JF2064: A Passive Investors Perspective During The Coronavirus With Travis Watts
Travis is a full-time investor and the director of Investor Relations at Ashcroft Capital. Travis has written some articles on our blog to help investors during the Coronavirus pandemic we are all going through today. As a full-time passive investor, Travis gives his perspective on what he is seeing in the current market and what he is keeping an eye out for.
Travis Watts Real Estate Background:
- Full-time passive investor
- Director of Investor Relations at Ashcroft Capital
- In 2009 he started investing in multi-family, single-family, and vacation rentals
- Based in Denver, Colorado
- Say hi to him and grab a free passive investor guide at Ashcroft Capital
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Best Ever Tweet:
“There is always a silver lining, there will always be opportunities that pop up. Look at this as an opportunity to educate yourself” – Travis Watts
Theo Hicks: Hello, Best Ever listeners. Welcome to the best real estate investing advice ever show. I’m Theo Hicks and today we’ll be speaking with Travis Watts. Travis, how are you doing today?
Travis Watts: Hey, Theo. I think I know you from somewhere, don’t I?
Theo Hicks: Yeah, I think I know from somewhere as well. If you guys don’t know, Travis is the director of investor relations at Ashcroft Capital. That’s how I know him. I met him at our first quarterly meeting. I’m looking forward to our conversation, because I haven’t been able to have a long conversation with him yet, so I’m looking forward to getting some advice… Just like you guys are looking forward to it as well.
A little bit more about Travis – he’s a full-time passive investor, as well as the director of investor relations at Ashcroft Capital. In 2009 he started investing in multifamily, single-family and vacation rentals. He’s based in Denver, Colorado, and you can say hi to him at AshcroftCapital.com. You guys should all be able to spell that by now.
Travis, before we begin, we’re gonna be talking about the Coronavirus today. Travis has some really good articles on our blog right now, so we’re gonna talk about one of those in particular, and maybe talk about the other one as well.
Before we get into that, Travis, do you mind telling us a little bit more about your background and what you’re focused on today?
Travis Watts: Sure, I appreciate that intro. So I got started in real estate, as probably a lot of people do, probably the majority of real estate investors – single-family. It kind of led to trying to scale that portfolio up… The problem that I had personally, which isn’t applicable to everyone, but I was working a full-time W-2 job, more importantly a 98-hour workweek job, where I was away from home, completely dedicated to that… And as I started trying to scale the single-family on the side, doing some flips and vacation rentals, things like that, it just got to be too hands-on for me, which — I had to go back to the drawing board, learn how to become a completely passive investor, what strategies and assets and things like that existed… And that’s where I ran into syndication investing in real estate.
I made a complete transition around 2015 through 2016, where I was selling all my single-family, I was going all-in into multifamily and syndications… So that’s brought us to the last 5-6 years. I came onboard with Ashcroft to just help spread education around passive investing and what benefits those can have for certain people’s lives.
Theo Hicks: Perfect. Thanks for sharing that. One article that I really liked was your article about inflation, and how people can benefit from the inflation from printing off two trillion dollars in cash… Do you wanna summarize that article? And then if there’s anything else you wanna talk about as it relates to inflation.
Travis Watts: Yeah, and again, I think that article is out there both on the Best Ever Community – I put it out there I think under my Bigger Pockets as well, things like that… So check it out. But the concept is pretty basic, really. This is a topic we could have talked about a year ago, two years ago, five years ago… And that’s just this idea that the Federal Reserve is printing money, every time we’re going into these crisis situations – 2008-2009, now this pandemic here being probably the worst in terms of what we’re gonna see in money printing… But that’s devaluing the purchasing power of the dollar.
There’s a lot of scary headlines out there that you read, about the mortgage crisis, and just what’s unfolding, and all this scary bad news, but here’s a way to look at it in the light of real estate, whether we’re talking single-family, multifamily, whatever. When you’re acquiring debt, so you’re going out to get a mortgage, you’re hopefully getting some long-term fixed-rate debt, depending on what you’re doing, meaning that you’re locking in a payment every month, that’s gonna be due. Let’s just call it $1,000/month for a owner-occupied home, that’s your mortgage payment. So that payment, on the debt side, is never gonna change for 15 years, 30 years, whatever kind of mortgage you get.
The idea is as we move forward and the Fed continues printing and printing, and the purchasing power of the dollar is going down and down and down, you’re basically using cheaper dollars to pay off that debt. So what is $1,000 in today’s money could be worth $200 down the road in the future. So it’s gonna make it much easier to pay off that debt long-term, and more specifically in terms of investment real estate, where tenants are paying that off anyhow. So that’s what the article is kind of about, from a high-level, for those that may not be tuned in. Yes, the Fed has already printed a couple trillion dollars, and that can quickly escalate to 4, 6, 10. I hear all kinds of numbers out there.
