Single Family Home Agents versus Income Property Agents

I just closed a beautiful house for a friend on the Pasadena / Eagle Rock border.  One difference, among many, between working a single family home versus an income property is when I close a house, 14 alarm and security companies call me the next day hoping to earn a referral to my client.  I’m polite and then hang up.

But don’t start feeling sorry for house agents. The process of buying a house is five times simpler than buying an income property. When I dabble in the house world, it’s like the bowling lanes have bumpers. After working SFRs, I realized why so many agents are slow and fumble around during income property escrows. The nuances of tenants, leases, estoppels, rent control, and systems in an apartment building are understandably more complex than in a house.

So why don’t I start working exclusively in single family homes? When you have an expertise that is rare, even if the work is more difficult, it makes a lot of sense to offer buyers and sellers something special. Smart clients can tell the difference.

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Something has been happening lately that is both frustrating and encouraging. I’ve had several buyers email or call me recently and ask my opinion on a particular property. The only catch is, they are already in escrow on the property with another agent. First off, I’m grateful that these buyers in question have been forthright about their current agent status. And while it’s frustrating to hear them admit their regret not working with me, in each of these instances I encouraged the buyer to feel confident in their purchase. Why? Because in these particular cases, they were making smart decisions already and were simply looking for reassurance. It’s not my job to tell someone what I would do with my money – it’s important to understand the buyer’s needs, explain the potential pitfalls and opportunities, and let them make the decision that’s best for them.

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Los Angeles Vacancy Rate

I often get asked by clients whether my spreadsheets account for vacancy. If the tenants are paying below market rents, I don’t.

Let me back up. The recent census determined that L.A.’s vacancy rate is down to 2.8% from an already astoundingly low 3.7% last year, the fourth-lowest in the nation. Los Angeles has the highest percentage of renters in the U.S. at 52%, according to a Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies study. What does this mean?

apartment vacancy 2015

It means there aren’t enough apartments. If you own apartments, they will be in demand. It’s that simple.

So why don’t I include 2.7% as a vacancy allowance in my spreadsheets if tenants are paying below market rents due to rent control? The reason is that if one of those tenants leaves, you should jump for joy because you will be able to re-rent that unit in no time and raise the rent while doing it.

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1031 Exchange Strategy

I’ve had some very active buyers and sellers lately and it feels like everyone is in a 1031 exchange. This is a very important tax strategy in real estate, and it’s important that you know how to operate with precision when trying to execute a 1031. First I’ll explain what it is, and if you don’t need a refresher, go ahead and skip to the Strategy.

What is a 1031 Exchange?

Simply put, a 1031 Exchange is when you sell an income property, buy a new income property to replace it, and skip paying taxes on your sale.

What are the rules?

  1. They have to be income properties – essentially that means that neither property can be your primary residence. I’ve heard of some people doing some tricks like putting title in an LLC and paying themselves rent, but I’m not a lawyer and that is certainly not advice.
  2. You have to name 3 options for your replacement properties (or “uplegs”) within 45 days of your sale property (or “downleg”) closing escrow.
  3. You have to complete the purchase of your upleg(s) within 180 days of the sale of your downleg.
  4. Both the equity (cash down) in your upleg(s) and the total value (purchase price) has to be equal or greater than that of your downleg(s).
  5. All has to be accomplished within the same taxable year and to the same person(s) on title.
  6. You have to own the property for one year before selling.

These are the most common and basic rules. There are more if you strive to be more creative.

The Strategy

By skipping capital gains tax, you could save hundreds of thousands of dollars. But why sell in the first place if you’re just going to buy something else?

I’ve written about this before, but the fastest way to substantially grow your wealth through real estate is by buying and selling again and again. I’ve been a party to this and I think my clients in question would admit that I masterminded this growth for them. (And yes, when writing a blog your humility sometimes falls by the wayside.) Staying ahead of gentrifying neighborhoods, good deals and unnoticed potential is key to unlocking a property’s value that you can cash in one year later (1031 Rule #6).

Why sell that unlocked value rather than hoard it? Once you have unlocked a property’s value, you have maxed it out. And unless you have unlimited capital, you can’t simply buy more and more properties; you have to use that unlocked value to unlock even more value, and so on.

That’s the abstract. Here’s an example:

Property A, a fourplex, is selling for $780,000 in an up-and-coming neighborhood.

