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Ten years into a bull market, we are often asked how we feel about investing today versus staying on the sidelines and waiting for “real” opportunities to arise. In this post, we uncover a few common misconceptions around the “right” time to invest, whether in stocks or real estate. Most interestingly, the data suggest that regardless of asset type, it rarely pays to wait.

Is it possible to time the market?

It’s tempting to look back on any stock chart and convince yourself that with the right perspective, you might be able to “call” the next turn in the market. Of course, hindsight is 20/20. But sophisticated investors and advisors generally recognize the exceptional difficulty (or luck) associated with market timing. As a result, the more common recommendation is a “dollar cost average” approach to investing: put money into the market on a regular basis to achieve long-term returns in line with overall market performance. For those who do decide to “wait for a dip,” numerous studies have shown that the opportunity cost of sitting on the sidelines typically far outweighs any ability to buy stocks cheaper down the road.

A few more recent studies take this idea one step further: what if I have a lump sum of money to invest today? Should I invest it gradually over, say, a year? Or should I put all into the market right away? While it may seem counterintuitive, historically it has almost always made sense to invest that amount immediately. A well-known Vanguard study published in 2012 illustrates that, going all the way back to 1926, a lump-sum investment in stocks or bonds would have outperformed 12-month dollar cost averaging roughly 65% of the time. On average, an investor who put $1mm work immediately would have ended up with $55k more after ten years than by using a dollar cost average approach.

Is real estate different?

But what about real estate investing? We frequently hear the claim that real estate cycles are easier to predict. Which means investors often see less risk in waiting for the market to turn and for bargains to arise. Not surprisingly, history suggests otherwise.

First, private real estate has historically experienced less frequent “down years” than the stock market.1 Somewhat related, as the chart below illustrates, US real estate has offered relative stability. Over the past 20 years, the asset class has produced positive returns across any five year period inclusive of the financial crisis. Perhaps most importantly, the average volatility of these returns has been much lower than the stock market (in fact, roughly 40% less than the S&P 500 over that time frame).2

Source: NCREIF

While past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results, these dynamics suggest that successfully “timing” the real estate market is actually more challenging than timing the stock market.

But what about today specifically?

Of course, if we saw clear warning signs that pointed to an imminent downturn, we might be tempted to raise a red flag and suggest investors wait. Within the commercial real estate market, we identify three factors that have historically caused periods of underperformance:

  1. Recessions
  2. Oversupply
  3. Too much debt

As a real estate manager, we’re not in the business of predicting the timing or severity of the next recession. But we do believe we are able to take a view on real estate supply and debt. In both cases, we see little cause for broad concern.

Debt: Commercial mortgage debt has historically grown slightly faster than nominal GDP. Since the financial crisis, the US has seen a multi-year deleveraging, followed by a few years of credit growth roughly in line with the long-term average (see chart below). Anecdotally, lending standards, especially for new construction, remain significantly tighter than pre-crisis.

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Includes Multifamily and Nonfarm Nonresidential mortgage debt outstanding.

Supply: We identify certain pockets of oversupply across the country (for example high-end residential in New York City), but do not see an acute risk of broad-based oversupply in the system. The chart below illustrates this relative dearth of new commercial building relative to GDP in recent years.

Source: NAREIT

Given these dynamics, we favor an approach that treats real estate as a permanent allocation within an investor’s portfolio alongside equities, fixed income, and other alternatives. We welcome you to review our other posts where we address questions around the sizing and composition of this allocation.

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Interested in building your direct real estate portfolio? Platforms like Cadre now provide accredited investors direct access to a curated portfolio of institutionally-underwritten commercial real estate investment opportunities. To get started, please ​request access​.

  1. Based on number of negative return years for NCREIF-ODCE index and S&P 500 since ODCE index inception (Dec 1997).
  2. Based on standard deviation of annual returns for the NCREIF-ODCE index and the S&P 500, 1998-2018.
About the Author
Cadre is a technology-empowered real estate manager built on institutional diligence enhanced by data.
Educational Communication: The views expressed above are presented only for educational and informational purposes and are subject to change in the future. No specific securities or services are being promoted or offered herein. Performance Not Guaranteed: Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Any historical returns, expected returns, or probability projections are not guaranteed and may not reflect actual future performance. Risk of Loss: All securities involve a high degree of risk and may result in partial or total loss of your investment. Cadre makes no representations, express or implied, regarding the accuracy or completeness of this information, and the reader accepts all risks in relying on the above information for any purpose whatsoever. These materials are not intended to provide, and should not be relied upon for investment, accounting, legal or tax advice. Additionally, these materials are not an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to buy any securities or other instruments. Actual transactions described herein are for illustrative purposes only, are presented as of underwriting and are not indicative of actual performance, and were selected based on objective, non-performance factors such as asset-type, geography or transaction date, among others. Certain information presented or relied upon in this presentation has been obtained from third party sources believed to be reliable, however, we do not guarantee the accuracy, completeness or fairness of the information presented.

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