Purchasing land at an optimal price requires timing and skill from the investor.
Several factors can affect the current and future of undeveloped land, not the least of which are specific characteristics of the property itself and the overall economy.
The first aphorism of investing is simply this: “Buy low and sell high.” The second may well be, “easier said than done.” Both apply to the business of strategic land investment in the UK.
First, understand that investment in land, particularly undeveloped tracts, is growing due to key factors: a net population increase of 7 percent over the past decade, plus a housing shortage that is already facing pent-up demand that might reach dizzying heights with a post-recession economy. Add to that the Localism Act of 2011, which alters the rules by which land use designations are changed (i.e., more power to local councils). Decisions are now made by local councils that were formerly the province of regional agencies; this can help or hurt investors’ chances for achieving optimal return on an investment.
It may help to break the equation into four distinct considerations:
• Look for the dips that precede demand – Basic, and that’s exactly where we are at now. Land prices are low as a result of the economic downturn. The economy still has a long way to go to achieve full recovery, and population increases will multiply the effect that has on housing demand.
• Anticipate the needs of the seller and the eventual buyer. The seller may be a single entity (a farmer or inheritor of a land tract, for example) or several parties. What are their financial needs? Why would they choose to sell – or not? Can a good price be negotiated? As for buyers, it is about anticipating demand for the land’s ultimate use designation, be it commercial, residential or industrial.
• Even in a heated market there are opportunities. Where specific properties offer strong upswing potential.
• Have good local knowledge on the property in question. Towns that can provide housing will also be able to attract employers, but not all local citizens want or need such local development. Before buying a property, it helps to understand the local mood and propensity to see development as a good thing, then create a land site assembly package that fits the extant neighbours’ needs.
The most effective means for those looking at alternative investments is to work with land acquisition and development specialists who do extensive research on properties that meet each of these considerations. The potential investor should seek objective counsel from a professional financial advisor to understand where land might fit into their overall financial planning.
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Blessed, and often cursed, by what David Brooks calls “an intense desire to figure stuff out,” we have been struggling to reconcile two prominent views of the future. On one hand, we agree that there are lots of smart, creative people around and that we all keep getting more and better tools to collaborate and to solve problems. We share the view that, all else equal, the ingenuity and quality of the human spirit points to a better existence.
Things are rarely equal, however, and in this case, it doesn’t take much sleuthing to see a world awash in debt and littered with underperforming economies which are becoming progressively less able to service that debt. Add in cyclically high profit margins that are likely to revert down, a bevy of geopolitical risks, and the distinct potential for higher interest rates, and it’s not hard at all to imagine the potential for a damaging reset of the markets.
The bigger question for us is not that the market has continued to rise despite weak analytical foundations, because the market typically bounces around and overshoots in both directions. The bigger question is why has the disconnect between markets and reality persisted for so long this time? Is something else going on?
The answer may very well lie in the time-honored quote: “We see the world not as it is, but as we are.” Since “how we are” is largely determined by the environment into which we are born and the experiences we have in our formative years, it is useful to explore this as an avenue of inquiry. In fact, William Strauss and Neil Howe did exactly this in their book, The Fourth Turning. As they describe, kids within a particular generation tend to have similar experiences and therefore share many common views. Kids from other generations, however, typically have different childhood experiences and therefore adopt different world views. As a result, distinct “generational archetypes” emerge from these disparate experiences. One of the great insights of their research is that history can be better understood through the lens of the interplay among various generational perspectives.
Strauss and Howe go on to describe in great detail the backgrounds of each generation as well as the world views and mental models that resulted from growing up in such conditions. We’ll focus on just two, the Boomers (born 1943-1960) and the 13th Generation (born 1961-1981). In doing so, it is important to note that the authors’ primary consideration is in identifying the “center of gravity” of generational belief systems. As a result it is necessarily very general and does not capture numerous individual counter-examples.
According to the authors, “Thanks to greater affluence, declines in adult mortality, and so many stay-at-home mothers, Boomer children enjoyed the most secure family life in American history… At no other time in the twentieth century did the mainstream culture impart such a benign worldview to children, seldom requiring them to prepare for painful challenges or tragic outcomes.”
Given this background, the authors then explore the consequences: “Surrounded by such open-handed generosity, child Boomers developed what Daniel Yankelovich termed the ‘psychology of entitlement.’ Landon Jones recalls how ‘what other generations have though privileges, Boomers thought were rights.”
Continuing, they observe, “Planning for tomorrow was no big deal. Boomers expected to “find better jobs, make more money, and live in better houses than their parents.” The authors also quoted financial expert, David Barker who predicted: “The generation… inevitably spoiled by the wealth created by their parents’ generation is sure to drive the system over the edge, without the experience of the past decline [i.e., the Great Depression] to provide financial and economic sobriety.”
Not surprisingly, the 13th generation, born about twenty years later, grew up in a radically different environment. According to the authors, “The 13th Generation survived a hurried childhood of divorce, latchkeys, open classrooms, devil-child movies, and a shift from G to R ratings. They came of age curtailing the earlier rise in youth crime and fall in test scores – yet heard themselves denounced so wild and stupid as to put The Nation at Risk. As young adults, maneuvering through a sexual battlescape of AIDS and blighted courtship rituals, they date and marry cautiously.”
