LendingTree Chart: Mortgage Rates vs. Credit Score 2018

Mortgage rates are rising. Home prices are still at recent highs. Yet, mortgage applications are also up, which suggests that people are worried about not being able to afford a house if they wait. Online mortgage comparison site LendingTree publishes a monthly update (March 2018) of what their real customers are getting approved for on their mortgages. Credit score, average APR, down payment, loan-to-value ratio, etc. Here is a chart of mortgage rates vs. credit score.

lendingtree_1803

Clean up your credit score. The survey suggests that the rate difference between the top credit scores and lower scores are widening:

Consumers with the highest credit scores (760+) saw offered APRs of 4.72% in March, vs 4.99% for consumers with scores of 680-719. The APR spread of 27 bps between these score ranges was unchanged from February and still near the widest since this data series began in April 2016. The spread represents over $14,000 in additional costs for borrowers with lower credit scores over 30 years for the average purchase loan amount of $238,593.

I recently paid my income taxes with a credit card, netting some profit but also using up over 50% of the total credit limit. My credit score monitoring services told me this increased debt utilization lowered my credit score by 40 points! This is exactly the type of thing you shouldn’t do if you are in the market for a new mortgage or refinance. If anything, I should have paid off the balance immediately before it was reported to the credit bureaus.

Fundrise Starter Portfolio eREIT vs. Vanguard REIT ETF Review – Updated April 2018

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Updated April 2018. This post tracks my experiment comparing a Fundrise eREIT portfolio and the Vanguard REIT ETF. In Fundrise, we have a start-up that bought a concentrated basket of roughly 20 properties chosen from the private market. In Vanguard, we have a one of the largest real estate ETFs in the world that owns a passive slice of 184 public-traded REITs. I invested $1,000 into both in October 2017 and hope to let them run for 5 years.

Fundrise Starter Portfolio background. Despite the name, the Fundrise Starter Portfolio is actually a simple 50/50 mix of their first two eREITs: the Fundrise Income eREIT and the Fundrise Growth eREIT. Learn about other Fundrise portfolios here. This private eREIT utilizes recent crowdfunding legislation that allows all investors to own a basket of individual real estate properties (not just accredited investors with high net worth). The minimum deposit is $500. You must buy shares directly from Fundrise, and there are liquidity restrictions as this is meant to be a long-term investment. Here’s a recent map of locations for the holdings. Most are apartment complexes, condominiums, and hotels.

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Vanguard REIT ETF background. The Vanguard REIT ETF (VNQ) is one of the largest index funds to invest in publicly-traded real estate investment trusts (REITs). You can purchase it via any brokerage account. You have the liquidity of being to sell on any day the stock market is open. A single share currently costs about $76, not including an trade commission. You are holding a tiny slice of (tens of?) thousands of office buildings, hotels, nursing homes, shopping centers, apartment complexes, and so on. Here are the recent top 10 holdings:

fundrise_vnq3

Expenses. The Fundrise Starter Portfolio waived their advisory fees until 12/31/17 and is now 0.15% annually. Each underlying eREIT will also have their own internal fees and costs for managing the properties. The Vanguard REIT ETF has an expense ratio of 0.12%, with each public REIT having their own internal costs to manage their properties. Due to scale, I would expect the net effect of fees to be significantly higher for the Fundrise assets than for the Vanguard ETF. We will see if Fundrise can provide higher net returns for this concentrated holding.

Five-year time horizon. Both Fundrise and VNQ usually announce dividend distributions on a quarterly basis. Vanguard updates the NAV daily, but Fundrise only updates their NAV quarterly. Fundrise NAVs are only estimates as there is no daily market value available (similar to your house). Therefore, I plan on holding onto this investment for 5 years at the minimum. This will allow the investments to “play out” and also avoid any early redemption fees. I will withhold final judgement until both investments are cashed out, but will provide quarterly updates.

Fundrise Portfolio performance updates. Screenshot of my most recent statement:

fundrise_1803

  • 10/20/17: $1,000 initial investment – 50 shares @ $10.00/share Income eREIT and 48.78 shares @ $10.25/share Growth eREIT.
  • 1/9/18: 2017 Q4 dividends of $17.98 total distributed. Total value $1,018.72.
  • 3/31/18: NAV values of $9.81/share for Income eREIT and $10.71/share for Growth eREIT.
  • 4/11/18: 2018 Q1 dividends of $16.13 total distributed.
  • 4/11/18: Total Fundrise value $1,049.44 (includes reinvested dividends).

Vanguard REIT ETF performance updates. I own VNQ and the mutual fund equivalent VGSLX (same underlying holdings) in my retirement portfolio, but will be using Morningstar tools to track the performance of a $1,000 investment bought on the same date of 10/20/17.

