Time to hold on, or let go?

By Mohanad Alwadiya

The year 2016 has certainly made its entrance with a bang.

By mid-January, the Royal Bank of Scotland’s dire warning to “sell everything except high quality bonds” had everyone’s tongues wagging, with some analysts saying that yes, 2016 could lead the US and European markets down a substantial plunge. On the other hand, a few critics of RBS’s dismal pronouncement have advised investors to stay calm but keep a close watch on events as they unfold.

Reflecting the property market slowdown which became more marked in 2015, some distress sales had already begun creeping into the market which left me a little intrigued. It reminded me of a meeting I had with one of our most loyal clients.

As the owner of a portfolio of apartments purchased in early 2011, the past few years had been an extremely lucrative time for this client, and his success has been a result of his astuteness, objectivity, and well-developed analytical and decision-making skills refined by years of experience in an exciting albeit sometimes-risky market.

The topic of our conversation was whether or not to sell his property assets as the market has certainly slowed. I was surprised by the question as he had always held the view that owning property was an important part of his overall investment portfolio, and the assets he is holding are of excellent quality located in some of Dubai’s well-established or iconic areas. Rather than make a hasty decision that might be regrettable, I conducted a thorough review and constructed a recommendation for his consideration and eventual decision.

When reviewing the portfolio, it became apparent to me that now, more than ever, property portfolios require very careful management. While on the face of it, an easy decision would be to sell our client’s entire portfolio – not for a substantial profit, but simply for a “return of investment,” to quote RBS. But the question remained, if he were to sell part of his property portfolio, where should the money be invested? There was no answer as there was no plan.

As part of our analysis, we found that by retaining his portfolio, our client would continue to receive an average of 6.8 percent net rental returns per annum on the adjusted value of his properties over the next 5 years. In addition, notwithstanding the recent cooling of the market, we estimated that he could expect, on average, a capital growth of at least 6 percent per annum over the next five years for an estimated net total return of 12 percent per annum, a return we considered conservative.

The review included careful analysis of current maintenance requirements, future capital works, market factors, regulatory developments, industry forecasts and trends, alternative opportunities, risk factors, and the likelihood of relevant future events, whether they be economic, political, regulatory or financial in nature.

When I asked our client what alternative investment could provide the same return without taking on greater or excessive levels of risk or incurring new investment transaction costs, none could be identified.

The example of our loyal client clearly illustrates that now, more than ever, property portfolios require very careful management. We all know the market has cooled, but this is hardly a reason to make rash decisions without looking forward and doing some proper analysis.

Wherever you look around the globe, yield and total returns are getting harder to find, and the value of established property portfolios with good occupancy levels and good projected tenant retention are increasing in comparative value all the time.

Those investors who hold and nurture their existing property asset portfolios will do very well over the next 5 years, particularly those who have diversified their holdings to include some of the more affordable asset types as well. Conversely, rather than selling existing assets, the opportunity to use existing equity to take advantage of the current market slowdown and finance new acquisitions and expand portfolios is one strategy that we are working on with several clients now.

Not everybody has the time or is comfortable with managing a property portfolio, especially in times of change. However, there is expertise available to help you, and you should consider engaging a good property manager who will ensure that you maximize returns from your property portfolio and enable your long-term portfolio strategy to be realized.

Think of your investment as your business, a business that will be affected by many different factors and events. Proper management is essential, and you need to ensure your business is in capable hands – providing you with the returns you expect with as little hassle as possible.

And even as other prominent financial institutions like Standard Chartered and JP Morgan have expressed somewhat similar sentiments in terms of oil prices and stocks respectively, those investors with sufficient liquidity, and who already enjoy ownership of a varied stock of high quality performing real estate assets may want to consider acquiring more property after proper due diligence.

All knowledgeable investors know that, when all else fails, real estate is one type of asset that increases in value over time (capital appreciation)… even after being subjected to market highs and lows.

In sum, if you have what it takes to hold on to a good quality real estate portfolio, do not even consider selling at this stage. If market prices give you good reason to acquire more, why not? Remember the market cycle – right now, if you can still afford to purchase property, go right ahead and buy – but, as always, with eyes wide open.

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