Thursday, December 27, 2012

2012 Year In Review

As 2012 comes to an end, it's time to look back over what I accomplished in the year with regards to my real estate investments.

I made a total of 5 hard money loans over the course of the year. Four of those are still active. None were delinquent and none defaulted. The investment in the apartment complex gave me a bit of worry for a couple months, but in the end, it appears to have regained its footing. I did not invest any more money when management made the cash call in February. On the other hand, the property has not been generating any income for me either. Things appear to be heading in the right direction now, after hitting a bottom around mid-year. Right now, I'm getting close to $1,000 a month in passive income. This is purely from my hard money loans. If the apartment complex was paying interest as planned, I'd be well over that figure. When I started this blog seven and a half years ago, getting $1,000 a month in passive income was a goal. I didn't get there as soon or in the way I thought I would. It took longer and I ended up going into hard money investing rather than buying and renting properties, but the end result is the same.

Next year, I plan to continue with the hard money lending. I'll probably increase the funds I am using for that slightly, although I have several personal plans that might eat up my funds instead. The plan for the apartment is to continue to let it run and start looking at selling it towards the end of 2013, so any sale probably won't happen until 2014.

Monday, December 03, 2012

November Update

I've got two updates today. First, the sale of HML #22 has fallen through. Our borrower is looking for a new buyer. I don't have any info as to why the deal didn't happen.

I also received the October update for the Houston apartment complex. Things have gone wee bit south since the last yearly conference call several weeks ago, although some offsetting factors have prevented that from being reflected in the bottom line. Occupancy decreased to 89%. Management says this is due to a combination of factors, including some crime issues that have affected not just our property, but other apartment complexes in the area as well. In addition, we have seen some increased competition from nearby properties in the form of increased rent concessions. There was also some management turnover in the front office and the interim property manager was not up to the task of running the property. Management has addressed these issues by bringing in a more experienced manager from another property to run ours. Perhaps a more seasoned manager would not have allowed the competitor's rent concessions to have had such an impact on our occupancy.

Management says they have also worked with the Houston police department to increase patrols at our property. I'm not sure how effective this will be. If crime is an issue at other properties as well, I imagine the police may be stretched a bit thin trying to increase patrols at all properties. We may end up seeing a return to the use of a private security company for patrols.

Expenses declined due to seasonal decreases in utility usage, as well as the previously mentioned staffing decreases. Overall, we saw a reduction of $10,000 in expenses for October, bring our net operating income to a positive $4,200, the second highest monthly total of the year. Given that this increase is based mostly on one-time events, I would not expect this type of performance to continue.

Or should I? We also received the 2012 real estate tax bill, which features the new property assessment value. As a result of the lower assessment, the amount our lender is collecting for the property tax escrow account is decreasing by about $8,300 per month, beginning in December. That is a huge savings that will go straight to the bottom line.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hard Money Loan #22 Getting Paid Off

I received word yesterday that Hard Money Loan #22 is scheduled to be paid off the first week of December. No details on the sale. In fact, it's been 1 year since the loan was made, so it's possible this is a refi and not a sale at all. The property was a triplex with renters in place who wanted to stay, so it's possible the buyer is going to keep it himself.

I'll also take this opportunity to take the interest I received from this loan and add it to the principal for my next one. Manual compounding, if you will..

Friday, October 19, 2012

Yearly Apartment Conference Call

Yesterday was the annual investor conference call for the Houston apartment complex. Management gave their views on the current performance of the property and their outlook for the future.

In short, it's looking much better. The Houston economy is improving. Unemployment there is dropping. Occupancy is up. The apartment continues to be classified as an institutional grade investment property.

Regarding the cash call the managers asked for last February - They had asked for $250,000 and they received about $140,000. Of that, they used $78,000 to pay down outstanding bills, $20,000 to pay late fees and legal fees resulting from the outstanding bills, and $12,000 to pay property taxes. Management also repaid themselves $20,000 that they had advanced the company. The rest went to operating expenses. Management notes that the mortgage was always paid on time, so we were never in danger of defaulting on the loan.

Since the property was purchased in 2008, we've seen a 36% increase in property taxes and a 44% increase in the water costs from the city. I've written before about how we had the property re-appraised, which resulted in a lower property tax bill back a few years ago. We saved about $100,000 in property taxes between 2010 and 2011. However, during that same period, our loan switched from interest only to interest and principal, so that ate up the tax savings. Management expects the 2013 property taxes to be about $100,000 less than the 2012 amount, but the government hasn't set the final rates yet, so nothing is definite. Insurance costs throughout the Houston area have risen and they expect our insurance to rise by about $50,000 in 2013.

