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Amazing Tip To Increase Your Real Estate Rental Profits in Less Than a Day

Writing checks

Before I begin let me share a story that some of you might have already hear, at least in some variation of another. A woman sends her husband to the store to buy a ham, but she specifically asks him to have the butcher cut it in half. Of course the husband forgets to ask the butcher, so when he gets home his wife is not too happy that she has to cut the ham in half. The husband then proceeds to ask his wife why she cuts it in half, to which she responds that her mother has always done it that way and that was reason enough for her.

Luckily for the husband, his mother-in-law is there visiting for Xmas. So he takes the opportunity to ask her why she always cut the ham in half before cooking it, to which she replies because that’s how her mother also always did it.

Still not happy with this answer the husband convinces his wife to call her grandmother to try and figure out this mystery. After all, this is now three generations that have always cut their hams in half before cooking it, and no one knows why. It baffles him that no one has ever asked why. Well thankfully the grandmother finally had the answer, it was because her oven was too small to cook a ham in one piece, so she had to cut it to make it fit. A simple solution to a simple problem that was no longer true.

The moral of the story of course being that everyone just did the same thing because that’s how it had always been done. No one ever questioned WHY it was done that way, they just went ahead and continued to do the same thing.

And this is at the heart of the incredible tip I’m going to offer you today on how to increase your PROFITS, not your income, but your profits, by a pretty significant amount!

As many of you already know, my company LandlordMax Software sells property management software (also sometimes refered to as rental property software, landlord software, and so on). One questions we get asked often enough is if we offer check printing. Which leads right into the tip on how to significantly increase your profits while at the same time reduce your workload!!

Why do people need check printing? Seriously. Think about? Why? Do you really need to have software that prints out tons of checks each month these days? When is the last time you looked at automating their bill payments? Most property managers and landlords just continue to write and send checks for their bills, but why? Because that’s how they’ve always done it. But is it necessary?

Today many many many bills can be completely automated. If you cover the utilities for your tenants as part of the rental agreement, then each payment to the different utility companies can be automated, avoiding the need to write and send a check to each company. We’re not talking just one check here, possibly quite a lot. Today most utility companies have some kind of method or other to have your bills automatically paid.

If you’re a property management company that sends checks out to the individual property owners, there are a number of other options you can exercise. Most banks and financial institutions have all kinds of ways to send money digitally that will save you time and money (and fees). For example most employers these days no longer pay their employees with checks, most just do direct deposit. I’m not suggesting you take their route with your clients, only that there are options out there. When was the last time you looked?

How much of a difference can it make? What is the cost of writing and sending one check? My personal ballpark figure is about $1-$2 per check. This includes the cost to order the checks themselves, then there’s envelopers, stamps, bank fees, etc. I’m also ignoring any penalties for checks lost in the mail, which if you send a lot of checks, you’ll for sure have had some checks lost in the mail.

Above this I’m also not including all the labor costs. Sure the software can automate some of this, but you still need to load your printer with special checks which you probably had to order at a marked up price to match the specific you’re using. Then there’s the time of putting each check into the right envelope, making sure there’s no mistakes along the way. And don’t forget preparing the envelopers and so on. Printing all those mailing labels, sticking them on. It adds up faster than most people realize.

And I haven’t hit the price of the software. If you have a professional property management software solution then you’re easily looking at the thousand dollar or more range. If you’re using a small business accounting software with check printing, then it’s at least some hundreds. If you’re not using any software, then how long does it take you to manually write all those checks? In either situation there is a cost.

With all that in mind, if you have over 100 tenants (an easy round number) at 5 checks a month per tenant on average (plus one property owner payment), you’re looking at spending anywhere from $500-$2000/month of total expenses on just producing checks! Over a year it can easily get into the five figures! I do strongly recommend you look at your own full costs for writing all those checks, don’t just use my numbers. Do your own calculations.