The scary thing to think about is — this is how inflation is created. Basically, inflation is the cost of goods going up year after year after year, so it takes more and more dollars to purchase the exact same thing, years down the road. So the crisis here, in my opinion, if you wanna look at the negative side of things, is we’ve got 2019, four trillion dollars in circulation. That’s like our money supply. So if the Fed’s gonna go and print four trillion dollars as an example, then theoretically we’re gonna have some massive inflation kicking in at some point, theoretically a doubling in price… Maybe not today or tomorrow or next year, but down the road.
So if anything, look at this in a positive light – we’ve got all-time low interest rates; it’s a great time to be refinancing projects, and potentially getting involved with real estate, if that’s something that you haven’t done yet or that you’re currently doing. So a little long-winded… There’s still hopefully some value in reading that article, but that’s the high level.
Theo Hicks: Obviously, it makes sense to get debt, but since I’ve got a $1,000 payment and I’ve got 100k (let’s say) sitting in my bank right now, and five years from now that 100k is gonna be worth 10k… Practically speaking, should I pay down my debt on my properties?
Travis Watts: Yeah, that’s a good question. The way I look at it is “What’s my alternative?” In general right now we have a lot of low interest rate debt for things like real estate, whereas a lot of folks might have at this time high interest rate debt. They might have personal loans from a bank, or credit card, or retail debt… Things they’re paying 10%, 15%, 20%, 25% annually on. That’s what I’d be focused on right now paying down.
And what I mean by alternatives – if you’ve got a 3,5% mortgage today, could that money be better utilized if you were to invest it in something that could produce a higher return? Like a 8%-10% annualized cashflow return. So I’m not giving any kind of financial advice to anybody, but it just depends on your situation, what kinds of debt you have, but certainly for the folks that are saying “I have $100,000 in the bank account. I’m just gonna let that sit and ride for the next 10-20 years as my little reserve account”, you’re most certainly gonna be losing a lot of that purchasing power over that time, so I’d be looking for ways — while safely and conservatively keeping your emergency fund in place, certain months of living expenses (3-6 months is what you commonly hear), I’d be looking at places to park that capital, things like real estate, that are kind of a hedge against inflation, somewhat.
Theo Hicks: Okay, thanks for sharing that. Changing gears a little bit – so you are a full-time passive investor… Most of the people I’ve talked to about the Coronavirus are actively investing, so we talked about rent collections, and making sure they can pay their mortgage payments, and asking how much cash reserves they have… But something that I’d be interested to ask you about as a full-time passive investor is are you still seeing opportunities to invest in right now, or has that slowed down? And if so, what’s your strategy over the next 6-12 months as a passive investor? Are you kind of in a holding pattern, are you still looking for deals? Things like that, if you could talk about that for a little bit.
Travis Watts: Yeah, absolutely. I guess the unique perspective or the benefit of not only being an investor with one group like Ashcroft, but being an investor with 14 different groups is I get invited to a lot of webinars, a lot of conference calls, I get a lot of email updates, I get a lot of “Here’s what we’re doing in terms of Covid” and all this kind of stuff… So I have a bit of a broad perspective on what a lot of folks are doing out there.
In general, this interview is taking place mid-April. This is our first real impacted month. This whole Corona thing got real serious towards the end of March, and then rent was due April 1st. So my opinion here is that a lot of people were already kind of set up and primed to pay their rent anyway. They already had it in the bank, or in their savings account… They were ready to go for April. I’m a little more concerned maybe with May and June, and however long we’re in this lockdown, and the economy is shut down, and things like that.
What I have seen more specifically, to answer your question, with these different syndication groups in general is a little bit of wait-and-see right now. It’s a little too early to start calling the shots, it’s a little too early to start saying “Oh, there’s all these new deals popping up, things like that.” It’s hard to look at a T12 statement and have that make a lot of sense, looking at 2019 numbers, when now we’re in this state where we don’t know what our collections are gonna end up being. So I’m a bit of the same mindset.
I did invest in some recent deal that have closed through the March timeframe, and I think one in April… But at this point I’m focused more on making sure I have adequate cash reserves personally on hand, in case things pop up; capital calls, whatever. Or best-case scenario, I just hoard a little bit of cash and then maybe by late summer there’s some deals popping up that make a lot of sense to get involved with, and we’ll have the cash to do it.
So that’s kind of where I sit. It’s a little bit of sit-and-wait probably through April and May, and hopefully we’ll know a whole lot more in June, and hopefully the numbers start making sense again, and the economy starts reopening. But we’ll see. Who knows.