Rents are trending upwards in our market sector. Unfortunately, there is always a lag before our property starts seeing increased rent income simply because the units are rented out on yearly leases, so the rents can't be adjusted until the leases come up for renewal.

The property is on budget through August 2012. In fact, we're within $100 of the budget, which is pretty amazing. The net operating income for the property in 2012 is projected to be $800,000, rising to $990,000 in 2013 and $1.07 million in 2014.

The tentative plan is to look at selling the property in 2014. Assuming a 6.5% CAP rate, the property should be worth about $15 million by that time. (We bought the property for $12.4 million.) This is, of course, based on management's projections of performance and the actual performance may vary. Management will take a closer look towards the end of 2013 and see how things look. These projections are based on not making any distributions to the investors during this period, although if things improve enough, management will look into resuming those payments.

Monday, October 15, 2012

HML #26 Started

My funds from HML #23 have been rolled into a new loan I am labelling HML #26.

This property is a single family townhouse in Oakland, CA. I think this is the first time I've made a loan on a townhouse. If not, it's certainly one of only a very few. I've got nothing against them. It's just our biggest borrower doesn't buy many of them.

Anyway, this is a 3 bedroom, 2 bath vacant townhouse that is about 1,300 square feet. It has an attached 1 car garage and was built in 2008. It does have a home owners association whose monthly dues are $266. The complex appears to be well maintained and the unit does not appear to need any work on the outside. There is no litigation involving the property filed by the HOA. (Usually when a property with an HOA goes to foreclosure, the HOA has filed some sort of suit against the previous owner for delinquent fees or other issues like property upkeep, yard issues, etc.) The foreclosed-on owner bought the property new in 2008 for $221,000 with only a $8,000 down payment.

The neighborhood was built by the city of Oakland as a housing project, so it's not the best area. There were income and occupancy restrictions when the place was built, but my partner spoke with a neighbor and she wasn't sure if those were still in place. However, we think they are since the agent mentioned this in the expired MLS listing.

There are few comps in the complex. There are only two other properties listed in the MLS for this complex. Both are true comps, in that they are similar is square footage and features. One sold a month ago for $135,000 and the other has been on the market since August with a listing price of $128,000. The income and occupancy limits also place restrictions on how much people can sell the properties for, so the prices in this complex are kept artificially low. If you look for comps on Zillow or Foreclosure Radar, they give values much higher as they don't take this into account.

We're are conservatively figuring this is worth $110,000 as-is or $120,000 after repair. Our borrower bought it at auction for $108,000. There were no other bidders. (I'm guess they were scared off by the fact that this is in a housing project.) Our loan amount is for $73,500, giving us a 68% LTV using the purchase price, a 67% LTV ratio using the as-is price, and a 61% LTV using the after repair price. The borrower is our best customer and is personally guaranteeing the loan. The loan is our standard: 12% interest only payments, 1 year term.

It's going to be interesting to see how long this takes to sell.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Apartment Complex August Update

The August financials for the Houston apartment complex are in. Occupancy remained at the same level as last month - 90%. Rent concessions increased and management expects occupancy to increase during the last quarter of the year. The unemployment rate in Houston remained at 7.5%, which is where it has been since June. This is slightly lower than the 7.6% it started the year at, but higher than the low of 6.5%, which was hit in April.

The increased rent concession cost was offset slightly by reduced marketing expenses, reduced apartment turnover costs, and lower maintenance costs. Overall, although the property's overall income was about the same as last month, it lost $100 this month, compared to making $900 last month.

Management will be giving the yearly conference call in two weeks to update us on the state of the investment and the projections for the future. Overall, they say they are progressing as they had planned back in February when they made the cash call.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

New Loan Made, Another Loan Closing

First, the quick news: Hard Money Loan #23 was paid off a couple days ago. Those funds are now looking for a new home.

The other bit of news is that my funds from HML #19 have been reinvested. The new property is in a not so great part of town. If the borrower was not someone we have dealt with dozens of times in the past and whose knowledge of the area I respect, I would probably not have made this loan.

