Many investors come to our firm AFTER they have made their purchases and ask that we manage their new properties. We have seen those investors make horrible purchase decisions that cost them thousands of dollars and even their financial solvency. In addition to selling real estate, we are the largest single family property management firm in the Huntsville Alabama area managing ~ 550 properties.
Just yesterday we were contacted by an investor who told us in despair that they were filing bankruptcy and letting their properties foreclose. They had already exhausted their savings and 401K accounts to try and hold on to their houses. On the advice of a for fee real estate investment club who teamed with a less than professional local realtor they bought several properties in an area that was much too far from the city and in a neighborhood that was not selling at all. They paid list price. In this particular neighborhood, property values have declined for the past three years. While we maintained stable rental income and low operating costs for them the appreciation and rent growth they were promised at the time of purchase were unrealistic.
This is not an isolated incident. In the past three months we have had two property management clients sell their properties at substantial losses to avoid foreclosure. Last year we saw a heart breaking situation. A retired school teacher from California asked us to manage her investment property. The local realtor who helped her buy the house, was also the listing agent and who claimed to be a property manager had rented her house to an unqualified tenant. The tenant paid the security deposit and first month’s rent but then stopped paying rent.
We evicted the tenant and were surprised at what we found upon seeing the house. It was incomplete with trim, hardware and fixtures that were never installed by the builder. (The investor never saw the house.) The investor was promised rent that was $300 above market value and $10,000 in annual appreciation in a neighborhood that wasn’t selling at all. On closer research we found a pattern of sales by this same realtor where she was the listing broker, representing the builder in selling houses and then acting as the property manager. We also learned that the broker had an in-house loan originator who funded the investor's purchases.
We discovered that this same broker regularly entered inflated rental amounts in our local MLS to entice additional investors. We discovered the actual rents through owners who later approached us for help.
This same broker appears to be a party to property tax fraud as well. Alabama has a homestead exemption where owner-occupants pay one half the property taxes of investor-owners. We found that a large percentage of this broker’s sold properties were recorded with the state as owner occupied when the owners have never visited Alabama. Someone had to take the deed to the courthouse or an annex and fill out a form swearing to be the owner and that the home was owner occupied. One can only surmise that the broker was involved in order to reduce operating costs of the investor in order to sell to more investors.
The retired school teacher was forced to file bankruptcy and lost this and then two other investment homes to foreclosure. She had to go back to work as she had spent the remainder her savings trying to hold on to her properties.
Huntsville is a great area with a growing economy and a strong long term growth outlook. One must however have knowledge of the local real estate market or an experienced, trustworthy realtor as a guide.
Never accept unsubstantiated claims and opinion. Hard sales data is available and should be provided by the buyer’s agent. The agent should also provide the long-term sales data for specific neighborhoods to establish appreciation trends. Question MLS rental data as it is not regulated or monitored by our local MLS. Research schools, commute times to employment centers and be certain that there are no negative features in the subject and surrounding properties.
For a primer on the greater Huntsville area, go to Huntsville newcomer information.
We do have areas and specific neighborhoods that have been solid performers of investments and on occasion we find a property that can be purchased below market value. It’s rare that a below market property ever makes it to the MLS. If I become aware of a property that can be purchased below market value I first consider it for myself. If I am not in a position to purchase it, I call my investor clients.
Please use caution in vetting candidate properties and let us know if we can assist you .