And don’t forget to include the time costs, I can’t imagine an effort like that takes one person less than a full day to accomplish if it was all done at the same time. Over a year that adds up to 2.5 weeks business weeks of full time effort. Yuck. What a waste of time! I don’t know about you, but I have much better things to do. Especially if this can all be automated.

Now imagine that all it took was a day to automate almost all of this effort. No more need to print and/or send checks. Even if you can just automate your regular bills, and for property managers the need to print checks for your clients, how much money and time would you save? And again, this is PURE PROFIT! You’ve just reduced your costs, and not only has it not reduced the quality of your business, you’ve actually increased it!! All this because you’ve finally looked at WHY it’s always been done that way before!

To answer my question about our software, no we currently don’t offer check printing. We would like to, and do plan to eventually offer it (even after all I’ve said). However it’s not normally something you’ll see in competing solutions anywhere our price range. It’s much like a tenant asking for an in-unit hot tub while only paying an affordable rent. You can definitely get an apartment that offers in-unit hot tubs, but you should expect to pay quite a bit in rent. The same is true for check printing. However when people ask us, the answer isn’t really no, it’s more why do you really need check printing? Wouldn’t your time be better invested in researching what you can automate rather than just continuing to do what you’ve always done. Not only will you save on the price of the software, but you’ll save money each and every month from now on! And as an added bonus, the cherry on the whipped cream, you’ll have more time to grow your business rather than spend it on busywork that offers no real and lasting value.






You Can Only Achieve What YOU Believe You Can Achieve

Believe

What’s the furthest you believe you will go in life? Do you believe you will own your own company? Do you believe you will be the boss at your job? Do you believe you will climb Everest? Do you believe you will make $1,000,000? Do you believe you will marry the most amazing person?

Firstly, notice I said believe and not think you can. With that in mind, which of the above questions do you truly believe you will achieve?

Now here’s the kicker, I can pretty much guarantee you that if you don’t believe you will achieve it, then you won’t. It’s not very complicated, it’s really that simple!

In the movie Fired Up!, an Animal House style movie, there’s a scene where the team believes they suck and because of that they do! That’s when the hero chimes in with a pretty colorful and somewhat offbeat speech about the importance of believing that you’re good. Below is the exert with some edits (to keep it cleaner for this blog):

– Sorry, guys, I just suck.
– It’s not just you. We all kind of suck.
– We’re not good at all.
– Hey, stop. Stop talking like that.
– But it’s true.
– We’re just not that good.
– Stop.
– Enough of that. You can go as far as you want.
– What do the Panthers have that you don’t have?
– Skills.
– Athleticism.
– Kickass cheers.
– Laser hair removal.
– Big-a** t******. I’m just saying.
– Confidence. They’re cocky a*******.
– Like Nick, the cockiest a******* on the football field. That’s why he’s good.
– He’s right. I’m awesome.
– Because he believes in himself.
– Also because I’m awesome.
– He knows he’s gonna be good, so he’s good. And he takes chances.
– Not hard due to the fact that I’m awesome.
– Nick. Trying to make a speech here.
– I’m sorry.
– Either bet big or go home.
– If you don’t wanna take any chances, then you shouldn’t even be here.
– I know you wanna be here, because you finish last every single year… but you keep coming back…  even if it means taking endless shit…  from total dong-knockers like the Panthers.
– All right. Come on, guys. Let’s be cocky a*******s.
– Yeah, you know what, he’s right.
– And I can say that… because I am the best cheerleader here, so you can all suck my d***.
– I was just being a cocky a*******.
– Oh, nice. That’s what I told you. Look, did you see what she was doing there?
– That’s exactly what I want from everybody.
– All right, let’s do this.
– And remember, you’re awesome. Let’s risk it to get the biscuit.
– All right, get cocky, b******.
– Let’s do it. Come on, guys. Ready.
– Hit it!

Although a bit colorful, and not exactly what I meant the idea is still really there. If you don’t believe you will succeed you won’t. And because the team thought they were bad, they always finished last.

As an aside, if you don’t believe in yourself, you’ll never take chances, which means you can never really lead. Part of success is also knowing how to create your own luck.

