Behind stocks, bonds and cash, commercial real estate has emerged as the fourth largest asset class in the U.S. over the last few decades. Among institutional investors, investments in commercial properties represent nearly 10% of their holdings.
When you look at the typical individual investor’s portfolio, however, there’s often a big hole where commercial real estate is concerned. In fact, for many investors, this particular asset class is a relative unknown. Previously, stiff barriers to entry meant that direct commercial real estate investments were only available to a select group. Fortunately, real estate crowdfunding is making it possible for a broader base of investors to gain access to this valuable segment of the real estate market.
Commercial Real Estate Explained
In the simplest sense, commercial real estate is any property that’s designed to produce income. That covers everything from apartment complexes and office buildings to shopping malls and industrial complexes. Commercial properties generate income in the form of rent paid by tenants and/or appreciation when the property is sold. Investors realize returns based on the property’s income, less any operating, financing and maintenance costs.
Where Does Crowdfunding Come In?
Historically, commercial real estate investments were the exclusive domain of private investors who had the right connections and could afford a five- or six-figure minimum buy-in. Some of the largest institutional investors in the world (including the Harvard and Yale Endowments) have sizable portions of their portfolio allocated to real estate and this has been a major factor in their superior investment performance. Unfortunately, individual investors have historically been excluded from this potentially profitable asset class.
I hear all the time the comment, “I thought my previous software was going to make my life easier, but it just gave me more frustration”. Property management is hard enough by itself without having to struggle with slow software, missing data, constant questions, and a difficult learning curve. We hear from rental property owners every day that are still using spreadsheets to manage their property, or they have purchased a program that is way more than they actually need.
Make sure it works the same way you do
First, if you can’t try out the software before you buy it, run the other way! That is the only way you can be sure it is right for you. When you do try the software, start with one task, such as “I want to charge rent to my tenants”. Then, see how long that task takes. If it is more than 10 seconds, it is too long, even if you have hundreds of rentals. Better yet, look for an option to charge rent automatically without user intervention.
How about this? “I want to update the tenant’s rent amount, and then correct an amount that I accidentally posted to the tenant’s accounting”. Many programs make you navigate to multiple menus to do seemingly easy common sense tasks, so make sure it is easy to correct mistakes.
Other things you might want to look for would be the ability to automatically increase rents on a specific date in the future, the ability to either print checks or transfer via ACH, receive rent online, a way to make automatic payments, and a vendor file that keeps important information on all of the vendors that you work with.
Common sense extras that you might look for would be a reminder system for Owners, Tenants, and Vendors, and a scheduler to help keep track of upcoming repairs, vacations, and notices. You might want to use the reminder to keep track of tenant birthdays so that you can maintain a good relationship with your tenants.
Keep your valuable data with someone you trust – you!
If you keep your own information, it will be safer. Find a program that allows you to make a local backup of your valuable data quickly and easily. It should be as simple as clicking a ‘backup’ button then pressing ‘go’. If not, maybe that software is not for you. Some users prefer web based software, so if that is you, be sure that you can download your important data, and that your valuable information is encrypted and stored on servers with redundant backups. Even then, you could be at risk of a hacker attack that could shut down the servers, so you might consider on-premise software if that is a concern.
Don’t get more or less than you actually need
Another common complaint I often hear is that the customer had previously paid ‘thousands of dollars’ for another complex software, yet they only manage a few rentals. Or, on the other side, they manage over 100 rentals and the software they have is just too limited. Ask the vendor their average number of rentals per user, and the market they strive for. Do they work with owners of rental property or mostly with property managers? You need powerful features in your software without paying too much. At the same time, avoid ending up with overly complicated requirements with features you don’t need.
Common sense assistance
With any new software you need a little help. Avoid companies that don’t provide a phone number or any free support – eventually you will need some assistance. The trend is to not provide phone support, which may mean that you will have to either search a knowledge base for an answer, or wait for a return response to your online support request. Make sure that you can get immediate help through paid phone support.
Follow these common sense guidelines, and your property management software investment will help your business run a lot more efficiently, smoothly, and stress free.