The property is a single family home in Oakland. County records list it as a 900 square foot, 1 bedroom, 1 bath unit, however, the property has two separate electricity and gas meters and a detached garage with what appears to be some added living space. Tax records do not indicate a garage or the additional living space. (While this means this could be a duplex, it also means the additions likely were done without obtaining the proper permits and inspections.) The back door has a doorbell and may indicate an entrance to a second unit. Obviously, we were not able to see the interior of the property and the MLS listing did not have interior photos. The roof and foundation appear to be in good shape, but there is some dry rot on the walls and around the windows, as well as peeling paint. Title records indicate the last owner received the property as a gift and  obtained a cash-out mortgage for $270,000 in 2005.

The problem then, is how to value this property. We've got discrepancies between what the tax records show and what the property appears to actually have. It's in a bad part of town and there are next to no comps that closely match this property. So, in addition to coming up with an estimate on his own, my partner hired another appraiser that we have worked with before to give his opinion.

Being that the neighborhood isn't that great, the location of the comps becomes fairly important. They also treated this as a 2 bedroom property for finding comps. Between the two of them, we ended up with 11 comps and you can see how widely the sales prices differ:

  • #1 - $47K - REO, rehab, all cash sale. MLS listing noted some vandalism and stripped pipes.
  • #2 - $30K - REO, sold as-is
  • #3 - $55K - REO short sale, listed as a "fixer upper"
  • #4 - $63K - REO - our hired guy said both the curb appeal and location of this property are worse than ours
  • #5 - $65K - REO - another property with rooms not listed in tax records
  • #6 - $86K - REO - rehab
  • #7 - $130K - REO, detached garage
  • #8 - $45K - REO
  • #9 - $58K - REO with fire damage
  • #10 - $136K - REO
  • #11 - $160K - Regular sale, location is worse than our property

All the comps are 2 bedroom and have sold since April (except for one or two sold in January).

Our hired guy figures the property is worth $75,000 as-is and $110,000 after it is repaired. Our borrower bought the property at auction for $88,000. Our loan is for $63,000. Using the purchase price, our LTV is 72%.  Some other positives for this deal: Our borrower is personally guaranteeing the loan, he knows the area really well, and he has never defaulted or even had a late payment with us, the market is better than it was 6 months ago, if this really is 2 units, they would rent for $1,500 - $2,000 a month combined, and my partner's wife is also a lender on this one, so he has a vested interest in the safety of the loan. Some cons: no one else bid on this at the auction, property appears to be in conflict with tax records and extra living space might not have been built with permits, condition of the interior is unknown, bad neighborhood, and our borrower is personally guaranteeing several loans with us.

Sorry, I didn't get any pictures of the property on this one.

This property will be labelled Hard Money #25.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

HML #19 Closed

I mentioned last time that one of my loans had lasted the full one year term. That is fairly unusual, not just for hard money loans in general, but particularly for this borrower. He typically fixes and flips properties in 6 months or less. It turns out that he decided to keep this particular property as a rental property. He must be making some good money off of it because he was paying us 12% on our loan, which is rather high. The loan was due at the end of August and he finally refinanced and has paid us off. My partner is looking for another loan to invest in.

Friday, August 31, 2012

July Update

The July figures from the apartment complex look good. Overall, they've dropped a bit from June, but not significantly. June was the sixth consecutive month of increasing total income, so I expected that to end sooner or later. Total income for July dropped by $4,000 and occupancy dipped to 90%. Offsetting the lower income were lower payroll and utility payments, so we had a net gain in monthly profit. However, the property overall was above break-even, which is a first for this year and, if I recall, the first for maybe 1 or 2 years. Good news indeed.

My four hard money loans continue to pay on time. Several other loans my partner has have closed recently and I expect some, if not all, of my loans to be closed soon. Three of them aren't approaching their 1 year due date, but based on past experience with the borrower, the properties are probably up for sale or in escrow right now. One of my loans has actually gone the full 1 year term - something that rarely happens. This note was due this month. Haven't heard any word on a payoff yet though.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Millionaire Buys All Foreclosed Properties At County Auction

Saw this story and had to chuckle. An investor bought all 650 properties up for auction in a Detroit suburb recently. He made an offer to buy all of them as a package deal for $4.8 million - the total of the minimum bids of each one. Other investors are pissed, obviously.