  • 10/20/17: $1,000 initial investment – 11.9545 shares at $83.65/share.
  • 12/27/17, VNQ distributed a gain of $0.012 per share, return of capital of $0.37 per share, and a dividend of $0.88 per share.
  • 1/9/18: Total VNQ value $971.45 (includes dividends). Share price $80.45.
  • 3/29/18: VNQ distributed a dividend of $0.71 per share.
  • 4/11/18: Total VNQ value $915.52 (includes reinvested dividends).

fundrise_1803c3

The net asset value of the major US REIT indexes has dropped since 2018 started. Again, I wouldn’t put too much stock into the short-term movements as the accuracy of the Fundrise NAV is inherently limited, but this is the best information that I have available. Once a year has passed, I can also include a trailing 12-month yield.

You can learn more about all Fundrise eREIT options here. I have written about my past experiences in my Fundrise eREIT review and Fundrise Liquidity and Redemption review.

50 State Infographic: How Much Income Do You Need to Afford the Average Home?

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HowMuch.net compiled an infographic about the income you need to afford the average home in every US state. The key is that “afford” means that the total cost of housing take up no more than 30% of gross income. The highest income required is in Hawaii ($153,520 for a house worth $610,000) and the lowest is in West Virginia (West Virginia: $38,320 for a house worth $149,500).

I suppose the next level analysis would be to divide by the actual median income in each state to measure relative affordability. The same job can pay different salaries in different areas, so it can still make sense to move to a place with higher incomes and high real estate prices.

Big List of Free Consumer Data Reports (2/2): See Your Confidential Rental History, Insurance, & Employment Data

magLinks updated 2018. Here is the second part of my big list of free consumer reports from over 50 different reporting agencies. The first part included your credit, banking, and subprime lending-related information. This part includes your housing, insurance, and employment history. Request a free copy every 12 months of what these databases have stored about you and are telling prospective landlords, insurers, or employers.

Again, you may not need to check all of these, and many may not even have a file on you anyway. But for example if you are a renter then you’d want to make sure your rental history is clean and correct, because if I was a landlord I’d avoid anyone with previous blemishes on their record.

Rental History

Realpage Consumer Report. Provides tenant screening through their LeasingDesk product, including “the industry’s largest rental payment history database.”

CoreLogic SafeRent. SafeRent provides both tenant and employment screening data, including information regarding landlord tenant and criminal public court records. One free report every 12 months.

Experian RentBureau Rental History Report. “Every 24 hours, Experian RentBureau receives updated rental payment history data from property owners/managers, electronic rent payment services and collection companies and makes that information available immediately to the multifamily industry through our resident screening partners.”

First Advantage Resident History Report. Tenant and employment background checks. One free report every 12 months.

Contemporary Information Corp. CIC provides background checks on prospective tenants and/or employees and contractors for landlords and management companies. Keep records of any rental evictions.

Tenant Data. Provides tenant history reports, including any reported damages, unpaid balances, evictions, lease violations, noise complaints, or unauthorized pets.

Screening Reports, Inc. A national provider of background screening service to the multi-family housing industry.

TransUnion Rental Screening Solutions, Inc. SmartMove provides tenant credit, eviction, and background checks.

  • MySmartMove.com FAQ page
  • SmartMove will disclose the contents of a criminal and/or credit report retained by SmartMove to an individual who requests a copy of their report. To verify your identity and obtain a copy of your report(s) or dispute any information within that report, please contact customer service at 866-775-0961.

Auto and Property Insurance

C.L.U.E. Personal Property Report. A division of LexisNexis, CLUE stands for Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange, which collects information that is used to calculate your insurance premiums. This report provides a seven year history of losses associated with an individual and his/her personal property. Includes date of loss, loss type, and amount paid along with general information such as policy number, claim number and insurance company name. This also means you can find out about previous claims on the house you are currently renting or recently bought, even if they weren’t made by you.

C.L.U.E. Auto Report. This report provides a seven year history of automobile insurance losses associated with an individual. Includes date of loss, loss type, and amount paid along with general information such as policy number, claim number and insurance company name.

Verisk Analytics aka ISO aka A-PLUS Loss History Reports. ISO stands for Insurance Services Office, A-PLUS stands for Automated Property Loss Underwriting System. Auto and property loss claim history.

Insurance Information Exchange (now owned by Verisk). Provide reports including your motor vehicle records and driver history, including any traffic violations or related criminal history. May require proof of adverse action to obtain free report.

Drivers History. Provides reports to its insurance clients containing information and data collected from open public sources and governmental agencies regarding driving violations issued to specific individuals.

Utilities

National Consumer Telecom and Utilities Exchange. NCTUE is a “membership of companies that provide services (telecommunication, pay TV, and utilities) […] to aid in risk mitigation.” Basically they track when people don’t pay their phone, cable, or utility bills. One free report every 12 months.

Medical History

MIB (previously known as Medical Information Bureau). Run by 470 insurance companies with a “primary mission of detecting and deterring fraud that may occur in the course of obtaining life, health, disability income, critical illness, and long-term care insurance.” They record information of “underwriting significance” like medical conditions or hazardous activities. If you have not applied for individually underwritten life, health, or disability income insurance during the preceding seven year period, then you probably don’t have a record.

