The roots of my Property Investment Strategy

The roots of my Property Investment Strategy

13:23 PM, 17th December 2010, About 14 years ago 23

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“I measure my business related success by how much I improve my cashflow and my bank balance every year.”

The beginning of my career was spent working in financial rescue and the underwriting of risk.  It was the late 1980’s, property values had plummeted and interest rates had soared to 15%.

Property investors who faced financial ruin all had one thing in common and it wasn’t what you might think.  It wasn’t high gearing; it was a shortage of cash.  Investors with high gearing and high liquidity (cash in the bank) fared well.  This taught me that “Cash is King” and that equity left in property is subject to high risk.

Cash is King: Why I build a rainy day fund

Whether I’m  in the market to buy or whether I’m dealing with the unexpected I believe it is always better to have cash in the bank.  If I don’t there is always the risk that I will not be able to borrow, and where might that leave me?

A strategy of high gearing is all well and good but only when combined with a risk reduction strategy of high liquidity, i.e. money in the bank.  I’ve seen far too many investors get greedy and over accelerate the growth of their portfolio by investing all monies raised as a result of high gearing into further purchases.  My personal strategy is to retain a substantial level of monies raised from remortgaging.

I use part of my rainy day fund to buy properties that I could add substantial value to.  The aim is to get the figures to stack up so that when I’ve optimised the value of a property I can refinance all of my investment back out of it.  I measure my success by how much I improve my cashflow and my bank balance.

Why I believe property investment makes so much sense

Vast quantities of people choose not to own their own home for a variety of reasons and prefer to pay rent for the privilege of occupying property.  In fact, in the early 1900’s over 90% of people in the UK lived in rented accommodation.  This fell to a low point in 1973 to just 7% of the population but has grown steadily since then to around 12%.

The basics

I use rental income to service mortgages and the management, maintenance and insurance expenses associated with property ownership.  Over time, inflation and other factors increase the value of my properties and the rent.  However, my mortgage balances remain constant, assuming of course that only interest is paid.  Therefore, as the years roll on the gap widens between the rents received and the total outgoings thus creating an improved cash flow position.  Rising property values also increase my net worth.  A strategy of borrowing ‘cheap money’ to purchase property is, therefore, an effective method of accelerating my wealth by using other peoples’ money.

Long Term Strategy

My Property Investment Strategy is a long term strategy, i.e. at least one property market cycle.  I consider shorter term strategies are not property investment at all, that’s property speculation.

Why I release equity whenever a realistic opportunity to do so presents itself

This has always been a fundamental component of my property investment strategy.  It’s all about transfer of risk.  If equity is left in the property and the property reduces in value the equity may no longer be accessible and I am taking all the risk.  However, once the property is refinanced, I control the liquidity and the risk is transferred to my lenders for which they earn premium interest returns.

The following simple example might explain this better.

Let’s assume I own an investment property worth £100,000 with no mortgage.

One morning I wake up, turn on the TV and watch the news which announces that property values have fallen by 50%.

My property is now worth £50,000.

Prior to this happening I could have raised a mortgage of £75,000 and kept the money in the bank.  I would then have a property worth £50,000 and a mortgage of £75,000.  Therefore I would have £25,000 of negative equity!

Would I be at risk though? Remember, I would still have £75,000 in the bank.

So what are my choices?

I could feel sorry for the bank.  After all, the bank are now carrying the risk.  If this is the case I could repay the mortgage, or,

I could simply keep the money in the bank, or

I could use part of the money to buy more cheap properties and keep some on one side for a rainy day.

If I had not refinanced I would find it difficult to raise money as the banks would be nervous about lending at this point.  If I then decided to get funding I would probably pay more for it.  Additionally, if I could then borrow 75% of the value of my property, I would only manage to raise £37,500.

If the market goes the other way and property values increase then another window of opportunity may well open to release even more equity.