Let’s look at a more concrete example that you can associate in your life. Let’s say you’re making $50,000/year right now and you believe you can’t make more than $65,000. Will you ever make $75,000? No! Why? Because if you don’t think you can make that much, you’ll never ask for that much. You’ll never try to make that much. You won’t do what it takes to make that much. You may achieve up to $65,000, but you’ll never go above that level because that’s as much as you believe you can make.

The same is true with your dream job, the raise you want, the promotion you want, and so on. If you don’t believe in it, you will never try or get it. The very fact of not trying alone will prevent you from succeeding.

And it’s not just jobs, the same is also true for finding your perfect girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband. How many people are just too shy to approach the person they really like? They just sit there and wait, thinking they don’t deserve that person. They never take the chance. How many movies are about someone in love but never having the courage to take that initial leap?

The reality is that you have to believe you will succeed to succeed. When I started LandlordMax, I knew it was going to be a success. It was a fact a fact in my mind. And it is succeeding!

As Jeremy Clarkson from Top Gear so well put it in the Bolivia Special episode (4:48): “If you believe something will happen, it will happen”.

What’s the furthest you think you will go in life? Do you think you will own your own company? Do you think you will be the boss at your job? Do you think you will climb Everest? Do you think you will make $1,000,000? Do you think you will marry the most amazing person?

Whichever questions above you answered no to, I can almost guarantee you won’t ever achieve. If you don’t believe you can do it, you won’t. It’s not very complicated, it’s really that simple!

In the movie Fired Up!, an Animal House style movie, there’s a scene where the team believes they suck and as such they do! But then our hero explains, in a pretty colorful and more entertaining method, the importance of believing that you’re good. The following is the exert:

Looking at a more concrete example. Let’s say you’re making $50,000/year right now and you believe you can’t make more than $65,000. Will you ever make $75,000? No! Why? Because if you don’t think you can make that much, you’ll never ask for that much. You’ll never try to make that much. You won’t do what it takes to make that much. You may achieve up to $65,000, but you’ll never reach above that level.

The same is true with your dream job. If you don’t think you deserve or can do it, you will never try for it. The very fact of not trying alone will prevent you from succeeding.

And it’s not just jobs, the same is also true for finding your perfect spouse. How many people are to shy to approach the person they really like? They just sit there and wait, thinking they don’t deserve that person. They never take the chance. How many movies are there about someone trying to fall in love with their dream person but never having the courage to take that initial leap?

The reality is that you have to believe you will succeed to succeed. When I started LandlordMax, I knew it was going to be a success. As a matter of fact, I also didn’t really have a choice. It had to succeed. As Jeremy Clarkson from Top Gear put it in the … episode, if you believe it enough, you can will it to happen!

Jeremy clarkson

Sorry, guys, I just suck.

– It’s not just you. We all kind of suck.  – We’re not good at all.

– Hey, stop. Stop talking like that.  – But it’s true.

We’re just not that good.

Stop.

Enough of that. You can go as far as you want.

What do the Panthers have that you don’t have?

– Skills.  – Athleticism.

– Kickass cheers.  – Laser hair removal.

Big-ass titties. I’m just saying.

Confidence. They’re cocky assholes.

Like Nick, the cockiest asshole on the football field. That’s why he’s good.

– He’s right. I’m awesome.  – Because he believes in himself.

Also because I’m awesome.

He knows he’s gonna be good, so he’s good. And he takes chances.

Not hard due to the fact that I’m awesome.

– Nick. Trying to make a speech here.  – I’m sorry.

Either bet big or go home.

If you don’t wanna take any chances, then you shouldn’t even be here.

I know you wanna be here, because you finish last every single year…

but you keep coming back…

even if it means taking endless shit…

from total dong-knockers like the Panthers.

I wanna cut the blond one.

– What?  – What?

– What?  – What?

– What?  – I’m just saying.

All right. Come on, guys. Let’s be cocky assholes.

Yeah, you know what, he’s right.

