Leverage - Making a Decent Investment Spectacular
One of the concepts I keep seeing without a decent treatment is the concept of leveraging an investment. Real Estate has this like no other investment. You go talk to a bank about leveraging eighty to ninety or even one hundred percent of your investment in the stock market, or the same percentage of a speculative venture, and see what happens. Be prepared for laughter, and they're not laughing with you. But real estate they will do it. Why? Because it's land. It's not going anywhere, and they're not making any more.
The fact is that real estate has the potential for leverage like no other. This is due to the interplay of two factors. One is the fact that you can rent the property out to pay for the expenses of owning it, and even if you use it yourself, you're able to save the money you would be paying in rent. Everyone's got to live somewhere, and every business needs a place to put it. The other, more important factor is leverage, the fact that you're able to use the bank's money for such a large portion of your investment. The bank will loan you anywhere from fifty to one hundred per cent of the value of the property. Yes, you've got to pay interest on it, but you're paying that through the rent - either the rent you'd save or the rent you're getting - and there are tax deductions that make such costs less than they might appear.
Now here are some computations based upon the situation local to me. Suppose you have a choice as to whether to buy a three bedroom single family residence for $450,000 (to pick the figure for a starter home) or rent it for $1900. Let's even allow for the fact that the home may be overpriced by $100,000. You have $22500 - a five percent down payment. More than most folks, and you would invest that and the difference in monthly housing cost, and earn ten percent tax deferred if you didn't buy the house. Let's crank the numbers and see what they say.
The Net Benefit Column is net of taxes, net of the value of the investment account. The cost of selling the property is also built in. Now most people won't really do this, invest every penny they'd save. I have intentionally created a scenario that contrasts a real world real estate investment where you bought in at a temporary top, with a hopelessly idealized other investment.
There is a potential downside, and it could be big. This is a real risk, and anyone who tells you otherwise is not your friend. Look at the beginning of years numbered 2 through 5 in the equity column. You haven't gotten your initial investment back until sometime in the fourth year. Look at years 1 through 7 in the net benefits column. You're immediately down $31,500, due to me assuming it would cost you seven percent to turn around and sell the property. A year later, due to me assuming the bubble has popped, you're down by over one hundred ten thousand dollars, as opposed to where you'd be in you put it in the idealized ten percent per year investment. There is no such thing, but for the purposes of this essay I'm assuming there is. This is the illustration of why you need to look ahead when you're playing with real estate - a long way ahead. A loan payment that makes you feel comfortable for a couple of years isn't going to cut it. You need something viable for a longer term. If you'll look at projected equity at the beginning of years five and six, it goes between fifty odd thousand and eighty some thousand, assuming you've been making a principal and interest payment. You have plenty of equity to refinance there if you need to. If you need to do something in year three, however, you're hosed. If you've been negatively amortizing, you're hosed. You owe more than the property is worth. The payment adjusts, you can't afford it, you can't refinance, and you have to sell at a loss, as well as getting that 1099 love note from the lender that says "You Owe Taxes!"
But now look ten years out. At the beginning of year 11, you have $323,000 in equity, and if you sell at that point, you are $84,000 ahead of where you would have been if you invested that money in the idealized investment I've posited. That's four times your original investment, and I only assumed real estate went up seven percent per year, whereas the alternative investment went up by ten percent per year. How could that possibly be right?
The answer is leverage. That $450,000 was almost entirely the bank's money. The appreciation applied to this entire amount. But you only invested $22,500. The bank isn't on the hook for the value; their upside is only the repayment of the loan. If the property goes to a value of $481,500 and then $515,205 (normal seven percent appreciation in two years), then that extra money is yours. Think Daffy Duck shouting "Mine! Mine! All Mine!". Daffy's got to pay some money to get the property sold, as real estate is not liquid. The bank gets all of it's money. The bank always gets all of its money first. After that, however, then the extra belongs only to the owner, not the lender.
The lender gets none of the appreciation. This is all fine and well with them, by the way. They've been well paid whether the property increased in value or not. This money from increased value is all yours. This applies even, as in our example, if the property lost value for a while. Yes, if you had had to sell in year two, you'd have been up the creek. But you didn't; you kept your head and waited until the property increased again. Given that you didn't, the only numbers that are important are the numbers when you bought it, and when you sold it. The rest of the time is completely irrelevant to the equation, a fact that is true for any investment, by the way. Doesn't matter if the value is ten times what it was when you bought on paper, it only matters that when you actually sold, it was for a loss. Doesn't matter if the value goes to zero the day after you buy, and stays there for thirty years. If in the thirty-first year it rebounds to fifty or a hundred times the original purchase price and that's when you sell, then you really were a genius. Get it? Got it? Good.
So when the property appreciated back to $688,000 and change at the beginning of year eleven, and you only owe $364,000 and change, that's $323,000 in equity. You're almost fifty percent owner. Even after you pay seven percent to sell the property, you come away with $275,000, as opposed to a little over $191,000 that you'd have in the idealized but unleveraged investment.
Keep in mind this whole scenario is a hypothetical. Every Real Estate transaction is different. Every property is different, every market is different, and the timing makes a critical difference. That's why you can't just call your broker to sell it and get a check within seven days, like you can with stocks and bonds. That's why a decent agent is worth every penny, and a good one is worth more than you will ever pay us. But properly executed, a leveraged investment pays off like nothing else can, and real estate is the easiest way to make a highly leveraged investment that is stable until such time as it is favorable to sell.
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