Theo Hicks: Exactly. So definitely wait and see right now. So you mentioned that you’re getting a lot of communications from either deals you’re investing in with all types of sponsors… Do you mind walking us through, as a passive investor, what types of communication you’re getting from syndicators? More specifically, maybe tell us what a good communication looks like at a time like this, and maybe some things that you see and it’s kind of making you worry when you consider a bad communication.
Travis Watts: Something I’d talk about on the podcast is why I like syndicate groups that not only distribute monthly distributions, but hand-in-hand they report monthly. I think in a time like this it means a lot. No one wants to sit here 3-4 months to wait on an update to see how their property is doing.
Some groups to this point that are quarterly that I’ve invested with have literally sent out one communication since this whole thing started to unfold… And I don’t appreciate that. I’m all about transparency and proactiveness, communication… So what does that prompt investors to do? Call. Email. Just bug you to death. So why don’t you just get the information out?
What am I seeing is a lot to do with helping the tenants, helping educate how they can file for unemployment if they’ve lost their jobs, how they can maybe get on some kind of payment plan and maybe make a half payment on the first and a half payment on the 15th, resources for companies hiring in the local area… There’s obviously some businesses somewhat thriving right now. It’s kind of a weird word to use… Amazon’s hiring, grocery stores are hiring… There’s a lot of opportunities. I invest mostly in workforce housing, B and C class properties, so a lot of these folks are in an income range of 30k to maybe 60k/year household income… So a lot of opportunities are available for folks like that, depending on the area where your property is located.
So in general, that’s the communication I’ve been getting – let’s wait and see how collections pan out, and here’s where we are as of today, and how does that compare to the previous quarter. Look, I don’t need a communication every day, because it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but I think at least a monthly communication is ideal. A lot of groups have been doing webinars, Q&A calls, things like that… And I think that goes a long way as well in a crisis situation like this.
Theo Hicks: Another article that you wrote on the website – and I’m sure it’s on LinkedIn and your Bigger Pockets profile as well – is about the mortgage crisis. Do you mind talking about that for a little bit?
Travis Watts: Sure. That one’s a little more technical. I think there’s a lot of key elements that are just probably better read through the article itself… But basically, what you’ve been hearing a lot in the headlines is things like this mortgage forbearance, or people aren’t paying their mortgages, they’re not paying the rent… Well, the thing is there’s a chain effect here. It starts with, let’s say, the homeowners saying “I’m not gonna make my mortgage payment”. But then what a lot of people don’t understand is that mortgages are often sold. And they’re sold, they’re wrapped up into collateralized mortgage obligations, investments basically that people can invest in, where you’re investing in different tranches, and things like that…
So you’ve got the bank or the lender, you’ve got the tenant, and then you’ve got the investment, then you’ve got the investors behind the scenes there… And it’s like “Who’s left holding the bag here?” That’s kind of what the crisis is – trying to figure out what kind of stimulus is coming for who exactly; it’s gonna start with probably the person that’s supposed to be paying their rent or their mortgage, and then it’s gonna go as a trickle-down effect. But it could completely implode parts of the lending industry… So it really is a crisis in a sense, but… Anyway, there’s much more detail that’s probably better found in the article… But yeah, that was another recent one that I’ve just put out.
Theo Hicks: You don’t have to answer this question if you don’t have to, because I’m putting you on the spot, but I did read recently that Chase changed their mortgage criteria… So they’re only lending to people that have a credit score of 700 or higher, and then 20% down payments… Which seems to be one of the first residential lending institutions to make changes such as that.
I guess my question would be “Do you think that that is gonna be an opening for other lending institutions to also change their lending criteria?” And if yes, what kind of effect do you think it’ll have on the overall real estate market?
Travis Watts: Yeah, I’m happy to give a high-level overview… And that’s kind of how that article ends, that I wrote – what are the practical takeaways here? Well, if you’re selling a home, it may be a little bit harder, for obvious reasons, to get a buyer, just because people aren’t getting out as much, or they may not be in the investment market space as much right now… But more importantly, to your point, someone who’s qualified. So which lenders are still lending? And if they are, like you said, I think that banks are gonna be tightening up quite a bit right now… Obviously, to lower their risk. They don’t want any defaults, and there’s probably a lot of defaults coming their way.
In fact today – maybe yesterday – was the earnings report for a lot of banks, and they’re in a bad place right now. They see a bit of a grim immediate future here, at least talking through the next quarter. With all of this mortgage forbearance, and people not paying, and unemployment spiking… It’s a tough time to be a bank.
If you’re buying – to your point – you may have to have a little bit better credit, you may need to put a little bit more down… If you’re selling, it’s a little harder to find a qualified buyer… Obviously, that’s gonna have an effect in the residential space, of course, 100%. But in no way, shape or form, in my opinion, are we talking about something similar to ’08, ’09 housing real estate crisis. That’s not exactly what’s happening this time.
