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:

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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).

Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 3.53.47 PM

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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:

fundrise_ereit1

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:

fundrise1701

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.

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

magUpdated and checked for 2017. 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
  • To verify your identity and obtain a copy of your report(s), 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.

SterlingBackcheck (formerly 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 Reports (1/2): See Your Confidential Credit, Banking, and Payday Lending Data

magLinks checked and updated for 2017. Since these are available every 12 months, it is a good idea to check these near or around the same time each year. You can now request your ChexSystems report online, so I did that just to see how huge my file is considering how many bank accounts I’ve opened… You can also request your ChexSystems score for free by snail mail.

There are many companies out there that make 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 many require snail mail with proof of identity. You probably won’t want to bother checking all of them (for example if you rarely write checks or use payday loans), 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.

Clarity Services, Inc. Must mail or fax form.

DataX Ltd. Must mail form.

Sources: ConsumerFinance.gov, FTC.gov, Wikipedia

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.

Housing Investment Returns = Price Appreciation + Rental Dividends

Professer Robert Shiller has a new NY Times article entitled Why Land and Homes Actually Tend to Be Disappointing Investments. He computes the historical, long-term inflation-adjusted returns for both farmland and housing:

Over the century from 1915 to 2015, though, the real value of American farmland (deflated by the Consumer Price Index) increased only 3.1 times, according to the Department of Agriculture. That comes to an average increase of only 1.1 percent a year — and with a growing population, that’s barely enough to keep per capita real land value unchanged.

According to my own data (relying on the S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index, which I helped create), real home prices rose even more slowly over the same period — a total increase of 1.8 times, which comes to an average of only 0.6 percent a year.

Over the same time period (1915 to 2015), the total inflation-adjsuted return of the S&P 500 index including dividends is roughly 6.7% annualized. Here is a recent version of his famous Home Price chart:

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Shiller is a smart guy and so I’m sure he knows this, but he always seems to leave out the fact that most people don’t just buy a chunk of land and let it sit there idle until they are ready to sell it again.

  • People use farmland to grow stuff. You know, things like apples and corn and cows. Or you could charge rent to farmers.
  • People either charge rent to others or avoid paying rent themselves on residential housing.

These are all additional sources of investment return beyond just price. Therefore, even if you assume your home’s price will only rise between 0% and 1% above inflation over time, you are still getting more “return” from it in the form of either rent or imputed rent.

Rent will rise roughly with inflation. Indeed, the biggest portion of the Consumer Price Index is housing as shown in the graphic below (source). The great majority of the Housing component is “rent of primary residence” and “Owners’ equivalent rent of primary residence”.

cpi_pie_chart

From FRED, here’s the rent part of CPI divided by overall CPI for as far back as the data series goes (1947). Sometimes rent grows faster than CPI, sometimes rent grows more slowly than CPI. Mostly, it evens out, as one might expect.

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For most of the last 20 years, rent has increased faster than CPI inflation:

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Estimating your “rental dividend” return. If you have a house that costs $200,000 that would otherwise be rented for $1,000 a month, that is a price-to-annual-rent ratio of 16.7. The inverse of that number is a rough idea of the annual “rental dividend” you could get from the house. That is, $12,000 divided by $200,000 is 6%. Now, a proper real estate investor would take out things like property taxes, insurance, repairs and maintenance. Let’s continue to be very rough and call that 3%. Now, if you assume both rent and expenses will rise roughly in step with inflation, that is an additional 3% real return.

Adding the two parts together, and you’re getting a very rough 3% to 4% real (inflation-adjusted) return. Now, most people acknowledge that housing is local and your specific return can vary widely. Your housing price return if you bought a house in Detroit in 1985 and a house in Mountain View, California is quite different. At the same time, your current housing rental dividend return is going to be a lot higher in Detroit than in Mountain View, California.

(I’m not nearly as familiar with farmland, but I do know people who rent out their property to farmers and ranchers. They seem satisfied with the arrangement. I’m also not including all the psychic rewards of owning your home like being able to remodel and customize things as you wish, nor am I including the costs of doing that remodel.)

If you look at various broad estimates of future stock and bond returns, they are not forecasting much more than 3% to 4% real returns on a diversified and balanced 60/40 stock/bond portfolio. Do housing prices only go up? No. Is every house a good investment? No. However, I also don’t agree with the broad statement that land and homes are disappointing investments.

I’ve explored my own situation and income tax effects more in the previous post Mortgages, Imputed Rent, and Early Retirement.

