January, 2023

Real estate investors are excitable people. It’s hard for me to contain my excitement for upcoming opportunities in the market. I was for the most part an investor through the 2008 great recession, although I didn’t actually invest prior to that. I intended to, had partners lined up, and actively looked for multifamily properties, but didn’t pull the trigger on anything. That was just dumb luck. I didn’t have a crystal ball and saw the price declines coming, I just didn’t see any good opportunities.

After the recession, trends were not suddenly all pointing higher. Many smart people said this tragedy was not over yet and to keep that cash safely tucked away.

But I’d been investing long enough to know that this was now an opportunity. If the market dropped more, it wouldn’t be by much. So I got in, right after the recession, and have been investing in multifamily since. I’ve done well because in the last 12 years the market has been kind to us, and I have actively participated.

But we haven’t see much of a downturn in the last 12 years, and now we have one. I know what happens after a downturn, and I have historical perspective to know that by the time the market starts moving in a positive direction again, the smart investors will be buying in numbers that will exceed our recent good years.

That means two things: We have to be looking at deals, and we have to be ultra-selective. Not everyone sells their property at a discount in a recession or downturn. Many would love to sell but don’t have to, and they’ll just continue to hold. We’ll pursue opportunities that make sense today, accounting for high interest rates, an expected recession, and increasing unemployment.

Denver, CO – have you checked out Denver’s population growth? Pretty astounding – 27% over the last 20 years. If you’ve been to the area you know there is land to build around the city, and a lot of new construction. That hasn’t stopped rent growth, though.

New product, increased availability coming to the market impacts a market in two ways. First, greater competition. Landlords have to be more competitive with rents. Even if the new product is A class and your property is C class, renters usually move up in class, so B’s move to A’s, C’s to B’s. This often limits a landlord’s ability to increase NOI.

Second is fostering population growth. If you want to move away from your city, you won’t want to move to an area where there’s no place to live and rents are climbing at an astronomical rate. The fact that the city is allowing and encouraging new growth means companies will relocate there, people will become aware that this is an inviting city, and the population will continue to grow. This doesn’t happen where local government is hostile to growth, no matter how successful their businesses are. My home town of Seattle is a perfect example of that. New construction, new competition for rental units is a positive indicator for apartment owners.

Be wary of rent growth, though – see the article below about trends. Rent growth numbers through middle of 2022 were phenomenal, as they have been in many markets across the U.S., up about 19% in July year-over-year. But since then, anemic. Down about 5% since July highs and up only about 2% from 12 months ago, according to Zumper.

That’s also the story of many U.S. markets. But a broad metric for a city the size of Denver doesn’t begin to tell the whole story. Like every city, some submarkets lag, some kill it. Look for the growth markets around Denver and you’ll see rents still increasing, people moving in, and construction cranes on the skyline.

Jobs growth confirms the strength of the Denver market. Steady year-over-year jobs growth averaging over 5% through the end of 2022 (Bureau of Labor Statistics) means this market is still on a tear. Denver has been one of the top destinations of companies fleeing California’s oppressive taxation and regulation, and individuals seeking remote work. And why not. Visit the area, look out the window – it’s spectacular, and those gorgeous mountains are a short drive away.

What do others think? Milken Institute ranked Denver as the #14 best performing city in the U.S. It has the third youngest median age of major cities in the U.S. Livability indexes still have Denver near the top, and that’s not about to change any time soon.

Analyzing Trends and Avoiding Traps
Do you have a good understanding of trends and time horizons? Much of what we do as real estate investors is analyze trends, so this skill is critical. What’s been the trend of the last 30 days? The last three months? The last three years? How long your time horizon is depends on the data you’re looking at, and that depends on how fast you can get reliable data. That applies to tenant lead traffic, income, expenses, rent growth, population growth, and much more.

Take population growth, for example. Population growth is measured by surveys of employers and/or households. They are samples and the effort to collect this data is monumental. For this reason it isn’t reported that often, and reporting is usually delayed by a year or more. Yes, it’s more granular than our every-10-year census, but still it’s never that current.

Jobs data is the same way. Monthly surveys are taken, then reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s not accurate but it’s the best we have, and gives a good indication of jobs over time.

Look at tenant lead traffic. You’re hopefully getting inquiries from your marketing every day. How many did we get today, this week? How does it compare to last week? That’s an important metric which you should be watching. A change from last week might not be that important but a series of increases or declines tells you a lot about your marketing. You don’t have to wait for months to analyze this data.

What about income and expenses? Most lenders like to see three months of income and 12 months of expenses. This is because for income, what has been happening more recently is the best indication of what will continue to happen. If you had down months prior to three months ago, it’s probably because you had problems. You might have had a fire, done a lot of renovations, or just bought the property with low occupancy. All of these lead to vacancies. Or a pandemic, can’t forget that. But if you got past that and your income is stable, the lender will give you more favorable terms.

Was income steady over the last three months? Are collections 100% of scheduled rent? Or is it trending down? If your last three months are not a good picture, it’s not a good time to sell because the buyer’s lender will not view this favorably. Your income problem is probably easily fixable, so fix it before selling.

Expenses are not as predictable through the year. You might have just one or two property tax payments in the year, or one big insurance payment. You need to report all 12 months so those are included.

How about rent growth? Today, this is one of the most misleading metrics. Rent growth is historically maybe around 2-3% annually in healthy markets but so many markets are reporting rent growth of 5-20%. A major reason to report it is to provide insights into the future, but it would be a mistake to not dig deeper.

I have seen investment opportunities where rent growth in this property’s market was 8-10% over the last 12 months, so the underwriting is projecting “conservatively” 5% growth in the future. That already is a big red flag, but then you do some research and discover that, yes, rent today is 8% higher than it was 12 months ago, but six months ago it was 12% higher than six months prior. So in the last six months it has actually declined 4%. That’s a trend moving in the wrong direction, but the time horizon was chosen because it painted a rosy picture.

Be wary of trends. Find credible data sources and do your own analysis.

Who We Are

Cardinal Oak Investments acquires, improves, and manages under-valued commercial apartments. We buy B and C class properties of around 100 units in the Southeast and Midwest. We look for properties whose amenities, aesthetics, and appeal have fallen into obsolescence, whose care reflects tired management, and whose location is where a stable workforce wants to live.

And we partner with like-minded investors looking for stable assets that produce good cash flow and strong appreciation.

Founded and managed by John Todderud, Cardinal Oak Investments has acquired properties on both coasts and in between creating annual double-digit returns.

For more information, schedule time with me or contact us.

Please note: Past performance is no indication of future performance.