Milliman IntelliScript. Tracks your prescription drug purchase history. “Milliman IntelliScript will have prescription information about you only if you authorized the release of your medical records to an insurance company and that company requested that we gather a report on you.”

Employment History

The following companies all offer background screening services for employers. Most will not have any information about you unless you authorized a potential employer to run a background check on you (probably during the application process). Some will not provide you information unless there was adverse action. Otherwise, you can get one free copy every 12 months.

The Work Number. (division of Equifax) They also keep historical income records.

Accurate Background, Inc.

American Databank, LLC.

Backgroundchecks.com.

EmployeeScreenIQ.

General Information Services.

HireRight.

Info Cubic.

IntelliCorp.

OPENonline.

Pre-employ.

Professional Screening & Information, Inc.

Sterling Talent Solutions (formerly Sterling Backcheck or Sterling Infosystems)

Trak-1 Technology.

Reminder: Also see Part 1: Big List of Free Consumer Reports with Your Credit, Banking, and Payday Lending Data.

Sources: ConsumerFinance.gov, FTC.gov, Wikipedia

Big List of Free Consumer Data Reports (1/2): See Your Confidential Credit, Banking, and Payday Lending Data

magLinks updated for 2018. Since these are available every 12 months, it is a good idea to check these near or around the same time each year. A lot of companies make their money by collecting and selling data – your personal data. In the past, it was often difficult if not impossible to see what they were telling prospective lenders, landlords, even employers about you. Under the FCRA and/or FACT Acts, many consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) are now legally required to send you a free copy of your report every 12 months, as well as provide a way to dispute incorrect information.

Some have an online request form, but some require snail mail with proof of identity. (Some are shady and really try to hide information about requesting reports.) You probably won’t want to bother checking all of them, but if you’ve experienced any sort of rejection or adverse reaction in these areas the cause might be found inside one of these databases. Keep in mind that you may not have a file with all of these places.

Credit-Related

Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. The three major credit bureaus track your credit accounts, payment history, and other related information like bankrupts and liens. Free copy of each once every 12 months.

CoreLogic Credco. One of the largest credit-related CRAs and often used by mortgage lenders, your CoreLogic Credco Consumer File can contain: previous homeownership and mortgage info, rental payment history, any reported delinquencies, and other debt obligations like child support. Free copy once every 12 months.

LexisNexis. One of the largest personal information databases that includes public records, real estate transaction and ownership data, lien, judgment, and bankruptcy records, professional license information, and historical addresses on file. Free copy, must mail in form.

Innovis. A supplementary credit report and identity verification provider. Free copy once every 12 months.

SageStream, LLC (formerly IDA, Inc.) Per their site, they are a “a credit reporting agency that produces credit reports and scores from our repository of consumer information contributed by a wide array of companies including leading financial services organizations, wireless providers, utilities, retailers, auto lenders and many others” Free copy, must fax or mail in a written form.

Microbilt and subsidiary Payment Reporting Builds Credit (PRBC). Microbilt is a credit reporting agency, per their site a “leading provider of alternative credit data to businesses that want to offer credit and other financial services to the approximately 110 million underserved and underbanked consumers in the United States.” Free copy once every 12 months.

Banking-Related

Chexsystems. A consumer information database used by an estimated 80-90% of all banks to help determine the risk of opening new accounts. Think of it as the banks’ version of a credit bureau. If a person commits check fraud or overdraws their account, it will be listed here. In addition, the simple act of opening or closing a bank account may be recorded in their database. Having a negative ChexSystems record can leave you blacklisted from opening bank accounts at most major banks. Free copy once every 12 months. You can now request your report online.

TeleCheck. Per their site, they provide “industry-leading check acceptance, check processing and risk analytics services to merchants and financial institutions.” One of the major companies that protect businesses and banks from bad checks. Must order by phone or mail.

Certegy Check Services. Per their site, a “check risk management company that provides verification, guarantee and risk analytics to thousands of businesses that choose to accept checks as a form of payment for goods or services.” Clients include check-cashing stores and casinos. Free copy once every 12 months. Must order by phone or mail.

Early Warning Services. A collaboration between a group of big banks including Bank of America, BB&T, Capital One, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo. Provides fraud prevention and risk management in relation to bank accounts and payment transactions. Must order by phone.

Subprime-Related (Payday Lending)

The following companies focus on subprime customers with clients including payday lenders, title loan lenders, rent-to-own stores, and subprime auto loan providers.

Teletrack (affiliated with CoreLogic).

FactorTrust. Free copy once every 12 months. Recently acquired by TransUnion.

Clarity Services, Inc. Must mail or fax form.

DataX Ltd. Must mail form.

Next up, see Part 2: Rental History, Insurance, & Employment Data.

Sources: ConsumerFinance.gov, FTC.gov, Wikipedia

The Real Estate Crowdfunding Capital Stack: Equity vs. Debt

Before I share more about my real-estate crowdfunding experiments, I wanted to take a quick step back in order to provide better context. Just as ETFs and mutual funds are separated into stocks and bonds, real estate can be separated into two general types of investments:

  • Equity = an ownership interest in the asset.
  • Debt = a loan, typically collateralized by the asset itself or other assets of the equity owner.

