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Real Estate is Like a Traffic Light

July 17, 2008 – 4:39 pm

Pundits, consultants, advisors and gurus are always looking for a signal as to which way to invest.  They are looking for a sign so they can pass it on to their clients, friends or subjects.  If they are getting paid to pass on their sage advice then the sign could be complex filled with algebra, calculus, charts and graphs.

Maybe the signal to move in some direction is not readily apparent.  Maybe it’s in the way the lint falls from his navel or how crumpled the cookies are coming out of the box or its in the tea leaves (time to dump the bags).  Chances are the real signal comes from other pundits, consultants, advisors or gurus.  They all start reading each others thoughts and before you know it they have complete consensus.

I submit that there are some very simple signals and rules to adhere to. Three to be exact, much like a traffic signal.  When the market starts going up and everyone is starting to get euphoric it is a clear green light go signal.  Start buying until you see the happiness turn to unbridled giddiness then it is time to turn the burners down.  During the green phase one is buying for growth and sellers being sellers they give the buyers no choice but to buy short term, and turn the property to take a profit.

When the economy goes into free fall and the real estate market starts nose diving it may be prudent to wait until things make a change. Stop for the red light. This is now occuring in the residential market and anyone buying at this time needs to plan on a long term hold.  If this is a home for them to live in then they will most likely be okay in the future but they can forget any short term gains.

The commercial real estate market however is most likely in an orange light phase especially in Orange County.  Prices are not plunging because owners are doing okay with their property, in general.  But the prices are definitely softening.  Sales are down but they are occuring.  Buyers are still out there waiting for a sensible deal.

During the slow down orange light phase one must buy for yield.  The values of the properties can’t be determined for the coming years but if the tenancy is good and the cash on cash return is good there are reasons to take the jump into the market.  The primary reason is that inflation is rearing it’s ugly head and the best way to offset the effects of inflation are by putting your rapidly depreciating cash into hard assets.

The all time winner of hard asset investing is real estate.  At this time in the market it is commercial real estate that has been bought well.  It is still difficult to buy Orange County commercial property with a good cash flow.  However, as sellers become more motivated to sell they will see the light.  Hopefully it will be the orange light demanding the deal be structured to yield a nice cash return.

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