COVID-19 Effects on Rents & Renters

We hear the concern that some tenants may not be able to pay rent due to the Corona virus crisis.

While this is a valid concern, there are a couple of things to consider:

We talk about buying new homes in good areas. When these are the homes you buy, the likelihood of your tenants being “white collar” is high.

White collar employees are the ones who usually have the easiest transition to working from home. These would be high tech employees, engineers, etc. These types of employment lend themselves easily to working remotely, working from home, using Skype and Zoom for video meetings etc.

Thus, the likelihood of white-collar employees not being able to pay their rents is lower.

This is another example of why it makes so much sense to buy good homes in good areas.

Many new investors are attracted to the lower costs and supposed better cash flow (on paper), of house located in bad areas.

What is happening now is just one example of why that may not be a good idea.

An exception is very low-end areas, where most of the tenants are HUD-and-Section-8-helped tenants. HUD and Section 8 will continue to pay rent for the tenants regardless. However, these types of houses are always challenging and their future appreciation may not be as high as good homes in good areas.

During the last recession, which started in 2008, we obviously bought homes not only in good areas, but picked up bank foreclosures in any areas, including blue collar locations. However, during regular times, buying brand new homes in good areas is a staple of smart investing.

There may also be help on the other end for landlords, if rents aren’t being paid, there are forces now working with lenders to give abatements and postponements of mortgage payments. When there is an issue at one end, the other end has to be addressed as well. In California there are already lender concessions to 90-day delay on mortgage payments by some of the major banks, with no repercussions to the mortgage payers, or late fees.  It is likely that the rest of the nation will follow suit.

We will discuss this, and other issues, during our next big 1-Day Expo on May 16th. If by May 16th large public gatherings are still not happening, we will have the event online.

Will COVID-19 Cause A Recession?

As we all observe and fear the Coronavirus, we see many cities under “shelter-at-home” restrictions, and many “non-essential” businesses closing. Then on the other hand, the Fed lowered rates almost to zero, and mortgage rates, after a short spike, are starting to settle down near the lowest point ever. Some people fear a recession is likely to follow, and if we remember the recession of 2008, I think it’s quite possible. That depends, of course, on the length of the lock-down.

If a recession does occur, let’s point out some of the differences between the recession of 2008 and the next recession, if it hits.

Before the 2008 recession happened, there was a major boom in many states. Home prices in states like Arizona, Nevada and Florida went through the roof. The media was shouting “It’s a bubble! It has to burst!” Prices of homes in Phoenix, for example, nearly doubled from the beginning of 2004 till the middle of 2006. Not all states participated in the party, for example, Texas and Oklahoma have not gone up very much during that time.

When the 2008 recession hit, the markets that went down precipitously were, of course, the exact markets that had participated in the 2004-2006 boom. Places in Arizona, Nevada, Florida, and other states. Prices tanked and crashed quite a bit. However not across the board, states like Texas and Oklahoma did not go down very much during the recession of 2008.

By contrast, at the present time, especially in affordable markets like Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Baton Rouge, Central Florida, parts of Atlanta, Raleigh and others, there are currently no price bubbles. No major boom has happened, Thus the likelihood of a major price crash in such markets is much slimmer than the markets which crashed in the 2008 recession. There are very high priced markets now, the expensive markets in San Francisco, for example (which has already started going down in price last year). In such markets, there may be a stronger effect on prices. Also, when you invest in a brand new home in a good area in Oklahoma and pay $170,000. You are buying the home not much over the basic construction and land cost. Again, the probability of an “intrinsic value” home like this going down much is small. By contrast, a $2M home in San Francisco, which cost $900K to build, has a lot of “air” in the price, with a higher likelihood of prices going down in San Francisco.

The recession of 2008 was created by housing. Lenders released all limits, and loans were made to virtually anyone that was human, almost regardless of credit or ability to pay. Some loans were up to 125% of the value of the house. This bad debt, called “sub-prime”, was then packaged among other debt, and amazingly, the credit agency gave these packages high ratings, as if it was a quality debt product. Then these faulty packages sold on Wall Street, and financial wizards found way to leverage them enormously. Once defaults on the bad loans started to hit, the entire structure unraveled.

By contrast, at the present  we are still under the Dodd-Frank Act, which was drafted after the 2008 recession. Borrowing is now much harder and lengthier than it was before the 2008 recession. Even borrowers with great credit are finding the current loan processes frustrating. The amount of sub-prime loans is minuscule relative the period preceding the 2008 recession, and steps were taken to make the abuses with rating agencies be much harder to repeat. Thus the next recession is likely not to be caused by bad loans. It is clear that if another recession comes, its effects on rental home investing will be quite different than the recession of 2008.

