Thursday, January 31, 2008

Federal Reserve Cuts Key Short-Term Interest Rate By 1/2 Percent

From CNN Money:

"Faced with growing risks of recession, the Federal Reserve made its second deep interest-rate cut in a week and slashed a key short-term rate by a half-percentage point Wednesday. The federal funds rate - an overnight bank lending rate that affects how much interest consumers pay on credit cards, home equity lines of credit and auto loans - was cut to 3.0% from 3.5%. The rate had stood at 5.25% only four months ago."

Good news for all. This will bring more buyers into the market to help stabilize home prices. On the commercial/invsetment side of real estate, which remains strong, a lower interest rate is always a good thing.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Know Where Your Property Gets Potable Water

Water is forecast to be one of the biggest environmental and political stories of the 21st century - not just in developing countries, but in North America, as well. Already desalination plants are on the way in the Southwest, including in Southern California, while drought may force Southern nuclear power plants nuclear power plants to scale back production, or shut down, throwing the energy grid into question, news sources report.

ANYONE buying rural property these days - indeed, any property - needs to know from where, and for how much money, if applicable, that property gets potable water. While we don't face that problem right now in the Midwest, knowing your water sources on a property is critical. It impacts the useability of your land, and its value for both tax purposes and when you decide to sell or exchange it.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Worth Noting

At our exchangors meeting this week, investment guru Furman Tinon was telling us the story he saw in Money magazine back in 2001. It was about an individual who worked for Enron (of course, all of that is a different story). His 401k was devastated as a result of the corporate meltdown, dropping from $100 per share to around 35 cents per share in value.

I read stories every day of companies with huge losses in a roller-coaster stock market; Ford already has noted that its pension plan is in trouble, and this week noted it posted a fourth-quarter net loss of $2.75 billion, or $1.30 per share, compared with a loss of $5.63 billion, or $2.98 per share, a year earlier.billion for the quarter. The company is also forecasting a net loss for the full year 2008 amid fears of a weakening U.S. economy. Now I think Ford builds a great automobile. One of my cars is a Ford. But looking at that, one has to be honest and ask, "why would I ever invest in Ford?"

I'm not trying to pick on Ford. It's just that their news this week makes a good example. As I have stated on earlier posts, when you invest in stocks, as a shareholder you are paid AFTER all the bills and everyone else is paid, assuming there is a profit.

When you compare the uncertainty of the stock market, and its average investor, with the stability and growth of an individual's portfolio when he or she owns four, or seven, or even 10 investment properties -- the difference is significant. If your 401k drops to nothing, or in a more realistic sense, stagnates and does not grow, or even declines in value, you've got a problem. But real estate doesn't go away. You still collect rent from your office tenants, or multifamily residents. And I haven't even discussed the voluminous tax advantages that are not available to corporate shareholders.

Commercial/investment real estate empowers you . . . it puts you in position to protect your wealth. And if there is inflation, you have wealth forced upon you. Not a bad place to be, actually.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Fed Cuts Benchmark Interest Rate 3/4 Of A Percent

Sensing a financial tsunami about to hit North American shores today, early this morning the Federal Reserve cut its benchmark interest rate by three-quarters of a percentage point. The action is in response to an international stock sell-off and the likelihood of a sharp drop on Wall Street throughout the day today.

Read more here.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Shameless Self Promo: National Commercial Newsletter Features One Of My Projects

This is always fun. I'm not one to toot my own horn about specific projects with which I am involved, but this is one where the national Prudential Commercial Services newsletter editors have seen fit to feature one of my projects as a news story. It is a leasing story regarding the BODIES exhibition, the national tour from Premier Exhibitions, which recently closed down after a successful run in Central Ohio.

Here is the story from Volume 3, Issue 4, just off the presses:

"Brent Greer, Sales Associate, closed a lease on a 27,430 square foot retail facility for a high-profile six-month museum program entitled 'BODIES: The Exhibition.'

"The exhibit, with special lighting and space requirements, has been seen by more than four million people around the world. This is its first appearance in Ohio. Greer identified retail space in a high traffic, 'high-energy' area within 10 days of being notified of the exhibit's need because an exhibit venue in another city had been unexpectedly rescheduled to a later date. Greer began working immediately and found a former CompUSA store in Easton Market retail center that hadn't come on the market yet.

"Negotiations took place with the retail center owners in Cleveland and with Greer and Premier getting approvals and identifying potential restrictions on other tenant leases regarding an exhibitor, as well as CompUSA. Ultimately the center owners agreed that the exhibit would be a huge draw for the Easton Market, otentially drawing 400,000+ visitors.

"Greer recommended a local architect and in two weeks the interior space of the site was converted to have the look and feel of the Smithsonian Institution. The BODIES exhibition has been a subject of some controversy but draws huge crowds wherever it is seen. The promoters spent $500,000+ in the Columbus are to market the high-profile exhibit.

