The short answer is that stock market volatility increases demand for multifamily real estate investment, because real estate is much less volatile than stocks. For those who don’t want to invest all their money in the roller coaster stock market, real estate is, over the long run, a relatively tranquil alternative. Let’s dig deeper into the concept of volatility to explore the differences between the stock and real estate asset classes.

Something’s Happening Here

Volatility is, according to Investopedia, “the amount of uncertainty or risk about the size of changes in a security’s value.” The higher the volatility, the greater the chance that a stock’s or index’s value will suddenly and dramatically change.
A volatility spike in February 2018 awakened many stock investors to the fact the fact that stocks also go down. It’s been a long bull market, and we haven’t had a meaningful correction in more than two years. Suddenly, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped more than 1,000 points twice in February, a clear sign of heightened volatility, if not outright panic.
Now, take a look at the following chart. It’s a one-year chart of the Chicago Board of Exchange’s VIX Index, which measures the volatility of stock futures and options. The spike in February is all the more startling when seen against the flat backdrop over the last year.

This is how stock markets sometimes operate, with seemingly endless trends suddenly interrupted and/or reversed. A long bull market tends to attract ‘’weak” investors who are not accustomed to, and can’t stomach, a sudden sell-off. Weak investors are the first to sell their stocks when prices begin declining, which can have a snowball effect that causes volatility to skyrocket.

The Volatility Opportunity

Sudden bouts of volatility create an opportunity for you to think about your own tolerance for risk. Perhaps you invest in the stock market to reap current dividend income, only to realize in horror that a sudden decline in stock value can wipe out years of dividend payments. By the way, the so-called safer bond market is also vulnerable to abrupt bouts of volatility, creating losses that overwhelm interest income. Which brings us to our point: Thoughtful investors look to lower their risks as they seek to achieve their investment goals, and multifamily real estate investing is one of the surest means of accomplishing this strategy, because it offers steady long-term income with very little volatility. Let’s see why:

  1. Diversification: Real estate market returns are not closely correlated to those from stocks, creating an excellent vehicle for diversification. As stocks bounce higher and lower, real estate follows its own course that can help steady the value of your total portfolio. Many financial advisors recommend prudent investors allocate at least 25 percent of their portfolios to alternate investments such as real estate.
  2. Rents vs dividends: During bear markets, companies that find themselves in financial distress often cut their dividends to conserve cash, which takes only a vote by the board of directors to accomplish. Tenants, especially ones living in carefully screened multifamily apartment complexes and senior communities, are highly motivated to keep paying their rent, making it a much more reliable source of income to investors. The multifamily advantage over single-family rentals is due to economies of scale: More separate rental cash flows per square foot. That translates into lower overall management costs and a smaller impact when the occasional collection issue arises.
  3. Alignment of interests: It’s upsetting enough when your stock suddenly loses a good share of its value in a volatile market. Adding insult is the fact that the stock broker or analyst who recommended the stock need not own a single share. Brokers make their living from commissions, which gives them a financial incentive to favor volatility and the churn it creates. By the way, fund managers don’t have to invest in their own funds either. We do things differently at Lloyd Jones, in that we take an equity stake in every one of our properties. In other words, we align our interests with those of our investors.

The Value of Specialization

Many stock investors seek to lower their risks through the purchase of mutual funds and exchange-traded funds. True, this will lower non-systemic risk, but at a cost – you have no control over the choices made by the portfolio manager. If you seek out the best fund managers, you should keep in mind that they will probably charge higher fees and in the long run will likely underperform the market – just ask Warren Buffet.
Purchasing an index fund doesn’t solve the control problem. They are cheap, but by definition give you average returns and average risk, meaning you don’t benefit from expert specialized knowledge since these funds run on auto-pilot.
Lloyd Jones believes you can do better than average when you apply specialized expertise to given segments of a market. We do this through first through geographical specialization, by investing in business-friendly, low-tax states in the Southeast, especially Florida and Texas. Senior and multifamily housing investments are favored in this region due to warm weather, low costs and low taxes.
Geography is a good start, but it takes a lot more to identify real-estate investments with solid cash flow prospects and low risk. We select properties with good cash flows that would benefit from more capitalization or better management. Only one percent of properties make it through our screening process. These are the ones we acquire and operate, and in doing so add value for all investors, including ourselves.
Specialization pays off in this context without sacrificing the benefits of diversification. For one thing, each property stands alone, without cross-collateralization, to isolate any problems from affecting other properties. Our funds provide diversification by spreading risk across eight to ten properties in at least four different markets, and specialization by choosing our markets, property types and properties carefully – a small subset of the total market.
There is no better time than right now to redeploy some of your stock and bond market assets to multifamily real estate investments. Recent volatility spikes are a warning of rough seas ahead, but carefully selected real-estate investments have the ability to steady your portfolio in the most turbulent times.
Post Script:  Based on the front page of the Wall Street Journal of 2/26/18, margin bets will continue to fuel market volatility.
About Christopher Finlay
Christopher Finlay is chairman/CEO of Lloyd Jones Capital, a private-equity real estate firm that specializes in the multifamily sector. For the past thirty-seven years, and through every economic cycle, he has owned and operated successful multifamily businesses. Predecessor companies include commercial brokerage, appraisal, property and asset management, construction, and development.
Headquartered in Miami, Lloyd Jones Capital acquires, improves, and operates multifamily real estate in growth markets throughout Texas, Florida, and the Southeast on behalf of institutional partners, private investors, and its own principals.