With the cost of the priciest colleges now over $65,000 a year, and room and board costs increasing faster than tuition at many colleges, buying a rental property for your child and a couple of good roommates to live in can be a savvy college funding, tax and retirement move.
You can pick up all of the traditional tax deductions from owning a rental property, hire your child to manage the place and use his net income to pay for tuition with little or no tax, while the rent the roommates pay can help pay the mortgage. When your child graduates in four years, and he will, right? Then you can either hang onto the rental and use it as a retirement home once its paid off, or you can do a 1031 exchange, deferring the tax on the capital gain so long as you buy another “like-kind” property, possibly in a location you prefer to retire to.
Gene Rivers of Tallahassee, Florida, home to Florida State University and a handful of other nearby smaller colleges, is one of the truly outstanding real estate professionals in this country. Gene knows real estate and he knows the real estate business. So it’s no surprise that he is approached by 25-30 parents a year with kids going to one of the nearby universities who want to buy a rental property for their children to live in and rent a couple to some roommates. After all, Gene helped his own son buy a house that his son then lived in with roommates while going to college.
First, Gene says, the young college person has to be responsible enough to screen potential tenants or roommates, do a credit check if need be, sign agreements, collect the rent and not let the place fall apart. “Parents cannot be absentee landlords, Gene says. If your child is not the manager type that’s fine.” You just need to know that going into arrangement to avoid stress for your studying student and yourself. Know who the landlord is and what the responsibilities are.
Before Returning Lease to Landlord, Tenants Say They Slipped in a Secret Clause — and ‘He Signed It’
Property Managers should read this important notice from ‘The Hill’. It is a reasoned explanation of why your data on the cloud may not be safe – regardless of precautions and promises from vendors.
It’s time that executives and information security professionals accept the fact that their companies will be breached and start thinking outside the box when it comes to data security. To be in denial of this truth is to not accept reality. Indeed, based on what happened last year, 2014 […]
Landlords, it is helpful to know the current trends among renters. Here is an interesting analysis of how today’s rental market is changing this year and beyond.
J Turner Research examines the top 10 emerging trends in the apartment rental process for 2016. Washington, D.C. —As you prep for an even more profitable 2016, J Turner Research presents the top 10 emerging trends in the apartment rental process that can empower you to increase your closing ratios. […]
Merging landlords see growing profit on rentals
It was supposed to be a short-term play. Investors would buy thousands of bargain-basement single-family homes during the foreclosure crisis, rent them for a few years and then sell them off and be done.
That’s what the critics thought anyway, but that is not how this still-nascent class of real estate is playing out. Instead, the big players are consolidating, which could make the stocks of those left standing potentially more attractive.
The announcement last week of a merger between Arizona-based American Residential Properties, which owns 8,938 rental homes, and California-based American Homes 4 Rent, which owns 38,377, was the third such deal in the asset class this year. The combined company will own and manage homes in 22 states and is projected to have an equity market capitalization of $5.5 billion based on closing prices as of Dec. 2.
“In our view, this is a very positive outcome for both AMH and ARPI shareholders, with substantial upside opportunities for earnings accretion over time,” said analysts at Raymond James, which is acting as financial adviser to American Homes 4 Rent. “The sector’s recent consolidation should only improve visibility, liquidity, and valuations among the remaining large players.”
The reaction on Wall Street to the merger, however, was not so positive. AMH shares were down nearly 5 percent at the close last Thursday, the day of the announcement. Analysts called that curious. (Shares are off 5.9 percent year to date.)
Hawkes blames rough third-quarter earnings on transition pains, as the company became less of a buyer and more of a manager of the rental homes. She still believes firmly in a vast growth potential for this sector, despite the recovering housing market. The roadblock, however, has always been capital.
“The stock market expects us to accomplish in three years what it took the multifamily sector 25 years to do. The ability to raise capital to grow is the critical element for the single-family rental sector, but issuing dilutive equity or increasing leverage were not attractive options for ARPI,” Hawkes said. “Absent access to growth capital, we concluded consolidation made sense in order to enhance scale, increase operating efficiencies, share best practices and create additional value for our investors. We are rearranging the chairs in the room to optimize performance.”
