How-To Guide – Is Real Estate Investing Right For You?

If I knew then what I know now, I never would have voted for the war.
Ken Lucas

For me the greatest source of income is still movies. Nothing – stocks, financial speculation, real estate speculation or businesses – makes more money for me than making movies.
Jackie Chan

I have 1900 units, why do I need a 401K?
Robert Kiyosaki, recent interview Time Magazine

To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.
William Shakespeare

From Robert Kiyosaki to Donald Trump, from Robert Allen Carleton Sheets, from Dolf de Roos to Diane Kennedy, investing in real estate is touted as a way for average people with time, money and patience to build wealth.

But is investing in real estate right wealth vehicle for everyone? If this were a one-size fits-all-world the answer would be yes. But, then, stocks would be the perfect investment vehicle for everyone and the discussion would end there. I have had investment real estate since 1994. I have had tenants attempt to squat in my properties, I have been sued, I have had a unit vandalized, someone drove into one of my buildings and I gave gone through my fair share of property managers.

If I knew then, what I know now, would I have bought my first property? The answer is yes. Real estate has done more for me than the stock market has with less overall financial risk despite the headaches and they have been many.

Five Ways to Know if Real Estate Investing is Right for You.

1. Are you a good manager of your personal resources or do you have significant amounts of short term debt? If the answers are no and yes, in that order, do not invest in real estate until you address these issues. Real estate is illiquid. Once purchased, the hold time on your new property may be significantly longer than you anticipate. This means that your potential exposure to unplanned expenses on your property may be longer than anticipated. Significant amounts of short term debt or the inability to plan your finances in anticipation of expenses may turn your real estate investment into a financial nightmare.

2. Are you a team player and can you captain that team? Investing in real estate means partnering with others to ensure your success and recognizing that your partners may know more than you. You will encounter brokers, property managers, attorneys, handy men, plumbers, electricians, contractors, roofers, inspectors, mortgage brokers and appraisers. If you are a control freak, prefer to work alone or cannot be direct in your communication when working with people, real estate investing may not be right for you.

3. Do you understand the kind of investing you will be doing? Will you be investing for cashflow or speculating for appreciation? Do you have the analytical tools necessary to help you work up a pro-forma for the property you will be buying?

4. Do you truly understand that wealth-building in real estate occurs over many years and that you have to “survive” your first couple of properties to build wealth? Over 20 years ago I started baking bread. The guide book I bought featured a “loaf for learning”, a basic loaf that I could practice kneading, mixing and still turn out an edible product. Your first properties will be “buildings for learning”. As you move beyond the initial learning curve, you will move on to create wealth. In certain markets, real-estate can produce appreciation returns beyond expectations and create the illusion that real estate produces instant cash. In my life I have seen two such markets. Frankly I would not want my future financial well-being to rest on my ability to time markets. Sophisticated investors have as their core investments, cashflow properties, properties that perform during hot or cold markets.

5. How do you react to unpleasant business news? Is your overall reaction anger that dissipates into a sense of helplessness or do you become a problem solver? Being able to solve problems is the key to having a successful business and investing in real-estate is a business. Real-estate is also a people business, by this I mean your tenants are people and the service personnel who will work on and market your properties are people. If the failings of others afflicts you with moral indignation and heartache, real estate investing is not for you. Tenants will fail to pay the rent and you will have to evict them, your property manager will charge you market or above market for repairs and will fail to market your properties properly in order to keep them full.

While real estate investing is a great way to build wealth, investing in real estate isn’t for everyone. It is easy to “catch the fever” and jump without looking, the first step is to make sure that you know yourself; these five points of consideration will assist you to that end.

The next step is to educate yourself about your local market, financing options, price and rents. You can start by finding a local Cashflow or real estate investing club. If you join a local real estate investing club make sure some of the members actually own investment property. That way the club won’t just be a club of “wannabes”.

Next assemble your team of property managers, accountants, brokers and agents. You will do this by interviewing prospects. Once you decide on a team, you will still have to trade the members out from time to time.

Finally do your first deal.

Should You Follow Gov Crist’s Recommendations to Invest in Florida Residential Real Estate?

Anyone looking for ways to increase their investment income in the current recession might do well to consider the recent words of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who has recommended that more of the Florida retirement pension funds be invested in Florida residential real estate. If it is good enough for the state is it good enough for the resident of the state as well?

