How important is timing the property markets?

May 13, 2024

Is it a bad time to get into property investment?

While the perpetual property pessimists are predicting Real Estate Armageddon, some credible experts are suggesting it's a great time - a countercyclical opportunity to take advantage of the window of opportunity currently being offered to those with a long-term outlook.

Of course, no one wants to buy a home or an investment property only to see the value of their property fall and then wait a number of years for the market to rise again.

It’s often said that timing is everything when investing, but I’ll let you in on a little secret – that’s not really the case.

I know when I first started investing I understood little about market cycles, yet I made some great investments.

Then I learned about the concept of …

Countercyclical investing

I was told that a smart property investment strategy is to acquire assets counter-cyclically.

In other words, they follow Warren Buffett’s advice:

Be fearful when others are greedy and be greedy when others are fearful!

I read that understanding the recurring relationship between the different stages in the market cycle was critical to maximising the returns on my investment dollar, while at the same time exposing myself to minimum risk.

And it seemed to make sense – if you know where things are heading and buy before the crowd does – before prices start to rise strongly – you are likely to make big profits!

But over time I realised that that was not always the case.

In fact, if you wait for the right opportunity countercyclically, you’ll often be left behind.

So I’m no longer a big believer in counter-cyclical investing because I realised that…

Timing is one of the most misunderstood concepts with regard to investing.

The truth is successful investors know how to create wealth at any point in a cycle.

Good Bad Times

Timing definitely matters, but successful investors find that timing isn’t really that important.

Have you noticed how some investors seem to do well in good times and do even better in bad times?

Market timing isn’t really important to them.

On the other hand, do others do poorly in good times and even worse in bad times?

Market timing seems to have very little effect on them either.

Interesting isn’t it?

So how important is timing the market?

It was interesting to know how much difference it would have made if a property investor managed to buy right at the bottom of the market during each of the property cycle downturns as opposed to them getting it terribly wrong and buying right at the peak of the cycle?

The following table shows the difference in equity as well as the overall difference in capital growth if you could get your market timing perfect.

Year of Downturn Holding Period % Fall in Price from Peak to Trough Extra Equity Today Difference in Compound Capital Growth
2000 17-18 years 6.67% $21,500 0.58%
2003 14-15 years 11.93% $63,000 1.11%
2007-8 9-10 years 10.19% $74,000 1.91%
2010-12 5-7 years 8.39% $76,000 5.04%

A couple of conclusions can be drawn from this:

1. “Perfect” timing has little impact if you hold your investment over the long-term

The investor who bought at the very worst time in 2000 is only $21,500 (or 0.58%) worse off than the investor who got the timing right by buying at the very bottom of the market.

Long Term

In fact, the difference is statistically irrelevant if you hold your property over the long-term – say 20 years.

Even the investor who bought in 2007 just before the Global Financial Crisis hit, is only 1.91% worse off than if they would have bought just before the property market started to pick up in 2008 when the RBA dropped interest rates to stimulate our markets.

Of course, if our hypothetical investor had held off buying while waiting for the ideal time to get into the market after the GFC, it is unlikely they would have bought at the “perfect time” as they would have been waiting for market signals that the property market had moved on to the next phase of the cycle.

And these would only have come to light well after the bottom when prices started rising, auction clearance rates rose, and other investors had moved the market to the next level.

2. Owning the right assets is critical

The property market is very forgiving.

The longer you hold your investment property, the less important the perfect timing of your purchase becomes.

More important than timing is the quality of the asset you own because investment-grade properties will outperform the averages with regard to capital growth.

Currently, many would-be investors are holding off, waiting to get their timing right after the market bottoms.

My experience is those who are procrastinating now are highly unlikely to be able to pick the bottom.

When the market turns they’ll still sit around waiting for the right signals and will most likely be worse off than those who made a poorly timed decision but took action and bought a property.

A2

The graph above shows that if you own the right property – one that grows at “wealth-producing” rates of return over the long term, your asset base will grow more substantially and give you the cash flow you require to develop financial freedom.

Correct asset selection is more important than correct timing, but this brings us to our next point…

3. Time in the market is important

If you want to become wealthy, you will need to understand the power of compounding.

It’s the very root of making money work for you and happens when you let the earnings of an investment compound instead of withdrawing them and spending them.

For example, if you had $10 000 in an interest-bearing account and it earned 3 per cent interest ($300), you would be practising compounding if you left the interest in the account to grow further.

This means you’d now be earning interest on $10,300, not just the original $10 000.

This keeps building year after year and it’s much the same with property.

Just look at the following graph which shows what would happen to the value of a property that grows in value at 7% per annual (of course this is an average – it doesn’t happen each and every year.)

While this property doubles in value over 10 years, the power of compounding means that almost half (45%) of its increase in value over the 15-year period shown occurs in the last 5 years.

A3

Once again, timing is nowhere near as important as owning the right type of asset and holding it in the long term.

4. No one really knows what’s going to happen to the property markets

In Australia we seem to have 25 million property experts – everyone has an opinion.

You know what they say about opinions… there like belly buttons: everyone has one but they’re basically useless.

Humans tend to act irrationally when it comes to money.

Emotional Stress, Bankruptcy, Finance.

When there is a general belief that property values can only keep rising and this spreads through a new generation of investors (as it does each cycle), driven by FOMO (the fear of missing out) they drive property values up even further, perpetuating the belief and helping make it a reality!

Similarly, when “the crowd” believes the real estate market is going to crash, FOBE (the fear of buying early) keeps them out of the market, and their negative sentiment gets reported in the media and feeds on itself.

What can an investor learn from this?

  1. There are multiple property markets around Australia at the moment – and while many are experiencing falling prices, some are still growing and others are poised for growth over the next year.
  2. Rather than trying to time the market, buy the best assets you can. Timing your purchase well will give you a one-off bonus. However, owning the right property – an “investment grade asset” that grows at wealth-producing rates of return will see your portfolio outperform over the long term.
  3. At times of poor or no capital growth, strategic property investors “manufacture” capital growth through property renovations or development.
  4. Booms never last forever, and neither do busts. Don’t be surprised when they come around and don’t overreact. This will help you avoid being sucked into booms and spat out during busts.
  5. Our property markets are not only driven by fundamentals, but also by the often irrational and erratic behaviour of an unstable crowd of other investors. While the long-term performance of property is influenced by the fundamentals, its short-term performance is much more affected by market sentiment.
  6. Treat your property investments like a business and stick to a proven strategy to take the emotions out of your investment decisions. Don’t make 30-year investment decisions based on the last 30 minutes of news
  7. Recognise that property is a long-term play and set up financial buffers to help you ride the property cycles.

History has a way of repeating itself.

Strategic investors will take advantage of the opportunities our property markets will offer over the next couple of years maximising their upsides while protecting their downsides.

They recognise that low consumer sentiment when other fundamentals are strong simply means this too shall pass and the long term growth of well located properties is asured.

Of course psychologically it is hard to buy property when there is so much negative media.

While it may feel strange and counterintuitive to buy in a correcting market, as I've explained, for those who are in the right financial position to do so there are many valid reasons why this may be the right time to buy….and history has told this story over and over again.

There is less competition.

You have more time to research and select the right property and compete due diligence checks.

It's an ideal time to negotiate hard and secure a great property.

Quality property is still selling for reasonably good prices. These high-quality properties will tend to hold their value far better than B and C grade properties in inferior locations.

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