Rental properties are solid investments as overall real estate market cools

Why houses/condos may fall in value but apartment buildings do not.

There is a common misperception that all real estate classes are created equal. House prices are falling in some cities in Canada, primarily because the rules to get mortgages have changed, such as increased debt-coverage ratios, higher down payments and shorter amortization. This allowed our Finance Minister Hon. Jim Flaherty to tighten consumer debt without raising interest rates! This leads some to believe that those (modestly) falling house prices will also affect other real estate classes, such as apartment buildings. Nothing could be further from the truth.

With the tightening of mortgages for single family units more people chose to rent, or longer; thus lowering vacancies and driving up rents and rental property values – an unintended, but expected consequence. If you look across our portfolio you will see higher rents and lower vacancies across the board compared to 2 or even one year ago. Thank you, Jim Flaherty!

An asset we bought in Dec. 2010 went from $14.65M to close to $20M not even 2 years later. This translates into a price of about 160,000’s per unit, up from the 120’s when we bought it less than two years ago. That’s a great cash-on-cash ROI on the roughly $5M cash invested into this asset that is co-owned by two of our LPs: PRISM A and one still open for investment, Kings Castle LP.

To get a perspective on what is going on, lets use the example of a typical young married couple in Calgary. They can rent a nice 900 sq ft two bedroom unit with a balcony in one of our three storey walkup buildings for $1200, or so. Or they could spend a bit more, say $1500, and rent a nicer, newer, yet often smaller 850 sq ft two bedroom downtown condo. Alternatively they could buy that brand new condo for perhaps $300,000. Let’s do the math: 5% down: $15,000 – no problem. New mortgage of $285,000 at 2.99% plus CHMC fees = $295,000, amortized over 25 years : $1410/month plus condo fees of 30 cents a foot or $250, property taxes of $140 plus $50 insurance = $1850. So, more expensive per month to own that same condo with $15,000 invested with no guarantee for future upside for a while. Hmmm honey .. let’s rent a while longer. That discussion is happening in tens of thousands of rental apartments across the country, and people stay put longer. Moreover that doesn’t even allow for folks who move to booming cities like Edmonton, Red Deer or Calgary. So you can see why rents have rocketed upwards lately.

In the run up to the boom, with rising prices, buying new was a no-brainer and people would opt to buy rather than rent due to sizable equity upside. Not such a no-brainer anymore. Construction is slowing too as investors don’t get a decent yield, especially true in booming Alberta with construction costs also on the rise .

Result: low low vacancies and rising rents. To the point, a few short years into the future, if rents in our assets are up another $250 or so and interest rates remain the same the math will make sense to buy again. Then again if interest rates move higher .. even a slight 1% rise from 3% to 4%, it would increase the monthly mortgage payment by almost $200 to own that condo. So renting could well be en vogue for a while, just like it is where I used to live in Europe where roughly 50% of the population rents [Canada is still only about 35%].

What does this mean for an investor if rents go up $250, roughly a 20% sizable increase over the current rent of $1200? If rents rise 20% values of the underlying asset go up roughly 20% too. However, lets say you only put 40% down and mortgaged the rest at super low rates of 3%? A 20% upside is a 50% ROI on your cash invested, so this makes investments in rental real estate such a powerful investment even in a flat (or declining) condo/house market!

Further market analysis: Sub 100/door in any major city in AB is usually garbage unless you get lucky. We’re buying an asset in a B area in B condition for high 90’s/door next month in Kings Castle LP with the cash at hand. Little decent inventory around but still far better cash-on-cash return with lower risk than the stock market, and higher than bonds.

An asset we bought for 30’s/door in Fox Creek, AB in 2005 and sold for 70’s/door in 2007 with a triple digit cash-on-cash ROI is now listed in the 80’s/door .. in a town of not even 2500 people halfway between Edmonton and Grand Prairie.

CAP rates in Vancouver are around 4%, or lower even. A building that just sold in Kitsilano, for example, sold for 28 times annual rent .. twice what you’d pay in Edmonton .. say 12-14 .. CAP rates in Calgary are around 5%, and in Edmonton 5.5% to sub 6%, similar to Burnaby, New Westminster or N-Vancouver.

Many good condition assets or in good locations are not for sale or below that CAP rate in the 130-150/door in Edmonton, the 165 to 200/door range in Calgary, or 250+ in Greater Vancouver.

Everyone (like insurance companies, pension funds, REITs, high net worth individuals, retirees, ..) is scrambling for decent, sustainable, long term yields with low risk, apartment buildings in good locations that are impeccably managed. Provide that!

I expect CAP rates to drop further, Calgary to around 4% and Edmonton to 5%, as interest rates will stay low for a while. Long term CMHC insured money is at 2.4%, without CMHC at around 3%. So, it makes sense to borrow and buy an asset with a yield that is 50-70% higher (i.e. 4 to 6%).

I am not too familiar with GTA, Ottawa, Winnipeg or Halifax, but quality assets are there also between 5 and 6% CAP rates, about a percent higher in dubious locations.

If an asset in Edmonton that is valued today at $5M with an net operating income of $300,000 and thus, is valued using a 6% CAP rate, what would happen if the CAP rate drops to 5.5% or even 5% ? It means that this asset is now valued at $5.5 or even $6M ($300,000/0.05). Couple this with expected rent increases and you can see how the Calgary asset improved so drastically in value with rents up over 15% in 2 years along with a CAP rate drop


We also expect interest rates to continue to stay low for quite some time, as democracies around the world try to shed their debt. As this is tougher than deflating the currency through quantitative easing, i.e. creating more borrowing capacities by their respective central banks, politicians pick the easy route.

Thus, it continues to make sense to borrow money cheaply at 2.5% to 3% and invest it at 4-6% or 50-70% higher! This is what we do, and have become experts at, in rental apartment buildings, in growth markets, in decent locations, impeccably managed, sensibly levered with cheap and widely available money. It’s like owning gold .. with a yield !

Care to join us ?

Sincerely and successful investing

Thomas Beyer, President

Prestigious Properties Group

T: 403-678-3330