The key element in any investment, of course, is finding a way that what you make exceeds what you are likely to lose. Or, there are real estate investments and then there are real estate investments. So how do you choose and how do you decide if real estate is right for you.

Florida, for example, has recently suffered losses in a $250 million Manhattan real estate investment that failed. And yet, the Governor is recommending investing in Florida residential real estate.

It’s a great idea for the right people and the reason it is a great idea now is timing and the really big reason is that real estate investing is not “fungible.”

Let’s look at the issue of timing first and then get to fungibility. In many cases Florida residential real estate is selling for half of what it would have fetched at the peak of the market. So by definition, if you buy today you have only half as much to lose.

If the price of a single family home in Florida were to be considered like a stock, you would start to see a small number of people speculating whether “we have seen the bottom of the market.” That kind of guessing is popular in stock market investing. And it may be right. We may be at or near the bottom. And again we may have farther to go and prices will become lower.

If you are in stocks you have to pick the right time to buy and you only make money if the market goes up. Sounds reasonable. We all are familiar with this idea. If you do not already know, it may be difficult to understand that in real estate you can, at this time, make money after you buy if the market goes down.

That’s where the similarity of real estate prices and stock prices go their separate ways. If you want to buy shares in Google or IBM you will pay the current market price because stocks are fungible. That means that all shares of IBM common stock are the same and all sell for the same price at the same time.

Stock prices may go up and down but on any given second of the trading day, there is only one value for the shares of any stock. This is not true in real estate and it gives the opportunity for greater profit and less risk.

While the general real estate market in Florida is down around half of the value of the market peak, there are individual houses that currently are even cheaper. In some cases, I am finding homes that can be bought for half (sometimes less) of the current value. So let’s say that homes in Pasco County are down 50 per cent and some individual homes in that large market basket can be purchased for about 25 per cent of what they would have sold for at the top.

Would you think that these properties offer less risk and more potential appreciation? You would and you would be right, with certain cautions.

The houses that are available at the bargain basement prices are in most cases damaged, sometimes substantially, are properties owned by banks who have foreclosed on mortgages, or are owned by a variety of others who have a powerful need to sell now and get on with their lives.

One of the cautions certainly would be that you need to get someone who is qualified to tell you how much it will take to repair the house so that it will sell for the going rate and not a discount. The second risk is that if you want to make that investment and you have never rehabilitated a house, you have a learning curve ahead of you. Simply, while this sounds like a great idea, it is not for everyone.

You should also know that the state government has passed legislation limiting how you can buy certain of the houses where the value is or could be distressed. Buying a house in foreclosure where the owner is still living in the house requires specific forms and disclosures and failure to comply carries the risk of substantial fines.

Fortunately there are other ways of participating in this part of the current real estate market. Many professionals who rehab houses are looking for partners with money to finance their rehab of a property. Frequently the arrangement calls for spitting the profits 50 per cent to the person with the money and 50 per cent to the person who provided the money.

In two decades in this market, I have seen investors make incredible returns on their money and in some cases financing the same home rehabber time after time with both parties happy. I have also seen an almost endless array of potential problems become real problems and both parties wind up losing money on this type of deal.

I am not saying that it is a bad idea to do this type of investing, but suggest that the investor and rehabber both should thoroughly vet each other, have a clear precise contract explaining who does what and spelling out as many possibilities as is possible. If done right, especially now, buying below the market and knowing what you are doing, should product decent real estate profits. The potential of loss is of course always there. The property could be on a toxic waste site, have liens or encumbrances that the rehabber did not know about at first and a variety of other potential problems.

Another approach to the issue of how to invest in Florida residential real estate would be for the investor to let the rehabber complete the house using the rehabbers own money and skill and then simply take a mortgage on the property after the work is done and a renter is in the house. This type of investing will probably only yield 7% to 12% a year in the current economy compared to 40% or more return in less than a year for the partnership investment where investor and rehabber are sharing the total profit and the risk.

The second article in this series details a case study of the first house I rehabbed and then financed with an investor. The investor was a mortgage broker I had used for loans to put some of my buyers in houses and she came up with the idea of financing a house I had rehabbed in Clearwater Fl Two decades ago.

