Monday, March 30, 2009

Houston Apartment Update

The monthly report for the Houston apartment complex was positive once again. As mentioned last month, occupancy for February was at 96% (not quite the 97% they estimated, but still darn good). Income for the month equaled their highest month ever. Repair costs were higher due to the quarterly unit inspections, which resulted in more repairs than normal.

I wrote last month about the income from telephones and wondered if that was all really from people using pay phones. I never did get a response to that question (and I never really pursued it because I felt it was a minor curiosity issue and I didn't want to take up the manager's time with such things), but in this month's report, management mentioned that they have entered into an agreement with a national phone company to make that company the preferred phone provider for the residents. In exchange for this, we received a one-time payment of about $24,000 plus we will receive a monthly commission on new service in the units.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Need Faxing Solution

I'm looking to join the growing number of people who no longer have a home phone line (landline) at their house. I was looking at my bills the other day and realized I'm paying close to $50 a month for two phones lines that I almost never use - one line is my standard home line and the other is for a business fax machine. I make and receive almost all my calls on my cell phone now, so I don't see a need to continue to have and pay for a landline.

I first thought about this several months ago. At the time, I realized that my home security system uses the landline to contact the monitoring service in case the alarm goes off. So I believed I was stuck with keeping the line if I wanted my alarm system to work. While laying in bed the other night, it dawned on me that I should call the alarm company and see if they have any options that do not require a phone line - perhaps using an internet connection or something instead. It turns out, they do! The alarm system can be set up to use radio frequencies. To switch to this, there is a $125 installation fee (they have to install a new device at my home) and my monthly bill will increase by $5.

So it's looking good for the elimination of the landlines. But the remaining hurdle is my fax machine. Receiving faxes is not a problem because there are many companies that can do that for you, convert your fax to a PDF file, and email it to you. These companies also offer sending services for sending computer files as faxes via email. However, at least two times a month, I need to fax receipts - documents that are not computer files. So to use the email fax service, I would need some way to convert these documents into a computer file.

Alternately, there is a product called Magic Jack. This device plugs into a USB port on your computer and then you can plug any regular phone into it and make voice calls using your internet connection. It might be possible to get one of these devices and plug my fax machine into it and send faxes that way. Unfortunately, Magic Jack is not guaranteed to work with faxes, so it would be a hit-or-miss proposition if I went this route.

I do not have a scanner, so if I went the email fax route, I would need to buy one to convert my receipts into computer files to fax them. A scanner with an automatic document feeder (which I want because the typical real estate contract is 15 pages long and I don't want to manually feed all those pages) runs about $300. The eFax service runs $14.13 a month, which includes 130 pages of incoming faxes and 30 pages of outgoing faxes per month. I don't see myself ever going over those amounts. Magic Jack costs $40 for the first year and $20 a year after that, but there is the possibility it won't handle faxes.

If I went the eFax and scanner route, I would save $30.34 a month by eliminating my two landlines, which includes the monthly eFax fee and increased monthly alarm fee. That means the costs for the radio alarm installation and new scanner would be recovered after 14 months.

Does anyone know of any other fax sending options I might be overlooking?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Final Prosper.com Loan Paid Off

I received notification today that I have received the final payment on my last outstanding loan with Prosper.com. I'm now finally through with that experiment. I made a total of four loans and two of them defaulted. One was paid in full over the 3 year loan period and one was paid in full early - about 10 months ahead of schedule. I lost about $350 of my $500 investment.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Lending through Prosper isn't for me. I can get higher rates of return on loans that are secured by real property. Prosper is apparently going through some sort of registration process with the SEC, so they are not currently accepting new lenders or originating new loans from existing lenders. They have been in this state for a couple of months and they give no indication of when they might start lending again. That's got to be hurting their income.

Once the last payment to my account has been finalized in about 2 to 3 days, I'll transfer my money out of Prosper and close my account.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Apartment Complexes Being Abandoned By Owners (Updated)

This article on msnbc.com today brings up an interesting subject: apartment complexes that are being abandoned by the corporate owners as they go into foreclosure. The examples in the article are all in the Phoenix area, which caught my eye since it's where I live. I've passed this info on to my friend who deals with apartment investing to see what he thinks. He already owns some apartment buildings in Phoenix and knows the area well. Could be some buying opportunities here. Phoenix doesn't have the strong economy that the Houston area does, but if the price is cheap enough, these could be worthwhile.

Update: Heard back from my friend. He and several other investors are indeed watching these properties. Unfortunately, he says the banks that are foreclosing are still looking to sell in the $70K per unit range, which is what they were valued at some time ago. Now they are valued at closer to $30K per unit. The banks will come around eventually.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Fell Out Of Escrow

The property that is the collateral for hard money loan #6 fell out of escrow and is now back on the market.

Nothing much new to report. I've been working on getting my paperwork together for my taxes. The four flipping LLCs I am invested in in California all reported losses last year. The amount ranged from 1% to 3% of my investment. I'll be taking the losses as deductions on my taxes. On the positive side, the people running those have some other LLCs they recently started that are showing profits now. Perhaps the California real estate market is starting to turn around. Either that or they are able to buy at serious discounts.

I just finished reading The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life, a biography of Waren Buffett. I recommend it to anyone interested in business or investing. The first one-third was somewhat hard to get through for me because it dealt mainly with Buffett's ancestors and how they came to America and what they did. The latter part of the book was much more interesting, especially since, having been a Berkshire shareholder since 2000, I was reading about events I had heard about through Buffett's annual letter to shareholders.

I am also about 2 chapters into The World Is Flat 3.0: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century and I can already tell this is another must-read book for anyone interested in business. My wife is taking classes for her MBA and this was one of her textbooks. I'm glad she convinced me to read it.