In my investing career, I have made many real estate investments of varying sizes, types, and with a wide range of returns.
I’ve touched on them here and there, but have not written a comprehensive post covering all of them until now.
Note that I won’t be talking about the properties we’ve purchased to live in (covered here, here, and here) or land we purchased to possibly build on (covered here). Some of those became rental properties and flips, but were not necessarily intended to be investments.
I’ll be detailing my various passive real estate investments, ones that don’t require any effort from me other than a bit of due diligence on the front end and a bit of extra paperwork to pass along to my CPA.
My first investment in passive real estate was made in July of 2013 when I bought shares of Vanguard’s Real Estate Index Fund (VGSLX), a collection of publicly traded REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts).
The volatile nature of REITs combined with the availability of numerous additional ways to invest passively in real estate as a result of the JOBS Act passing and me becoming an accredited investor led me to seek out other real estate investments.
I started small with a few investments in January of 2018. Wanting to diversify across both deal types (debt, equity, eREIT), and across different investment platforms, I made about a half-dozen investments in the first part of 2018.
As I continued to become more familiar with my investment options and the platforms offering them, I broadened my scope to include larger investments in crowdfunded syndications and real estate funds.
As of June, 2021, these various passive real estate investments that I’ll be detailing today represent about 10% of our investment portfolio. Our total investment in alternatives (including these real estate deals plus ownership in privately held companies) is somewhere in the range of 15% to 25% of our portfolio.
Valuation of privately held companies is challenging, and we don’t necessarily know the true market value of some of these real estate investments, either, until the deals have been completed (i.e. properties sold or loans paid back). I also didn’t include VGSLX in that calculation, which behaves more like a stock fund, or the 3% of VTSAX that is invested in REITs. You can understand how determination of asset allocation can be rather challenging.
Why So Many Real Estate Investments?
I’ve asked myself the same question at times.
First, I wanted to dip my toes in the water with small sums of money. There’s no better way to learn how these investments work than by becoming an investor yourself with a tiny sliver of your portfolio.
Also, with some of these platforms, I’ve had advertising or referral relationships in place, and I figure if I’m researching them and presenting them as potentially viable options for your investment dollars, I should be comfortable investing with them myself, which I’ve done in most cases.
With any asset class, diversification is a good idea, and in the case of crowdfunded real estate in particular, there is no Vanguard with 40+ years of experience. The JOBS Act that allowed for these platforms has only been around since 2012, and I think it’s a good idea to diversify across different platforms.
I’m now at the point where I’m comfortable making a six-figure investment in a real estate fund with a single operator, but I don’t know that I would have gotten there without slowly wading into these waters. I don’t think jumping into the deep end of the real estate pool to either sink or swim is a good approach for most people, and it was certainly not for me.
Most of the platforms and operators have offered dozens, if not hundreds, of real estate investments to potential investors. Some deals overperform their projections, some underperform, and my one or two investments on a platform should NOT be taken as a representative sample.
My one deal with Alpha Investing gave an outstanding return; my returns on my single investment with EquityMultiple were only slightly positive. That doesn’t mean one company is better than the other. These are individual deals among dozens offered by both platforms. I may have simply been lucky with one and not so much with the other when it came to the individual project, both of which were value-add multifamily equity deals in this case.
Some companies offer only a few funds or eREITs, each of which is invested in a variety of underlying deals.
Some of them regularly update the Net Asset Value (NAV) of the deals they’re invested in. Others do not, and you won’t know the value of your investment until it goes full circle. This is technically true even of those that do estimate the NAV on an ongoing basis — it’s their best estimate, but you don’t know the true fair market value of a thing until it sells on the open market.
All of this to say that it’s tough to compare apples to apples when investing in different deal types with various companies that might report asset values differently.
I do calculate my IRR with an Excel sheet, but when you don’t know the current estimated value of the investment, you’ve got incomplete information. I’ll report what I can for each investment I’ve made.
In July of 2019, I made my first investment on the Alpha Investing platform, a low five-figure investment. It was an apartment complex in Arizona to be purchased, improved, and resold.
I received small quarterly distributions from September 2019 to September 2020. In December 2020, the property was sold for a handsome profit, and I was paid out with payments in December 2020 and January 2021.
My Results with Alpha Investing
Days Invested: 512
Total Return on Investment: 76.5%
Explanation of Terms
IRR: Internal Rate of Return (IRR) is the compound annual growth rate, accounting for inflows (investments made) and outflows (distributions from the investment). It is annualized and probably the best way to measure performance of investments like these.