Fundrise Income eREIT Review

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Updated with Q2 2016 performance results. My second real estate crowdfunding investment is $2,000 into the Fundrise Income eREIT. (REIT = Real Estate Investment Trust.) Their investment claim is being the “first ever low-fee, diversified commercial real estate investment available directly online to anyone in the United States, no matter their net worth.”

Fundrise is one of the first real estate companies taking advantage of the recent JOBS Act that allow certain crowdfunding investments to be offered to everyone, as previously it was limited only to accredited investors. You must be a US resident and your investment cannot exceed the greater of 10% of your gross annual income or net worth.

Here’s a quick overview of the features:

  • Low investment minimum ($1,000)
  • Quarterly cash distributions
  • Quarterly liquidity (you can request to sell shares quarterly, but liquidity is not always guaranteed)
  • Low Fees (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 (you get to see exactly what properties are held)

Essentially, instead of investing in a single condo building, I am now putting my money into a pot of money that will invest in a basket of different commercial real estate properties.

Why not just invest in the Vanguard REIT index fund? Well, I happen to think most everyone should invest in VNQ if they want commercial real estate exposure. I own a lot more of VNQ than this Fundrise investment. VNQ invests in publicly-traded REITs, huge companies worth up to tens of billions of dollars. VNQ offers wide diversification and you have daily liquidity. But as publicly-traded REITs have grown in popularity (and price), their income yields have gone down.

As with other crowdfunding sites, Fundrise deals with specific, smaller deals with (hopefully) higher risk-adjusted returns. This eREIT diversifies your money across multiple properties, but we’re still talking examples like a $2 million townhouse complex, or a $2 million boutique hotel. An analogy might be made with “micro-cap” investing. 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.

A positive feature is the ability to request liquidity on a quarterly basis, but it is not guaranteed that you can withdraw all that you request (similar to some hedge funds). Here’s a comparison chart taken from the Fundrise site:

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Why Fundrise? It can be hard to differentiate between the various crowdfunding websites. One way that I feel that Fundrise differs is they are more picky about the deals they choose to fund. Talk about higher standards is one thing, but I’ve been tracking them for a while and Fundrise really does offer far fewer deals than the other competitor sites I have signed up with. For about a year now, every deal that I’d been interested in filled up within 24 hours. Even this eREIT had a waitlist. Will this selectivity last? I don’t know, I hope so. Will their selectivity produce higher, safer returns? I don’t know, I hope so.

Dividend income updates.

  • 1st Quarter 2016. 4.5% annualized dividend was announced. This is the first complete quarter of activity, so the dividend size is expected to increase once funds are fully invested. The portfolio included 13 commercial real estate assets from 8 different metropolitan areas, with approximately $31.5 million committed as of March 31, 2016.
  • 2nd Quarter 2016. 10% annualized dividend announced, to be paid mid-July. Portfolio now includes 15 assets totaling roughly $47.25M in committed capital.

Screenshot from my account:

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I think the Fundrise Income eREIT is an interesting concept. There may be a waitlist to join, but they do work through it. I am simply sharing my own results, not making an investment recommendation as I don’t know your situation. This is a higher-risk, speculative investment.

Real Estate Crowdfunding Experiment #3: Apartment 6-Plex in Wisconsin with RealtyShares

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Here are details of my 3rd real estate crowdfunding investment, a $2,000 loan for a 6-unit apartment complex in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This follows my $5,000 Patch of Land loan in a single-family house in California, and a $2,000 Fundrise Income eREIT investment into their diversified basket of commercial properties. Here are the quick stats:

  • Site: RealtyShares
  • 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.

Property details. I chose this property because it is different from my other past “experiments”. I have never lived in or visited Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Where I live, parking spaces have sold for more than this apartment complex. As a result, I have never invested in an apartment complex. Also, reading through the other properties in the developer’s portfolio, I suspect the goal is to eventually refinance and then keep these as cashflow rentals. All units are 2 bed/1 bath, currently fully rented for ~$600 a month each. I don’t know the net operating income 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%.

realtyshareslogoExperience so far. At least for this investment, it was not “pre-funded” by RealtyShares before the “crowd-funding” takes over. That means you have to wait until they secure enough committed money before the deal can go forward.

My timeline… I committed to this loan in December 2015 and $2,000 was debited from my Ally bank account on 12/29/15. However, the funding goal was not reached until 1/13, during which I earned no interest during this two-week period. I was then told the following:

We are writing to inform you that we have received all investor funds as of today, January 13, 2016, for the 135 E Keefe Avenue investment. You should expect to receive your first monthly payment by February 15th and this will cover the period from 1/13/16 to 2/10/16.

