January 9, 2019

I originally wrote this article 6 months ago but the same question applies so I'm updating and improving it. The question still applies, is real estate at a bubble? Is it at the top?

I was at the bar for a friend's going away party and a random guy at the bar started telling me how I needed to buy some new coin. Not Bitcoin, he said, but some other coin he had discovered that is going to make you rich.

In fact, he had just quintupled his money since this morning. I needed to hurry up and get in on the action!

...When the local regular at a small bar in small-town USA has finally started giving investing advice, it's time to move on to the next big thing. So, I'm done with cryptocurrency (until it collapses).

Mind you, I wrote those words back when Bitcoin was was reaching new highs every day (it's since lost 90% of it's value)

But, What About Real Estate?

Ten years ago when I got started in real estate, everyone thought it was a terrible idea.

"If it was so easy everyone would do it."

"Don't you think real estate is too risky?"

You know the lines. I heard them all. But now, real estate is the best investment on the planet.

A huge number of friends and also former co-workers of mine have jumped into real estate investing within the last year. People who used to warn me how dangerous real estate was are now telling me real estate is probably the best thing to get into (except cryptos, of course!).

It's the "best" because their best friend's, uncle's, nanny just house-hacked a home and earned $50k and quit being a nanny and is now a full-time house flipper!

Or...someone they knew bought a house 3 months ago and already sold it for $20k profit!

Maybe...their friend's nephew just became a landlord though he's 19 and doesn't really even have a stable job (so he's technically "retired", right?).

The Vibe in Real Estate

If you're getting this feeling or this vibe with any sort of investment, you need to be very cautious. Every time I've seen it, it's been bad.

I turned 18 in 2003. Though I was young, I remember the boom years - I was 16 and everyone was offering me part time work at $10-$12 per hour to do construction work that I had no idea how to do.

When I was 18, 19, and 20, I was remodeling apartments at $10-$15 per hour though I had basically no experience.

Everyone was making money and throwing it around. Then I graduated college in 2008 and the economy collapsed.

It was the same feeling with cryptos. Everyone was excited about them, now I never hear about them anymore.

...and now, everyone I know has become real estate investors.

Real Estate & Economic Fundamentals

When your gut tells you something, you need to pay attention. But, I question myself at the same time.

Housing inventory is chronically low which is forcing housing prices to go up. House construction simply can't keep pace with demand and the same is true with apartment developments.

Interest rates are dampening demand. If interest rates continue to rise, it could affect the entire economy, but the Fed has signaled it might slow or stop their interest rate increases. 

The economy is great, unemployment is rock bottom, real estate prices are increasing. New wealth has been created by the trillions in the last year or two.

Stocks are going through a correction, but stock prices are not an economic indicator. If they get too low it can change people's perceptions of the economy though and reduce spending. So, we need to pay attention to it.

Wages are growing faster than inflation for the first time in decades.

But, cap rates are amazingly low and property prices are ridiculously high compared to the income being produced. This means people prefer real estate over other investments.

Economists are constantly revising up their estimates for growth.

But... the yield curve inverted, at least on part of the curve, which usually signals an upcoming recession within 1-2 years.

So, which is it? Is real estate at the top or are economic indicators showing strong fundamentals?

Is it Rational or Irrational Exuberance?

Well, my crystal ball is as clear as yours. No one can predict the future but here's my take. 

I don't feel that all signs point to bubble yet because there is enough conflicting thoughts to make me believe we aren't quite there yet. Real estate is cooling down, but a lot of that is due to interest rates. If they don't continue to rise, then real estate should be more stable or continue to rise.

For now, though, all we can do is to plan and to prepare. Here are your options.

Joining The Herd.

Most people invest a lot and take risks when times are great, but pull way back when times are bad. They dump $50k into stocks then when they drop 20%, they immediately sell to protect them from further losses.

Then once stocks have dropped 40%, they are too scared to reinvest until stocks are back up or higher than where they were before.

People jump into bitcoin when it's 15,000, ride it to 17,000, then dump it when it gets to 10,000.

This is the herd mentality and is the absolute wrong way to invest.

Back in 2007, they were giving loans to anyone with a pulse but by 2011 it was basically impossible to get financing, even though housing was at rock bottom prices.

When properties could be bought for literally 40 cents on the dollar, nobody was lending and nobody was buying.

Bucking The Herd...

The hardest part of doing the opposite thing is you'll have some serious FOMO (fear of missing out).

I know people who have made $200k+ in cryptos. FOMO was taking hold of me and I almost I actually invested $1,000 into bitcoin right around $15,500. I played with it for a week or two and sold it, losing roughly $3. That is not a typo.

I did it for fun because investing due to FOMO is the absolute worst reason to invest. A lot of people put a ton of money into it right at the wrong moment.

Instead, I believe people should invest when times are great and invest way more when times are bad. Also, I only want to invest in well known and historically good investments. In a way, it's like dollar cost averaging.

Using the above example, if the market is hot, I wouldn't dump all $50k into the market. Instead, I might dump $20k and leave $30k cash. As the market drops, I keep buying more. If it goes up, I buy more too, just more slowly.

In fact, this is almost exactly what I did during the market crash after Lehman Brothers collapsed. I invested my life savings in the beginning of september 2009 and lost half 2 weeks later.

I was somehow able to make all my money back within about 6 months because of dollar cost averaging.

Dollar Cost Averaging Works in Real Estate

The fact is that nobody knows when we will be at the top and nobody knows how hard the market will correct when we get there. It could come in 3 years or it could come tomorrow.

3 years ago I knew a person who sold a lot of their multifamily because they said we are at the top. 3 years later they lost out on a ton of money because it's still going strong.

So, if you held back your investments today, you could lose 3 more years of a bull market.

My point is, I wouldn't avoid buying. Just buy a deal or two, buy them right, and focus on adding serious value to keep you above water when the market corrects.

During a correction, use your capital reserves to really get in and buy as many properties as possible with as little money as possible. Don't focus on adding a lot of value, just focus on getting them cash flowing.

Adding value means typing up capital. Tying up capital means buying fewer properties for huge discounts.

So, save those improvements for when the market is hot and deals are hard to find.

How Are You Planning to Invest in the Next Few Years?

Are you following the herd and diving in, or are you bucking the herd and doing the opposite.

Comment below.

About the author 

Eric Bowlin

Eric is an investor that achieved financial independence at the age of 30. He started in 2009 with the purchase of his first triplex and now owns over 470 rental units. He spends his time with his family, growing his businesses, diversifying his income, and teaching others how to achieve financial independence through real estate. Eric has been seen on Forbes, Trulia, WiseBread, TheStreet, Yahoo Finance and other financial publications. You can contact Eric by emailing him at [email protected] or with this contact form

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