Total Return on Investment: The total cash returned / total cash invested. Not annualized. Change this from a percentage to a decimal and put a 1 in front of it, and you’ve got the equity multiple.
Days Invested: How many days it took to earn that total return.
Republic Real Estate
My second investment with Republic was the first to go full-circle after just 7 months. It was a loan as part of a fix and flip project in Los Angeles.
They raised $1.5 Million for the project ($108,000 via Republic Real Estate) and, after renovations, sold it for $2.18 Million, giving me a return of 27.5% in 7 months for an IRR of 52.2% annualized.
This remodel of a 4 bed / 4 bath place on Boeing Avenue in Los Angeles marked the launch of Republic’s American Dreamhouse series, and a series of mini-episodes were released on Instagram to show the progress of the home as it was remodeled. A bit like something from HGTV where you can invest in the project before the show begins.
Below is an artist’s rendering of the proposed finished product and an actual picture from its Zillow listing. The garage door is less fancy, but otherwise, they pretty much nailed it.
My Results with Republic Real Estate
Days Invested: 210
Total Return on Investment: 27.5%
This was one of my first investments in passive real estate, made in January of 2018, and it was a low five-figure investment via EquityMultiple. It was also a value-add apartment complex project in Connecticut in an area suitable for commuting to New York City.
The investment was all set to be completed in the spring of 2020, but COVID threw a wrench in those plans. I received distributions from rental income from May, 2018 to November, 2019, and then the distribution stopped while lawyers sorted out the details of the stalled closing.
Eventually, a new buyer was identified, and after the sale closed, I was paid out in April of 2021. I made money, but not much.
My Results with EquityMultiple
Days Invested: 1,204
Total Return on Investment: 8.21%
I also invested with PeerStreet in January of 2018, a mid-four figure debt deal for a project in Palm City, Florida. Their business model is making short-term loans to individuals who like to fix-and-flip homes.
These short-term loans, typically in the 4-month to 24-month range, with 12 months being quite common, tend to pay interest in the high single digits.
From March, 2018 to December, 2019, I received monthly interest payments, and my money was returned with one final interest payment in January of 2020.
My Results with PeerStreet
Days Invested: 705
Total Return on Investment: 15.90%
This was another investment that I made in January of 2018, a low four-figure short-term debt deal for a quadplex in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The RealtyShares platform no longer exists, having shut down gradually beginning late in 2018. Fortunately, your investment with a crowdfunding platform like them is not held by the company; RealtyShares was the technology platform that connected investors with operators seeking investors, performing some due diligence and record-keeping and reporting duties.
Still, their closing undoubtedly created some headaches for investors. My investment had gone full circle by July of 2018 and I received my 1099 for the interest income in early 2019 as expected.
My Results with RealtyShares
Total Days Invested: 152
Total Return on Investment: 2.94%
My remaining investments have not yet gone full circle, making reporting my returns a bit more complex. Where an up-to-date NAV (net asset value) is provided by the platform / operator / sponsor, I will use it, but keep in mind this is only an estimate of the current value.
Some of these will be completed in the coming months or years. Others are meant to be “evergreen” where I can choose to leave my money invested indefinitely or request a return of funds. The liquidity options vary by investment, and penalties can exist for early exits.
Small Deals (Investments Under $10,000)
DiversyFund has one investment offering, the Diversyfund Growth REIT, with a minimum investment of only $500. I invested in it in July of 2019 and chose to have my monthly distributions reinvested.
I am currently one of about 22,500 investors in the fund with $49 Million deployed across 9 multifamily and student housing projects in 5 states, and the fund remains open to new investors.
The goal is for the fund to match their historic performance of an IRR in the 16% to 18% range with a hold period of five years, and there is no liquidity (withdrawal) option during the five-year hold period.
My reinvested dividends represent a distribution of about 5% annually, but without an updated NAV, I cannot guesstimate my total return. Ask me again in a few years!
Fundrise also offers eREITs, a collection of various real estate investments, and I’ve been invested with them since January of 2018.
I’ve opted to take my distributions in cash, and they pay quarterly. Fundrise does update the Net Asset Value of their holdings, so you can see the growth of your investment over time and estimate your total returns. They also offer a liquidity option, but you’ll pay a penalty, decreasing over time, of 3% to 1% if you make a withdrawal in the first five years of your investment.
