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Sunday, January 15, 2006

How to profit by bad examples...

If you want some really bad real estate advice, look no further than The Arizona Republic. Somehow or another, reporter Judy Nichols found three people who suffer from the notion that renting is better than owning their own homes in high-appreciation neighborhoods. Only two actually pulled the trigger and sold their homes, but, as every newspaper reader knows, three random anecdotes are no mere phenomenon but a certifiable trend.

Kurt Nishimura is taking a calculated ride on Arizona's real estate wave. He sold his home in the Willo neighborhood, believing its value has topped out, and is renting an apartment in the Arcadia area for a year, hoping to buy something after the wave has crested.
The Willo is the most popular of the historic districts downtown. Well-restored Willo homes are avidly sought. People cruise the streets slowly, watching for real estate signs to be posted so they can get their bids in first. I am not making this up.

The rate of appreciation in the Willo consistently eclipses the baseline appreciation rate for the Valley. It's not hard to understand why: The supply is fixed and finite and the demand is unlimited. The rest of Mr. Nishimura strategy is also daft, but selling a home in the Willo because he expects its value to go down is particularly addle-pated.

But how about Tom Connelly, "president and chief investment officer for Versant Capital Management"? He "recently sold his house near a mountain preserve in Paradise Valley and is renting an apartment near 24th Street and Camelback Road." What was he thinking? This again is a house that will consistently beat the market. Connelly has a strategy, though. Unfortunately, it's based on securities trading, rather than real estate: "I think that in 12 to 36 months things will go down, way down."

Wanna bet?

Gene Cohen wanted to make the same dumb mistake, but in the end he was just too complacent. He's hanging onto his Willo home for all the wrong reasons. In due course, he will celebrate his inertia.

There is another article in today's Republic asserting that 20% of Americans think the only way they could save $200,000 is to win the lottery, so I suppose we shouldn't be surprised that Ms. Nichols was able to find three seemingly well-heeled gentlemen who are so clueless about basic economics.

For example, Mr. Nishimura wants to wait until interest rates go up before he buys another house. His expectation is that houses will be much cheaper. This will not be the case, but his monthly payments could easily be 25% higher.

This is all very simple calculator math. Any of these men should be able to do it, as should Ms. Nichols. On the one hand, they're going to give up at least 10% a year appreciation on their homes, probably much more, along with the mortgage interest deduction and all the other benefits of owning versus renting--most notably the future leverage value of that accrued appreciation. And on the other hand, they're going to pay a lot more for a lot less when they finally realize that real estate does not work like the stock market.

But if all that is true, what are we to make of these three stooges? Are they really that dumb, or are they concealing other motives?

Could it be that Mr. Nishimura really didn't like the hassles of being a homeowner, so he sold his home and justified it with a bogus economic argument? Could it be that Mr. Cohen is embarrassed that he loves being a homeowner so much? Given that Mr. Connelly telecommutes to Minnesota, is it plausible that he might have wanted a zero-maintenance residence?

We'll never know, because Ms. Nichols didn't drill down to the underlying emotional reasons for selling, for which the purportedly 'logical' reasons may simply be a cover.

On the other hand, it could be they really are as clueless as they come off.

Either way, they have reaffirmed my already strong belief in the long-term value of investing in rental housing.

Who says there's nothing to be gained from reading the newspaper?

posted by Greg Swann | 6:42 AM  


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