This houses were all foreclosed on because of delinquent property taxes and the minimum bid amount represented the amount of taxes owed. I understand the ire of the other investors, but I do think the tax collector running the auction has a point. He says "I have to collect the taxes and that's what I did." He also points out that, while some of the properties are in good condition, some are not. Had the properties sold individually, those in poor condition likely would not have sold at all.

But the part that made me chuckle was near the beginning of the article: "Bill McMachen told Fox News 2 this is his first foray into the real estate business."

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

June Apartment Update

The June numbers for the Houston apartment complex continue to show improvement. The big news is that the property almost broke even last month – it was in the red only by $200. There were no more one-time administrative or maintenance charges. Total income rose almost a thousand dollars over last month while total expenses only rose $500. Looking over the whole year, total income has risen every month and we the current monthly income is now $13,000 over the monthly income number from January. Over the same time, expenses have remained relatively flat, only raising about $1,500 per month over January's number. We didn’t get an occupancy figure, but it looks like it might have dropped slightly – the vacancy loss increased about $3,000 over last month. At the same time, rent concessions dropped by $1,200 – which could play into the lower occupancy figure. All in all, the property is operating very close to the projections management provided a couple months ago.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Recommended Reading

In the comments to my last post, Jason asked me what books I would recommend. I'm assuming he was referring to real estate investing books. That's actually a fairly tough question. I've been investing in real estate for 8 years now. I started out by reading a bunch of books, but looking back, I realize I've gained the majority of my knowledge from experience and from reading other people's experiences via blogs and forums on the internet.

But if I had to pick a couple books for a real estate investor newbie, I would pick these two:

Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. This was the book that launched his empire and really, the only one of the series that is worth reading now. (The rest of the Rich Dad books start repeating the same stuff over and over) There are questions about how true his story is and if "Rich Dad" was one person or an amalgamation of multiple people, but that doesn't really matter. There are two things to take away from this book: the difference between passive and earned income and the idea of having your money work for you. (And those two are really the same thing, when you get right down to it.) The book is almost completely bereft of practical, step-by-step instructions for investing in real estate and that frustrates some people. But I look at this book as more of an inspirational book than an instruction manual. Nowadays, Kiyosaki has moved on and his preaching has changed quite a bit from when I followed him 7 to 8 years ago. Back then (and this was way back when he would give presentations wearing Hawaiian shirts instead of suits), his persona was that of a rich guy trying to help the poor masses think like and get rich like millionaires. The last time I looked at what he was doing, I got the sense he was just another massively wealthy guy trying to convince his followers the standard Republican Party line of lower taxes is always better.

Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. I wrote about this book previously and there is a chapter or two specifically about how to increase the price you get for selling a property by carefully wording your listing. The thing to take from this book is that people don't behave rationally and there are all sorts of cause and effect relationships between events that you might not expect.

You'll notice both those books were originally published several years ago. I've stopped reading real estate books, for the most part. I read a bunch in the past and came to the conclusion that books about real estate investing, almost by definition, have to be somewhat generic. You won't find a book with step-by-step guides on how to do it. This is mainly because real estate laws and procedures are different in each state. If you are interested in buying properties at foreclosure auctions, for example, the methods vary wildly from state to state. The standard real estate contract varies by state and you need to become familiar with what is in the contract used in your state (or state where you investment property is located).

This isn't to say I think my real estate education is complete. I simply find I get more value from following blogs and discussion forums on the internet than I do from books. I list the blogs I follow in the sidebar. I'd start there. See if you can find some blogs written by people in your state or area and follow them for a while. Learn from their mistakes. Ask questions. The reason people blog is because they want to share their knowledge and experiences. They are usually happy to answer questions (within reason, of course).

The corollary to the above, of course, is you have to be careful whose advice you take. Like all things on the internet, you have no idea of the person's true knowledge or experience level. You don't want to end up following a Casey Serin. So be a lurker for a while. I read forums and blogs for a year before I bought my first property. Keep your BS-detector finely tuned.

Of course, the quickest way to get an education in real estate investing is to buy some real estate. That's the quickest, but not necessarily the cheapest :-)

Friday, July 06, 2012

Rents On The Rise Nationwide

This article from Reuters says apartment rents are now the highest they have been since 2007 and vacancies are at a 10 year low. This seems to be consistent with what we are seeing at the Houston apartment complex.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

New California Foreclosure Law

Because all my hard money lending is done in California and to people who buy, rehab, and sell foreclosures, this news story caught my eye. The California legislature recently passed a law making it harder to banks to foreclose on property owners. According to Reuters, the bill prohibits banks from "dual-tracking" loans - proceeding with the foreclosure process while also in loan modification negotiations with the owners. The bill also lawsuits against robo-signing. The bill still has to be signed by the governor before it becomes law, but he is expected to sign it.