Rental demand

Whilst the general trend over the long term is for rental values to track inflation, I accept rental demand will fall from time to time, usually depending upon the availability of property to rent.  This is another reason I build a ‘rainy day fund’.

Interest only

Like many investors, I have become a cashflow beneficiary of the ‘Credit Crunch’ due to the lowest interest rates in history.  A question I am often asked is, “Should I use the extra cashflow to reduce my mortgage balances?”  I appreciate that one day interest rates will go back up again and the base logic for the incorrect decision to repay debt now is to reduce payments in the future.  However, as property values fall it gets harder to borrow.  When dealing with a crisis position, e.g. a desperate need for cash or unaffordable mortgage payments, my preference is to have extra cash in the bank then a slightly smaller mortgage.

Accordingly, as my Property Investment Strategy involves taking money out of properties by refinancing whenever an opportunity to do so exists,  I believe there is no sensible argument for making capital repayments on the mortgage, especially if it’s cheap money in comparison to the returns I can make on it elsewhere.

What about negative equity?

My strategy is never to sell, therefore, the only damage that negative equity can cause me is that it prevents me refinancing and may make it difficult for me to sell a property if I need to.  Therefore, my liquidity reserve strategy is also beneficial to reduce negative equity if an unexpected need to sell a property occurs.

Why I believe there is never a bad time to buy

When the property market is booming this is usually coupled with widespread availability of competitive mortgage products.  This market is, however, ‘counter-cyclical’, which means that when property values are stagnant or in decline, the availability of mortgages is also much tighter.  The impact of such ‘supply and demand’ makes borrowing more expensive in recessions and less expensive in boom times.  Therefore, I use buoyant property markets to accelerate the growth of my portfolio using a high gearing and high liquidity strategy in conjunction with easily accessible and highly competitively priced funding. I also know that when funding is more expensive and credit controls are tougher I am in a position to acquire property at ‘bargain basement’ prices.  When the markets become stronger again I will refinance yet again.

If I had known then what I know now ………..

With hindsight would I have purchased properties in 2006 to 2008?  Many of these are now worth less than what I paid for them.  Although some of the properties I purchased were overpriced, compared to today’s values, the mortgages were under priced and far more competitive in every way.  If it wasn’t for properties being over valued I wouldn’t have been able to refinance to replenish my liquidity reserves and to fund the deposits to expand my portfolio in the first place.

To learn more about my property investment strategy please read the following posts in this order:

  1. (You are Here) |  The Roots of my Property Investment Strategy
  2. What you shouldn’t do with your buy to let mortgage
  3. How I maximise the returns on my liquidity fund (cash in the bank)
  4. Sell or hold after completing a refurbishment?
  5. Buy to let strategy – in this article Mark Alexander explains the 20% liquidity reserve rule of thumb
  6. What’s more important, cashflow or liquidity? Mark Alexander reports
  7. Is your property portfolio ownership structure optimised to enable you to pay the minimum amount of CGT, income tax and IHT?
  8. The history of No Money Down and Instant Remortgages since 1992
  9. How I minimise rental voids
  10. How I choose my tenants
  11. How I minimise property management issues
  12. Are YOUR tenants YOUR best ambassadors
  13. Due Diligence
  14. My 1000th post on my favourite property forum
  15. Property management advice
  16. Property investment advice

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22:37 PM, 27th December 2010, About 14 years ago

I've heard a lot of people say 'Now is the best time to buy property'. I heard this in June 2008 when discounts were 20%. A year later, discounts were 25% to 30%. So, those who followed this advice and bought in the last 6 months of 2008, found that they not only overpaid for their bargains but they had more expensive mortgages. I didn't see the logic behind buying property then as things were not the same as in previous recessions. I mean the economy was facing a financial crisis that other recessions didn't face.

