May 112020
 

Why inflation matters

U.S. government bonds in 1990 were paying investors 8% a year. That sounds amazing! Especially for a low risk investment. πŸ™‚ But not everyone was buying them. Why? Because investment returns don’t tell the whole story. The inflation rate that year was 5.4%. That means the real rate of return on those bonds was only 2.6%. Stashing $100 under a mattress would have lost $5.40 in value during 1990. As Ray Dalio says, “cash is trash.”

 

Obtaining a mortgage from an unconventional lender

Earlier this year I bought a rental property and took on a new mortgage at 2.44% fixed interest rate for 5 years. After asking around different banks I decided to use monoline lender MCAP. They deal with broker channels and often have lower rates than the big banks. πŸ™‚

negative interest rate mortgage

Since this is an investment property the interest on the mortgage is tax deductible. My marginal tax rate is about 30%. So my effective interest rate after tax adjustment is 1.71%. But this is the nominal rate. To get the full picture we have to subtract the inflation rate. Last year Canada’s official inflation rate was 2.25%. So my real mortgage rate equals the nominal rate (1.71%) minus the inflation rate (2.25%) which comes toΒ -0.54%.

So I’m effectively paying a negative interest rate. I’m earning 54 basis points to borrow money. Woot! πŸ˜€ Personal finance author Robert Kiyosaki says smart people use debt to get rich. He’s right. I’m growing my net worth by literally having this mortgage.

The historical average inflation rate in Canada has been about 2% annually. Let’s assume it will continue to average 2% for the foreseeable future.

This is bad for my mortgage lender. The asset they are holding (my mortgage) will slowly lose value over time. Fortunately for them the 2.44% interest rate they charge me is still higher than the expected inflation rate.

 

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Mar 092020
 

There are lots of low rise condos like this popping up around the lower mainland

Owning a piece of the suburb

The recent stock market mayhem is a crucial reminder of how important it is to maintain a well diversified portfolio. After selling my farm last year I was too overweight in stocks so I decided to rebalance. πŸ˜‰ At the beginning of this year I welcomed a new investment property into my growing portfolio. πŸ™‚ It’s a one bedroom apartment in a low-rise building – less than 10 years old. It features an open floor plan that measures about 650 sf, and has a large balcony.

In today’s post I will explain why this purchase makes financial sense for me, and break down the numbers.

Why invest in Vancouver real estate?Β 

In a previous post I explained how to improve investment returns by primarily focusing on broad asset class trends instead of analyzing individual assets. In late 2019 I was trying to find the most undervalued asset class. At the time, stocks were at record highs. The expected return for the TSX index was just 5% a year. Likewise bond yields were a joke – and still is today. So nothing looked attractive. πŸ™ I was starting to lose hope.

But then I looked at the real estate market. To my surprise the expected return was 10% or higher. Hey, now we’re getting somewhere. πŸ˜€ I have discovered an undervalued asset class with terrific return potential. Ka-ching!

Mr. Krabs is my role model

The next step was figuring out where to buy real estate. For tax purposes I planned to stay within Canada. I also wanted to buy in a large city with steady population growth. After looking at Montreal and Toronto I ultimately decided to stay around Vancouver due to the following reasons.

  • Prices in Vancouver recently pulled back about 12% from all time highs in 2018.
  • The capitalization rate has greatly improved over previous years.
  • Insanely low vacancy rate of just 1% helps keep rental rates high.
  • Relatively high population growth.
  • Home city advantage. I can manage the investment myself instead of paying a property manager.

Choosing the right investment property

The last step was to narrow down my choices by making a list of criteria – such as the price range, rental restrictions, building age, capitalization rate, etc. The capitalization rate is a measurement of profitability. It’s the net income generated from the property divided by the property’s price. A good cap rate in Vancouver is 3.5% or higher.

A couple of years ago Vancouver was a terrible place to buy rental properties because the projected returns were abysmal. According to Colliers International, the cap rate here was as low as 2%. Ouch. Here’s the data for Q1 2018.

Low rise condos have higher cap rates than high rise condos

However, things turned around over the next 2 years. By the end of 2019 the cap rate climbed as high as 4.25% in some segments of the market. πŸ™‚ It’s still not as lucrative as in other cities, but it’s comparatively better than before. Here’s the data for Q4 2019.

An investment property in the prairie provinces would have a high cap rate

At this point I knew exactly what I’m looking for. So I was finally ready to head out and find me some prime real estate. πŸ™‚

finding the right investment property requires a good realtor

I started searching in October on the website zealty.ca. I also hired a realtor to help me filter listings and write offers. By the way, if you’re looking to buy or sell I recommend finding yourself a British real estate agent. They’re all about the proper-tea. πŸ˜€

Anyway, in the beginning all my offers were falling through. Then one day in December I came across a very promising condo in Burnaby, a vibrant city east of Vancouver.