Inactive and Active Real Estate Agents in Ontario Who Park Their License – Explained

Before getting into the explanation of an inactive agent and an active agent we will begin with a short summary of how the real estate Brokerage system works in Ontario. We will refrain from getting into too much detail and thus the following will be a very simplified version.

In Ontario we have a Brokerage governing board called R.E.C.O. or the Real Estate Council of Ontario. A Brokerage is registered with R.E.C.O., pays its fees and dues which include errors and omissions insurance and is then ready to trade in real estate in the Province of Ontario only. The Owner/Broker may work alone as a single entity or invite licensed real estate salespeople and Brokers to join his or her Brokerage Firm and trade in real estate on behalf of the Brokerage.

A real estate Brokerage in Ontario may apply to become a member of its local real estate board. If accepted, the Brokerage will pay the board fees and dues which may include fees and dues applicable to the Ontario Real Estate Association and the Canadian Real Estate Association. If this option is taken by the Brokerage, then all the registered realty agents with this Brokerage must also become members and pay their applicable fees and dues to the said board and associations. In very rare cases, the Brokerage will cover these fees and dues for selected agents. The difference between being a board member or not is, the board members will have the privilege of all the services available to them from the board and associations including the multiple listing service which has proved invaluable to the real estate full timer and professional.

So, what is an inactive real estate agent? Simply put, an inactive agent in Ontario is one who is licensed under R.E.C.O. and for whatever reason has decided that he or she will not be trading in real estate and has not been doing so for a specified amount of time. There are still many agents in Ontario who remain with their current Brokerage and if that Brokerage is a board member, then even though an agent is inactive, he or she may still be paying fees and dues. Fees and dues may also include their Brokerage monthly fees, desk fees, franchise fees and other expenses. Since this is obviously a big waste of money these inactive agents will seek other Brokerages that will allow them to park their license without the wasted expenses.

Here are some of the terms used when referring to a Brokerage that will accept inactive real estate agents in Ontario. “Park your license”, “warehouse my license”, “hang my license”, “hold your license”, “real estate license holding company or Brokerage”, just to name a few.

A real estate agent who decides to park their license will still have some fees to pay but the difference will save them hundreds if not thousands of dollars yearly. Some of the fees will be to R.E.C.O. like their license registration fees due every 2 years and the errors and omissions insurance will still apply. In Ontario, they must earn 24 credits in their continuing education requirements as well and these credits are due on renewal.

What about the real estate Brokerage that provides the license holding services? Here the agent must do their due diligence. Seek out a trusted and proven Brokerage Office who is not a member of any real estate board. Ask for the highest commission split available to you in the event you do sell a property or 2 or if you refer sales out to other Brokerages or agents you may know. Even though your license is on Park, and you are inactive, your license in good standing is still active. Make sure you do not pay any ridiculous desk fees, extra monthly fees, franchise fees etc. Having said that, there most likely will be a small membership fee applicable for their services. Shop around for the best deal but remember to keep the experienced Brokerage that park or holds licenses a priority to you.

Inactive then, refers to the actual agent who is not active in the day to day trading of realty properties. As long as the license is registered with the Real Estate Council of Ontario and remains in good standing, your real estate license is “active”. If you decide, as an agent, to become inactive, you now have a wonderful and money saving choice to transfer and join an Ontario Brokerage that you can park your license with. This Brokerage will hold your license and this will allow you the opportunity to keep your license active so it does not fall by the wayside and lapse or be terminated.

I shudder to think about if I had to go over the process and expense of getting my Realtor license all over again..yuk! If you now have this valuable asset and are thinking of becoming inactive for whatever reason, think hard about keeping your license active because you never know how valuable this asset will be for you in the future. Hang it, park it, warehouse it, hold it, keep it active! Good luck.

New Ontario Real Estate Agents – So You Are a New Ontario Real Estate Agent Licensee, Now What?

A new Ontario real estate agent, wow, congratulations! Now what? Chances are you are probably still flying high with excitement after all the hard work and study you just went through. Time to take a well deserved break before jumping into the realty sales game. An opportunity to think about things like what kind of properties to specialize in, what kind of Brokerage to be part of, and a good time to review and list some old and new goals.