And I can say that…

because I am the best cheerleader here, so you can all suck my dick.

I was just being a cocky asshole.

Oh, nice. That’s what I told you. Look, did you see what she was doing there?

That’s exactly what I want from everybody.

All right, let’s do this.

And remember, you’re awesome. Let’s risk it to get the biscuit.

All right, get cocky, bitches.

Let’s do it. Come on, guys. Ready.

Hit it!






As If We Weren't In Enough Trouble Already?

Slick Salesman

We all know the real estate market is in a mess right now, and most of it is really our fault. Too many people took on mortgages they never should have. But it’s not just the borrowers that are guilty, the lenders need to take their share of the blame. Obviously everyone should know when they’re over-extending ourselves, but in obvious situations many lenders still encouraged people to get mortgages. They often helped them get financing through more creative ways, such as loan/mortgage applications that didn’t require any proof of employment, interest only payments, 105% financing, and so on. I won’t even mention mortgages that required high and consistent capital appreciation just to be sustainable.

As part of this mess, many different sales techniques were used. A very common technique was focusing on how much mortgage you CAN afford per month (not how much you SHOULD afford per month). What this means is that instead of looking at the total purchase price, you focus on the monthly payments. By doing this, especially when interest rates are incredibly low, you end up buying properties that in any normal time is well above what you can afford. Which also means that when interest rates go back up, which they will, you’re in a lot of trouble!

Again, the benefit of this selling technique is that you can take the focus away from the real price and look at what you can spend each month. This gives the seller a lot of leeway in the price (not to mention it helps increase commissions).  As an example, adding $2000-$5000 on a $500,000 mortgage amortized over 30 years (at our current historically low interest rates) barely changes the monthly total ($9/month and $22/month respectively)! Even adding $20,000 isn’t that big a deal. At 3.5%, $20,000 barely adds $90/month more. $90/month more on a $2500/month mortgage is not a big difference.

But, getting back to the reason for this post, is that lenders have now come up with a new method of rationalizing why you should purchase overpriced properties, or at least a method that I haven’t personally seen yet. Here’s the exert from Tales From the Real Estate Wars:

“Now’s the time to move up to a larger house and eradicate any loss on your present house!  How, you say?  Come a little closer and I’ll explain:  If you bought a house for $350,000 and it is now worth only $280,000 (20% less), you have only “lost” $70,000 if you sit still and do nothing.  But if you buy that really big house in the nicer community that used to be worth $550,000 and is now also 20% lower, the moment you close on that house at $440,000, you’ve gained $40,000 ($110,000-70,000).  And hey, that’s before you get the $6,500 tax credit! Plus, have you seen how low the interest rates are?”

It’s really perverse logic, but at the same time I can see how people can fall prey to it. They’re focusing on people’s loss aversion fears which is a very strong emotion!

Do you see the flaw in the logic?






Is it a Good Time to Buy Real Estate?

Is it a Good Time to Buy Real Estate?

It depends. Don’t you absolutely hate that answer? But the reality is that it really does depends and any other answer is wrong.

It really does depend on the situation and circumstances. For example, it might be a good time to buy real estate in New York city while simultaneously being a bad time to buy in Los Angeles. And even then, and much more importantly, it might be a good or bad time for you personally to buy real estate (or any other revenue generating asset such as stocks, bonds, etc.)!

Let’s look at a simpler case study than real estate to get a better understanding. Let’s pretend you’re the owner of a movie rental store. Instead of real estate,  you buy and rent DVD’s. Is it a good time to buy DVD’s? It depends. Firstly how much do the DVDs cost in terms of how much you can rent them for? In other words,  will the DVDs make you money? And how long will it take you to start being profitable from buying and renting DVDs?

Before we go on, remember that although you can buy a DVD for say $40, that’s not necessarily your true cost. You also have to include the cost of employees, rent for your store, marketing, people bringing back the movie late, lost inventory, insurance, accountants, etc. However for the sake of this discussion let’s keep it simple, let’s assume the real cost is double the purchase price.