My first monthly interest payment did not arrive until another two weeks later on 3/3. My subsequent interest payments were posted on schedule on 3/17, 4/18, and 5/15. Due to the fact that there was no pre-funding to get the ball started early, there was essentially 3 month period between the time where they first took my money and I received my first interest check. Other than the interest payments, I have received no property updates since January, although I don’t necessarily expect any at this point.

As I’ve said before, this is an experiment, not necessarily a recommendation. I am learning that although I do like loans backed by hard assets, you do need a lot of patience with these sort of investments.

Some account screenshots:

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Infographic: New York City Median Rent vs. Subway Stop

rh_nycsignWe all know that the longer the commute from where everyone works, the lower the rent. In many cities during the housing boom, the saying went “just keep driving until you can afford something”. But what if the relationship between commute time and rental price wasn’t steady? What if a few minutes of extra commute time would save you several hundred dollars a month?

There are indeed some great relative values in New York City, according to the results of a study by apartment listing site Renthop, via This Is New York. Here are the median rents for one-bedroom apartments nearest every subway stop in New York City:

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Highlights from their analysis:

The extra few blocks from 66th St to 72nd St could save you $845 per month. Granted you might really like the Lincoln Center area, but that’s enough extra dough for a trip or two to the NY Philharmonic, the Met Opera, or even dinner at Jean-Georges.

A good rule of thumb is that each stop is about two minutes apart (except express stops and when crossing a bridge), assuming there’s no “debris on the track” or “train traffic ahead”. Consider this when calculating what your time and commute is worth to you. An extra stop on the J/M/Z train past Marcy Ave will save you about $175, and each subsequent stop saves another $100 or more. The same holds true heading into Queens.

Someone should make a similar graphic for all the of the major cities with high usage of public transportation: Washington DC, Boston, San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago, and Philadelphia. From Wikipedia:

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Mortgages, Imputed Rent, and Early Retirement

mcman286In a Quora question What do economists think about buying vs renting a house?, in addition to the previously-mentioned answer by Alex Tabarrok of Marginal Revolution, there was another well-ranked answer by Erik Brynjolfsson, professor at MIT Sloan. One of his three points was about the value of imputed rent (read the other ones as well):

Second, there’s a huge tax benefit to housing which comes from the hidden “dividend” it pays. I’m not talking (just) about the (too) generous mortgage deduction, but rather the fact that you don’t have to pay taxes on the implicit rent you earn on your house since its paid to yourself. A house generates enormous rental value each month — like a dividend. If you rent it to yourself, you take the money out of one pocket and pay it to the other one, and the IRS doesn’t tax that. In contrast, if you earn money some other way and then use that money to pay rent, you probably also have to pay taxes. That can add up.

From the Wikipedia entry on imputed rent:

Consider a model: two people, A and B, each of whom owns property. If A lives in B’s property, and B lives in A’s, two financial transactions take place: each pays rent to the other. But if A and B are both owner-occupiers, no money changes hands even though the same economic relationships exists; there are still two owners and two occupiers, but the transactions between them no longer go through the market. The amount that would have changed hands had the owner and occupier been different persons is called the imputed rent.

In other words, as a homeowner you could be considered both the landlord and the renter. Let’s say you would rent your house for $1,600 a month. If you were in the 25% marginal tax bracket, you have to earn $2,133 a month pre-tax to cover that rent (and pay $533 in income tax).

As part of my “rough model” of early retirement, I recommend setting your mortgage payoff date to coincide with your retirement date (for those that choose to buy a home). Part of the reason for that is that you won’t have to generate that extra income to pay your mortgage anymore. This could lower your marginal tax bracket into the next lower bracket, and also the tax rate on your capital gains.

For example, $1,600 in monthly rent equates to nearly $20,000 a year in after-tax expense, or nearly $26,000 in gross income at the 25% tax bracket. Here are the 2016 federal income tax rates (source):

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Ideally, I would target my household expenses to stay in the 15% tax bracket for married joint filers in retirement. Being able to reduce my taxable income by over $25,000 would definitely help someone stay in the 15% tax bracket range. Also, if you are the in 15% ordinary income tax bracket, your tax rate on qualified dividends and long-term capital gains becomes zero!

Now, the idea of imputed income could be extended further. When I cook at home, I save the money from eating out an Applebee’s. Let’s say a dinner out costs $40 for the family. To reach $40 after-tax, I’d have to generate $53 of income at a 25% tax rate. Same with childcare, housekeeping, laundry, yard maintenance, etc. But housing is an area with significant impact, usually the biggest item in a household budget.