Two other major players in the sector, Starwood Waypoint Residential Trust and Colony American Homes, announced a merger in September that could create a company with just shy of $8 billion in assets. Together they own about 30,000 homes.
Earlier this year, Silver Bay Realty Trust agreed to buy the entire portfolio of Atlanta-based The American home. That consisted of 2,460 rental properties in three states.
Scale has always been the buzzword in the brave new world of large scale investors in single-family rental homes. Managing thousands of individual homes is a far greater challenge than managing units in a single apartment building. Some have outsourced the management, while others built an infrastructure from scratch.
The total number of single-family rental homes increased 35 percent since 2006, with smaller investors also taking on millions of distressed properties to rent. This happened as the nation’s home ownership rate fell to the lowest level in 50 years.
As a property manager, you wanted to stay with the latest cloud technology, so you trusted your valuable data to a web-based software company. This scenario could be your company, it is real, and could happen in the near future.
8:00am – Everybody is calm, laughing and enjoying their first cup of coffee. Computers are glowing with the dashboard of your web-based software. As a property manager you are experiencing just a normal work day.
8:05am – Suddenly all computers show a screen ‘NETWORK NOT FOUND’. No problem, soon it will be back up, just reboot your routers.
8:20am – This is becoming annoying, the computers are still not booting up to the Internet, so nobody can log into your property management software.
9:00am – Tenants are starting to call, they cannot process their rent payments. Still no Internet.
10:00am – The first owner calls and complains that the owner portal is down. They need the data for a meeting. Owner payments are due today.
11:00am – More tenants are calling, some are requesting emergency repairs. Work Orders and repair request are all handled by the software, which dead.
12:00pm – You have 5 office employees on the clock that are sitting around waiting for the Internet to return. Things are getting worse by the minute.
1:00pm – Everyone is watching the TV. There has been a major Internet disruption due to a cyber attack. No word on restoration of services.
2:00pm – No work has been done since early this morning. You have already lost productivity, plus tenants, owners, and vendors are lighting up the phones with complaints.
5:00pm – No answers, no work, employees go home … you’ll have to get everything caught up tomorrow.
The next day – The cyber attack has spread, servers are down all over the country. You still need to pay all employees to come in to field phone calls from angry tenants and owners. You are having to call vendors to send them out for repairs, but you cannot process their payments. They are not happy. Tenants are being told to bring in their rent payments in person, but all transactions have to be recorded into a spreadsheet for transfer into the cloud property management software sometime later… if at all.
The third day – No change. You are losing money right and left. Your business cannot do anything but take calls and promise you are doing everything possible. No banking, no property management, a total disaster.
After that – total panic. Your business is totally down. You don’t have a backup of your tenants, owners, or vendors. You call your web based property management software company for hours and cannot get through. Once you get to speak with someone, they tell you their server has been part of the attack and they cannot promise that anything can be restored. Your business is in deep trouble, this could take weeks to restore if ever….
Is this scenario possible or just a scare tactic?
Ben Lawsky, head of New York’s Department of Financial Services (DFS), said he fears a large enough hack on Wall Street firms could “spill over into the broader economy” — not unlike the mortgage meltdown of 2008.
“We are concerned that within the next decade, or perhaps sooner, we will experience an Armageddon-type cyber event that causes a significant disruption in the financial system for a period of time,” said Ben Lawsky, head of New York’s Department of Financial Services. He called such an attack a “cyber 9/11.”
Recently senators that have classified access and infrastructure experts agree on an impending major cyber attack. A recent New York Times article warns that Russia could be planning an attack affecting “almost all global Internet communications, raising concerns among some American military and intelligence officials that the Russians might be planning to attack those lines in times of tension or conflict.”
Think about the breaches in security at Target, Home Depot, Amazon, Staples, JP Morgan Chase, Yahoo, Apple, Google and hundreds of supposedly well protected sights. They are getting worse, not better. No company is safe from this, no matter what the software vendors tell their customers. You are probably using the software as SAAS (software as a service) which simply means monthly payments. That can be cut off at any time. Your data can be inaccessible at any time if the Internet has a problem. That means your entire business could at risk.
