The key steps to successful property development – graceful exits
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In an ideal world, property developers should have a graceful exit from each project, whether they are selling or holding the properties.
Of course, life is rarely graceful, and many newbies fail to even consider the end at the start. This is important as there are a number of exit strategies that you must consider long before you begin any development.
Exits plans aplenty
The first exit is when you transition out of a construction loan, which is when you're moving from a high interest loan to a more affordable one. Clearly you must be financial enough to still qualify for the new loan – even though it's cheaper. The thing is the goalposts could have changed dramatically in the length of time it has taken for the project to complete and many a novice has come unstuck because their numbers no longer stacked up in the bank’s eyes.
Another exit strategy is out of a joint venture, which I'll explain in more detail below.
The next strategy, which is also the easiest but not necessarily the best, is selling up and moving on. In my experience, joint ventures (JVs) are a great way to develop property but everyone must agree on what happens at the end. My preference with JVs is to both sell or hold instead of buying the other party out. The reason for that is that you don't want any recriminations in the future, say, if the property you buy off your JV partner increases in value spectacularly, especially where family or friends are involved. Soon, the green-eyed monster will rear its ugly head, and your former JV partner might even accuse you of short changing them.
I had a situation once where I had the opportunity to buy my JV partner's property but it made me feel uneasy because I knew that it would likely increase in value significantly in the years ahead and I didn't want any bad blood between us. We ended up selling & splitting the profits. It’s not all about money.
Even though that waterfront property is now worth about $1 million, I believe I made the right decision because we mix in the same circles so there was never any finger pointing later down the track. So with joint ventures, my recommendation is that both parties agree to either hold or sell to keep everything simple.
The biggest mistakes
The biggest mistake with exit strategies is not having one at all!
The next one is selling prematurely or holding for too long thinking the market will shift, without taking into consideration holding costs.
The best exit strategy is the one that suits your own unique situation, but sometimes making a smaller profit by selling and moving on is better because of the reduced holding costs as well as opportunity costs, too. My exit strategies have been a mix of selling and holding and even though I'm not afraid to sell I usually regret it when the values go up!
One I don't regret, however, is the property I sold to pay for my father-in-law's medical bills because he got very sick here and he was here only on a tourist visa. He had no insurance so each day in intensive care was $4,500 plus myriad other medical costs. I sold that property for $340,000 but today it's worth about $650,000.
Financially and personally it was the best and easiest thing for me to do to fund his medical treatment and it also an important point. At the end of the day, property investment and property development is all about improving your financial position and being in a better situation when the chips are down.
Too much too soon
Another major mistake is newbie developers using the profits from their first projects leasing flashy cars to show off their newfound "wealth". While that's just silly if you ask me, that lease also kills their borrowing capacity which impacts them financially for any future developments. I have 20 years of investing and developing experience under my belt, but I have never undertaken a large multi-unit development or housing subdivision.
I could if I wanted to but I'd rather be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond. That's because if things go wrong, there are more potential buyers for the project. If you're a small fish in a big pond and things go wrong, you'll likely be eaten by the top-end of town and there's nothing graceful about that!
One of the most common stumbling blocks for new developers is their egos get in the way. As soon as they start supposedly making "big money", they splash it out on fast cars and various other things that aren't overly helpful to their future success. Often these cars are on leases, which, of course dramatically reduces their borrowing capacity. And that's because they're not mentally ready for the money.
If I look back at many of the mistakes in my life, I can drill it down to three simple things: greed, ego, or plain old stupidity. Some of those you can do something about but you have to be honest with yourself to do so.
Property development can be a vehicle to vastly improve your wealth, but you have to take your time to learn the ropes – and be prepared to learn plenty about yourself along the road, too.