In the business world, I could buy a piece of Amazon or Apple and participate in the ups and down of the business value, or I could invest in bonds issued by Amazon or Apple and get a fixed return as long as Amazon and Google keep making their interest payments within the stated period of time.

This is called the “capital stack”. In residential real estate, the stack can be quite simple. There is one homeowner and one mortgage-holder (debt). If they ever sell the house, any proceeds must first go towards the mortgage-holder. Anything left over goes to the homeowners. If the house gets sold for $400,000 and had a $300,000 mortgage, the homeowner would get $100,000. When you see the image below (source), imagine water filling up a container. The bottom layer gets paid first. If there isn’t enough “water”, the next layer doesn’t get paid. If there is excess “water”, that goes to the equity owner. (image source)

recapitalstack1

In commercial real estate, here are the four most common layers of the capital stack: common equity, preferred equity, mezzanine debt, and senior debt. Preferred equity, as its location suggests, is in between common equity and debt in terms of cashflow priority and return upside potential. It has a more senior position to cashflow than common equity, but it still junior to mezzanine and senior debt. Mezzanine debt can be explained as similar to when a homeowner might also take out a “home equity loan” that junior to the first mortgage (and thus usually at a higher interest rate). Both of these intermediate stacks are more complex in terms of how much extra return are you getting for how much extra risk, and thus I tend to avoid them. (image source)

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The expected return of each layer is then adjusted based on its position in the stack. Keep in mind that as your expected return increases, so does the possibility that your actual return is zero or negative. (image source)

recapitalstack4

My equity investments. My initial feeling was that publicly-traded REITs do a pretty good job on the equity side. The big REITs hold big apartment complexes, hundreds of public storage facilities, etc. Is there an opportunity for higher returns from smaller properties? Perhaps, but the problem is that it takes years for equity investments to pan out. My plan is to invest another $1,000 into Fundrise eREITs and hold on to them for 5 years as a long-term experiment. As the dividends are paid and the net asset value is updated, I can compare side-by-side with the dividends and net asset value of the low-cost Vanguard REIT ETF (VNQ).

My debt investments. I prefer the idea of providing short-term, 7%-9% loans backed by a hard asset like real estate. This is an area traditional referred to as “hard money loans”. I can’t replicate this type of deal with an ETF or mutual fund. I plan to increase my investment in PeerStreet to roughly $25,000 total as they focus 100% on the debt side and I like their platform so far. I invest only in notes with a term under 12 months, and in the first position (most senior). This remains under my “5% Speculative Portfolio” and will track my returns regularly.

Housing Has Higher Long-Term Returns Than Stocks?

housemoneyI finally got around to reading an academic paper that looked a bit dry but had a great title: The Rate of Return on Everything, 1870–2015 [pdf] by Jorda, Knoll, Kuvshinov, Schularick, and Taylor. I wonder which of the authors came up with that.

One of the major findings that was residential housing – when you add up the returns from both price change and imputed rent – had a higher overall average return than stocks (equities). Not only did housing have higher returns, but it also had lower volatility (standard deviation). Here’s a chart that compares housing and equities:

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When the paper was released, places like the Financial Times discussed the paper’s conclusions but none of them addressed my two immediate questions.

Did they account for the maintenance and management costs of rental real estate? If you own a rental property, you may still have to pay for lawn maintenance, replacing roofs, HVAC units, interior and exterior painting, replacing carpets, and various other issues. To be fairly compared with equities, you should also account for property management costs. Here’s are excerpts that deal with maintenance and repairs:

To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this study is the first to present long-run returns on residential real estate. We combine the long-run house price series presented by Knoll, Schularick, and Steger (2016) with a novel dataset on rents from Knoll (2016). For most countries, the rent series rely on the rent components of the cost of living of consumer price indices as constructed by national statistical offices and combines them with information from other sources to create long-run series reaching back to the late 19th century.

A number of additional issues have to be considered when constructing returns on housing. First, any homeowner incurs costs for maintenance and repairs which lower the rental yield and thus the effective return on housing. We deal with this issue by the choice of the benchmark rent-price ratios. Specifically, in the Investment Property Database (IPD) the rental yields reflect net income (i.e., net of property management costs, ground rent, and other irrecoverable expenditure) received for residential real estate as percentage of the capital employed.

Did they account for the annual property taxes required on residential real estate? In many US states, the annual property tax bill can exceed 1% of the value of the house. Some are closer to 2% annually, and these are owner-occupied numbers. Rental properties may be higher. That’s on top of any potential capital gains you’d owe upon sale of the house, and any taxes you’d owe on rent received. Here’s are excerpts that deal with taxes:

Although the extent of real estate taxation varies widely across countries, real estate is taxed nearly everywhere in the developed world. International comparisons of housing taxation levels are, however, difficult since tax laws, tax rates, assessment rules vary over time and within countries. Typically, real estate is subject to four different kinds of taxes. First, in most countries, transfer taxes or stamp duties are levied when real estate is purchased. Second, in some cases capital gains from property sales are taxed. Often, the tax rates depend on the holding period. Third, income taxes typically also apply to rental income. Fourth, owners’ of real estate may be subject to property taxes and/or wealth taxes where the tax is based upon the (assessed) value of the property.
This section briefly describes the current property tax regimes by country and provides estimates of the tax impact on real estate returns.

