PeerStreet Review: Real Estate Backed Loan Investments, My 22-Month Experience

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Updated June 2018. I’ve now been investing in various real-estate crowdfunding platforms for over 3 years, with $30,000 currently invested. Over $25,000 of these funds are invested in real estate-backed loans at automated real-estate loans from PeerStreet (which recently passed $1 Billion in loans). For this type of lending, you have to be an accredited investor. Here’s my review after 22 months of being an investor.

The basic premise of PeerStreet is simple. 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 things 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 different real estate properties.
  • Greater availability of investments. Amongst all 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. They don’t originate loans themselves, they basically buy loans from these partners if they fit their criteria. 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 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 them choose for me. We’ll see if it works out.
  • Strong venture capital backing. PeerStreet just closed a $30 million Series B round in April 2018. Andreessen Horowitz did a $15 million Series A round in November 2016. Michael Burry was an early seed investor, using $6.1 million of his own money according to TechCrunch. You may recognize this name from The Big Short.

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 years 2016 and 2017, I received 1099-INTs and filed it alongside my other 1099-INTs from bank interest. 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 started with a $10,000 investment in August 2016, and then added another $15,000 in October 2017, for a total of $25,000. This way, each of my loans is less than 5% of the total portfolio. Everything is set for automatic reinvestment whenever a loan in paid back or the interest adds up to $1,000.

As of this writing 6/20/2018, my total account value is $27,138.26 invested across 24 different active loans ($1,000-$1,250 each). I have already had 26 loans paid off in full, with no loss in principal. A few had late payments, but they eventually all caught back up. Nothing has gone into foreclosure yet. My interest to date is $2,138.26, which works out to an internal rate of return (IRR) of 7.35% annualized 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.

Now, I don’t know what the default rate across all their loans, but I know that sooner or later I will experience one. (In October 2017, PeerStreet stated that they originated $500 million of loans with zero investor losses. They haven’t made the same claim when they reached $1 billion, so I’m assuming there have been some losses since.) 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. I may have to wait a year or longer if the loan requires a property takeover and sale. I try to counter this by diversifying across 25+ loans.

Bottom line. PeerStreet offers high-yield, short-term loans backed by private real estate. As compared to traditional “hard money lending”, accredited investors can diversify with $1,000 minimum investment per property, automated reinvestment, and steady nationwide loan volume.

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. PeerStreet charges a servicing fee between 0.25% and 1%, taken out of the interest charged to the borrower. The returns you see in the listing are net of their fees.

Comments

  1. Seems like not enough yield to justify the risk. 7% is the same as the long term yield of the S&P 500 without accounting for dividends. Doesn’t RealtyShares have higher expected yields?

    • These would be more closely comparable to other high-yield bonds. The S&P 500 as an equity investment has historically had multiple 50% drawdowns.

      • Junk bonds have also crashed during recessions and depressions. You would have to spend a ton of research and time on crowdfunding real estate. This is why I ultimately gave up my experiment with crowdfunding loans through Lending Club. The returns were greater than 10% but there was too much risk of default and too much time required to invest.

        Better to invest in the S&P 500 since it has such a good track record. Ever notice how every couple of years there is some new investing phenomenon created that is supposed to be better than stocks? I’m all for diversifying different types of investments, but like Charlie Munger says, “The idea of excessive diversification is madness”.

        • I am certainly not against investing in low cost index funds, as that is the vast majority of my portfolio. I’m actually working on fun money allocations and how it’s wise to have a zero allocation but most of us can’t help ourselves to a little bit of one.

          I do think it’s funny that you promoted index funds with a Munger quote that is part of his criticism of… index funds. 😉 He thinks having a few stocks is just fine if you pick them right. Munger’s personal portfolio is only three things: Berkshire stock, Costco stock, and an interest in an Asian partnership fund run by Li Lu.

  2. I understand it might not be for everyone , but thanks for sharing learnt something new. BTW how you become accredited investor ?

    • As long as you satisfy the income or asset requirements, you are an accredited investor. If a real estate site requires you to be an accredited investor, then they will ask you to certify so upon application. Depending on the site, they may or may not ask for income or asset verification, usually via a scanned brokerage or W-2 statement.

  3. I don’t understand why there is a minimum income/asset requirement at all. Once you pay your money, that’s it, right? It’s not a monthly commitment or anything.

    • No, there is no monthly commitment. There are just some investments like hedge funds that the SEC deems too risky or lightly regulated for all investors. I suppose the idea is that if you meet certain asset/income requirements, you are “sophisticated” enough to do your own due diligence and decide if it is prudent to invest in such things. (Meanwhile, nearly anyone can get a subprime car loan.) The overall trend has been moving towards opening up crowdfunding for more investors, however.

