, 40 years and ask them what is a good real estate investment? It is generally easy to find them, they are retired, living comfortably, and usually happy to tell you about the properties they bought decades ago.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Credibility of "I told you so"...

HEADLINE:  Road to Recovery: List of Improving Housing Markets Nearly Doubles in January | RISMedia  

     Being a 20+ year real estate veteran, I have seen my share of market swings.  This most recent downturn which started some time in 2007, seems to have finally bottomed out in 2010 and we are now in to a recovery period.  Having been very active in the last 6 months, my feeling about how the market is moving is more than just a hunch, it is an educated guess fortified with street level activity and hard cash being paid at closing tables.
     During the last 6 months we have seen properties at rock bottom prices.  Not just the newsworthy residential home sales, but also the turnaround of income producing properties.  A "market correction" may be a better term to describe what has just happened in the real estate industry.  Finally we are able to make sensible economic real estate investments.  In retrospect, we have seen inflated property prices, fueled by easy lending underwriting which further skewed the public's perception of what was a good real estate deal and what wasn't.  In the world of income producing properties, I threw in the towel many years ago when I would see people purchasing properties with, dare I say it, negative cash flow.  URGGHH, just the mere thought of it makes my blood curdle.  Vacancy, property taxes, unforeseen tragedy, and the like can never truly be avoided.  But purchasing a building from the onset with negative cash flow never did seem like a prudent investment to me.  Making a profit on all four phases of real estate has always been my goal:  acquisition, cash flow, appreciation/depreciation, and disposition.  The best real estate investments stand solid on all four of these proverbial legs.
    So are what shall we do now?  Good news and bad news.  Good news is that the are still many good acquisition deals to be had.  Properties have been adjusted in price to make economic sense again and give the investor opportunity to make a profit on all 4 phases of a real estate investment.  Bad news:  the "Happy Harry" investors who had dropped out of the market will now be looking for an opportunity to get "back in" the market and create competition for great acquisition deals.  The longer term negative effect is that the increased acquisition competition will again over inflate the expectations of sellers and prices will again climb back to levels of low cap rates and longer term investment holding periods.  
     How will we survive?  Well, when the stock is down BUY MORE!   Real Estate is still one of the best investments around.  This recent wave of foreclosures and loan defaults have humbled many banks and lending institutions to consider work out scenarios before foreclosing and taking title to a real estate asset.  BUY, BUY, BUY and make your decisions wisely (preferably with the help of a professional like myself), so that you can ride the wave of prosperity through this current up swing of the real property marketplace.  Financing is at a reasonable level and cash is king.  Lending institutions are opening their doors again if the numbers make sense.
     BUT MY HEAD STILL HURTS!  Many real estate investors are still feeling the pain of the market downturn and have been "beating their heads against the wall" to try and make the best of declining property values, higher than anticipated vacancies, ever rising property taxes and non-renewal of bank notes.  The obsession of the mind from dealing with this multitude of problems thrust upon them has triggered a proverbial tailspin which they are having trouble pulling out of. Mike Ditka had "mental toughness"  but he never had debt like this!  
     Alas, a light shines upon the horizon!  There are many solutions to the problems some investors are still dealing with.  Mostly it is about letting go.  While we cannot hold on to a dwindling stock, likewise we cannot "fall in love" with a property and hold onto it beyond its investment life cycle.  Like a merchant who must painstakingly throw out perfectly new and good merchandise because it is outdated, so too must the savvy real estate investor dispose of non-performing assets.  In doing so, he clears the runway to set off on a new wave of investment acquisitions by applying age old investment analysis.  The mere action of new blood is invigorating.
     Buy low, sell high is the American way, however in light of some investors holdings, it may be prudent to sell low, in order to ride a better wave of economic growth.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Fear is the Darkroom in which all of your negatives are developed.

     When I was younger, I considered myself someone who would take risks and many times that risk resulted in some type of profit from a real estate investment.  Finding a property with a sufficient amount of "hair on it" became the object of the hunt.  Oftentimes the property needed more of a haircut instead of a genetic reworking, but in all instances required some work to make it usable again.  Real Estate investing of this type is not for the feint at heart, there can be some real perils associated with it and along with perils go dollars to remedy the peril(s). 
     Today the market is flooded with foreclosed properties, most of them with some degree of "hair" on them.  It seems that when a property owner forfeits a property, they feel compelled to scavenge the improvements they put into the property.  Few and far between are the bank owned properties that are "broom clean" and ready to resell.  The majority of foreclosed properties require some level of involvement to make them market (or move-in) ready.  All to often the previous property owner stopped making payments due to an overwhelming situation that may be the result of latent defects and/or deferred maintenance.  Not all foreclosures occur from the borrower's financial hardship.
     In walks the "Real Estate Investor" who is ready to make a killing in the new found arena of "quick money".  Too often I have had the request for someone who has some money to invest and they want a nice clean property in a fantastic neighborhood in good repair, and oh yes, for 40% of the neighboring properties.  Unrealistic?  Perhaps.  So then why is it that we hear about all of the "fantastic deals" that someone has made?  The home run on the foreclosed property that someone who knows someone found and profited from.  The answer is simple:  Compromise.
     The investor who wanted the perfect property in the perfect neighborhood for the low price had a few developments with their investment criteria during the shopping process.  Through the course of his search, a few things may have been revealed.  The market rate for bank owned properties is not 40% but 65% of what the bank has into the property, not the perceived market value and his price point is adjusted.  All of the properties viewed may have repairs, and his tolerance of a property with some degree of repairs is now acceptable.  The properties in the best neighborhoods are either not being foreclosed or out of his price point and now the geographic areas are expanded and additional neighborhoods are being considered.
     Offers are made on properties and at long last one is accepted by both the seller and the purchaser.  This is much more simplistic that reality, but for the scope of this blog, I will keep it simple.  The amazing part about this process is that the property is NOTHING like the original perception of what the purchaser was looking for.  It is however a manifestation of the education obtained during the shopping process and the adjustment of the purchaser's expectations.  A result of COMPROMISE in the mind of the purchaser. 
     So now what happens?  The property is purchased and the revitalization is underway.  The cleanup and construction begins.  The remarketing of the property is launched.  Eventually the property will sell or lease and the investor is a happy camper...or is he?  Most people will not admit to their mistakes publicly and no one every brags about how much money the lost.  It is human nature to exaggerate, justify and rationalize how and why we did things, even if they did not turn out the way we planned them.  "I had a dream" of flipping a property and making a huge profit!  Now that the dust has settled, the dream has become a nightmare and the "flip" is nothing but a dream today.  The more prudent investor is still looking at properties for long term income or appreciation.  The timeline on our investor has now become extended, and time equals money.  The profit projected has dwindled and the amount projected for investment is now a fading light in the past.  Does this stop our boy from bragging about his latest deal at the coffee shop?  Of course not!  He revels in the high points and totally avoids the bottom line accountability.  Perhaps he does not know, but in the back of his mind he does.  These are the things that separates the professional investor from the amateur.  The professional has a pre-determined game plan, well thought out investment criteria, and a feasible exit strategy.  Most importantly is the contingency.  The amount that the investor will allow for unforeseen and unexpected items which may affect his bottom line.
     The final thought on the big picture of foreclosure investing is that I treat it as any other real estate investment.  Just because a property is being offered by a bank at a deep discount does not necessarily mean it is a great deal.   People make bad investments and walk away leaving the bank holding the bag.  All properties need to be fully evaluated before making any investment decision and purchasing someone else's mistake.  Then again, at the right price, anything is do-able.
     For contact information see my website at http://simscommercial.com