Theo Hicks: Thanks for sharing that. Is there anything else you wanna mention as it relates to the Coronavirus and real estate that we haven’t talked about already before we hop into the lightning round?
Travis Watts: There’s always a silver lining to this stuff. Even ’08, ’09 — yes, it’s bad news, and there’s negativity everywhere, and nobody knows, and where is the bottom, but there’s always going to be opportunities that pop up… Not only in the syndication space, in the publicly-traded stuff… Look at this as an opportunity to 1) above all, educate yourself. This is a really great time to educate yourself. Figure out what your goals are… And it’s a great time to get started. As you alluded to in the beginning of this podcast, I got started in 2009. Well, that was not quite the absolute bottom of the market, but it was pretty near and close to it. And riding the way up over the next decade is helpful, for a lack of better words. It wasn’t the perfect time to get in, but it was a pretty decent time… So just hopefully you can keep your job, and your income, and your business running through this. Hopefully the stimulus money can help soften the blow on that front, and then wait and see what opportunities can come over the next 6-18 months or so.
Theo Hicks: Alright, Travis, are you ready for the Best Ever Lightning Round?
Travis Watts: Let’s do it!
Theo Hicks: Alright. First, a quick word from our sponsor.
Theo Hicks: Okay, Travis, what is the best ever book you’ve recently read?
Travis Watts: I think you just said the title of it – it’s the Best Ever Apartment Investing Book that you and Joe wrote. That’s actually a really great book that you guys wrote. I actually just bought that the other day and gave it to someone who was looking to be a GP themselves.
One that’s kind of a classic, that I’ve recently re-read is Awaken the Giant Within, a Tony Robbins book. I don’t even know when he wrote that. Probably in the ’80s. But man, is it just timeless; great insight and info for self development.
Theo Hicks: If your passive investing business were to collapse today, what would you do next?
Travis Watts: What would I do next… I’m trying to make this as short as possible, but I’ve always been a huge advocate of the FIRE Movement (Financial Independence, Retire Early), which has a lot to do with reducing your expenses and overhead, making as much money as you can make, and investing that into things that produce passive income. I would stay on the passive income route, I would just look for an opportunity to make as much income as I could, and put my focus back there again.
Theo Hicks: Do you mind telling us about a deal that you’ve lost the most money on? How much you lost, and the lesson that you learned.
Travis Watts: Yeah, I invested in something I clearly didn’t know that much about. It was a distressed debt syndication fund. Sometimes I experiment outside of real estate; that was one of the first big experiments I did. I put maybe — I don’t even know; there were two funds, and I put maybe 175k in, and lost (to date) maybe 40%-50%. It could be a lot worse… It’s in a receivership now, so who knows what that will end up being… But it was a rough ride.
Theo Hicks: What about the best ever deal that you’ve done?
Travis Watts: The best ever deal was actually in the single-family space during — I think it was like 2014 to 2015. I bought a house from a bank, I paid 97k for it. I didn’t do anything to it. I just rented it out as is, and I sold it two years later for 215k.
Theo Hicks: What is the best ever way you like to give back?
Travis Watts: My time. Week to week I take calls with all types of people, not only investors, but people looking to house-hack, or do a fix and flip, or become a GP, sometimes an LP… I just love sharing experience, talking through things, handing off resources… I just mentioned the book you wrote with Joe – I gave that as a resource to someone just last week… So just sharing my time.
I just wish that there had been more people in my life when I got started, that I could have reached out to, to say that classic “Hey, let me pick your brain for 30 minutes.” I give people that opportunity.
Theo Hicks: Then lastly, what’s the best ever place to reach you?
Travis Watts: Probably email. Travis [at] ashcroftcapital.com. Or ashcroftcapital.com/passiveinvestor. I’ve got a free passive investing guide there and it connects you with me if you’d like to jump on a phone call as well.
Theo Hicks: Perfect. Best Ever listeners, make sure you take advantage of that, and make sure you check out the two articles that we talked about today. The first one is “How inflation can benefit you over the next decade”, and the second one is “The Mortgage Crisis: Will You Be Affected?” As Travis mentioned, the Mortgage Crisis one goes into more technical detail on that.
Besides those two articles, the one other main takeaway that I got was you talking about the types of communications you’ve been getting from different sponsors… You’ve got some people who haven’t reached out at all, some people that are reaching out a little bit too much. The sweet spot is monthly communication, letting you know what’s going on at the property and being transparent and honest.
I think that is it… Travis, it’s been nice talking to you. Best Ever listeners, as always, thanks for listening. Have a best ever day, and we will talk to you tomorrow.
Travis Watts: Thanks, Theo.
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