If you really know your business, you can make money in any market – even one as crazy as this.
The residential real estate market here in Northwest Arkansas – like most decent places to live in the United States – is booming. Availability is low and prices are climbing rapidly. Good deals are snapped up the day they are listed.
Everyone I know who has made a lot of money in real estate did so by buying cheap from banks when the market was slow, holding and improving their properties, and then selling them when there is a boom. Because prices are so high, and it’s hard to get any work done because of our local skilled tradesperson shortage, along with other reasons (like fear about COVID-19 and its likely effect on the economy), we decided to get out of the speculative redevelopment and construction business a couple years ago. Obviously, that exit was somewhat ill-timed. While we were able to get out with our shirts still on, we didn’t realize the profits we could have made if we held out longer and sold now. But looking in the rearview mirror has never been my style and it’s not the point of this article.
As I mentioned in a previous article here in The Zweig Letter, my wife and I recently decided to move from suburbia back into the downtown area. What first got us thinking about it was an opportunity to trade our house for another one we used to own in the historic district. It was a great house, redone to a super-high standard, and featured in several magazines. We had sold it to a friend about 10 years ago and it no longer met his needs. That trade opportunity eventually evaporated as our friend decided he really wanted to move into another house he owned, but we struck a deal to buy his house for a price when ours sold. We only had so much time, though, before he would have to sell his house to someone else. We put ours on the market and it sold quickly. Then our out-of-town buyers backed out.
Because I am a creature of habit and have checked our local real estate listings daily for many years, I just happened to see an old house in town go up on the market. I sent the link to the listing to my wife. Because I was in meetings for several days going forward, plus I teach at night, I couldn’t go look at it. But my wife decided to and she told me I needed to go see it. Several days later, we both checked it out and agreed we wanted the place. It literally brought tears to my eyes thinking about what a great family house it could be. The timing wasn’t great – we had just paid a huge tax bill and our existing house wasn’t sold yet – but we decided to make an offer anyway and ended up having that accepted. The house needed work but had such great potential. We were surprised no one else saw that and beat us to the punch, especially in this market filled with speculators all looking for an easy buck. We bought the place and then our own house went under contract and everything worked out.
The best part of the deal is that our new house – because it is on such a large site in a great location that we immediately cleared after 40 years of benign neglect – is worth far more than we paid for it. Because of the fact we have two extra completely buildable, conforming quarter acre lots facing a side street, our real estate agent told us he could sell it immediately for 60 percent more than we paid. While we are not doing that, it does feel like we made a good decision.
My point is this: If you really know your business, you can make money in any market, even one as crazy as this. While I thought that all the opportunities were gone and we would have to wait around for the next recession, I was wrong. Because we know the market around here so well after years of study, we saw opportunity where no one else had.
It got me thinking that ALL businesses are like that. AEC firms are the same way. While undoubtedly many will only do well in a hot market, some can do well in up markets AND down ones. A big part of that continuous success is that their owners know their business. They know what clients are worth working for, and who will pay a decent fee. They know who they want to hire next when they get a chance. They know their own people well, and who should be in what role and how to keep those people happy. They know the government officials and regulators they have to regularly deal with. They know their competitors and what they do well and not so well. They know the numbers of their business and how to make the adjustments necessary to keep the machine profitable. And they know what is likely to happen in the future because of their commitment and experience.
Know your business. Dedicate yourself to its success. Focus on it. Think about it. Work on it. Spend the time you need to spend to make it sustainably successful. When you do that, my experience tells me that you will keep getting lucky and see the opportunities that still exist all around you.
Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at email@example.com.