I believe that the best way to invest in real estate is to buy brand new homes, in affordable large metropolitan areas, where the rent numbers match well with prices. Then finance the homes with a fixed-rate loan. To the best of my knowledge long term fixed rate loans like we get here in the US don’t exist elsewhere. The monthly payment and the mortgage balance never change with the cost of living, while everything else does. That means inflation constantly erodes the true buying buyer of your debt, making your debt ever smaller in real dollars.

For these kinds of homes, purchased anywhere from $150K to $250K, I believe the effects of the next recession will be minimal. Rates are very low, however, so fixed rate loans will retain these great rates forever.

The act of buying good rental homes in large metro areas and holding them as rental for the long term, where  the loan erodes, is a future-changer. It does not change your future instantly or even within a short time, but over the long term, this strategy is a powerful future changer. I have seen people retire well, send kids to college, and look much stronger financially thanks to these simple yet powerful investments.

Since these investments show their power over the long term, and since the interest rates are so favorable now, and since a possible impending recession is unlikely to have effects on prices like the 2008 recession, I believe this would be a good time to invest.

As an extra “bonus”, the virus fear creates more flexibility with sellers, including builders, and the ability to negotiate better prices.

I would be happy to discuss it with anyone who may wish to inquire further.

Coronavirus and Single-Family Home Investing

As we read, daily, about the spread of the Coronavirus (now also called Covid-19, but I will use Corona throughout), we are all concerned about the spread, mortality rates, means to protect ourselves and so on.

The stock market has taken a massive plunge over the past few days, on Coronavirus fears and how they may affect the economy.

Certain industries are already affected, the Olympics may be cancelled, and vacation spots are suffering due to flight and vacation cancellations.

As the stock market goes down, people who own stock feel less wealthy. However, it is reported in many sources that heavy stock concentrations in one’s portfolio occur in the upper quarter of income in the US.

Due to the virus fears, people become less mobile, fly less and stay put more.

The lure of the safety of one’s home gets more into focus.

In the affordable markets in which we invest, the type of homes we buy as investments are the type of homes purchased by homeowners who are squarely in the middle of the pack in terms of income, and even below. It is quite possible that a good segment of this population may not feel less wealthy. Their desire for a home will likely not diminish, and that means the demand for the type of homes we invest in is likely to stay strong.

The Fed is Already hinting that they are considering lowering interest rates to help the economy in the aftermath of the Coronavirus economic effects. That is at a time when interest rates are already some of the lowest in history. If rates go further down, the homes will become yet more affordable, with a potential for even greater demand, and even price appreciation. It is also possible that demand may be increased as some people move out of stocks and seek an alternative investment.

The organic need for families to have a place to live is not likely to diminish in the face of the Coronavirus. If people buy these affordable homes, especially with lowered rates, it bodes well for us investors. If people rent them, it also bodes well for us, as our vacancy rates go down.

There may well be adverse effects such as a dearth of workers due to tighter border controls and less travel, a dearth of building materials which usually arrive freely from all over, including the far east, and other shortages. Ironically, even these adverse effects are likely to increase prices, as supply may struggle to keep up with the usual demand.

This is a good lesson for us about the risk of investing in “vacation rentals”. Many younger investors may not be aware, or have forgotten, the devastating effect of the last recession on vacation rentals. I constantly talk to investor wondering why they shouldn’t buy vacation rentals. Just as in a recession, vacations are a luxury, and this luxury is one of the first to get dropped when circumstances are difficult. Even Airbnb’s may experience pain during a recession, as well as, possibly, in the face of the virus scare.

Investing in single family homes in good areas in large metropolitan areas in the Sun Belt states for affordable prices, looks even more solid in the face of difficult circumstances, relative to vacation rentals. That is one of the reasons this is what we focus on.

One of the reasons I have been so steadfast about investing in single family homes is their vast future benefits, in addition to their great relative safety.

Morgan Stanley just released, on February 28th, a 3-scenario report as to how the virus spread may affect the economy. Currently they are estimating what they call “Scenario 2”, in which the recovery we now experience is stunted in a relatively minor way before means are attained to stop the spread of the virus, as the most likely senario. The 3rd and worse scenario may lead to a recession (albeit after all the checks and balances congress installed after the major 2008 recession, I believe a future recession to be quite a bit milder than the last one, especially since one of the reasons for the severity of the 2008 recession was the massive amount of sub-prime loans, a phenomenon that has been greatly reduced by congress since, and is not nearly as prominent currently.

We have seen prices of homes in many markets drop sharply during the recession, but we also know that simply holding on to the homes, while the 30-year fixed rate loan continues to be eroded by inflation, gets us out of that cycle and into the correction. I myself have already experienced it several times in my investing career.