Jim Cramer's Rules for Real Estate Investing

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I’m buying a house. Not happy about it -- this is nine months too early. That’s when I think real estate will stabilize.

But I was able to sidestep a big chunk of the peak by renting for three years. Now my lease is up, so I couldn’t look back.

Like everyone who buys these days, I feel awful about it. But here’s the issue: I have to live somewhere. I have to live in the school district that my kids go to, and I want a nice house in a town where there are not a lot of inexpensive houses.

I can’t be wrong, so to speak because I am not buying it for investment. I am buying it for the rest of my days. Not much I can do if it goes down in value. I am in, living in it, period. Not going anywhere, though I hate that I have to buy now. At least I didn’t catch the top.

I think that the thing that people have to avoid isn’t real estate, per se, but real estate as in investment. That is unless they are pursuing the areas that have come down 30% to 50%. So let’s talk about those.

Right now there are three areas that the homebuilders are talking about being hard hit, where they are having problems “giving away” homes: Nevada, the Inland Empire in California, and the east coast of Florida. I have culled these areas after listening to myriad housing company conference calls. These are not what I read about in the press nor what I hear from agents. These are just the distillation of dozens of homebuilders conference calls, and nothing more.

Unfortunately, most of these are out of driving reach. Fortunately, though, all of these are great destinations, available by expensive, of course, air connections from New York. But if the place is cheap enough, who cares about the fares?

These are all boots on the ground places, you can’t pick em up by looking on the web. It won’t work. I think it is time to put the boots on. In the next six months I am visiting all of these areas to make some purchases. My criteria is simple: the adjacent properties (if alike) or the property itself must be being sold for 50% of what it traded at the peak.

I have always wanted a house in Rancho Mirage, Calif. one of my favorite areas. I also like the dry heat of Vegas. The area around the eastern part of Florida is easy to get to and that’s my February destination.

Every other aspect of speculating in real estate is a loser right now because there is still too much downside.

Those three areas, that one rule -- 50% discount -- will be like buying stocks at half of book with a clean balance sheet. It is simply never wrong.

I know that I might not catch a bottom but using my rules I am eliminating any concept of buying at the top and the notion of the bargain is built-in.

Other areas could be killed and they will be looked at by me, but only if there are “down 50%” properties. Otherwise, forget about it.

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