Thursday, September 18, 2008

Popularity Contests!

Rental demand in San Diego is crazy right now. Who knew?!

A few years back, we accidentally started a rent payment bidding war on a 3/2/2 rental house. We had already been scheduling cattle calls for our units, but this once, we had prospective renters actually offering to pay more rent than we had advertised.

Obviously we didn't know our market. Obviously we had advertised too low a price. Obviously we got a hint when our phone rang off the hook.

It's fun knowing what we offer is in high demand.

However, it's a hidden sin to lease out a house for less than it's worth. Sure, we get all giggly listening to all those voice mails.

But it's smarter asking for more money and being OK with fewer calls. This seems self-evident, huh? Well, there's lot of landlords that are too ignorant, insecure, if not impatient to negotiate top dollar rents.

Today we can spot an amateur in a nano-second that doesn't know his market, when he brags about how fast he leases up his units, and the numbers of call he got. Uh, huh. After he finishes indirectly bragging about how ignorant he is about his market, we ask facetiously, "Wow, you got ninety calls for your unit and rented it in less than a day!? That's just fantastic. So how many more dollars do you plan to continue to drop in the toilet each month so you can remain popular?"

That's our polite way of asking a braggart how much money he plans to lose by negotiating stupidly, if at all. Maybe that's not more polite... Oh well.

Meanwhile, several years ago now, we advertised a 3/2/2 in Orange County for a $1,300 bucks which we reasoned was probably market value. At the time, this was actually $300 under market. We're guerilla market testers, and just needed some feedback. Our phone r.a.n.g. o.f.f. t.h.e. h.o.o.k from prospects!!! We scheduled our routine cattle call, not realizing the full impact of our offering price on demand. We had a stampede of "Lookee Lous".

After all was said and done we had negotiated the rent up to $1,600 a month, received a gigantic (probably illegally large) deposit, and had the unit re-rented within seven days of the last tenant moving out. We probably could have reduced the down time by three days, if we had scheduled our cattle call the day we had the house ready for re-renting. However, a week is acceptable in our book. A month used to be acceptable until we learned better.

"Are auctions always good?", one might ask. Yes, we believe they are. However, at the auction, we don't want prospects feeling like they are being treated like suckers, or they bail in disgust and contempt for us.

The secret we think in having a successful auction, especially if the prospects are not expecting an auction, is first to create scarcity through the cattle call itself, and then "let the cat out of the bag" to the prospects privately, that there is an outstanding bid from "x" dollars for the house. Then we give the prospects the chance to mull it over, while asking which of them would be willing to pay this much, or say Twenty-five dollars, more. Frankly some prospects that were only curioius, but not really prospects will leave immediately. We want them gone!

Meanwhile, as experienced negotiators, we can deftly go round robin with the prospects until we get the rent we sense we can command under the circumstances. We've had tenants pull out wads of cash trying to get to the head of the line. It's important to remember that the most likely prospects to win the bid, will have terrible credit. For us that's great. It just gives us that much more leverage on deposit sizes, co-signer requirements, and higher rents --- and longer leases.

It's OK to say, "We'll rent to you, but we want a 24 month lease, so we can cover ourselves in the event you get 'flakey'". Or to be a tad more professional, we couch the demand as a benefit to the lessee (who is paying over retail rent) by saying, " give you time to improve your credit and establish a positive rental history, we need to commit to a 24-month rental agreement."

Notice what we said here. "time to improve your credit", "establish a positive rental history", "we need to commit". We're saying.... The tenant "needs" time... The tenant "needs a proof positive history of on-time rent payments... and we've included ourselves, as the Landlord, in the tenant's problem with the use of "we need to commit" [to a long term lease].

The only thing we're committing to is gobs of extra cash for two years from this guy! Yay!

I love auctioning off gargantuan rent payments, collecting confisicatorily huge deposits from desperate, anxious, credit challenged people!

Anyway this might be an alternative way for some to positively get retail (or more) rents, from people happy to pay --- and not throw money down the drain trying just to be popular. You can be "popular" and get all the money due you! Who knew?!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Old MacDonald Had A Farm, Too!

If you stare at this picture long enough, you'll discover a smile on this couple's face. Look closer! See them smile?

Yes, this couple is out front of their house letting everyone know they're making a killing in real estate. He's got a pitchfork in hand ready to poke any trespassers that try to send any postcards to his farm prospects.

She's ready to back him up with that "ol' school marm warning" expression, which barely hides her exuberance over the $40,000 they pocketed as a down payment yesterday from the house they just seller-financed.

Yup! This couple flips houses bought from desperate, anxious sellers, and then turns around and seller-finances new credit-challenged buyers. More specifically, they take over loans and resell those loan terms to those that couldn't borrow a rake (or a pitch fork) at this point.

Two years ago, this couple found out what kinds of houses were selling the fastest and in what area over the previous 90 days. They discovered that the three and four bedroom houses in the 37237 zip code were the most common, and fastest selling properties. So they staked a claim in that zip code and mailed postcards to all the three and four bedroom home owners letting them know they buy houses. This stake, or claim is referred to as a "farm". Not to be confused with raising crops of course, but cultivating a profit nonetheless.

Farms are important to investors for several reasons. First, they focus the investor on an area that he can become intimately familiar with. This is important, because familiarity with values/comps trumps about anything else, even cash, when it comes to finding, funding, and flipping houses.

Others may have cash, too, but the professional investor that is cultivating a well-defined geographical farm area (defined here as something one can drive to and back from in 45 minutes) can and will beat any potential competitor to the punch because he can first instantly recognize the deal for what it is --- and land the deal like a seasoned airline pilot, before anyone else knows there's a deal.

Meanwhile, the amateurs are still compiling comps, addresses, computer print-outs, and pouring over last-minute CMA's (comparative market analysis), biting their nails, second-guessing themselves, if not simply flying blind. That's no good.

The best way to start and maintain an investing career is to first choose, and cultivate a farm area. It doesn't really make difference where the farm is, as long as the investor has enough prospects to pick over in a given geographical area, and become more intimately familiar with it than practically anyone else is/can/will.

The fastest way to fail in real estate investing then is to fail to have a farm defined. "Southern California" is a "region", and for our purposes of discussion would be considered a lousy farm. Any one zip code in "Southern California" would be superior to the entire region.

I'll just say, nobody can be an expert in a region, but few can be more of an expert than the investor who cultivates a familiarity around a one mile square. Of course the uniqueness of a property may dictate the size of the farm. For instance, say we're looking to buy a slightly used nuclear power plant, we might have to resort to a farm the size of a "region" just to get enough prospects on our mailing list!

Short of this, however, we need to focus on a specific territory, or farm area, so that we can be the fastest, most reliable buyer around.

After all, there's no such thing as "stealing in slow motion".