Friday, July 13, 2018

Hey! Where should I invest?

I often get a question:

"Hey, I'd like to invest in .... 
plug in any town or city you are wondering about - Toronto, Milton, Hamilton, Windsor, Oshawa, Montreal, Ottawa, Rochester, Buffalo, etc... - 

... what do you think?"

To be honest, in most cases, I think absolutely nothing. I'd really have to do some homework and educate myself about the market before I can answer such a question.

Sometimes, I have a gutt feeling. Especially, when I've had some previous experience in a certain city. Still markets are so fluent and I'd need to look up latest stats and information, in order to provide an educated opinion.

I'd like to share a few questions that I research, whenever I'm getting ready to expand into  a new location.

If you have questions or would like to share your own tips on how to choose a great location to invest in, please add a comment below or send me an email!

1. Do People Want to Live There?

Ideally, population should be 100,000 - 200,000. If it's smaller, you'd really need to study the demand and supply carefully and make sure you know who your tenants are and how you'll find, attract, and keep them. You’ll also need to verify current inventory. Last week, I came across a city that had 26,000 vacant units while the total number of households is around 85,000 and has been declining. This tells me that supply drastically exceeds the demand and I’d have issues filling in units. Prices will not go up for a while in this market. 

There should be evidence and factual proof of recent and upcoming population growth. There are many great cities that, for one reason or another, have experienced population decline. Study latest trends in detail, before deciding to invest in them.

For example, if you come across a town that has been losing people over the past 50 years, I wouldn't bet on a sudden popularity spike. Watch out when you see outward migration, job loss, crime rate increase, poverty climbing up, vacancy rates sky-rocketing, lots of unused or abandoned inventory, etc. All these signs show you that you will likely have difficulty finding quality tenants. 

On the other hand, if you see population decline slowing down, flattening out, and notice people  starting to flood back in, you are onto something! Projected population spike might be a potential gold mine. If you start investing at the right time and get your property at a price that works, you might catch the wave of appreciation. 

Even though appreciation is always a bonus and should not be used in your assessment calculation as a given, it still makes sense to look for areas with high probability of growth and stay away from dying towns.

Projected population growth, recent considerable increase in population, new jobs and businesses opening, new or refreshed infrastructure changes, nearby city or town becoming hyper expensive and over-populated, and vacancy rates dropping are some signals of an emerging market.

2. Lots of Diverse Positives 

Look for social and economic diversity with lots of positives. Be careful when you see a location that has only one great thing going for it. An example of this is all the single big employer cities as well as cities majorly supported by a single industry.

I know that it might seem highly improbable for a giant company to shut the doors, yet we’ve seen so many examples. Windsor, Detroit, and Rochester are some examples of cities that went through a relatively long down town due to larger employers leaving.

One of the ways to find cities with lower risk of over concentration is to look for diversified and balanced list of positives across a wide spectrum: diverse demographics, income levels from entry to high, education from high school to PHD, household sizes from single person to families with kids, several unrelated employment industries, various types and levels jobs - white color, blue color, small businesses, large businesses, new technologies, and established employers, etc.

3. Who and How is Helping the City Grow?  

Lastly, I do a lot of research regarding economic development plans for each location that I plan to invest in. 

Looking at the plans of a City gives you a lot of insight into upcoming trends. For examples, some cities would promote latest technologies, set up programs to attract businesses, implement solutions to upgrade skills of the population to meet incoming businesses' requirements. You'd come across articles when agreements are made between various levels of the government to fund major infrastructure improvement programs: build new bridges, highways, and train stations; grow wind mills farms; re-build airports, etc.

On the other hand, you might come across a town that has its entire budget dedicated to fixing some pot holes in the roads. Most achievements listed on their website would be outdated or insignificant. No major partnerships with outside investors would surface, when you search for news on economic development. You'd realize that no one cares if the city grows. The focus is on status quo. In this case, you'd need to make sure you are good with the status quo and it works for your strategy. Momentum might last a few more years and this may be sufficient.

To recap, since my strategy is mainly based on buy-fix-rent-and-hold-long-term, I focus on finding locations with a high probability of market appreciation due to:

  • Sufficient market size for my needs
  • Recent, current and projected positive trends in population growth
  • Lots of evidence for finding quality renters and demand for the type of units I offer
  • Good supply/demand balance and trends 
  • Minimal risk of economic collapse due to over-concentration in a single niche/industry/social group/etc.
  • Great leadership and people interested in helping the city grow with budgets dedicated to major improvement projects that will attract jobs, people, businesses, and money. Work already under way! 

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