What if you could buy a house for $25,000 in a neighborhood that wasn't a battle-scarred slum and rent it out for $750 a month as soon as the ink was dry on the deal? Where are these deals that let you recapture your investment in just three years and from then on enjoy a steady monthly income from the property?
If you said Phoenix, Las Vegas or south Florida, you'd be wrong says Paul Habibi, a principal of Habibi Properties and real estate professor at UCLA Anderson School of Management.
Here's a hint to the place Habibi thinks is the hottest investment around.
Yep, Habibi is humming "Kansas City" right along with Wilbert Harrison, Fats Domino and the 50 or so other recording artists who covered that tune. As for a real estate investment, Habibi says Kansas City, Mo., is ripe for the picking.
Habibi's approach to real estate deals is not for novice investors, but it is for those who can tolerate some risk and buy into a statistician's mind. He's developed a matrix that filters the top 30 MSAs (metropolitan statistical areas) through their projected growth rates (increasing population is good), unemployment (the lower, the better), and whether the city has a diversified job platform (Silicon Valley won't get his money).
He also rejects places where other investors have already scooped up the bargains (forget Florida and Las Vegas). Phoenix, popular with many investors, also fails his litmus test. It was built as a retirement community and lacks a job infrastructure for future growth, he says. And those Texas cities that everyone bandies about -- Dallas, Austin, San Antonio -- while their prices have remained flat and they seem to have escaped relatively unscathed from the recession, there are so many investors already there that they're tripping over one another.
Kansas City is just about perfect, said Habibi, whose company recently concluded its first phase of buying 32 single-family homes there in "C-level" neighborhoods for a price point of $25,000 each, spent $5,000 to $10,000 on repairs and now rents them out for about $750 each. He expects to double or triple his holdings in Kansas City with his second investment fund, for which there is a minimum buy-in of $100,000 for accredited investors to participate.
Kansas City's population grew at a faster-than-national average pace from 2000 to 2010. With an unemployment rate of 8.7 percent, it falls below the national level of unemployment of 9.1 percent. The city has a diversified industry base that includes Sprint Nextel Corporation, Hallmark Cards, the Fort Leavenworth military base, UPS and a Ford assembly plant. Google has selected the city for its ultra high-speed broadband network project. Plus Kansas City has a business-friendly reputation for encouraging retention of companies.
Habibi discourages individual investors without much experience or tolerance for risk to try to fly solo. He credits much of his success from having an infrastructure in place -- people to scout and inspect the homes, screen for tenants, manage the properties on-site and swiftly deal with eviction issues.