On the surface, this law sounds good to me. I will freely admit the first I heard about it was from the above linked article and the facts in that article are the extent of my knowledge of it. I do think robo-signing is a big problem. When your actiosn can result in people losing their home and being forced out onto the streets, you need to have someone carefully look over the documents before foreclosing. This just stands to reason. As to the prohibition against dual-tracking, I'm OK with that as well. Yes, it may result in longer times to foreclose on a property. But if a borrower is in talks with a bank to modify their loan, I think they would reasonably conclude that the bank would pause foreclosure proceedings while they are attempting to work out a settlement. Further, without this restriction, the bank has a huge advantage at negotiating - they would be able to drag out the talks until foreclosure was a day away, leaving the borrower with no choice but to either accept the terms the bank offered or lose his or her house.

How will this affect my lending? I expect to see a slowdown in houses for sale at auction for the 6 or so months after this bill becomes law. This will represent the time banks have to wait while they attempt to reach a loan modification deal before proceeding. There is nothing in this law, to my knowledge, that requires the banks change what loan modification terms they must accept, so they will still be reaching the same decision on modifying loans or not, resulting in about the same number of houses going to foreclosure. There will just be a delay lasting the length of those negotiations.

Monday, June 25, 2012

May Apartment Update

I received the May financials for the Houston apartment complex and I'm pleased to see the numbers continue their improvement. Last month's record income was exceeded by almost $3,000, setting another new record for the highest income since 2010. Also, as mentioned last month, we received a reimbursement from our insurance company for some electrical work that was done last month. Just as the expense depressed our monthly income last month, the refund inflated our monthly income this month. However, if we exclude that amount, the property actually showed a $1,200 profit this month! That's the first time in a long time the property has been in positive territory. Looking at the entire year so far, it's still underwater, but it's possible the property  may be emerging from the red sea.

Will this trend continue? I hope so. In what may or may not be an ominous sign, management did not give an indication of how June was shaping up.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Security At Houston Apartment Complex

Last month, I noticed that the financials for the Houston apartment complex showed the security expense had dropped from between $1,500 and $3,000 a month to zero. My concern was that management eliminated some security measures as a cost cutting move. I was worried that this might result in an increase in vandalism and crime-related expenses. I emailed management about this and, it took a while, but I finally got a response.

It turns out, management was able to cancel the private on-site security patrols they were using because they were able to install security cameras owned by the Houston Police Department at no cost. In the couple of months these have been in operation, there has not been in increase in criminal activity, so it seems to be a positive move.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

April Apartment Update

As hinted at last month, the April numbers for the Houston apartment complex were good. Revenue hit $184,000, which is the highest since 2010. The water conservation program management implemented last year is working well - costs this year are running about 25% below last year's numbers. That's an annual savings of over $24,000.

The property still showed a loss this month, but that was due to an emergency repair that was needed. A high voltage line went out, causing half of the property to lose power. This happened on a weekend, so the emergency repair bill was $30,000. The good news is that the full amount will be recovered from insurance. Unfortunately, the expense shows up in this month's numbers and the insurance reimbursement won't show until next month's numbers, so for this month, we show a large loss. We also had slightly higher legal expenses due to working out a payment schedule with some vendors we owed money to. That expense should also be gone next month. Excluding these two one-time expenses, the property lost about $3,000 in April. This is down from a loss of $9,000 in March, $10,500 in February, and $30,000 in January. Clearly, things are moving in the right direction.

Management projects May's revenue will be slightly higher than April and the property should reach break-even in a couple of months and continue improving from there.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Prosper.Com Class Action Lawsuit

I received notification today of a class action lawsuit against It's been several years since I loaned money through them and, in the end, I decided it wasn't for me. I know a couple of my readers also loaned money through them. I just wanted to make people aware that, if you loaned money through Prosper between January 1,2006 and October 14, 2008, you may be a member of the class action suit. Full details can be found at

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Loan #24 Started

Last week, I took my money from the close of HML #21 and put it to work in a new loan. The new property is a single family home in San Pablo, California. the property was purchased at a foreclosure auction by one of our best clients, who is also personally guaranteeing the loan. The purchase price was $111,600. My partner estimates the current as-is value to be $120,000 and the after repairs value to be $140,000. Our loan is for $74,000, giving us an LTV of 61% of the current value or 53% of the repaired value.