Our own national security experts are warning about an impending cyber threat coming from other countries that would target critical USA infrastructure systems. Adm. Michael Rogers, The director of the National Security Agency, told the House Intelligence Committee he expects a major cyber attack against the U.S. in the next decade. “It’s only a matter of the ‘when,’ not the ‘if,’ that we are going to see something dramatic,” he said.
If you think your web based software is safe, think again. Even if you are able to make regular backups from your server, the effects of an Internet shutdown would be devastating to your property management company. You have been entrusted with the most valuable information from your tenants, your owners, your vendors, and all of the companies that you do business with. You might want to think about that before you put everything in the ‘cloud’.
- Stay up with new technology
One of the best ways to impress your tenants, is to show them that you care about their convenience. To do that, check out the new technologies that are available. Some of those technologies include intelligent door locks that can be programmed and operated from a smart phone. This can also increase security and enable you to change lock combinations easier and faster. Other things that can be controlled by smart phones are thermostats, security systems, and irrigation systems.
- Build a community
Encourage your tenants to engage with one another. You’ll find that building a tenant community will foster better communication between your tenants and your role as a landlord. For example, sponsor a pool party in the summer, or holiday events during the winter. Send a communication out to all tenants, and hold a ‘Tenants Night Out’ just for them to get to know each other better. That will help create a family atmosphere where everyone will look out for everyone else.
- Add amenities
Think outside of the box when thinking about amenities that you can offer to your tenants. What about a bike sharing service for your apartment building? Talk to local yoga studios about offering classes in your exercise room once a week. Add motion controlled lighting and walkway lighting for your your rental. You can think of more creative ideas to keep your tenants pleasantly surprised.
- Treat them with respect
This seems obvious, but one of the most common complaints from tenants is that they are treated like second-class citizens by their landlord. We know you are under a lot of pressure – owner demands, late contractors, late rent, bills due … but remember to always deal with your tenants in a calm and respectful manner.
- Follow through
When a tenants requests anything, first let them know that you received the request, either by text or email. Give them an estimated date, take action promptly, and after it is over, contact the tenant to see if they are happy with the result. This will build trust that will go a very long way.
We hope these suggestions have been helpful to you as a landlord. Keeping your tenants satisfied will result in a long term partnership that will benefit you financially and as a person.
Rent collection can be less of a hassle if you follow these simple steps:
The best way to not have to worry about collecting late fees from your tenants is to avoid them in the first place. Because a tenant has a great personality, regularly goes to church, or is a distant cousin doesn’t mean they won’t fail to pay the rent on time. So don’t skip the tenant screening to find out how well the prospective tenant paid his last landlord.
Make it clear, make it tough
One of the best deterrents to avoiding late rent is to have a policy that is clearly stated in the lease. Outline when the rent is due, when it is late, what is the late fee, when does it start, and what actions you will take if the rent check bounces. Be sure to include any exceptions, such as an allowance for holidays and let the prospective know that no other exceptions will be made other than the ones outlined in the lease.
Reward good behavior
Sometimes incentives can work just as well as deterrents for rent collection. Consider including an incentive in your lease that rewards the tenant for paying on time for a year, and include the reward if the tenant renews the lease for another year.
Don’t feed the habit
Of course, there may be understandable reasons that you would break your own rules as in the case of the death an immediate family member, but don’t fall for unsubstantiated excuses .Once you have allowed a late rent without penalty, your tenant may try to get away with it a second or third time. Other tenants may even hear about the exception and try it themselves. Be firm and require the reason in writing.
Heed the warning signs
You might get a call a few days early saying that work is slow, or financial problems are adding up. This is a red flag moment. You might want to suggest that your tenant shouldn’t add to their problems by getting a bad mark on his (or her) credit score by having a late rent added. That statement alone might avoid a late rent situation. The call may be just to ‘feel out’ how firm you will be about the late charge and further action, so be sure to state that you will follow the terms of the lease contract.
If nothing else works for rent collection, you might need to post a ‘Notice to Pay or Quit’ telling the tenant that legal options will be enforced unless rent is paid immediately. Hopefully, you won’t have to evict, but the tenant will be well aware of the inevitable consequences of their actions.