Skip the Flip in Multifamily Investment
It’s time to go long.
Historically, multifamily investment has been about long-term, cash-flow returns. However, in recent years, as the industry caught the eye of private equity, the emphasis turned to a property’s IRR or Internal Rate of Return.
The “fix and flip”, the “value-add” became the standard: short hold, quick fix, big return. And the multifamily real estate buying frenzy began. The strategy has proved to be very profitable over the past five or six years, but in my opinion, those days are (almost) gone – for several reasons.
TODAY, THERE’S NOT ENOUGH MEAT left on the bones of C and B properties to ensure investors of increased rents and resultant returns. The fix and flip strategy had been to buy an apartment community and execute a “value-add” to approximately 20% of the units, thus leaving “meat on the bone” for the next investor. At the same time, the investor would raise the rents to cover the cost of the improvements. So rents increased, NOIs rose, prices went up, and the buying frenzy continued.
The next investor then thought he could upgrade another 40% of the units. But in fact, as cap rates fell and he had to pay more for the asset, he had to rehab 70% or 80% to reach his hurdles, leaving almost nothing left for the following investor. Consequently, today, after a couple of “flips”, most “value-add” deals don’t make financial sense.
RENTAL RATE INCREASES Because of demand, rents have risen sharply in nearly every market, but according to economists, that increase should moderate to about 3.5 to 4% due to new construction coming online. Consequently, investors cannot assume drastic rent increases in their acquisition proformas. If it doesn’t work now, it won’t work in the future.
THE ECONOMY: We’re long into our economic expansion cycle having exceeded the historic five-year average, but today in the US, growth is virtually stagnant. Are we reaching the peak? The good news is that multifamily real estate will continue to be among the strongest asset classes (if not #1) for reliable, steady returns regardless of the stage of the economic cycle. Why?
DEMAND: There is still an unfulfilled demand that is expected to be with us for a long time. That is the multifamily investment’s ace in the hole. Seventy-five million millennials plus another 75 million baby boomers. The multifamily rental business is poised to perform better than any other asset class. We have all read about millennials and their student loan debt and inability to afford a home. I personally think it has little to do with money. It’s about lifestyle, flexibility, and priorities. Young people want flexibility to move to that next job; they want amenities and social interaction. A house is not a priority to them. Retiring baby boomers, on the other hand, have “been there; done that.” They are ready to free themselves from the burdens and expenses of home ownership. Whatever the reason, more people are renting today than at any time in the past 51 years.
INTEREST RATES: This brings us to interest rates – a very key and important ingredient in real estate investment. Who knows what might happen next? Answer: Nobody. One thing we do know: there’s little likelihood of a reduction in interest rates, although it’s not impossible. In Europe, where the real rate is in negative territory, some banks are considering storing money in their vaults because of the negative yields. It costs them money to make loans! And the US is getting close to that level. (See my blog post from June 14, 2016, titled “Is it time to keep your money under the mattress?“) But luckily for the multifamily investment industry, this big question mark can be taken off the table. We can counter the risk by locking in fixed rates today. We know what our debt will be for the duration of our investment.
So what does all this have to do with “going long”?
Multifamily investment is probably the most stable, reliable investment one can choose. But the strategy has changed. It’s time to “go long.” Forget about the unrealistically high-return value-adds so prevalent at the beginning of this cycle. They no longer exist. Lloyd Jones Capital recommends buying quality properties that produce consistent cash flow. Focus more on yield than IRR. Consider a long-term hold and do not over-leverage. Then, assuming good management, you should enjoy a reliable, long-term return on your investment.
Christopher Finlay is Chairman/CEO of Lloyd Jones Capital, a private-equity real-estate firm that specializes in the multifamily sector. With 35 years of experience in the real estate industry, the firm acquires, manages and improves multifamily real estate on behalf of its institutional partners, private investors and its own principals. Headquartered in Miami, the firm has operations throughout Texas, Florida and the Southeast. For more information visit: lloydjonescapital.com.