With few exceptions, the tax impact on real estate returns can be considered to be less than 1 percentage point per annum.

This is an interesting paper that tries to cover a huge amount of stuff. Estimating the return of all businesses from all countries for the last 150 years? Estimating the return of all residential real estate from all countries for the last 150 years? They mix together a bunch of different datasets, so it’s hard to know exactly the quality level of each and how well they accounted for things like taxes and maintenance.

I’m not sure why they prefer to use arithmetic averages instead of geometric averages, but even if you shave off 1% for additional property taxes and another 1% because you don’t think they account for maintenance costs adequately, housing returns are still at least comparable to equity returns.

Here is the most recent update of the Case/Shiller home price index from Multpl, which tracks US housing prices on an inflation-adjusted basis:

shiller1890

Some people use this to argue that housing returns only keep up with inflation, but home prices ignore the value of rent. The fact that most housing purchases involve a mortgage loan does complicate things a bit.

Bottom line. An interesting paper that compares the long-term returns (last 150 years!) of residential housing and equities. In the long run, some may be surprised that residential housing returns at least matched equity returns, and housing returns had lower volatility. This is a reminder that you can also build wealth via residential real estate, taking into account that rent makes up half of the total return. Stocks are not the only game in town. (Just like with stocks, can is not the same as will.) New services like AirBNB provide an alternate path to monetize residential real estate.

PeerStreet Review: Real Estate Backed Loan Investments, My 14-Month Experience

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I’ve been investing in various real-estate crowdfunding platforms since early 2015 with minimum $1,000-$2,000 investments here and there. In August 2016, I put $10,000 into a new platform: automated real-estate loans from PeerStreet. I decided to wait a year and see how it worked out letting someone else pick your loans. For this type of lending, you have to be an accredited investor. Here’s my review after 14 months of being an investor.

The basic premise of PeerStreet is simple (and similar to other sites). Real estate equity investors want to take out short-term loans (6 to 24 months) and don’t fit the profile of a traditional mortgage borrower. They are professional investors with multiple properties, need bridge financing, or they are on a tight timeline. As a real-estate-backed loan investor, you lend them money at 6% to 12% and usually backed by a first lien on the property. The borrower stands to lose the equity in their property (I keep LTV under 70%), so they are highly incentivized to avoid default. In the worst case, you would foreclose and liquidate the property in order to get your money back. However, this is better than Prosper or LendingClub where it is an unsecured loan and your only recourse is to lower their credit score.

What are PeerStreet strengths? Here are the reasons that I decided to put more a higher amount of money into PeerStreet as compared to other worthwhile real estate marketplace sites:

  • Debt-only focus. Other real estate (RE) sites will offer both equity and debt (and some thing in between). PeerStreet only focuses on debt, and I also prefer the simplicity of debt. There is limited upside but also less downside. Traditionally, this might be called “hard money lending”.
  • Lower $1,000 investment minimum. Many RE investment sites have minimums of $10,000 or $25,000. A few will go down to $2,000 but there is not a steady supply. At PeerStreet, $25,000 will get me slices of loans from 25 real estate properties.
  • Greater availability of investments. Amongst all of the RE websites that I have joined, PeerStreet has the highest and most steady volume of loans that I’ve seen. I dislike having idle cash just sit there, waiting and not earning interest. They apparently have a unique process where they have a network of lenders that bring in loans for them. This steady volume allows the lower $1,000 minimums and more diversification, as well as easy reinvestment of matured loans.
  • Automated investing. The above two characteristics allow PeerStreet to run an automated investment program. You give them say $5,000 and they will invest it automatically amongst five $1,000 loans. You can set certain criteria (LTV ratio, term length, interest rate). When a loan matures, the software can automatically reinvest your available cash. I don’t even have to log in.
  • Consistent underwriting. You should perform your own due diligence in this area, as you can only feel comfortable with automated investing if you think every loan is more or less underwritten fairly. The riskier loans get higher interest rates. The less-risky loans get lower interest rates. The shady borrowers are turned away. Otherwise, you’d want to pick and choose. After doing this for a year, I stopped wanting to pick and choose. I want to just sit back and let the software choose for me. We’ll see if it works out.
  • Backed by Andreessen Horowitz and also Michael Burry. Andreessen Horowitz did the Series A funding. Michael Burry was an early seed investor, using $6.1 million of his own money according to TechCrunch. As profiled in The Big Short, Burry is known for being analytical to a fault, as opposed to being a good salesman.

Here’s a screenshot of the automated investing customizer tool:

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(Tip: Even if you plan on investing only in $1,000 loans, once you are fully invested you might change later to a higher minimum like $1,250 in order to more quickly reinvest your idle cash. For example, if you have $78 in interest and then a $1,000 loan is paid off, then you could invest $1,078 automatically into your next loan.)