After closing the deal with 25% down, you fix up a vacant unit and rent it for $700/month more than the seller predicted. Another tenant moves out, and you do the same. Not only did you raise two rents in the property, but those rents are so high that you proved what the other units can get. You may or may not have the cash to renovate the other units, but who cares. You’ve implied the value in the property that no one saw before; you’ve unlocked it. Now your property is worth $1,050,000 (if  your agent knows how to present that unlocked value as current value).

You spent $50,000 to fix it up, and $220,000 on the down payment. After a year, the mortgage pay down is near negligible. But you doubled your equity to $540,000 on a $1.05M value. The bank not only won’t value your property like a buyer will, but it also won’t let you cash out enough to do it again. So you sell to a smart, more fluid, and less hands-on buyer and do it twice more with the newest gentrifying neighborhood / great deal / unnoticed potential.

If that sounded tricky, buying Properties B and C is where things can get sticky.

Because you only have 45 days to name your next properties, being sharp and aggressive during this process is absolutely essential. You make strong bids, drive by dozens of properties, and always see the forest rather than the trees.

When I have a client in a 1031 exchange, that client usually gets my ideas in their inbox first because (a) the 1031 time sensitivity and (b) they reward me with selling their property, as well as their responsiveness and aggressiveness in getting the next amazing deal.

Do you want to make one of these deals happen? I’ll tell you how you can unlock the value in your property to get top price, and guide you towards doing it again.


IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: I am a licensed real estate agent, not a CPA nor a tax attorney, and nowhere on this website am I offering you tax advice.


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1414 Dixon is Pending!

After 6 days on the market, several above-market offers, and just 2 hours after our Sunday open house, 1414 Dixon is in escrow. Because I marketed Glendale’s lack of rent control and the seller proved that the property could achieve high rents, it sold very fast. If you want to make a back-up offer let me know, or if you want to buy or sell a Glendale property, I know how to get the right price.

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Dream Fourplex: 1414 Dixon St.

I’m not one to exaggerate. There are some properties that have one business strategy that will make it worth owning: you have to buy out the tenants and renovate, for example.  This leaves you in a lurch if any of the tenants won’t leave for a reasonable dollar amount, or renovating costs rise higher than you budgeted.

The new fourplex that I’m listing is rare because it has multiple positive options:

  1. Don’t do a thing. It already cashflows with a 4.85 CAP at the listing price of $1,195,000
  2. Raise the rents on three under-market units: did I mention there’s NO RENT CONTROL in Glendale? At market rents you reach a 6.5 CAP.
  3. Raise the rents until tenant turnover happens slowly so you can renovate the units and get top dollar in the skyrocketing Glendale pocket neighborhood.
  4. Spend cash to develop, maybe add bedrooms, and you tell me what else you can do with a 10,000 SF flat, buildable lot.

Here is the public MLS listing. Here is the slideshow.

I’ve told some of my clients what I think of Glendale as a new opportunity. My sister is a writer for animation, and because of that I’m friends with dozens of young(ish) animators who work at Disney TV Animation’s new huge facility in Glendale, and others. The industry itself is growing, and animators and their friends are moving to Glendale. That, along with the growing popularity of Los Feliz and Atwater Village at the doorstop of Glendale, the cool neighborhoods are climbing northeasterly into Glendale’s green streets, raising market rents.

Key features:

  • NO Rent Control
  • 4,272 SF
  • 10,169 SF lot
  • Four Units: Two 2+1, Two 1+1
  • Four Garages (Three Empty)
  • Updated: Plumbing, Electric, Sewer, Floor, Landscaping
  • Current $80,340 annual gross rent
  • Approximate 20% under-market rents
  • Actual 4.85 CAP

Please let me know if you’d like more information: 310-801-0000

dixon-2 dixon-6 dixon-15 dixon-13dixon-19   dixon-11dixon-9 dixon-8

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Growing Real Estate Equity

There are two goals for investing in real estate: 1) Growing your equity and therefore your wealth, and 2) creating a relatively steady and passive income stream to help with your bills.

Quick: what is equity? Equity is cash in the form of real estate. If you put 25% cash down on a $1M property then you have $250,000 in equity on the million-dollar property. Then, that amount changes with the value of your property and as you pay off your loan.

When you purchase income property, you may be fortunate enough to have the option to obtain financing or pay all cash. If your rental income covers your expenses, including mortgage, you love that the %$ you borrowed is turning into equity as your tenants pay off your loan over time. If you pay all cash, you enjoy a higher cash yield because you don’t have the extra expense of a mortgage.

Now, the big question: how do I grow my equity the fastest?