There are a fair number of comps for this property, ranging from $120,000 to $165,000, so our after repair value is smack in the middle of that range.

The property is a 3 bedroom, 1 bath home of 958 square feet. It was built in 1950. It's got a one car garage and sits on a 5,000 square foot lot. My partner's assistant rates the neighborhood as a C-, which is typical for most of the loans we make. He rates the loan safety as a B, given the low LTV ratio.

The exterior appears to be in average condition. There are no readily visible problems with the roof or foundation. The condition of the interior is unknown. There was at least one other bidder at the auction for this property.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Houston Apartment Turnaround?

I finally got the March numbers for the Houston apartment complex. Numbers were generally comparable to February - rent income in both months were up $10,000 over January numbers. Admin expenses were up $2,000 over February due to some legal bills incurred in working out late payments with vendors. Net income continues to improve, going from -$30,000 in January to -$10,500 in February to -$8,000 in March.

But a closer look reveals things may not be as rosy as they seem. One line item expense went from $2,000 in January to $3,000 in February to zero in March. This item? Security Services. No explanation was given and I've emailed management to ask what happened. If they got rid of security services, that might help the monthly bottom line (if you put it back in, we'd have basically the same net income as February), but we could get hit with vandalism repair bills in the future. I'm interested in hearing management's explanation for this.

But the better news is, because this report was so late, they were able to look at preliminary numbers for April and things look much better. April's total income looks to be $10,000 higher than March's and the highest revenue number since November 2010! Additionally, for May, the apartments are 95% occupied and 99% leased. This is due to increased marketing efforts and, according to management, an improving economy in the property's market area. Marketing costs in March rose $1,000 from February and rent concessions rose about $3,000. We'll see how those numbers compare to April. I should also note that, while rent concessions rose, the total amount is still $1,000 under the budgeted amount. This was pretty much offset, however, by the marketing costs being $1,000 over budget.

We've seen strong months come and go with this property. Things seem to improve for a couple months, only to fall back down again later. Hopefully the improvement will be sustained this time. That 99% leased number is quite encouraging.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Loan #21 Paid Off

HML #21 was paid off last week so those funds are now looking for a new home. My other three loans are paying on time.

Still haven't received the March financials for the Houston apartment complex. They seem to be coming later and later these days. I know the management company reduced staff to help with the cashflow and I'm wondering if this is a result of that.

Monday, March 26, 2012

February Update

Things are looking better at the Houston apartment complex. Of course, the previous times I’ve said this it’s usually turned out to be a short-lived turn-around, but still, a good month is a good month. Rental income increased in February by almost $10,000, mainly due to decreased rent concessions. This month saw the highest rent revenue since April 2011. We had t pay out $3,800 for some repairs to the roof and access gate, but other expenses are running according to budget. Management implemented  a water conservation plan and that has resulted in significantly decreased water and sewer bills. They are now moving forward with a gas billback program. This means the residents will start paying a portion of the gas bill. They currently pay a portion of the water bill and with the reduction in that expense, management feels the gas billback will be accepted by the tenants. They should still have an overall lower billback cost than they had prior to the water conservation program. They also installed a separate water meter for landscaping so they can begin a billback program for landscape water usage.

Now, it’s been a long time since I lived in an apartment – at least 20 years. Maybe things have changed since then, but I know I never paid any sort of utility billback for general landscaping or anything. I paid my rent and that was it. If I recall, the units were individually metered and all the utilities were in my name, so that might be part of the reason. Off hand, I can’t remember how the units in the Houston complex are metered. It just seems strange to me to bill renters for water used for landscaping. Of course, this might also be a regional thing too. If that’s how things are done in Houston, then it makes sense that we do it too.

Last month, management asked the investors to inject another $250,000 into the property to help it get through the current rough financial situation. I opted not to contribute and apparently, I wasn’t the only one. They raised $140,000, well short of their goal. However, they are using this money to catch up on payments with vendors who we still owe money to. Management is also using the funds to make ready more units to help improve the occupancy number. They didn’t give an occupancy percentage with this report, but if I use the gross rent and vacancy numbers from the financial report, it looks like we are at about 91% occupancy right now.