Taking an example, if our total cost to buy a DVD is $80, and we can rent the movie out at $5/day, then it will take 16 days to start making any profit. Not bad. But wait, it’s not that simple. Is the movie going to be rented 16 days in a row? That’s a probability, and you have to assume no. In real estate, we use a similar concept, the vacancy rate, which signifies the percentage of unoccupied units. For now we’re just going to assume the DVD is fully rented. And since most people rent a DVD one day and return it the next day (sometimes two), we’ll use 32 days as a safer assumption. At 32 days, it’s not looking too bad.

But we’re not done. What about late returns? Right now most video stores allow you to return a movie late (by over a week) with no late fee. This will unfortunately over complicated our example, so let’s just assume we can’t charge late fees. Therefore instead of 32 days, we’ll pad our estimate to 60 days, or 2 months. It’s simple and should be good enough.

Is it a good time to buy now? It still depends! Can you actually rent your DVD’s at $5/day in your local area? Are you in a poorer area where $5/day is considered a luxury? Maybe you can only charge $2/day. Or maybe you live in Beverly Hills and you can charge $20/day because you offer mocha lattes for each of your visitors as they peruse your store. The price you can charge for your revenue generating asset, in this case DVD movies, will greatly affect whether or not it’s a good time to buy. At $2/day, it will take you at least half a year of continued rentals to make any profit. Can you rent the DVD for half a year non-stop? Not likely. Most movies fade out of popularity within months, if not weeks, before other newer movies take their place. Hence at $2/day, it’s probably not a good time for you to buy. However if you can rent the DVD at $20/day, it will take you only 2 weeks to start making a profit instead of 2 months. A much better time to buy. Well maybe.

We still can’t know if it’s a good time to buy. Why? What about the specific asset, or in our case the specific movie. If the movie we’re buying is the latest multi-gazillion blockbuster, then it’s probably looking good. But what if it’s the latest Hollywood straight to DVD flop that absolutely no one wants to see? Probably not. We might never even be able to rent it once! It could be a complete lost of time and money. Again, it depends.

But let’s assume it’s the best movie ever made in all of history, and we can rent it out at $10/days and it will only cost us $50 total to buy. Is it still a good time? Again, it depends. What if all you personally have left in your bank account is $10 (and maybe even that $10 is allocated to other pre-existing payments). Then you can’t afford it.

Can we get a loan for the $50? Maybe, but can we afford the payments? Can we carry the loan? We’re assuming it’s the best of the best movies, but what if it’s not? Poseidon anyone? Ignoring that we might make enough money to cover our loan payments on the principal, what about the interest? Can we get an affordable loan at an interest rate that will give us a comfortable return (I say comfortable return because we all have different thresholds for risk)? In other words, even if it’s the greatest deal, can we afford it. Does our personal financial situation allow us to capitalize on it?

So the next time someone asks you: “is it a good time to buy?”, I hope you’ll say it depends because it really does depend! It depends on the specific situation, circumstances, and the assets you want to buy.

PS: I didn’t include the long tail in this example, that is movies that have been out for years and still continue to get rented often. These are very profitable. And the same is true for real estate properties, stocks, etc. Generally the longer you hold onto them, the more money you’ll make. Instead I tried to focus on whether or not you’d be able to get to that longer tail, that if you can at least start making a profit on the assert within a reasonable amount of time.






More LandlordMax Sales Metrics

Last week I promised I would post a follow-up article to my previous one about our sales metrics at LandlordMax, where I would show our daily sales averages over a month. Well here’s the graph below:

LandlordMax Property Management Software Days Of Month Sales Graph

It’s not exactly what you would expect from a property management software application is it? To quote Eric, the founder of RentARoom.ca, who commented on my previous post (thanks Eric):

“Beginning of the month is probably slow, rising to mid month to it’s peak, and the last days of the month fairly low sales as well. The slowest days: First to Third of the month.