"In addition to BODIES, Premier Exhibitions, based in Atlanta, Ga., also operates touring RMS TITANIC exhibitions, featuring artifacts raised from the sunken luxury liner, Titanic. Premier owns the salvage rights to the vessel."

The rest of the story goes on and on about my professional credentials and areas of specialty. Nevertheless, it was a nice surprise to find myself featured in the parent organization's national newsletter. It was an interesting project, and one that was intense in a very short period of time. Most interesting was the controversy leading up to getting the deal done for my clients, Premier Exhibitions. Specifically, I was receiving telephone calls from the head of the big science museum in town, COSI, begging me not to work with them because my work could have "devastating financial consequences" for our local museum. Seems they have a similar exhibit coming in later this year and felt Premier would upstage them.

That entire discussion is best left to the residents of Ohio, who can choose themselves which is the better exhibit. All I know is that I had never seen anything like BODIES before, and it was presented in an incredibly ethical, and educational manner. I enjoyed working with the team from Atlanta and hope to work with them again on another project elsewhere.

As for the national Prudential commercial newsletter editors choosing the details of my transaction to run as a story, when I know there are many to choose from, it's actually pretty cool.

To the editors -- thanks for the exposure!

Market Meltdown in London Today, Asia Tonight

Brace yourselves if you are in the stock market or have mutual funds. Market meltdown occurred in London today, as the stock exchange there lost 5.5 percent of its value. Asian markets will probably fall out of bed when they open tomorrow (which is tonight for us). The drop marked the biggest drop since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 for the London Stock Exchanges.

Tomorrow will be a rocking and rolling day for world markets.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Bank Stocks Continue Free Fall

Rough times for shareholders of U.S. banks, which are leading the stock market slide during the first half of the first month of January. Year to date (yes we are only 20 days in), the market is down nine percent.

In the meantime, Merrill Lynch and Citigroup are collectively laying off some 5,000 employees because they are losing so much money, and eliminating dividends. But, tied to lucrative contracts with its execs, the companies will pay billions to the leaders of theserms, whether those executive stay or go in the fallout of the worst performance by bank organizations in more than a decade.

Even the more profitable banks, such as JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) and Wells Fargo & Co (WFC)., said they were bracing for more problems in a wide swath of consumer credit, from home equity loans to auto loans and credit cards. This week will bring earnings from more banks, notably Bank of America Corp. (BAC) and Wachovia Corp. (WB) Companies outside the financial sector with a strong global presence might ease some of the anxiety about America's corporate muscle, but it is unlikely they will cure it.

Upbeat financial results in the coming week from some of the large, multinational companies that make up the Dow Jones industrials - Microsoft Corp (MSFT)., AT&T Inc (T)., Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), Pfizer (PFE), Caterpillar Inc. (CAT) andHoneywell International Inc. (HON) - could lead to some rallies. But no one should be surprised if the gains evaporate as soon as they developed.

The entire 2007 profit of the S&P index occurred during a single week in 2007, despite all the volatility the entire year. Which is why its crazy to guess what's going to happen in the market next.

The mutual fund scandal of the past decade is softening, but on many peoples minds.

But commercial/investment real estate is holding its value and lenders have money to loan. Thus endeth the preaching for the weekend.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Housing Problem Putting Pressure On Rents In Big Run-Up Markets

More fallout from the debt crisis. BTW, its NOT a credit crisis, though people are having trouble getting mortgages because they have too much debt. We're actually back to the way things used to be before all the subprime loan vehicles were created to give credit to people with existing debt problems.

Anyway, this isn't a surprise but analysts are now saying that the housing problem has created -- are you ready -- a rent problem! I have already written on this extensively, but now its official, according to CNN Money.

What happens is that as people, often who either bought a house to flip (don't get me started) in hopes of a short-term big gain, or bought a new home and have their old for sale, cannot get that house they desperately need sold. So they rent it.

Which is exponentially increasing the inventory of available homes for rent.

Which puts pressure on rents.

See the vicious cycle? Read the CNN story here. Fortunately, this is only being felt worst in those market that have been hit hardest by the debt/credit/housing problem. That is, those markets that saw huge, fast run-ups in home prices as speculators took over the market. Atlanta and Houston rents are dropping the most, the report says. But resort areas like Lee County (Ft Myers) in Florida have a similar problem. In fact, according to a mind-boggling New York Times story, one out of every four homes in Lee County is vacant. That is an incredible number. And if you are a house renter there, you can pretty much name your own price, for some owners are in such rough shape that they will gladly negotiate on rent.

Much of Ohio is far stronger economically in that regard and has not seen the steep declines in values, nor the intense pressure on rents. In fact through much of Central Ohio, rents seem to have stabilized. But other parts of the nation are not faring so well.

For investors who understand the value of holding real estate for 5-10-years, the next two years are going to represent a boom time to pick up nice single family homes in strong neighborhoods at a discount. The market will come back, they will appreciate in value, and all the while the rents will pay the note.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Buyer Beware (of banks)

Bank short sales of residential property are everywhere today. Some investors who have purchased a DVD from middle-of-the-night infomercials are pondering when to swoop in and pick up a discounted property.