However, by Feb 2009, I felt that I had waited long enough and that the market is bumping along the bottom. So, I bought a 3bed mid-terrace house for 71.5K and spent 13.5K refurbishing it which now rents for 575 pcm yielding 8.1%. I waited another year before buying 2 more properties in 2010 one was yielding 8.3% and the other 8.7%. It seems that the yield is getting larger with time either because rents are increasing or prices are falling or both.

I do agree with the central theme that, as equity increases, as much of it as possible should be released and some of it put aside for a rainy day and the rest used to expand the portfolio. So that when values fall, you can use the saved money to buy bargain properties. Even then, you still need to keep a fund to maintain cashflow otherwise you'll end up losing the whole portfolio.

When property values fall, they do so from a peak. Every peak has a shadow and from my experience, you shouldn't invest in the shadow of a peak no matter how good the bargains look at the time. The skill lies in determining the length of the shadow. For me, the peak was August 2007 and it's length is 18 months i.e. until Feb 2009. People still feel that we are still in the shadow as prices are still falling and the future still looks bleak for the foreseeble future especially with the draconian public sector now under way for the next 4 years.

For me, I've played my cards: I've bought 3 properties in 2 years and will continue this trend for the next 4 years or sooner depending on my luck with building multiple income streams.

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23:15 PM, 27th December 2010, About 14 years ago

Thank you for sharing your thoughts Kasim.

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12:36 PM, 29th December 2010, About 14 years ago

Interesting article Mark -
I especially like your comment that negative equity isn't a huge concern when you dont intend to sell. We're in the process of purchasing our third student house in under 2 years and whenever I talk to people about it they always bring up 'declining prices' and 'negative equity'. In my mind I'm creating an income stream as the monthly rent is more than double the monthly mortgage payment - I couldn't care less what's happening to the value of the asset in the short term as I have no intention of realising it nor do we need it for refinancing to continue the growth of our portfolio.

Negative equity is only a worry when you get yourself in a position where you HAVE to sell. With this in mind my advice would be to avoid over leveraging and put off your divorce till the markets recover ^^

Thanks for an interesting read.

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15:14 PM, 29th December 2010, About 14 years ago

Hi Calum

Thanks for your comment and please share the article and this site with other investors you know.

We would all like to buy at the bottom of the market but reality is we don't know when it was until after the event. Therefore, by buying regularly we can use a strategy called pound cost averaging.

Presumably when you talk about gearing you are referring to overall exposure including liquidity as opposed to LTV alone?




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17:39 PM, 31st December 2010, About 14 years ago


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18:45 PM, 31st December 2010, About 14 years ago

Thanks Terry. Will give you a call in the New Year.

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15:34 PM, 1st January 2011, About 14 years ago

I have 4 propertys with 30% equity in should i raise money from this to buy more?

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15:38 PM, 1st January 2011, About 14 years ago

With 30% equity in 4 properties, how much should i raise to buy more property.


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19:22 PM, 1st January 2011, About 14 years ago

Thanks Mark, look forward to hearing from you.

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20:52 PM, 29th January 2011, About 14 years ago

It depends on the total value of your properties but 30% equity is not really enough. I refinanced 2 of my properties because I have 45% and 47% equity in them.

If you've got enough money spare, refurbish your properties to a high standard. This increases the value of your properties by £2 for every £1 you spend on them. This is an average value. From personal experience, I bought a 3bed terraced house for £71.5K, spent £13.5K refurbishing it, and got a further advance of £19.5K from a valuation of £98K. The rise in value is £26.5K which is a tad under £2 for every £1 spent.

That way, when you come to refinance, you can get more out. It's better than money in the bank. Mark has advised, in another post, to release equity and keep it the bank. If prices continue to fall, so will the equity but the money in your bank is safe from falling values. Conversely, if prices rise, so will the equity. This means that you'll be protected against falls in equity but will still benefit from any prices. It's a win-win situation.

Personally, I keep a sinking fund to take care of any unforseen eventualities and invest the rest.

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