I guess property managers are busy trying to get it all done in their old system. They give up by mid month, or catch their breaths and say they have to find an “easier” way by next month and find a new program.

So by that, advertising just before mid month would be best. (depending on first ad seen -first visit to the website- and conversion to a buying decision)”

That was exactly my initial thoughts. And this proves why it’s so important to get real hard data rather than assuming. In this case common sense is wrong, including mine. The best days for our sales are at the beginning of the month, when landlords and property management companies are at their busiest.

Not only that, but when they’re at their quietest time is when we get the least sales. In other words when we expect the most sales is when we’ll get the least!

Why is the real buying pattern almost the opposite of what we’d expect? Although I don’t know for sure and I can only speculate, my guess is they buy LandlordMax when they’re experiencing their biggest pains. That is they buy it when they need it most rather than when they have the most time. The biggest time for sales is when all the rents are due.

Interesting isn’t it? Common sense in this case proves to be wrong. Getting cold hard data made a real difference, it was very educational. It’s also a very big reminder to always double check your intuition with data. I’m sure glad I did!






Foreclosure's Map

Someone notified me of a map they found on USAToday’s website which merges a map with foreclosures in Denver since 2006. I recommend checking it out. Although the foreclosure data is limited to one of the hardest hit areas of the city, it’s still very interesting!






Ignorance is Bliss

House of Cards

There’s been a lot of panic recently associated to the collapse of Bear Stearn, one of the largest financial institutions in the world. Yes this is dramatic and will have far reaching consequences, but there’s something far scarier than that which pretty much everyone is overlooking. And in this case, this ignorance is what’s preventing the economy from collapsing. Ignorance is bliss!

Yes a major financial institution collapsed. Yes it happened in just a few days. Yes it’s a catastrophe. But there’s something far larger and more ominous looming just beneath the covers. The really really really scary part is that no one wanted to acquire them for pennies on the dollar without the Fed’s adding $30 billion to sweeten the deal!!!

Why is that? I can only come up with two reasons, both of which are incredibly scary.

  1. Everybody else is on the edge of insolvency and can’t afford a fire sale deal, even for pennies on the dollar.
  2. The number on the balance sheet are much worse than they appear and hence the revenues are collapsing (mortgages defaults are much much much higher than expected).

All I can say is WOW! Both of these options are incredibly scary and lead me to conclude that the worse hasn’t even yet begun.

[Disclaimer: Please note my numbers in the following analogy aren’t to scale as I haven’t yet had the time to fully absorb the details. ]

To take an analogy on a smaller scale, imagine that you own a house worth $600,000. Everything seems to be going fine, then within two days you somehow can’t meet your obligations. In other words you’ve become insolvent because of a cashflow issue almost instantaneously. Now imagine further that you can’t find any buyers for your house, even at $20,000. Yes the house does come with a mortgage that you have to assume, but it’s also being rented and is earning revenues. Up until a few days ago, you were supposedly maintaining profitability on it.

Which is scarier? The fact that you went insolvent or that there are no buyers when the house is going for a steal? By far the scariest thing is that there are no buyers. But now imagine further that to eventually get a buyer you need to have a third party (the Fed’s) add a large sum of money to make the deal happen. Getting pennies on the dollar wasn’t enough.

Which means either the revenues on the property weren’t exactly as good as you you stated or there is no one else with enough capital to buy a house at a fire sale price. I sincerely hope it’s because the deal wasn’t lucrative enough (the revenues weren’t as good as stated), otherwise the alternative is much worse and you can expect many more insolvency in the near future!

If it’s the later, than ignorance truly is bliss and might even save the economy!






Another Record for this Housing Market Crash

Many people thought the housing market crash wasn’t coming anytime soon, that prices would continue and continue to rise. I even heard people saying that they had to get in now otherwise they could never afford a house at the going rate. Like any other boom, people forgot to look at the fundamentals.