Granted I am biased that buyers should use an experienced real estate agent who understands investment real estate. I am concerned about people jumping in, planning to get their feet wet, and instead winding up to their neck in basement water.

Check out this piece from Minnesota. It talks of poor maintenance by institutionally-owned residential real estate. I do not know of similar situations in this part of Ohio, but it could be coming. Cleveland has a huge crime problem due to street after street of empty homes. In southwest Florida, one out of every four homes in Lee County is vacant.

Just be careful about the properties you want to invest in. I prefer multi-family properties, for if a renter leaves, only 1/4 or 1/6 of your property is temporarily vacant. But if your house renter leaves, an owner has no income from that property until a new resident moves in. And yet, there are going to be some great properties in many urban and suburban areas that can be picked up for a song for the next 24 months. But if buyers are smart, they will hold them and not try to flip them in two or three years.

Inflation Up In 2007; Commercial/Investment Owners Performance Still Strong

I have said in previous posts that holding investment real estate is a hedge against inflation. Well, the Department of Labor is reporting today that wholesale inflation last year shot up by the largest amount in 26 years.

The story notes that the 6.3 percent increase in the Producer Price Index, which measures cost pressures before they reach the consumer, followed a much more moderate 1.1 percent increase in 2006. Read the entire story here.

To review a bit, investing in and holding commercial real estate is a hedge against inflation. While the media is obssessed with the decline in residential property values, commercial property is holding its own, and in many cases, still appreciating. Holding investment property gives you income to cover the mortgage used, if necessary, to purchase the property. But more so, an investment property's appreciation is truly "wealth forced upon the property owner." As it becomes more valuable, the property owner can make tax-free loans to him or herself for pretty much any use, including acquisition of additional property.

Keep in mind that the lending problems you are hearing about on the television news each night have to do with residential paper. What is of concern is traditional lenders, so heavily invested in the housing market, may struggle a bit. And we will have to watch and wonder whether we want to run our commercial loans through these same investment houses as we monitor their turmoil.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Definition For The Day

Family Limited Partnership -- A Family Limited Partnership is a limited partnership whose interests are owned by members of the same family. By this arrangement, gift and estate taxes may be reduced , though owners will not enjoy the freedom of ownership or transferability of other ownership vehicles.

So here is an example. A family owns an office building worth $10 million if sold as one unit. A family limited partnership is formed to own the building. Each of 10 family members own a 10 percent interest. Because of restrictions imposed by the partnership, the sale of a single unit to an outsider would bring no more than $500,000. When a family member died, the unit was valued at $500,000. This amount is less than the federal estate tax exemption, so there is no estate tax. Had there not been a family limited partnership, the share would have been valued at $1 million, and the estate tax would have been about $150,000.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Last To Be Paid or First To Be Paid? You Choose

Let's repeat the lesson:

If you are a shareholder in a company, if there is a profit, you are the LAST person to be paid, assuming there is money left over after all bills and other debts have been covered.

When you own investment real estate, you are the FIRST person to be paid.

Why repeat the lesson? This week several analysts reported that banks will be forced to slash dividends in 2008. Many bank shareholders use these dividends as income. In fact, numerous companies are feeling a pinch on the revenue front these day.

So which makes more sense? Be last in line to be paid, or first in line? Which would you choose?

Thus endeth the lesson.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Federal Reserve Hints At 'Substantial' Rate Cuts

The Fed hinted at further rate cuts, which will be a further boost to investors. A rate cut is certain at the Federal Reserve's meeting, scheduled for the end of January. The question is how much? The story is at CNN money.

Investing 101

For those who wonder how to invest in real estate -- the roads are many. You don't always need a huge down payment, there are syndication opportunities, and your investment can be passive rather than active. Intrigued?

More importantly, profits come in many forms:

- Converting the use of a property: Purchase apartments and convert them to condos if the apartments have low rent yields.

- Pick the property up below market value: If you take your time, you can find office buildings, apartment buildings and warehouses that are priced below market value. Why would they be priced this way? Simply put, there are always owners who need to get out of their property and raise cash quickly. Sometimes a property is in foreclosure and the lender (bank or private lender) will take less than market value just to move the property. This is an investor's opportunity.

- Creating new value in a neighborhood: Sometimes it makes sense to pick up a property in an area that is slated for renovation and re-development. If you can get it bought right, you will have a gem when the neighborhood property values rebound due to re-development.

- Cash flow is king: With an investment property, your tenants or residents pay your note for you. By paying down the mortgage, and increasing your equity, and exploiting (and I use that word on purpose) a plethora of tax advantages, an investors' returns frequently are greater than that of the stock market.

More tomorrow . . .

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! To my friends and readers, old and new, I hope 2008 is a prosperous year for you and yours!