What is a potential PeerStreet drawback? In my opinion, slightly lower yields. This is just my limited understanding and I may be wrong, but PeerStreet has a network of lenders bringing in these deals and so the net yield to the investor feels lower than other sites. This “con” is also their secret sauce that brings in the high loan volume (and ideally the ability to be more selective), and so I am willing to earn lower interest rates for the added diversification and convenience of automated investing.

Here’s the 1-minute video pitch from PeerStreet:

How does PeerStreet make money? As with other real estate marketplace lenders, they charge a servicing fee. PeerStreet charges between 0.25% and 1%, taken out from the interest payments. This way, PeerStreet only gets paid when you get paid. When you invest, you see the fee and net interest rate that you’ll earn. In exchange, they help source the investments, set up all the required legal structures, service the loans, and coordinate the foreclosure process in case of default. In some cases, the originating lenders retains a partial interest in the loan (“skin in the game”). Here’s a partial screenshot:

peerstreet_fee

What if PeerStreet goes bankrupt? This is the same question posed to LendingClub and Prosper, and their solution is also the same. The loans are held in a bankruptcy-remote entity and will continue to be serviced by a third-party even in a bankruptcy event. From their FAQ:

PeerStreet also holds loans in a bankruptcy-remote entity that is separate from our primary corporate entity. In the event PeerStreet no longer remains in business, a third-party “special member” will step in to manage loan investments and ensure that investors continue to receive interest and principal payments. Additionally, investor funds are held in an Investors Trust Account with City National Bank and FDIC insured up to $250,000.

Tax forms? In general, unless you use a self-directed IRA, the interest earned will be taxed as ordinary income (like bank account interest). For tax year 2016, I received a simple 1099-INT and filing it with my income taxes was easy. Here’s what PeerStreet says:

PeerStreet investors will be issued a consolidated Form 1099 for the income distributed from their investment positions. Investors may receive one or more of the following types of 1099 form:

1099-OID for notes with terms longer than one year (at the time of issue)
1099-INT for notes with terms less than one year (at the time of issue)
1099-MISC for incentives, late fees or other income, if more than $600.

My investment performance. I starting investing with $10,000 in August 2016. I’ve already had over $10,000 in loan value paid back already, but I chose to reinvest immediately. As of this writing in 10/1/2017, my total account value is $10,863.46 invested across 10 different loans after reinvestment. My interest to date is $863.46, which works out to 7.7% annualized return net of all fees and taking into account the short periods where my cash was idle. Here are screenshots of my paid-off loans and a chart of cumulative interest earned.

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Now, I don’t know what the default rate is overall, but sooner or later I will probably experience one. This will require patience as it will take a while for the foreclosure process to play out. In my experience, this is a critical difference with private real estate loans. You can’t make a few clicks and get your money back at the current market price. I might have to wait months or even more than a year. The good news that with a hard asset as collateral, eventually I have a solid chance of getting my money back with interest. I am willing to accept this illiquidity and hopefully earn higher returns in exchange.

Update: As of October 2017, PeerStreet has stated they have originated $500 million of loans with zero investor losses.

Bottom line. PeerStreet offers high-yield, short-term loans backed by private real estate. Instead of traditional “hard money lending”, accredited investors can diversify with only $1,000 minimum in properties nationwide with automatic investments, without having to do any physical legwork. The number of new, available investments is better than competitors in my experience. Will it provide superior risk-adjusted returns as compared to other high-yield bonds? I don’t know, but my experience so far after 14 months has been positive.

If you are interested and are an accredited investor, you can sign-up for free and browse investments at PeerStreet before depositing any funds or making any investments.

See also my previous investments: Patch of Land (accredited only), a debt investment backed by a single-family residential property in California. Fundrise eREIT (open to public), a basket of commercial property investments with an equity focus. RealtyShares, a debt investment backed by a 6-unit apartment complex.

Coffin Homes: Living in Tiny Spaces As a Last Resort

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The Atlantic has a photojournalism article The ‘Coffin Homes’ of Hong Kong which startled me and challenged my idea of a “tiny” living spaces. The size reminded me of capsule hotels in Japan, except these are in much worse condition and are permanent residences. A sad and extreme example of high population density and lack of affordable housing.

Cheung reports that there is a “dark side to the property boom in wealthy Hong Kong, where hundreds of thousands of people priced out of the market must live in partitioned apartments, ‘coffin homes’ and other inadequate housing.” These residents are among an estimated 200,000 people in Hong Kong living in such tiny subdivided units, some so small that a person cannot even fully stretch out their legs.

