July 2020

Haircuts. Restaurants. Meetups. Camping. Open, closed, or something in between? How our states control these activities in a global Covid pandemic is informative. Would you like to invest in a state that has businesses closed? Or one where they are moving quickly to return to a pre-Covid normal? Are there more favorable business opportunities in states where they have stayed locked down? Are these states safer?
Are states still in lock-downs controlling the spread of the virus better than states that have opened?

All good questions when it comes to multifamily investing. Investing involves risk but how do you measure the risk you’re taking by investing in a locked down state vs. an open state?

I watch the daily case counts as most people do, and so far there is very little correlation between the recent spike in new cases and states’ open/closed status. When a state decides to open, or to remain open, the message emphasizes the importance of a functioning economy, but the message becomes mixed when certain population groups interpret no restrictions as free reign to behave carelessly. Stimulus payments won’t last forever and when people are out of work, no income, no health insurance, their safety may be just as threatened as it would be if they were working.

Fortunately the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter. Rest assured a vaccine will arrive, most people will take it, life will return to normal, and they’ll need places to live. Now is not the time to be timid. Decide where your best real estate opportunities and move forward, decisively. If you wait until this is over, you’ll be joining a herd of patient investors with piles of dry powder.

Seattle, Washington – First a disclaimer, I live here, have been here a long time, love the whole Northwest and feel fortunate to have landed here. We have watched the city transform from a one-company town, Boeing, into a tech hub with one big player, Microsoft, attracting unimaginably smart people, which led to more tech startups that includes, of course, Amazon. Then the rest built big offices too – Facebook, Google, Apple, etc. Don’t forget Starbucks, Nordstrom, Costco and plenty of others.

Seattle gained prominence as home to the fastest growing home values over the last several years. It attracted investors from all around the U.S. and the world. It still does but the edge has dropped off maybe a little. We have the big-city problems that most big cities have, and a local government that today, at least, is not favorable toward businesses. Or landlords. That is a problem.

Multifamily properties in Seattle remain at among the lowest cap rates in the U.S. If that’s where you like to invest, certainly these markets are highly likely to hold their value and renovation funds drive value faster in a low-cap market. But don’t mess up, because these are thin margins. Watch the big players like Amazon. How much do they dominate downtown? Plenty. What’s happing with their employees? They’re leaving town. Staying home because of Covid. Moving to Seattle’s business-friendly neighbor, Bellevue, and to HQ2, Arlington, VA. It is not a rushed move but it could become one. Already some prominent restaurant owners in downtown are closing shop for good because the buildings are nearly empty. This can’t be good for nearby apartment buildings.

Does your business plan call for improvements and rent increases? You’ll need to get on that day one, because you’ll have no cash flow until then. And you need to hope the market doesn’t fall apart before you reach your goals because thin margins don’t leave room for volatility or mistakes.

What to do? The Northwest is big and not all like Seattle. Seattle will survive and most companies are staying put. There are many more risks today, though, that should be considered before investing in Seattle.

Investing in Low-Cap Markets
Would you invest in a property selling at 4.5% cap rate? Cap (Capitalization) Rate is a number that is calculated as Net Operating Income divided by Purchase Price. It is meant to indicate the profit or income margin you will have if you purchase the property, the rate of return you will get if you buy the property with all cash.

Effectively, though, it is an indicator of market sentiment. It tells you what the market thinks of this property. There’s so much more that goes into a financial evaluation of a property than cap rate, but cap rate is a key metric.

Keep in mind, if you are borrowing money to buy the property, Net Operating Income is before the mortgage payment. Your NOI needs to cover the mortgage. If you’re borrowing 80% of the value of the property, or even 75%, and the cap rate is low, NOI may not cover the mortgage. And worse, the lender will still want some income left over after you pay the mortgage.

Without getting into the details of debt coverage ratios, let’s focus on “good” cap rates and explore what that means.

Most of us have heard that a target cap rate is around 8%. That number generally means you have sufficient funds to pay a mortgage of 75% LTV and return income to your investors. But not always.

What if the property is in a fast-growing city? Population and jobs are increasing very quickly and they all need a place to live, so rents are going up. Who doesn’t want to invest in that. But that’s the problem, everyone wants to put their money there, everyone wants in on it, and ultimately demand is what determines pricing. Investors don’t need an 8% cap rate, or a 7%, 6%, or even 5% cap rate. They’ll settle for less.

Why? Because when they go to sell, the market itself will have driven the property value higher. Rents are going up on their own. You don’t even need to invest in renovations. It’s all just going up and it will keep going up for as long as you plan to hold the property. That might be a safe assumption, but nothing keeps going up like that forever (see previous section – Seattle).

If you’re investing in a property with a low cap rate, say 4.5%, a conventional lender probably won’t lend you 75% of the value. That means you bring in more capital and borrow something less, maybe 50-60% LTV, or you get a different kind of loan, maybe a bridge loan at a higher interest rate, then refinance in a couple of years at a higher valuation. That’s not unreasonable and many successful investors do this.

It is possible that you can underwrite a deal at a 4.5% cap rate and make it work. But what if you have renovations you plan to do? Let’s look at a simple calculation. As an example, you can spend $10,000 to renovate a unit and the rent increases by $100. That’s $1,200 a year in additional NOI. Remember cap rate = NOI divided by price, so therefore price = NOI divided by cap rate. You can use the same equation to say added value = added income divided by cap rate. If the cap rate on this property is 8%, assuming you will eventually sell it at the same 8% cap rate, the value you added is $1,200 / 8% = $15,000. But what if the cap rate is 4.5%? Added value is $1,200 / 4.5% = $26,667. For the same $10,000 investment. That adds up quickly and makes you look like a genius!

That’s why smart investors compete voraciously for top-tier, low-cap properties, ones that look great, are in a great area, but have outdated interiors and amenities. Generally low cap markets are stable markets. Until they’re not. If you think the big

coastal cities with low cap rates are stable and will hold up in a recession, go for it. But if you think the trend is away from those population centers, a secondary or tertiary market might be your better option.

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.