Now that you have your passing marks, and you took some time off to celebrate, a decision to join an Ontario realty Brokerage firm needs to be made. This is a requirement since you must be employed by a Brokerage registered with the Real Estate Council of Ontario or R.E.C.O. You will fill out a new registration with your employer and your employer (realty Brokerage) will also fill in its section and authorize same. These forms with your fees and dues payable to R.E.C.O. will be sent by either yourself or your new employer. Upon successful qualification, based on the information you provided on the application, you will be issued your brand new Ontario real estate license certificate.

There are many different types of real estate Brokers and Brokerages to work for in Ontario. Variations among them like, residential vs commercial and/or industrial and leasing, office expenses, commission splits, services provided for you, training, office space for your desk and phone, franchise office vs independent etc etc. One main difference which is vastly overlooked by many new realty agents starting out in their careers, is whether the real estate Brokerage is a member of their local realty board. The difference is vast since being a member means that all registered agents with that Brokerage have to be members as well. Being a member entitles the agent many beneficial privileges and services but it also comes at a yearly cost. If the Brokerage is not a member then the yearly cost is avoided by the Brokerage and all its registrants and no services or privileges given either.

Here are some steps you should consider:

1. In Ontario under the R.E.C.O. rules and regulations, you must be registered with them through an Ontario Brokerage within 1 year of passing your final exam. If you fail to do so, you will have to start from “scratch”. Therefore, your first step ought to be whether to jump in as per the steps that follow or park your Ontario real estate license and hold it active with a Brokerage that provides a low cost “keep your license active” service. If you decide to park your license by holding it active, you can do so indefinitely subject to the Brokerage policies. When you decide to take your license off hold then all you need to do is request to transfer it to another Ontario Brokerage of your choice. One more thing, if you park your license, make sure it will be a month to month contract to ensure flexibility. If you are asked to pay a yearly membership or parking fee, inquire whether they have other options available for you.

2. Decide what type of real estate in Ontario you want to sell/trade. Residential homes and condos, investment housing like apartment buildings, industrial buildings, commercial properties, office buildings, leasing etc

3. a) Based on your decision in step 2, interview the Broker/Owner of a few real estate Brokerages in Ontario that specialize in that field since they will be able to assist you in the “know how” of that selection. Learn about their support, and commissions payable to you and learn about their office policies. Compare them to the other Brokerages you interview. Pick the Brokerage the fits in with your personal goals.

3. b) Depending on your selection in step 2, you may or may not require the services of your local Ontario real estate Board. Most active residential salespeople will want to be members of their local Board because the multiple listing service will be extremely beneficial in sales. However, some commercial salespeople elect to be registered with a Brokerage that is not a member of any Board. Commercial is often a field where agents develop their own purchasers for their in house listings and prefer to sell or lease commercial properties without the assistance of other agents from other Brokerages through the m.l.s. system. If I lost you here, sorry…make sure you ask the Brokers you interview to explain the pros and cons. You may get a different view from each Broker.

As a new Ontario real estate agent, Licensee, you may want to consider taking it slow before you jump in and incur all kinds of expenses right off the start. It may prove you well to initially join an Ontario realty Brokerage firm that will allow you to hold your registration or license there with them at a low cost before deciding to go full out with a franchise Brokerage or any other Firm that provides all the services that you will eventually require in your career. In the real estate Brokerage world this is also known or referred to as “park your license” or “hold it active” with a non board member Brokerage in Ontario.

Park your license and holding it active does not only apply to new Ontario real estate agents. There are Brokerages out there that provide this “parking” or “holding” real estate licenses for all registrants including Brokers, associate Brokers, Realtor, sales rep’s, husband and wife real estate teams where there are 2 licenses active etc etc.

If you had previously done your homework and have already selected the Ontario Brokerage you wish to join and be employed by, then great, jump in with gusto and make it happen. For the many new real estate graduates out there, taking the slow road may be a better way to ensure you make the right decisions for yourself. It is amazing how many well intentioned people decided to become a real estate agent in Ontario with a long term career in mind only to have that dream cut short. The expenses that will be introduced to you in this field can be shocking especially if it takes a while before you notice some commissions coming in.

Give yourself a fighting chance. It really is a great business to be in right into your later years. Your just around the corner from receiving that certificate (real estate license) in the mail that you have worked so hard for. Shop around for that Brokerage and interview at least 3-5 Offices/Firms. Jump in with a full service real estate Brokerage with full real estate board membership or park your license for a while and take your time doing your due diligence. The choice is yours.