RealtyShares Review 2017: Wisconsin Apartment Loan One-Year Update

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Here’s a one-year update on my $2,000 investment through RealtyShares, a partial interest in a loan backed by a 6-unit apartment complex in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. RealtyShares is restricted to accredited investors only. Here are the highlights:

  • Property: 6-unit, 6,490 sf multifamily in Milwaukee, WI.
  • Interest rate: 9% APR, paid monthly.
  • Amount invested: $2,000.
  • Term: 12 months, with 6-month extension option.
  • Total loan amount is $168,000. Purchase price is $220,000 (LTC 76%). Estimated after-repair value is $260,000. Broker Opinion of Value is $238,000.
  • Loan is secured by the property, in the first position. Also have personal guarantee from borrower.
  • Stated goal is to rehab, stabilize, and then either sell or refinance.

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Property details. I chose this property because it is different from my other past “experiments”. I have never lived in or visited Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I have never invested in an apartment complex. Where I live, parking spaces have sold for more than $200,000. All units are 2 bed/1 bath, currently fully rented for ~$600 a month each. I don’t know all the numbers, but this place earns roughly $43,000 in gross annual rents with a purchase price of $220,000. Annual property taxes are $3,000 a year. Even if half of the rent is spent on expenses, that is still a cap rate of 10%. To be honest, I have had some second thoughts about this borrower (after a few late payments) that s/he is juggling too many investment properties using crowdfunding websites.

Initial experience. This specific investment was not “pre-funded” by RealtyShares. That meant that I had to wait until they secured enough committed money before the deal can go forward. I committed to this loan on 12/21/15 and $2,000 was debited from my Ally bank account on 12/29/15. However, the funding goal was not reached until 1/13/16 (before which I earned no interest) and I didn’t receive my first interest payment until 3/4/16 (for interest accrued 1/13-2/10). There was essentially a 3 month period between the time where they first took my money and I received my first interest check. I did receive my second month of interest shortly thereafter on 3/17/16.

Since my initial investment, RealtyShares has started offering investments on a pre-funded basis. You should also know that you don’t have to deposit any money into your account first before investing in any deal. You should link an account, but you can sign the papers and they will debit the funds when the investment closes.

What if RealtyShares goes bankrupt? RealtyShares investments have a bankruptcy-remote design. RealtyShares, Inc. is the platform. Your investment is held within a separate special-purpose LLC with a designated trustee which would continue to operate even if RealtyShares, Inc. goes bankrupt.

Payment history. I’ve been earning my 9% APR interest on my $2,000 initial investment, which works out to $15 a month. Below is a screenshot of my interest payments, which I have elected to by deposited directly into my bank account. You can see that I have received 12 payments over the last 12 months (March 2016 to March 2017). The borrower has had a few late payments, but always seems to catch up eventually. There was a mention of late charges potentially being charged, but none appear to have been paid out to my account. I need to follow-up on that (I assume it was within the allowed grace period).

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Recap and next steps? My real-estate-backed loan through RealtyShares is now a year old, designated my Real Estate Crowdfunding Experiment #3. I have received my 9% interest as promised, and the loan is current although some past payments have been late before becoming current again. The borrower has exercised the 6-month extension option and the loan now has an expected maturity of 5/20/17, so it remains a continuing experiment to see how/if/when the borrower pays off the loan in full. I definitely like that my loans are backed by hard assets, and a small part of me is still curious as to what would happen if the borrower just walked away.

Please don’t take any of my experiments as recommendations as the entire point is that I don’t know all the angles. I am sharing and learning. Also, I don’t know your situation. If you are interested and are an accredited investor, you can sign-up for free and browse investments at RealtyShares before depositing any funds or making any investments.

Experiment #1 was with Patch of Land and single-family residential property in California, which was paid back in full with a 12.5% annualized return. Experiment #2 is ongoing with the Fundrise Income eREIT, which holds a basket of commercial property investments and has been paying quarterly distributions on a timely basis.

Fundrise Income eREIT Review 2017: One Year Update

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Here’s an update on my $2,000 investment into the Fundrise Income eREIT. Fundrise is taking advantage of recent legislation allowing certain crowdfunding investments to be offered to the general public (they were previously limited only to accredited investors). REIT = Real Estate Investment Trust. This specific eREIT initially sold out of its $50 million offering, but Fundrise has since opened regional eREITs called the West Coast, Heartland, and East Coast eREITs. The highlights:

  • $1,000 investment minimum.
  • Quarterly cash distributions.
  • Quarterly liquidity window. You can request to sell shares quarterly, but liquidity is not always guaranteed.
  • Fees are claimed to be roughly 1/10th the fees of similar non-traded REITs. Until Dec 31, 2017, you pay $0 in asset management fees unless you earn a 15% annualized return.
  • Transparency. They give you the details on the properties held, along with updates whenever a new property is added or sold.

Why not just invest in a low-cost REIT index fund? I happen to think most everyone should invest in a low-cost REIT index fund like the Vanguard REIT ETF (VNQ) if they want commercial real estate exposure. I have many times more money in VNQ than I have in Fundrise. VNQ invests in publicly-traded REITs, huge companies worth up to tens of billions of dollars. VNQ also has wide diversification and daily liquidity. But as publicly-traded REITs have grown in popularity (and price), their income yields have gone down.