On the hard money lending side of things, I didn’t blog about it, but my partner said last month that things seemed to be picking up and he was short of funds. Well, a lot can change in a month and things have now reversed and he has money waiting for investments. Our main borrower says deals have slowed down a bit, although he is still buying a couple properties a day. A short time ago, he was doing two to three times that amount. As my partner says, the business is often cyclical and he has learned to be patient and wait for good deals rather than invest in questionable deals just to get funds invested in something. That's how you go 20 years in this business without losing a penny of your investors' principle.

On a more personal note, I got my taxes back from my accountant this weekend and I got hammered on my federal taxes. I owe a couple thousand. I wasn’t sure how that could have happened until I remembered that in 2010 I converted a traditional IRA into a Roth IRA and elected to report the income over two years. I should have adjusted my withholding rate last year to help alleviate this, but I guess I forgot. The good news is that next year, I won’t be hit with another big tax bill (hopefully), as that conversion has now been fully reported. The Houston apartment complex gave me a roughly $7,000 passive loss I can claim. Unfortunately, it can only be used to offset passive gains, of which I have none. So that loss will just get carried forward until I have some passive gains I can use it against. I had thought that the interest from my hard money lending was passive income, but my accountant reminded me it is not. Based on my current investments and future outlook, I think this loss will probably end up being carried forward until the Houston apartment is sold. But that’s OK. It just means I’ll be getting a nice surprise in the future, as I’ll probably forget about it. That actually happened to me this year on my state return. I had a $400 credit from 2009 that  was carried forward, adding to my state tax refund this year.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Hard Money Loan #23 Started

I started a new hard money loan this week, bringing my current outstanding loan count to 4.

This one is on a single family home in San Pablo. It is currently occupied. It's a 2 bedroom, 1 bath, 856 square foot home built in 1950. The roof and foundation look to be in good shape and, other than the garage, the paint is in good shape. We were unable to see the inside of the home, but pictures of the interior on MLS show it seems to be in good shape. The landscaping is in good shape too. It appears to have newer windows and the kitchen has been redone with granite and stainless steel appliances.

The property was listed as a short sale on the MLS at $175,000. There is another property down the street, similar in size and condition, that is also listed as a short sale for $175,000. It sold in seven days, but we don't know what the actual contract price was since it was a short sale. The neighborhood is just OK. My partner's helper rates it a "C". The property is near a large regional park, so there aren't many nearby houses for comps. The original owner bought the property in 2004 for $378,000. There was competition at the auction for this property, so other investors wanted it. Our borrower got it for $129,000. Our loan is for $105,000. We conservatively are valuing it at $160,000. That makes our LTV 65.6%. My investment in this property is smaller than normal, since it's being done with funds from my daughter's UTMA account, as I mentioned a couple weeks ago.

My other loans continue to pay on time. Ho hum.

Friday, February 17, 2012

A Handy Tool For Landlords

I came across a handy little website the other day that I though might be useful for landlords or anyone else who needs to send certified or return-receipt letters. provides an easy way to send out a certified letter. You can also get an electronic proof of delivery or electronic copy of the recipients signature.

If you want to use the service, you simply upload your letter as a PDF or Word file and enter the mailing address and your return address. The accept Paypal for payment. There is no monthly subscription fee to use the service. You only need to pay when you actually mail something.

I found their prices to be reasonable. It may cost a dollar or two more than if you took it to the post office yourself, but being able to send a certified letter from your computer sure beats having to trek down to the post office.

I believe the company is based on the East Coast, so that is where your letters will be mailed from. If you upload your document and pay prior to 11 AM Eastern time, it will be mailed that day. I did experience a quirk that briefly caused me some worry: When you upload your letter, it will appear for a while on their website under a section titled "My Uploaded Letters." Once, it is printed, it will disappear from there. Don't worry - the next day it will reappear in the Letter Tracking section.I've heard from their customer support that they will be revamping their website soon to make things more clear.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Apartment Update And 3 Year Outlook

As Another Investor predicted about 2 hours before it actually happened, investors in the Houston apartment complex got a request to contribute more cash. The management company is asking for a total of $250,000 more from investors to make it through the year.

