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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.

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  •     toy
    · June 14th, 2009  · 3:13 pm  · Permalink

    You could as well have said nothing.

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