To calculate returns most accurately, I’ve included a prorated distribution theoretically made at the end of May, which represents a portion of the total quarterly distribution I’ll be receiving in July. I’ve done the same for other ongoing investments below that have reliably paid distributions where we’re between payments.
My Results with Fundrise
Days Invested: 1218
Total Return on Investment: 27.76%
RealtyMogul has a variety of real estate investments on their platform, including two eREITs, numerous individual syndicated deals, and triple net leases.
Since April of 2018, I’ve been invested in their MogulREIT II, the goal of which is to realize capital appreciation while providing regular income.
I’ve received quarterly distributions since July, 2018. The NAV, which is regularly updated, took a hit during COVID, but has bounced back. It was $10 a share when I invested, and now sits at $10.65. I’m hopeful that it’s a conservative estimate, as that is not a lot of capital appreciation over a 3-year period.
The portfolio consists of 9 multi-family equity deals in 4 states, although 6 of the 9 apartment complexes are in Texas.
In terms of liquidity, there’s none in the first year, and after that, you can opt to have RealtyMogul buy back 25% of your shares quarterly. There are decreasing penalties of 2% or 1% that disappear once you’ve been invested for 3 years, which I now have.
My Results with RealtyMogul
Days Invested: 1,146
Total Return on Investment: 20.37%
Agriculture is something I was surrounded by growing up, and I’m happy to say that I own a little piece of a farm myself now — roughly 2 acres of a row crop farm on fertile Arkansas soil to be precise.
I’ve been invested since July of 2019 and have received annual distributions in December of 2019 and 2020 based on rental income.
AcreTrader works with the farmers that rent the land to help increase crop yields, soil health, etc… Their plan is to hold the property for 5 to 10 years, selling at an advantageous time, and they have data that shows farmland to be an asset class with both outsized returns and low volatility.
Since they do not update the asset value between the time or purchase and sale, I cannot estimate my returns. Time will tell, but based on the regular updates on the productivity of the acreage, all seems to be going according to plan.
Republic Real Estate
I’ve made two small investments and one big one via Republic Real Estate, the first of which was made when it was known as Compound.
They offer a wide variety of real estate investments from short-term loans to unlevered luxury condominiums to private REITS to real estate funds with six-figure minimums.
The first investment I made was in an equity deal for a luxury Miami condominium that was purchased at a relative discount while the market was down somewhat pre-COVID. There is a small income component to the investment, with an annual dividend of about 2% from rental income, but the main source of return is anticipated to be realized when exiting after a 3-to-5 year hold period.
The model here is actually quite similar to the AcreTrader deal in that no leverage is used — the property was purchased with cash from investors — and most of the return is dependent upon the property increasing in value
The 1-bedroom, 1.5 bath condo was purchased early in 2020 for $445,000 and current listings for 1-bedrooms in the same complex are currently listed at $510,000 to $749,900.
My return on this investment is to be determined, but look promising at the moment. Republic Real Estate will act as the selling agent, so the transaction costs should be less than is typical.
Medium Deals ($25,000 to $50,000 investments)
They offer real estate funds, individual syndicated equity deals, and I’ve even seen marijuana investment opportunities. I passed (and did not puff) on those.
As of June, 2021, CrowdStreet investors have funded nearly 500 deals, 51 of which have gone full circle for an average IRR of 17.6% with a wide range of returns.
I’ve chosen to invest in two ground-up builds in Texas. One will be student housing, the other residential townhomes.
With new builds, there is no income to disperse, so my returns will be realized when the projects are complete and sold.
I made these investments in December 2019 and January 2021. Both are anticipated to be fully realized in 2023. Until then, I won’t have much to say about returns, but I can say that the communication has been excellent with quarterly updates, pictures of the progress, and more.
DLP Capital Partners via CityVest
In recent months, that figure has been lowered to $100,000 for audiences of Physician on FIRE and the White Coat Investor, a concession that we really appreciate, as that’s a more achievable figure for our readership.
In 2019, however, the only way to invest with less than a quarter-million dollars or more was via an “access fund,” also sometimes referred to as a “feeder fund” in which assets from multiple investors are pooled together (for a fee) to meet the minimum to make otherwise inaccessible investments.
I’ve been invested in the DLP Lending Fund via a CityVest access fund since April 2019, and have received quarterly dividends since. There was a one-month delay in the most recent distribution from CityVest, and I would have liked for that to have been better communicated, but the money did arrive.