Burnaby has about 250,000 residents and the population is growing fast

I attended the open house and liked the property right away. It satisfied about 90% of my buying criteria which was excellent. πŸ™‚ The asking price was also reasonable. The market was heating up so I knew I had to act fast. I made an offer shortly after viewing the place. After some back and forth an agreement was reached, and I paid a small deposit – or as I like to say, a condo-minimum. πŸ˜€ I removed my conditions after getting a home inspection and mortgage confirmation. A few weeks later the property was mine. πŸ™‚

Rental Property Criteria

So here are the reasons why I like this condo.

  • Low strata (HOA) fee which works out to just $0.28 per square feet.Β  (See fee schedule here)
  • High cap rate of 3.6% to 4.0% range according to comparable rents in the area.
  • Built by a reputable developer.
  • High walk score and transit score – over 80% for both. This makes it easier to find renters.
  • Safe neighborhood, with a relatively young demographic.
  • Area has a high level of education and high median household income (~$110,000 according to StatCan.)
  • Unit not facing south or west so it doesn’t become a sauna in the summer.
  • No upcoming special assessments or deficiencies in the building.
  • Friendly neighbors.

Now here are some things I don’t like the about property.

  • The underground parking spot is a bit far from the elevator.
  • Can be a little noisy due to construction down the street.

So there’s not much to complain about. Overall I’m very happy with this purchase. πŸ™‚

In any case it was finally time to make some money from my new investment. Do you know how many ants you’ll need to fill an apartment? The answer is tenants. πŸ˜€ I showed the apartment to more than a dozen potential tenants. There were a few goofballs who didn’t show up to their appointments. πŸ˜•

But eventually I found a young, middle class couple with a cat. One of them (not the cat) has a credit score in the high 700s, – surprisingly good for someone in his mid 20s. They moved in at the end of February and pay a monthly rent of $1800 – which they can easily afford on their combined gross income of $100,000/year.

This puts my rental unit’s cap rate at 3.9% – which is on the high side for a Vancouver area condo according to the Colliers table shown above. πŸ™‚

 

Breaking down the numbers

From the beginning I wanted an investment property that would be cash flow positive. A conventional 20% down payment wouldn’t cut it. So instead, I decided to proceed with a 30% down payment.

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Jan 132020
 

Farewell to my 310 acres of Saskatchewan farmland

Farmers and Wall St. bankers don’t have much in common. But something they both seem to enjoy is getting down and dirty with their hoes. πŸ˜‰ Farming can be difficult. Some grain farmers barley scrape by. Luckily for me it’s a lot easier investing in farms than working on them. πŸ™‚

Thank you so much everyone for following me on my 7 year farmland journey. I have received a lot of comments and support regarding this major investment. But all things must come to an end. As you may be aware, last year I put my farmland up for sale with a real estate agent. Well as of last week I have successfully sold my farmland. πŸ™‚

I received my first offer after a few months of listing my land. The buyer and I negotiated and we ultimately settled on a price of $445,000. This is 5% below my initial asking price.

The advantage of getting out of an investment is being able to reflect on my decisions, and consider where I could have done better. In today’s post I’ll review my experiences of buying, managing, and selling the farmland.

Breaking down the numbers

I invested $40,000 of my personal savings, and leveraged up to buy $322,000 worth of farmland. It was basically a 12% downpayment that allowed me to greatly improve my returns by 8-fold. πŸ˜€

Farmland profitability 2013 to 2019: Let’s start by looking at the farm’s income statement over the years. In 2013 my operating costs were low because I only had a mortgage on one farm for most of the year. It wasn’t until the end of 2013 that I had closed on the second farm. I operated at a small loss in 2014 before turning a profit again in 2015.
Net operating profit: $10,000Β 

Let’s look at my capital gains next.

Capital gain = sold price – purchase price – transaction costs
Sold price: $445,000
Purchase price: $322,000Β 
Total commissions and other transaction fees: $26,000
Capital gain = $97,000
Cheese-n-rice! That’s the most money I’ve ever made buying and selling a single investment! This must be what affluent people feel like all the time. πŸ˜€Β 

Finally the return on investment can be determined using the following formula:

ROI = (Net gain from investment / Cost of investment ) x 100%
Net gain = $97,000 capital gain + $10,000 net operating profit
Cost of investment = $40,000

Return on Investment = 268%Β 

 

Wow. 268% ROI over 7 years works out to a 20% annualized return. πŸ˜€ Sweet sassy molassy! I feel simply elated! By comparison the TSX stock market index returned about 60% over the last 7 years, including reinvested dividends.

Here is a look at my farmland balance sheet over the holding period. $40,000 of cash savings was turned into $260,000 due to price appreciation and gradually paying down the farm loan.

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Dec 162019
 

I attempted to join Mensa. What happened next wont surprise you.

So I ran a Twitter poll asking what topic people would like me to write about. The top 2 picks were my Mensa test results and financial plans for next year. πŸ™‚

In today’s post I will discuss all 4 topics from the poll, but focus primarily on the 2 that got the most votes.

