The economy is currently enduring a significant downturn, having recorded two consecutive quarters of a decline in the country’s GDP in July 2022 and also demonstrating a significant decline in productivity. The FED is purposely increasing the midterm interest rates to reduce historic inflation, it is not yet actually doing quantitative tightening per se, but is quelling economic by reducing consumer confidence. The FED is unlikely to recover until the 3rd or 4th quarter of 2023. For many, this is the textbook definition of a recession, and the signs are everywhere. There’s a bear market, consumer and small business confidence is in tatters, high inflation, and rising interest rates.
While the National Bureau of Economic Research refuses to call it a recession, many are feeling the heat, and the real estate industry is no exception. The Federal Reserve’s 20-year-high rate hikes have jacked up mortgage rates, putting the skid on a hot market. The last time consumer confidence in the housing market was this low (17%) was in 2011. The annual price appreciation rate dropped from 19.3% to 17.3%.
Two of the biggest real estate companies, Redfin and Compass, laid-off workers, with the Redfin CEO citing a 17% decline in expectations back in May 2022. Even REITs, traditionally investors’ safe haven, are taking a beating, with the S&P REIT index plunging 23% as of July 2022.
While the real estate industry may seem calamitous at the moment, it is often said that wealth, like energy, can’t be destroyed; it transfers. There’s a reason why real estate is touted as having produced 90% of the world’s millionaires. All you have to do is join the dots, follow the money trail, and you will be fine recession/downturn or not. Please keep reading to learn how to go about it.
How to Prepare for a Turbulent Real Estate Market
There is a lot of uncertainty in the markets, so real estate investors need to prepare for anything that comes their way. That means getting your house in order, including:
1. Reduce debt
The average American is $90,460 deep in debt, but that doesn’t mean you have to sink to such depths. Huge debts will dent your credit score, diminish cash reserves you can use to improve your quality of life, eat into your emergency fund, and obliterate your ability to save or invest. Settle debts with higher interest rates and keep away from them. It would be best if you only kept debts with more prolonged and lower interest rate payments. Similarly, only sign up for debt whose investment will yield higher returns.
2. Diversify your investments
If you’ve just started investing in real estate, it is essential to diversify your investments because not all real estate forms perform the same. It means having a mix of hard assets in different industries that will help you weather any storm that may come your way. For instance, don’t just invest exclusively in commercial office blocks. Try malls, single-family units, multifamily units, REITs, or others.
3. If you have the money, try a hedge fund
True, getting into and maintaining a hedge fund is costly, but it is one of the best vehicles during a downturn. Most hedge fund managers will employ different techniques such as derivatives, leveraging, and especially short selling, where you will make a profit if the value of an asset falls, which is perfect during an economic downturn.
4. Study about returns
Since the market dictates that we watch the pennies, you have to assess the return promised by each deal before making a decision. For instance, you must be smarter in evaluating whether to pay off debt or invest. For example, instead of increasing payments towards offsetting the mortgage, you would be better off investing that money elsewhere, especially if the returns are much higher than the inflation rate.
5. Take advantage of opportunities to sell your home
Median home prices hit a record high of 440,300 in July 2022, the Fed continues to jack up interest rates, leading to higher mortgage rates, and the supply of homes is still lower than expected. Now might be the perfect time to sell your home if you wish to make the most out of the market. Since there’s little supply, there’s little competition, but you have to act fast before the spiraling mortgage rates lock out all potential buyers.
6. Think long-term investment
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a good investment opportunity, but it’s essential to keep things in perspective. You could lose money if you lose your head and make an impulsive decision. Instead, take time to consider all options before making any moves.
7. Curb appeal
If you have a home that needs some work before it’s ready to sell, now is the time to get started. Although home repairs can be costly, they add value to the property.
HomeLight research suggests homes with good landscaping fetch between 5.5% and 12.7% more than poorly landscaped ones. There’s even an instance where a new $20,000 worth of curb appeal returned $200,000 more for a home they had bought a year earlier. It would help if you considered painting the walls in neutral colors, manicuring the lawn, and replacing old and broken stuff and appliances.
8. Build relationships with other realtors
You don’t always have to compete, especially in a low-supply environment. Instead, team up with other realtors to create a network of peers for the common good. That should improve your craft, get referrals, and serve your customers better as you exchange valuable input from each other and find the best deals for your clients.
9. Make use of technology
Instead of requiring clients to make a trip to view the property, you can provide virtual reality tours to help save some money. Additionally, you could use customer relationship management (CRM) platforms to keep track of listings and customers to ensure they get the best service.
There are plenty of real estate platforms and apps that make it easier to market listings to a broader audience. Some even utilize AI to match buyers to their most preferred listings, making it easier to find suitable homes.
Whenever there’s an economic downturn, you should note that wealth doesn’t disappear; it just transfers. It may not be transferring to another visible entity, but may be transferring in time, or it may be transferring in nominal currency (for example, the US$ is increasing in value compared to the Euro, and although US$ denominated Real Estate prices are declining, they are increasing against the Euro). Your job is to follow the trail to ensure you maintain a profitable real estate business.
Some ways you can achieve this include diversifying your real estate portfolio, reducing debt, trying other forms of investments such as hedge funds, making use of technology, and opting for investments that provide the best returns.
By Gurpreet Singh Padda, MD, MBA