I can speak with some authority on this because not only have I doubled my own equity in one year by being an active real estate investor, but I have also helped my clients do the same – in one case growing my client’s equity more than 10X in under three years (this is rare).

Contrary to what some say, if you have a limited budget you have to sell to grow your equity quickly. Unless you are attracting investors or you have unlimited funds, you cannot hold onto all of your properties forever. In order to fully maximize the opportunity in a property, you have to be well capitalized. Not everyone is. And that’s why you sell.

If you bought aggressively, you probably took advantage of an uninformed seller and listing agent, or you bet on a neighborhood that is still up and coming, or both. This automatically puts you in a position to increase your equity by 1) selling with a good listing agent and/or 2) selling when the neighborhood popularizes. (Unfortunately, lenders don’t love to give you loads of cash when you refinance, so that’s not a viable option in the short term.)

Once you sell, a 1031 exchange allows you to trade up without paying taxes, as long as you follow certain protocol. Now it’s time for you to do the same thing you just did, only on a larger scale. Either your new equity will help you a) buy a more valuable building or b) buy two. Now you repeat your previous strategy, but this time in a new up-and-coming neighborhood or from a different uninformed seller.

Wash and repeat. Does it sound simple? Unfortunately it’s not. Because you really have to understand (1) rent control (2) neighborhood specifics (3) deal making and (4) 1031 exchanges, it means you have to be extremely aggressive during the sell/buy period and operate with finesse.

If you have $350,000 or more to invest and you want to actively build your equity/wealth, please get in touch.

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The Fed and What .25% Means

I couldn’t explain this more clearly and succinctly than one of my go-to loan brokers, Justin Brown of NuHome Financial:

First, what is the Fed?

The Federal Reserve Board (the Fed) controls the Fed Funds Rate and the Discount Rate. These are overnight loans from bank to bank or from the Fed to member banks. The Fed adjusts the rate to influence the economy. For example, if things are going well, a rate increase may slow inflation. If the economy is struggling, a rate drop could be the boost it needs.


Two important things to note:

– The Fed can influence, but does not directly set, consumer rates.

– The Fed’s rates are short term and often do not impact longer term rates, such as mortgage loans.


Why the fuss?

Increases in the Fed Funds rate can cause banks to raise their “prime” rates, which are often used to calculate costs of revolving credit or home equity lines of credit (HELOCs).


What about mortgages?

Mortgage loans are a different animal, so to speak. The “agencies” (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) pool mortgages together and sell them as mortgage bonds. The amount investors pay for these bonds directly influences mortgage rates.


Bottom Line:

When the Fed moves, it generally provides lots of warning, and markets have already had a chance to react. Markets are constantly responding to other factors as well, from the stock market to global events to consumer spending. In the end, no one can say for certain what the reaction to Fed moves will be.

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Long View Investing

sixth-street-bridge-farewell-fireworksA firework display is an apt symbol for successful long view investing. The 6th Street Bridge, connecting Boyle Heights to the Arts District Downtown, celebrated its long life this weekend, and its imminent demise. In its place, a $420,000,000 world-class bridge will be constructed to attract tourists and locals alike, bringing a new symbolic and physical connection between one of the city’s fastest developing locations and its poorest.

What does this mean for investment properties in Boyle Heights, especially near the bridge? First of all, it means one of the most immediate means of transportation to Downtown will be out of commission for the next four years. However, once the new bridge is completed, those investors who bought in early will see a brand new light shining on a once ignored neighborhood.

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Earthquake Retrofitting for “Soft-Story” Apartment Buildings

dingbatOn Friday, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously passed mandatory new earthquake retrofitting requirements for over 15,000 buildings whose second floors are built over carports. This includes the “dingbat” in which I currently reside. The good news is: this will save dozens of lives in the next major earthquake. I’m sure you can also guess the bad news: landlords have to pay for it.

The city is discussing some ways to help landlords, like a small increase in rent, which may cover the capital outlay in twenty years. But the retrofitting needs to be completed within 7 years of being noticed, according to the law. The LA Times reports that the retrofitting for wood structures can cost between $60,000 to over $130,000. You can read the LA Times article here.

What does this mean for you? If you don’t have $100,000 cash to retrofit, you may be forced to sell your property if the city doesn’t come up with a better solution. If you do have the cash, that’s a big blow to your savings.dingbat

If you think you may need to sell your property, the best move would be not to wait. Sell your building to a buyer with the capital to make the necessary safety improvements now, or else a much worse disaster could be on our hands. Not to mention incredibly low interest rates mean the highest prices paid for income property in a long time.


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