Real Estate Investor.
The phrase alone inspires a host of reactions that run the full gamut between antipathy and, well, slightly lesser antipathy, depending on the audience.
As any semi-interested news watcher and industry blog reader can attest, the Real Estate investor is the greatest scourge to befall our fragile ecosystem since polybutylene plumbing. What, with the housing supply lines ill-equipped to handle the artificial demand, our flimsy pipes swell and burst when the pump and dump investment surge strikes a hapless market. Aside from the banks who flooded Wall Street with dubious mortgage backed securities that were chopped and reconstituted in more numerous and indiscernible ways than Joan Rivers’ alleged face, the fount of no-money-down investors is the most vocally derided catalyst of the Great Real Estate Bubble of 2005 ©.
Well, guess what? The investor is back … and that’s a good thing.
Hold your rotten tomatoes and easy with the pitchforks, if you will. How can I possibly opine that the reemergence of the buyer subset that sent values through the roof, only to crash them through the basement when they left a valley of foreclosed “investments” in their wake is a good thing? Is the demand any less artificial now than it was when the previous incarnation of ne’er do wells spiked our collective punchbowl?
In a word, yes.
The 2010 investor is not the fly-by-night operator who purchased the nearest home for sale at the conclusion of a four hour seminar on how to get rich in Real Estate investing with no money down. Shoot, who needed money down when you barely needed a pulse and a job to buy a house back then? No, today’s investor, by and large, is showing up at trustee sales and plunking down cash on a barrel. He has the skin in the game that his counterpart of yesteryear did not. He is investing in a very real sense of the word.
In addition to securing an interest in the property with his own bankroll (thus making the prospects of simply walking away from a property that doesn’t return as hoped less palatable), the other crucial dynamic at play is the return of sanity to the overall investment arena. When investors were driving Scottsdale and Phoenix property values into the stratosphere back in 2005, there was little regard to the initial purchase price. Our entire market temporarily forgot that you make your money on the purchase. Buy a property right, and the return will be there when it’s time to sell. In the throes of insanity, investors were climbing over themselves and each other to purchase property, any property, for 50k over whatever ludicrous price was being sought by an apoplectic seller. Investors were betting on the come. Pay whatever now, and the joint will be worth 100k more in two months whether a hammer is ever swung in renovation or not. With the year long fervor, they got away with it … for awhile.
Today’s investor is not settling for just any property he can get his hands on, but is showing up at the courthouse and robbing the bank blind. Paying pennies on the dollar and rehabbing a previously dismantled home, his margin is large enough to bring the distressed apple of his eye to market at a price actually supported by recent sales comps.
The coup de grace? Today’s investor fills a need that the banks won’t. He is essentially financing the fix-up costs that many banks have abandoned in self-defense. Against a backdrop of tight lending purse strings, consider the difficulty many people have just in coming up with 3.5% or 20% down payments, let alone remodeling capital. With home equity lines all but vanished from the marketplace, that stripped bank-owned home bargain isn’t all that realistic for the buyer who doesn’t have the available cash to put it back together, regardless of how appealing the price tag. When you could tap a line of credit to finance improvements, it wasn’t that big of a deal to throw in some new carpet, counter tops and appliances after closing. Now, you have few options other than reaching into your own pockets. Thus, there is a sizable buyer pool for a move-in ready home. The well heeled investor who assumes the risk and fills that need is not to be derided.
Take the mom & pop homeowners who are unable to price their homes competitively due to high loan balances, mix with the interminable wait of short sales, fold in the distressed condition of much of the bank-owned inventory and bake at four hundred degrees to create a casserole of supreme frustration for many disenchanted home shoppers. A rehabbed home at an affordable price, if not the outright theft that was envisioned at the outset of their house hunt, begins to look more and more appealing to many buyers after getting an up close look at what the reputed bargains actually look like live and in color. In essence, by purchasing a property from an investor, a buyer has found an end-around to financing renovation costs.
If your last nickel is earmarked for your down payment, and you can purchase a renovated home at a fair market value that you can afford, don’t begrudge the man his margin. While the stereotype of the lecherous vulture remains, we would be remiss not to acknowledge the good he can, and does, bring to a market like ours.
Investors: they’re not just for nuclear Real Estate holocausts anymore.