Investigating a Critic of Real Estate Investing

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While real estate continues to be the biggest asset class in the world, there are still asset managers who are skeptical about recommending it to their clients as an investment vehicle. As Andy Rachleff puts it:

One of the most common pieces of financial advice our clients hear from their friends and family is to invest their excess cash in rental properties. Unfortunately, this is terrible advice for all but a lucky few.

Andy Rachelff

The piece goes on to give four distinct reasons for critics’ deviation from traditional logic. Let’s break it down one by one.

Income Isn’t Guaranteed

While this is true, this is true when it comes to any financial investment vehicle. According to the National Council of Real Estate Investment Fiduciaries (NCREIF), as of Q1 2021 the average 25-year return for private commercial real estate properties held for investment purposes slightly outperformed the S&P 500 Index, with average annualized returns of 10.3% and 9.6%, respectively. Residential and diversified real estate investments also averaged returns of 10.3% (NCREIF). Keep in mind, this data takes into account both the 2008 financial crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic. Each calamity gravely deflated assets in the real estate market. So while it’s certainly true that income isn’t guaranteed, over a 25-year period both commercial and residential real estate holdings outperformed the S&P 500 Index. While income is almost never guaranteed, this should make you feel more at ease about investing your money in the real estate sector.

It’s Hard To Generate A Compelling Return

Another generic statement that can be said about almost any investment vehicle. If generating a compelling return was easy, everyone would follow the same system. When you invest in real estate, whether it be through direct property management or a REIT, you still maintain some level of ownership over a physical asset. Conversely, with stocks, as an example, you own a piece of a publicly traded company that has a board of directors, executives, and senior management controlling the day-to-day operations. In other words, your money is in the hand’s of others. With the majority of real estate investment vehicles, you are in control. Therefore, you are the one who has the ability to make decisions that generate a more compelling return, versus leaving those decisions in other people’s hands. It’s easier to generate a compelling return when you have control because at the end of the day, no one will care as much about your money as yourself. Additionally, the under 8% net over eight years earned by Weatherfront’s portfolio is not only a logical fallacy as it is only one data point, but their complaint is largely surrounding the tax structure of rental properties investors will have to pay. It is anecdotal data tailored to disprove a very generic argument to begin with.

It’s Better To Diversify Your Portfolio

In this section, the writer essentially makes a compelling argument to investing in a REIT versus direct real estate investing. While we’ve covered both strategies in depth, it’s true that in the long-term a REIT, REIG, or some form of pooled investment will mitigate your portfolio’s risk. This is especially true for individual properties that “fall out of favor”, sometimes due to external factors (i.e. COVID-19 pandemic). The writer correctly points out the substantial risk in a situation where you have enough capital to invest in only one property and advises you against it, but then makes a perfect argument for how to actually diversify your capital within the real estate market. After all, diversification is cited by a vast majority a major benefit to the real estate investment sector. Irrespective of how much money you have to invest upfront, you have control over how much risk you want to take on. Therefore you can choose to diversify your real estate portfolio, or you can put all your eggs in one basket. We are in agreement with Weatherfront that the latter generally isn’t advisable.

Liquidity Matters

Depending on what approach you take to real estate investing, the writer has a point. If you take a direct approach to real estate investing, you can easily get stuck with an undesirable property. Alternatively, investing in a real estate index fund, gives you the same liquidity as investing in any other index or stock. Nowadays, it’s very rare to see an investor take all their excess investment capital and tie it down in one property. If they do, they’re doing so at their own peril. With so much data available that shows national long-term economic growth is cyclical, one would have to have a very high appetite for risk to directly invest in a single property. Diversification has been proven to be an essential component to any successful investment portfolio.

Concisely, do we agree with the critic’s assertion to avoid investing in real estate holdings? No, we don’t. While the writer points out some opportunities to improve your real estate investment strategy, they don’t provide a compelling argument to avoid investing in the entire segment. While some data is anecdotal and some is actual, they make a good case to be wary of rental properties. At the same time, they make a great case for diversification through REITs and other real estate index funds. The fact is there will always be critics and skeptics of any investment choices. There are analysts who are paid to do just that. However real estate has been the world’s largest asset class for awhile and it isn’t going anywhere. For investors, it would be wise to embrace that and research the abundant amount of strategies available within the real estate segment. Diversification will always be critical. Especially if you’re not currently invested in the real estate market, it would be prudent to look into various strategies because you’re all but sure to find some that suit either your short or long-term goals.