Mensa: The smart people club

So out of vanity I decided to take the Mensa exam earlier in the fall. 😎 Mensa is a non-profit international organization for the intellectually gifted. Only the top 2% smartest people in the world can be accepted into this private club. In Vancouver there are only about 200 Mensa members. There are other high IQ societies out there, but Mensa is the oldest, and most well known with over 130,000 members worldwide. Mensa members can attend local meetups and enjoy exclusive intellectually stimulating social events. I decided to join this club because I wanted to feel special. πŸ™‚ So I handed over the $90 to take the formal Mensa exam.

There were 4 other applicants that day. We had a chance to make some small talk. They all seemed to be smarter than me. I felt like a Morty in a room full of Ricks. The test was 50 questions, and we only had 12 minutes. In the end I managed to answer 30 questions correct. Not bad. But unfortunately I needed 35/50 to pass.

How it feels to fail the Mensa exam.

So I failed to get into Mensa. πŸ™ Oh well. I guess I’m just an ordinary peasant after all. Apparently I can re-take the test after a year. But I don’t think I can handle the rejection a second time. πŸ’”

 

The Real Estate Market

Sales is a leading indicator for price. Both Vancouver and Toronto saw strong sales in the last couple of months, signalling potential higher real estate prices in the new year. In a typical cycle the market goes through 3 stages: from boom, to slump, to recovery, and then repeats.

In Vancouver I believe we are currently in a real estate slump. However we are either nearing the bottom of this slump, or have already hit the bottom and are now transitioning into the recovery stage where prices will start to climb again. If you plan to buy property around the Greater Vancouver area, the latest data from the Real Estate Board suggests the window to get in at the lowest point of this real estate cycle is closing fast.

Finding Neverland real estate meme

Toronto is a bit of a different story. The low point was already hit last year in 2018. The recovery has been strong, and average prices now rival the 2017 peak. I anticipate interest rates will fall early next year. If that happens, property prices in major Canadian cities will become more expensive by the summer of 2020.

Continue reading »

Sep 162019
 

One advantage of owning real estate is being able to access the value of the underlying asset for financial gains. The more properties we own, the more equity we can use to buy additional properties. This is why it’s often easier for homeowners to grow their net worths, but harder for renters. One of the best reasons to refinance is to lower the interest rate on your existing mortgage. Historically, many lenders agree that refinancing is a good idea if you can reduce your interest rate by at least 1.00%.

As we know, a mortgage balance gets paid down slowly over time. In the beginning you might have a $300,000 mortgage. But maybe after the first 5 year term is over, your balance is only $250,000. When you go to renew your mortgage you’ll likely have a couple of options. One is to continue paying down the $250,000 balance. Assuming interest rates haven’t changed, your monthly mortgage payments would also be unchanged, because that’s how mortgages are designed. But the other option is to refinance at a higher balance so your total loan amount is increased. By refinancing, you can access up to 80% of your home’s value less any outstanding mortgages. So if the value of your property is now higher than when you bought it, you could potentially borrow more than your initial mortgage amount against your home. πŸ™‚ But your monthly payments would go up in this scenario because you have more debt.

In order to figure out when is a good time to use one method or the other, we need to consider the following factors.

  • How tight is your budget?Β 
    If you are already struggling to make ends meet, then it’s usually not a good idea to refinance at a higher balance. Just keep to the lowest amount until your income and spending situation improves.
  • Are there any investment opportunities out there?
    If you expect a good return on a potential investment, then it may be worth it to borrow more money against your home. For example, the Canadian Apartment Properties REIT (CAR.UN) has performed somewhat predictably over the years. Its 1-Year, 3-Year, 5-Year, 10-Year, and even 15-Year returns have all averaged over 10% per year. If my mortgage rate is 3% then that’s a 7% gap minimum, before taxes. It’s reasonable to assume that a margin of safety of 7% is a low level of risk, considering the stability of Canadian real estate.
  • Do you have any other debts?
    Using home equity is a great way to pay out higher interest debt through a refinance. For example, let’s say you have outstanding car loans, student loans, and credit card balances that combine to equal $50,000. Chances are these are all charging a higher interest rate than your mortgage. So instead of refinancing at $250,000 you could simply grow your mortgage debt to $300,000. And use the extra $50,000 to pay off your other debts, saving interest expenses over time.

In terms of how to get more equity out of your home, you could either take on a home equity line of credit, or blend and extend your current mortgage with your lender. Please be aware there are costs associated with refinancing. If you want to refinance in the middle of your term to access equity or lower your interest rate your lender will charge you a penalty. For fixed mortgage rates this penalty is the greater of 3 months interest or the interest rate differential payment (IRD). For variable mortgage rates this is simply 3 months interest. There may also be lawyer fees involved with a refinance. You can also have multiple mortgages from different lenders at the same time, but a 2nd or 3rd mortgage will often come with a higher interest rate and may not be worth it. So it’s important to consider which type of refinance you need before renewing your mortgage. πŸ™‚

 

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