Well today the fundamentals are right in your face. There’s no escaping them. No Ponzi scheme can save you. CNN has just reported a 6.7% price drop in prices from last year. If you adjust for inflation, that’s closer to 10%! The largest drop recorded since the index began in 1987. It marked the 10th consecutive month of price depreciation and 23 months of decelerating returns. With no end in sight.

Housing Market Crash

I hate to soapbox, but as far back as 2004-2005 I was already suggesting that the market was overpriced. The numbers no longer made sense. It had to stop and prices had to come back down. I even wrote on ways to protect yourself. For example in December 2005 I wrote: The Simplest and Best Way to Protect Yourself from the Real Estate Crash. If you followed that advice you’d be significantly protected from the current housing market crash right now.

Knowing that there was a shakeup coming, I personally prepared. I followed my own advice, I ate my own dog food. For example I locked the mortgage on my personal home at 5.4% for 25 years! Yes that’s a fixed rate of 5.4% for 25 years. I had the option of 4.8% for 10 years, 4.3% for 5 years, or a variable for 3.9% if memory serves me right. Back then when I told people how excited I was to get 5.4% locked for 25 years I was continually shocked by their reaction. They couldn’t believe I was willing to pay that much interest. 4.3% was a lot better. And why not variable, interest rates were low and dropping.

This is when I tried to explain that interest rates can’t keep going down anymore, and definitely can’t stay at those rates. That we were just above inflation. It just can’t stay that way forever. Over time rates have been closer to 8-10%. They would climb back.

I also kept telling people how I didn’t want to be part of the upcoming mortgage refinancing storm. As rates increased people wouldn’t be able to refinance when their mortgages came up for re-financing. Basically the whole house of cards would come tumbling down. This is basically what’s happening now, and why we can expect to see a continuation of this housing crash for at least several more years. At least until the last of the 5 year fixed mortgages that can’t be refinanced dwindle away.

The good news is that unlike what the media portrays, there is an end in sight. It’s just a few years away.






Is it Possible to Predict When a Market will Crash?

Every once in a while a specific blog comment will elicit a full article rather than a simple blog comment response. Recently Andy Brice from Successful Software (founder of Perfect Table Plan) wrote such a comment on my recent blog entry Manias, Panics, and Crashes: A History of Financial Crisis:

“Interesting. I’m expecting the insane UK housing market to level off or crash any time now. But I’ve been saying that for the last 5 years…”

Andy is a very smart person whose blog I regularly read (and sometimes comment on). Whose opinion I respect. In this case I absolutely agree with him. I’ve been saying the same thing for North America for some time now, as is evident even in my first month of blogging over two years ago here on FollowSteph.com.

The interesting part of his comment is that he (myself included) know just how hard it is to accurately predict a full economic shift from mania to bust. It’s easy enough to see when we’re in a mania; the fundamental economic principles no longer govern asset prices. But what’s hard is to predict when the general public will realize this. It’s just like the Tulip Bulb boom of long ago; as long as there’s a bigger “sucker” willing to pay more for the asset (in that case rare tulip bulbs) the prices are going to keep increasing.

Tulipmania

But now comes the reality. Again it’s not possible to exactly predict when a boom or bust will actually happen, it’s easy to predict when we’re in a boom or bust phase. If the economic fundamental no longer justify the prices then we’re in for either a bust (overly priced as is today) or a boom (under priced as often happens when people overcompensate after a depression). The bigger the discrepancy the bigger the boom or bust.

The good news is that although we can’t accurately predict the exact time a bust will happen, we can still accurately predict when it’s a good time to get in and out at a profit. As Benjamin Graham expresses in his book The Intelligent Investor, as long as you’re buying your asset for less than the real value (intrinsic value) and selling it at a higher price than the real value you’re ahead. He doesn’t show you how to maximize your profit, he just helps you identify how much your asset is overpriced or under priced. No one can accurately tell you when an asset has reached its maximum price (over valuation), that’s speculating on you knowing and understanding the publics psyche which no one can do.

