COVID-19 has already produced some interesting investment opportunities in the stock market. Fortunately or unfortunately, part of investing is being prepared to buy an asset that others NEED to sell. Perhaps the cash on cash return of real estate will improve…
This happens in the stock market all the time, but I think real estate could again become attractive given unemployment is rising, there has been disruption in the mortgage market, and a cease in travel may pressure liquidity of those who bought short-term rental properties (think airbnb). Since I am seeking investment opportunities for myself, I figured I would share. My wife & I already own one investment property purchased in 2010 and I can clearly see the benefits.
Here are a few positives of buying real estate:
You can finance around 75%+ of the purchase price with very cheap, 30 yr debt. Our property is an investment, so interest rates are around 50-75bps higher than the national average, and we are paying 4.25% over 30 years.
Compare that to buying a cash flow producing business and you’re likely going to have to pay 8% and carry risk that the business fails, whereas you can generally have decent protections in real estate (location, location, location)
Asset is then paid for by tenants:
The next best thing is that you have that rate locked-in for the tenor of the loan, but rent typically rises each year or over a long period of time. So you’re typically getting “more profitable” each year. Also, you’re not the one paying for it – the tenant is!
Rinse & Repeat – Taxes are favorable:
Thanks to 1031 like-kind exchange rules, when you sell a property (hopefully for a gain) you can roll your original investment & gain into another property and avoid paying capital gains. In other words, it’s akin to a deferred tax account.
You can buy a property on the cheap, realize gains & maybe move rent up to a market rate, sell for a profit & repeat. Also, mortgage interest is tax deductible.
You can essentially conduct a dividend recap on the property:
Also known as a cash-out refi, we did this with our rental property. The lender will appraise your property and allow you to re-lever back up to 75% LTV. So a new mortgage is created against the higher property value, the old mortgage is paid off, and the bank cuts you a check for the difference.
This is a great feature because you can buy a place that needs to be rehabbed on the cheap, fix it up, rent it, and then go and refinance the property on likely a higher value and take out all of your original equity! This has also been called the “BRRR” strategy, Buy, Rehab, Rent, Refinance, Repeat.
I do, however, have a few complaints.
Not quite passive investing:
I can go out tomorrow and buy a bond fund that pays interest and pay the manager a few basis points for their trouble. Real estate though is tough. If you’re managing it yourself, you need to find tenants (a challenge) and be prepared to find someone to fix an issue at any time. A property manager can ease this concern, but there still is generally some back-and-forth here.
Are the returns really that great?
This is what I plan on investing in this post. My wife & I just hired a property manager, but there have been times while we were self managing the property where we asked ourselves if it was all worth it in the end.
You can finance properties in an LLC, but typically that interest rate won’t be nearly as good. You can instead get insurance to help cover some of the liabilities involved with renting properties, but will you lose sleep wondering if its enough? (biggest fear for me is a party where someone falls off a roof railing or something like that – personally I should be covered in several ways there, but still a concern in the back of my mind).
Understanding Cash-on-cash returns vs. IRR vs. Cap Rate in real estate
There’s a lot of jargon thrown around in investing, particularly real estate. First is probably cap rate, which is your NOI (net operating income) over the asset value (or purchase price). NOI is just the annual rental revenue less the operating expenses (such as ongoing maintenance costs, utilities, property taxes), but does NOT include financing costs. It’s just a rough proxy for what the return on the property will be unlevered. So it’s likely a lower rate of return given you probably will finance your purchase.
I sometimes look at cap rates, but only as a quick proxy for value, similar to EV/EBITDA — in fact, a cap rate is really just EBIT/EV. So clearly, it is missing financing costs (interest) as well as any capex needs and I prefer to know what my cash returns are as an equity holder.
Cash on cash return removes what we just discussed. This takes out financing costs and any recurring annual capex to find out what a real cash on cash return is.
Note, by financing, I just mean interest cost. That’s because a pay down of principal is paying down debt permanently and therefore building your equity (as I’ve said before, when a company pays down $1 of debt, this is a $1 to the equity). Some investors add the principal amount to cash flow, but I don’t do that because I’m not actually benefiting from that cash flow in the period. Doesn’t make intuitive sense to me.
I wanted to share some math that I’ve been looking at so, here is a spreedsheet snapshot I’m working on (perhaps this is a legible picture…). Hopefully the assumptions are clear enough. This assumes purchasing the property at a ~6% cap rate and a 8% cash on cash return, which I would say is somewhat typical.
I also highlighted when you could expect to refi out around ~95%+ of your original equity. Not bad – I can cash out my equity by year 8 and still own the asset. I could probably then go buy another property with that cash. Unfortunately, as of right now, the areas I am comfortable investing in are more like 4-5% cap rates… not that great.
One thing that should be somewhat obvious is that the more equity you put down, the closer your cash-on-cash return will be to cap rate.
What does this mean from an IRR perspective?
The IRR in this example was around 9%, including closing costs on both sides of the transaction. Clearly that is much closer to the cash on cash return. The problem with IRR is it basically assumes you can reinvest each dollar you receive back at the project rate, which may not be realistic.
That brings me to another thing to focus on: total return. Just add up all the costs in vs. costs out. This ratio is called the multiple of money. I like to use it to compare returns. Subtract 1 from it and you have the % total return as well.
All-in-all, these returns aren’t bad. Especially for a “stable” asset class. That said, I have to think about the balance between buying this asset, some of the headaches that come with it, and not have much liquidity. I’d need to either find a way to put less equity down (to juice returns) or find properties at a steeper discount.
If you want to look at some properties yourself and run the math, you can check out this company called Roofstock, which to me seems like its trying to make long distance relationships & real estate a thing. Its an interesting concept and I have to commend them on their tools as well. You can even buy fractional shares in a home on their site (not sure how the financing and taxes works though… I’ll have to give them a call), though inventory seems limited. I’m not getting a kickback from them or anything, but I do monitor their site so thought I’d share.