Fundrise makes direct investments into smaller properties with the goal of obtaining higher risk-adjusted returns. They do a mix of equity, preferred equity, and debt. Examples of real-life holdings are a luxury rental townhome complex and a $2 million boutique hotel. From their FAQ:

Specifically, we believe the market for smaller real estate transactions (“small balance commercial market or SBC”) is underserved by conventional capital sources and that lending in the market is fragmented, reducing the availability and overall efficiency for real estate owners raising funds. This inefficiency and fragmentation of the SBC market has resulted in a relatively favorable pricing dynamic which the eREIT intends to capitalize on using efficiencies created through our technology platform.

Here’s a comparison chart taken from the Fundrise site:

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Quarterly liquidity. As noted, the investment offers the ability to request liquidity on a quarterly basis, but it is not guaranteed that you can withdraw all that you request. In addition, you may not receive back your full initial investment based on the current calculation of the net asset value (NAV).

Update: I tested out the quarterly liquidity window and was able to withdraw my funds in a simple process and without issue.

Dividend reinvestment. I chose to have my dividends paid directly into my checking account. However, you can now choose to have your dividend automatically reinvested across currently available offerings.

Tax time paperwork? All you get at tax time is a single 1099-DIV form with your ordinary dividends listed in Box 1a. That’s it. Every other box is empty. This is much easier than dealing with the 10-page list of tax lots from LendingClub or Prosper.

Dividend income updates.

  • Q1 2016. 4.5% annualized dividend was announced. This was the first complete quarter of activity, so the dividend was not as large as when funds became fully invested. The portfolio had 13 commercial real estate assets from 8 different metropolitan areas, with approximately $31.5 million committed.
  • Q2 2016. 10% annualized dividend announced, paid mid-July. Portfolio now includes 15 assets totaling roughly $47.25M in committed capital.
  • Q3 2016. 11% annualized dividend announced, paid mid-October.
  • Q4 2016. 11.25% annualized dividend announced, paid mid-January. Portfolio now includes 17 assets and all of the $50 million has been invested.

Screenshot from my account:

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Recap and next steps? It has now been over a year since my initial investment in the Fundrise Income eREIT, designated my Real Estate Crowdfunding Experiment #2. I’ve earned $183.01 in dividends on my initial $2,000 investment. The quarterly dividends have arrived on time, I get regular e-mail updates, and it has been nearly zero-maintenance. I still accept the possibility of wide price fluctuations, as with any real estate investment.

Update: I tested out the quarterly liquidity window and was able to withdraw my funds in a simple process and without issue. Fundrise is still accepting direct investments into some of their eREITs, but I am now looking to re-invest into their new Fundrise 2.0 system, which has a new $500 minimum and allocates across multiple eREITs. You can sign-up and browse investments at Fundrise for free before depositing any funds or making any investments.

MogulREIT: CrowdFunded Real Estate for Non-Accredited Investors

rmlogo200While the number of real estate crowdfunding sites keeps growing, most marketplaces still require you to be an accredited investor with high income and/or net worth requirements. However, options for non-accredited investors should improve shortly due to the expanded Regulation A+ per the JOBS Act, which allows the general public to invest in private companies under certain circumstances.

RealtyMogul.com just announced their offering called the MogulREIT I. Instead of being able to buy part of a specific shopping center or providing a loan against a specific apartment complex, these REITs take your money and the sponsors get to pick out a diversified pool of commercial estate. The investor has much less control, but easier diversification. Instead of putting $2,500 into one building, you can spread $2,500 across 20 or 30 properties. Here are more details from their website:

  • Fund intends to be diversified across property types, investment types, and geographies.
  • The Fund expects to pay quarterly distributions starting the second full quarter of operation.
  • The Fund will provide certain redemption opportunities, quarterly.
  • MogulREIT I is audited by Cohn Reznick and administered by Opus Fund Services.
  • $2,500 Minimum Investment.

Here’s what they have to say regarding expenses:

Investors in MogulREIT I will not be charged any sales commissions and the organization and offering expenses are anticipated to be approximately 3% of the target total raise of amount. Traditional non-traded REITs typically charge an average sales commission of 7% and organization and offering expenses of up to 15%**.

There are more details in the full SEC offering circular. Please do your own due diligence.

As I’ve said before, I would tell my family to invest in a low-cost, diversified, publicly-traded REIT fund before investing in any of these non-traded REITs with limited liquidity. For example, buying shares of the Vanguard REIT Index ETF (VNQ) will give you commercial real estate exposure with rock-bottom expenses and daily liquidity. VNQ and its mutual fund equivalents are where the vast majority of my commercial real estate exposure remains.

That said, I find this area of investing to be interesting. I like the idea of focused real estate but don’t enjoy being a landlord. I have invested $2,000 of “experimental money” into the similar Fundrise Income eREIT, as I prefer high-interest loans backed by real estate as collateral. Fundrise also has a Growth REIT which focuses more on real estate equity. The MogulREIT I is supposed to target both income and growth. I currently have no plans to invest in either the Fundrise Growth REIT or the MogulREIT.