  4. Does peertstreet work with mint.com?

  5. 1 of my loans is already REO. I’m crossing my fingers that they can sell off property soon, and hope to recover at least my principal. i have 3 other loans in default… so not all looking too peachy at this point. Only time will tell.

    At least platform is transparent…

  6. 20k invested in 20 different loans with 8k trapped in defaults and forclusures for 6 plus months. Really don’t understand all the positive reviews of this platform. They must pay good referall bonuses. They will die off in a year or two, just praying I get my money back

    • Thanks for sharing. I currently have about $25,000 in 25 live loans – 24 are current and 1 is late. 14 have been paid off. Would you be willing to send me a redacted screenshot of your dashboard showing which ones are good/bad? I am very surprised that 8 out 20 loans are actually in default/foreclosure (and not just late, etc) given some of PeerStreet’s claim about their performance (such as no investor principal lost ever as of October 2017).

  7. I too am experiencing bad loans on this site. 14K invested since April 2016 with 10 loans. 1 is in default, another is seriously late (over 6 months and in legal proceedings, and I’ve recently been paid about 35% back from construction reserves…will I get the rest back?) and another is late. And these aren’t the first iffy loans I’ve experienced with them (a couple others were late for varying numbers of months and then resolved).

    I have trouble believing that they’ve had zero investor losses.

  8. you mention accredited investor, how does it get verified? and if you actually have less that a min to quality for that title?

  9. Michael S says:

    Hi Jonathan:

    I always enjoy your posts and find them very informative. Just a couple comments here. My understanding of the deal structure is Peer Street enters into promissory notes with investors that are dependent for payment on certain loans that have been made by Peer Street to borrowers. Thus, your investment is an unsecured note payable by Peer Street to you, with payments funded by a secured note between Peer Street and the borrower.

    At least this is the relationship described in a Peer Street Private Placement Memorandum:

    https://peerstreet-static.s3.amazonaws.com/docs/ppm.pdf

    Also, in addition to a portion of the interest payments, Peer Street makes money from origination costs (which are probably paid from the loan proceeds) and other fees.

    The fact that the secured loans originated by Peer Street (or its partners) are held in a bankruptcy remote entity probably isn’t particularly helpful here for the end investor like yourself. In the event of a bankruptcy or insolvency proceeding, you would just have an unsecured right to payment on the Peer Street notes, which would be subordinate to Peer Street’s secured debt.

    In my opinion, there are too many of these type of hard money lenders chasing borrowers. The result
    of this competition is interest rates that do not adequately compensate for lending risks.

    Thanks for sharing your personal experiences with these products. I have read with great interest.

    • I’m not a lawyer, so my understanding of this stuff is limited. I would refer to this post by another Peerstreet investor who is a lawyer:

      Either way, this isn’t a clear-cut scenario where you are lending the money, and your loan is 100% secured by the property. It also isn’t (as the comment suggested) a scenario where you’re an unsecured lender against a fintech company that could go belly up at any moment. Your note is tied to the corresponding mortgage and your repayment will be linked directly to the performance of that note. PeerStreet has set up a practical way to handle investments at scale, and I can’t think of a better way to do it.

      Basically, due to SEC rules, this is the best that they have been able to come up with in order to scale this as an investment.

      It’s true, there are a lot more of these crowdfunding sites now than 3 years ago. I also hope that the loean rates go up soon along with the overall interest rate environment.

  10. PeerStreet advertises transparency. They clearly had a good upfront run with no defaults but also have clearly had many defaults since this time. Do they specifically say what percentage of their loans have defaulted? This is key info to know. 7-8% return for a lowish risk, low volatility investment sounds pretty darn good, until you factor in both the default percentage (that will certainly increase in the next downturn) and the fact that you will have to pay federal and state tax on the proceeds taxed as ordinary income, vs dividend tax drag and cap gains on index funds.

    I still think that it has a role for me for up to 10% of my portfolio. Perhaps I will split it in thirds between PeerStreet, Realty Shares, and FundRise.

    I sure do like the automation and passive nature of PeerStreet though. If I could only be convinced that the default percentage is likely to stay very low in the future.

    • I agree, it would be nice if any of these guys disclosed their default rates. I suppose they think it is a competitive disadvantage. If one guy says a 2% default rate, another guy can say “our is less!” or simply stay vague and insinuate that they are better. I encourage PeerStreet or another bigger site to do so, and put pressure on the rest of the field.

  11. peerstreet sucks says:

    3 of my loans on peerstreet are 3 months late and 1 is in foreclosure. the platform sucks.

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