When the investment is liquidated as planned after 3 to 4 years (2 of which have now passed), I will likely invest this money directly with DLP to save on fees, now that that the minimum investment is more approachable.
My Returns with DLP via CityVest
Days Invested: 782
Total Return on Investment: 19.82%
Big Deals (Six Figure Investments)
Origin Investments was founded in 2007, and the co-founders invest a good amount of their own money alongside their investors. People I know and trust have invested with them, and after learning more about the current and past funds, I felt comfortable investing a six-figure sum with them.
They have had three funds go full circle, with an average IRR of 27.3% over 25 realized deals. They currently offer two funds, the IncomePlus Fund, in which I’m invested, and the QOZ fund, a qualified opportunity zone fund that helps defer and potentially reduce taxes on realized capital gains.
I’ve been invested in the IncomePlus Fund since September 2020. The fund aims to provide a tax-neutral distribution of about 6% annually in 0.5% monthly increments, along with additional capital appreciation of 3% to 5%, investing in a mix of preferred equity, equity, and ground-up builds.
It’s an evergreen fund, and I can choose to remain invested indefinitely or sell my shares at a later date.
Origin updates the NAV per share monthly, so I have a good idea of my total return to date, although the timeframe is rather short in my case. The IRR will improve with time, as there is a bit of initial drag from an investment fee.
My Results with Origin Investments
Days Invested: 271
Total Return on Investment: 6.55%
SFR3 via Republic Real Estate
SFR3 is a fund that purchases and renovates distressed homes to provide rental workforce housing throughout the southeastern U.S.
I was impressed by the resumes of the leadership team and their algorithmic approach to identifying neighborhoods and properties for potential acquisition. They’ve also got an impressive, albeit short performance record, and residential real estate has continued to perform quite well since I invested in the fund.
I saw this fund as a way to profit from single family home purchases and subsequent rental in a very passive way without getting my hands dirty. Most of the other investments I’ve made have been either equity in large, multifamily complexes or lending to various projects.
I committed my funds in December, 2020, and the money was deployed in March, 2021. As such, I’ve got no information on returns to share just yet. This investment was made via an access fund put together by Republic Real Estate.
We’ll wrap this up where we started, with a look at my first passive real estate investment, the Vanguard REIT index fund.
Having been an investor for nearly 8 years, calculating my own IRR with a spreadsheet as I have done for the others would be quite cumbersome with so many inflows and outflows. Luckily, Vanguard tracks the performance of my investments in the fund, reporting an annual return of 8.3%.
Morningstar reports a 93% total return over the same timeframe, suggesting that it’s almost doubled in the nearly 8 years I’ve been invested. The Rule of 72 would suggest that a 9% return would result in an 8-year doubling time, and an 8% return would double in 9 years, so these numbers are consistent.
It’s been a wild ride, but not nearly as scary as the fund’s performance in 2009, when the fund was down 78% from it’s all-time high.
My Take on Passive Real Estate Investments
I got comfortable with the asset class by making small investments in diversified eREITs. I think that’s a great place to start.
Read everything you can on the website of any platform you consider investing with. Many of them have investor education blog posts and modules. Become educated and familiar with the terms used.
As you gain knowledge and confidence, and eventually attain accredited investor status by virtue of at least two years of multiple six-figure income ($200,000 as an individual or $300,000 as a couple) or by having a million dollar net worth (not counting your primary home), you may be ready to choose individual syndications. These are deals found either on the popular crowdfunded platforms or by connections made with other investors in your network. Passive Income MD and his Facebook groups are great resources for learning more.
If you are not an accredited investor, your options are limited to smaller investments like the REITS offered by Diversyfund, Fundrise, and RealtyMogul, and various offerings at Republic Real Estate. There are additional publicly traded and private REITS, and REIT index funds like Vanguard’s.
At this point, I’m most likely to direct future passive real estate investments to evergreen funds like those offered by DLP, Origin, and others. As my smaller investments come full circle or reach the point where there’s no penalty to liquidate, I’ll plan to consolidate for the sake of simplicity.
I would be very happy with a tax-neutral distribution in the 6% range with total returns in the low teens, which is the somewhat conservative target of the funds I’m considering or have invested in.
Passive real estate investments are certainly not without risk — nothing offering double-digit returns ever will be — and a total loss of capital on a single deal is not unheard of. It’s an optional asset class, as there are no called strikes in investing, but it’s an asset class that has generated a great deal of wealth for many individuals and families.
I plan to continue to grow my investments in the space to roughly 20% of our investment portfolio.
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