Real Estate Investors Are Not the Enemy

They have surpassed lawyers and repo-men as the most vilified professionals on the planet.

Thanks to the unprecedented real estate crash, "investors" are now the bad guys. During the housing boom, they canoodled with lenders to lever themselves to the hilt, and consequently fueled home prices to levels so unsustainable that the market came crashing down.

Never does the President, the Treasury secretary, or the HUD secretary announce a new element to the Administration's multi-billion dollar housing bailout, without making clear that investors need not apply.

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Get over it. That's all I, and plenty of qualified real estate investors, have to say. That was then; this is now, and real estate investors may be our only ticket out of the housing crisis.

"If you want to stabilize the housing market, you have to encourage investors," says hedge fund manager Aaron Edelheit. "The quicker you can end the foreclosures and the short sales, the quicker you're going to have a turnaround in the economy and the housing market."

Edelheit has invested over $10 million in foreclosed homes. He's not looking to flip them for a profit; he's in this for the long-term gain. He doesn't buy up bulk condos, as many institutional investors are now doing, and which he admits is much easier. He buys single family homes with the sole intention of renting them out to families. No, he's not a do-gooder. He's making around an 8 percent profit after expenses.

Think of it this way. At the height of the housing boom, the home ownership rate was at 69 percent. It's now down to 66.9 percent and dropping. Historically it's around 62-64 percent.


"You have five to seven percent of the nation who needs a place to live, and they would prefer single family homes," notes Edelheit.

Today's jobs report proves that this is going to be a slow economic recovery, which means the pool of potential home buyers will remain small for quite some time. We have already seen apartment rents rise on higher demand. This in the face of a serious oversupply of homes for sale and a shadow inventory of, by some estimates, up to 7 million foreclosed properties.

"There aren't the natural buyers to buy these excess homes, but there are the families to live in them, so if you had long term capital to incentivize investors like me, we would go in, buy homes, fix them up and rent them to families," says Edelheit.

But there's the problem.

Gun-shy banks and government-owned Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are being very stingy with credit to investors, capping them at very few loans. Fannie Mae allows ten loans to each individual investor, but investors tell me it's more like four when you talk to the banks. A Fannie Mae spokesperson adds, "Lenders may have their own overlays or added fees."

They've thrown the baby out with the bathwater. I'm not suggesting we return to the heady days of lending to any Joe with a pen to sign on the dotted line. I am suggesting we stop demonizing investors and instead offer low-cost credit to those with worthy balance sheets who are willing to put significant down payments on the properties. And yes, underwrite them conscientiously. It may be our best exit from a too-slow recovery.

Investors like Edelheit are waiting in the wings. "I think that if the government were to encourage investors, they would swoop in and buy homes, and you'd very quickly not have an excess amount of housing."

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