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051: Wealth Grows in Trees with Alex Wilson

Should you always invest in things with the highest returns? Well? That’s an interesting question. When I first started investing, that’s all I cared about. When I bought my first apartment building, I did the numbers and looked at the tax returns. It looked like I was going to get over 25 percent cash on cash. It didn’t turn out that way though. It was a D class apartment building that I couldn’t manage nor could I find a manager who could. Instead of making 25 percent cash on cash, I lost a lot of money. These days, I look at that mistake as the price of education. The mistakes I made on that property were never made again and I have never lost money on real estate since that first building.

One of my lessons is that you can’t just look at the numbers. Why do class D buildings have potential for higher returns? Because they are a bigger risk. It is often the case that returns correlate to risk and we have to keep that in mind. As you may know, I own multiple businesses. Businesses trade very differently than real estate. Right now, medical businesses like some of those that I own may be valued at 10X of net operating income (to use real estate language). That is actually pretty darn high for a businesses of my size. for example. If my business made 2 million dollars in profit, the valuation may be north of 20 million. Wow! That sounds great right? But wait, in real estate terms, that is a capitalization rate of 10 which, if you are selling a property, is not necessarily something to celebrate.

Why the disparity you ask? Well, one is a business that has many moving parts. It relies on all of the operations around running a business. The assets are the brand, the management, and maybe the good will of previous customers and referral sources. Buying a business like this from me has far more risk than buying an apartment building from me with the same net operating income. Therefore, the valuation is different. The moral of the story: yield correlates with perceived risk.

Now let’s be clear. How people perceive risk is quite variable. To me, buying a stable b or c class apartment building does not feel terribly risky so I get to take advantage of relatively higher returns that this class of property yields compared to someone that feels comfortable investing in only luxury apartments where the affluent reside. Get the picture?

The reality is that there are all sorts of variables that dictate risk. Let’s take another example: Did you know that timber—you know wood, has outperformed stocks, long term corporate bonds, gold and real estate for over 100 years? Why are we not buying more timber? Maybe it’s because it’s not liquid for several years. There’s a premium for waiting for your money.

In fact, billionaire hedge fund manager Jeremy Grantham once said “timber is the only low-risk, high return asset class in existence.” Well, that alone is worth learning more about it. You can do that by tuning in to this week’s episode of Wealth Formula Podcast. I hope you enjoy the show!