To put it in other words, asset (stocks, real estate, etc.) prices will always shift above and below their true economic value (known as intrinsic value). If you buy them for less than their intrinsic value you’re ahead. If you sell them for more than their intrinsic value you’re ahead. The key to investing is not to try to buy assets at their lowest price and then sell them at their highest price, no one can do this. It would be amazing if that were possible, but it’s not.

What does this all lead to? Well over time an asset can only deviate so much above or below its intrinsic (real) value before it has to re-align itself (adjust its price back to a reasonable value). Right now, at least in North America for sure, prices of real estate properties have deviated significantly above their intrinsic value, so much so that they are now correcting themselves and trying to re-adjust to their intrinsic value. And don’t think we’re there yet, they’ve still got a lot of re-adjusting to do. I expect significantly more fallout before it stabilizes. As a very basic general rule of thumb, a real estate investment property should generate you at least a yearly revenue of 10% of the purchase price (including all costs – renovations, closing costs, etc.). Right now we’re not even close to this, many properties are running at negative cash flow values! This isn’t sustainable.

Intrinsic Value Versus Actual Value over time

Knowing this however doesn’t mean you can’t profit from the boom and bust cycles. All it means is that if you buy assets in the under priced area of the above graph and sell in the overpriced areas you should be able to consistently make profits and protect yourself. The “margin of safety” is generally considered to be the discrepancy between the actual price and the intrinsic value – that is how much the asset is under priced. The further off you from the intrinsic value you are, the bigger the profit potential and the closer you are to the max and min’s of the boom and bust cycles. Of course you need to be extremely careful the further away you are from the intrinsic value, especially for overpriced assets, because when the adjustment happens it will be faster and more volatile!

It’s possible to consistently achieve respectable profits, all you need to do is look at the intrinsic value to know when to get in and out. Although sometimes it may take years for an assets actual price to at least come back to it’s intrinsic value, it eventually does. But as Andy’s comment suggests, knowing when a market has peaked is hard to predict. He already knew that the intrinsic value was no longer aligned with the actual price of the asset (in this case real estate), but he still couldn’t know when the adjustment would occur. No one can!






Manias, Panics, and Crashes: A History of Financial Crisis

Are we doomed to repeat history? Unfortunately yes! The book Manias, Panics, and Crashes: A History of Financial Crisis originally written in 1978, now on it’s fifth edition (2005), clearly illustrates just how predictable we are:

“The end of a period of rising prices for assets to distress whenever a significant number of investors have based their purchases of these assets on the anticipation that their prices will continue to increase. Some of these investors may have a ‘negative carry’ in that the interest rates on the funds borrowed to buy the assets exceed the cash income on the assets; these investors anticipated that they would be able to use the increase in value of the asset as collateral for new loans that would proved them with some of the cash that they would need to pay the interest on the outstanding loans. When asset prices stop increasing, these investors are shunted into distress mode since they have no ready way to get the cash they need to pay the interest on their outstanding indebtedness.”

And what about:

“Causes of distress and the symptoms of distress are observed at the same time and include sharply rising interest rates in some or all segments of the capital market, an increase in the interest rates paid by sub-prime borrowers relative to the interest rates paid by prime borrowers, a sharp depreciation of the currency in the foreign exchange market, an increase in bankruptcies, and an end of the price increases in commodities, securities, and real estate. These developments are often related and show that the lenders have become over-extended and are trying to reduce their exposure to risks and especially to large risks.”

Manias, Panics, and Crashes: A History of Financial Crisis

Sound familiar to anyone? And to think this was written years ago and it’s repeating itself yet another time. History does repeat itself.

The good news is that if you educate yourself you can come out ahead. And this is why I strongly recommend the book Manias, Panics, and Crashes: A History of Financial Crisis. It’s a pretty intense book written using somewhat verbose and specific economic terms, as you’ve probably already noticed from the quotes above. Therefore if you’re not familiar with economics and business expect it to take a bit longer. But overall the information is excellent and very viable. And although I believe myself to be fairly well versed in economics and business, this book sure brought home some points I hadn’t fully appreciated. A very good read. Well worth your time.






 
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