Real estate allows an investor to control a valuable asset with only a small commitment. For investment purposes, an initial investment consists of a 20% down payment plus some closing costs. If you are buying a fixer, then your investment will be higher. That said, your initial investment is much smaller in relation to the value of the asset you are purchasing. Few investments allow this kind of leverage.

Indeed, leverage can be a double edged sword. It can magnify your investment results when things go well. It can work in reverse as well. That is why a margin of safety is vital. A margin of safety is a principle typically associated with investing in securities. It can also be applied to real estate.

Margins of safety for real estate can include the spread between your income and expenses. This is where you only settle for properties offering good, consistent cash flows. For example, a residential property in a distressed market is likely to be underpriced. Your mortgage payments are low in relation to what you’re getting for rent. Being a residential property, there are also plenty of people to rent the property to. Compare this with a commercial property with a greater return on investment but is attractive for only certain types of businesses. You have a much higher risk of vacancy loss. This simply means the property is sitting empty while you are paying the mortgage, taxes, and upkeep. This is why the residential property is the better investment choice despite having a lower ROI.

Another metric that is useful is the market’s price to medium income ratio. This is an important metric to avoid getting caught up in manias and bubbles. When the price for a median home is much more that three times the median income, the overall market is overpriced. As Warren Buffet has said, there are times in which it’s best to do nothing. Opportunities will eventually come.

In addition to getting positive cash flow, real estate is a good inflation hedge over long periods of time. There will be bubbles and panics again in the future. However, real estate will always revert back to its intrinsic value. Investors are best off when they don’t get caught up in the highs and lows. Instead, only buy properties that offer positive cash flow while you wait for price appreciation to accumulate.

 

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