Management sent out budget projections for 2012 through 2014. The projections assume the complex will be sold at then end of 2014. (The original plan at purchase was to look at selling the property after 5 years, or in 2013.) Also, buried in a footnote, it says the projection also assumes no distributions of cash flow will be made to investors during 2012, 2013, and 2014. The monthly projection for 2012 shows the property losing money each month until June, when it returns to profitability for the remainder of the months of the year. Still finishes the year with an overall loss though.

The analysis also includes a look at the Houston economy and apartment market. In short, its been a very bumpy ride. Unemployment drops for a few months, then shoots back up one month, then drops for a couple more months. Occupancy at the property has consistently trended about 3 percentage points higher than the Houston apartment market in general, so that's one positive. However, that appears to be a result of having rents about $10 to $35 lower per unit than the market average.

Management predicts 2012 will be a turnaround year and the property should achieve breakeven status mid-year and return to profitability for 2013 and 2014. Management continues to defer their management fees to help keep expenses down. (Their contract gives them a percentage of the profit when the property sells, so they have a vested interested in getting the property back in the black.) The property itself is in good physical condition and should benefit from an improving economic environment.

Looking at selling the property at the end of 2014 using a 6.5% cap rate, they figure investors will get an annualized ROI of 10.77% on their initial investment. Just for the heck of it, I went back and looked at the original projections made at the time of purchase. The sale price after 5 years was $2 million higher than the current sales price projection and the investor's ROI was 20%.

Of course, management is trying to paint a rosy picture. Everything pretty much depends on the Houston economy picking up again. It looks like it is on the mend, but it is a very slow process which seems to be subject to frequent setbacks.

So.. Where does that leave us investors? Management says the property is operating very close to break even and with an additional $250,000, should be able to make it through 2012, after which they see the economy picking up. Investors are being asked to contribute a pro-rata share of $250,000 based on their initial investment amount. The investment was sold in $50,000 blocks, so they are asking for an additional $4,545 per block that you own. Investors are not required to contribute more, but if they do not, management warns that "alternative financing sources will be considered," which may or may not be available and will probably come with high interest rates and/or investment participation (meaning the lenders would become part owners of the property in exchange for lending funds). If any members do not fund their pro-rata share, the members that are contributing more will be contacted to see if they are willing to make up the shortfall before any alternative funding is obtained. Of course, everyone's ownership percentage will be adjusted to reflect any additional capital input. And should all that fail, losing the property to foreclosure is a possibility.

I think I'm going to pass on this. I might have contributed had the projections included some cash flow back to investors at some point, but it doesn't. I've always looked at this investment as a capital gains play. While I do appreciate the potential capital gains, over the past couple of years investing, I've realized I enjoy cashflow more than capital gains and I believe I can put my funds to better use elsewhere. That said, there are risks involved with not providing the additional funding. If the other investors do not step up, management might be forced to get a loan at a high interest rate, further reducing profits and increasing the time it takes to turn the property around. Or, they might need to give up some ownership of the property, which would reduce my share and hence, my return on my investment. And foreclosure is always a possibility, although I seriously doubt it will come to that.

Monday, February 13, 2012

First Update Of 2012

Wow.. I can’t believe I haven’t updated this blog since December! Truth be told, there isn’t much happening. My three outstanding hard money loans continue to pay on time. I haven’t received an update on the Houston apartment since last time, so there isn’t a whole lot to tell there. I’m assuming performance of that still sucks or we would have heard something. I did make a decision to go a bit further into hard money lending. I’ve got some money in a UTMA account for my daughter that has been languishing in the stock market for the past 5 years. I finally got fed up with seeing it sit there doing nothing and have liquidated the stocks and will be switching those funds to HMLs as soon as the trades settle and my brokerage can get me a check. I have noticed in the paperwork I get for some of my existing loans (trust deeds and recorded docs and such), other people I lend with have done the same thing.
In somewhat-related news, my self-directed IRA is getting up there in value. I think in the next couple of months, I’ll split that investment into two loans just to provide a bit of diversity. It’s not diversity in the stock market sense of the word, as both loans will be in the real estate sector and the same geographic area (probably), but the loans will be on two different properties, possibly with two different borrowers. I need a couple more months of interest payments before doing this though, in order to satisfy the minimum balance requirement for my bank account before I withdraw the funds.
The market seems to be picking up in the California Bay area. My partner says for the first time in a long time, he has more requests for loans than money to fund them.

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