The contrast of these two generational experiences is stark: “Unraveling-era 13ers, males especially, have been hit with a one-generation depression. From 1973 to 1992, the real median income from young adult males fell by 28 percent, more than it did for the entire nation from peak to trough of the Great Depression.” Further, “Where Boomers were the most alibied and excused criminal generation in U.S. history, 13ers have become the most incarcerated. Roughly one-third of all 13er black males are either in prison, on probation, or under court supervision.”
It is not surprising that given very different formative experiences, 13ers have very different perspectives than Boomers. “13ers will feel little stake in the old order, little sense that their names and signatures are on the social contract. They will have reached full adult maturity without ever having believed in either the American Dream or American exceptionalism. They will never have known a time when America felt good about itself, when its civic and cultural life didn’t seem to be decaying. From childhood into midlife, they will have always sense that the nation’s core institutions mainly served the interests of people other than themselves.”
Wow, quite a difference, huh? What can we take from this? First and foremost, it provides a viable explanation for the duration of the disconnect between asset prices and underlying fundamentals. It turns out the explanation is not so much an economic one as a political one. As things currently stand, the Boomers are the generation with the greatest social influence. It is also the generation which does not have “the experience of the past decline to provide financial and economic sobriety.” Given this context, it shouldn’t be too surprising that as a group, it might refrain from difficult decisions and persist in spending beyond means. This insight goes a long way in explaining why the disconnect has endured as long as it has.
It also supports the position that there is a big disconnect that it will eventually be resolved and quite possibly in a painful way. As progressively more Boomers retire, 13ers will ultimately replace them as the socially prominent generation and they will have a very different take on things. The same set of economic and market conditions will now be seen through the eyes of 13ers who believe “the nation’s core institutions mainly serve the interests of people other than themselves” and who view the status quo as unsustainable. When that tide turns, we can also expect very different policy responses.
Another lesson from the Fourth Turning is that because the “constellation of generational archetypes” is constantly changing, there is a distinctly cyclical pattern to much of history. While we continue to see significant risks to asset values and the distinct potential for some meaningful dislocations, we also don’t view it as a linear path to the end of the world. We remain optimistic about human nature and our ability to adapt and already see plenty of seeds being planted for re-growth. Much as each season has its unique qualities and purpose, so too does each turning. As Strauss and Howe rightly point out, “Cyclical time teaches you not just to accept the rhythms of history, but to look for ways to make use of them, to fulfill your role in those rhythms as best you can. It is an antidote to fatalism.”
Finally, we do think the Fourth Turning provides an extremely useful paradigm from which to view many of the economic, political, and societal changes going on right now. Insofar as this is correct, it will be extremely important to prepare for tougher times over the next several years. Coming out on the other end may very well be an economic landscape vastly different from what any of us have experienced directly. Fortunately, it is just as likely that valuable lessons for the future landscape will be informed by history. We look forward to helping investors navigate this difficult journey by being attentive, by being curious, and by being thoughtful. Static processes and old maps aren’t going to help.
Imagine you’re piloting a plane coming in for a landing at the end of a long flight. You’re on autopilot because of dense fog enshrouding the runway but everything is going smoothly. You’re descending to 500 feet, 400 feet… You start thinking about how you’ll be able to take a break and spend some nice time with your family. What will everyone want to do? Go for a hike? Have some friends over to grill out back? Or just take it easy and decide later?
Suddenly, at 50 feet, the plane points steeply towards the ground. With only four seconds to touchdown, you immediately grab the control column and pull back to avert a nosedive onto the runway. Your landing is rough, but you avoid a complete disaster.
This incident actually happened with a Boeing 747 traveling from Miami to London in 2000. It was documented in the book How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer for its lessons on decision making. It can just as easily serve as an instruction manual for investors lulled by an extended period of low volatility.
Investors might be forgiven for being less than completely vigilant. After all, it’s been three years since the market has experienced a correction in the summer of 2011. We all have other things to do. In fact, Lehrer notes this is exactly how most people envision autopilot: “People who aren’t pilots tend to think that when the autopilot is on, the pilot can just take a nap”.
Just because market volatility has been low for an extended period of time doesn’t mean you can be cavalier about your investments. As Lehrer reports, “You can’t ever relax in the cockpit.” In the case of the fated flight in 2000, it was a software glitch that caused the problem. But it could have been anything. Investing, like flying, is a complicated undertaking and as such it requires ongoing attention. Problems can arise from anywhere and at any time, including at the worst possible time.
Despite several efforts to improve airline safety between 1940 and 1990, Lehrer notes that the percentage of plane crashes due to pilot error remained remarkably steady. Error rates finally declined dramatically with the advent of realistic flight simulators. “The benefit of a flight simulator,” Lehrer explains, “is that it allows pilots to internalize their new knowledge. Instead of memorizing lessons, a pilot can train the emotional brain, preparing the parts of the cortex that will actually make the decision when up in the air.”
Investing too can evoke significant emotional responses which can override cognitive responses and lead to poor decision making. Investors can replicate the experience of flight simulators by being fully aware of possible investment hazards, by familiarizing themselves with what tough situations “feel” like, and by developing constructive responses that can be invoked easily in a time of need.
Prior to the 1970s, Lehrer tells us, “many cockpit mistakes were attributable, at least in part, to the ‘God-like certainty’ of the pilot in command.” Research revealed that important mistakes were often made due to unusual arrogance on the part of a leader and to unusual deference on the part of other team members. In response, an alternative decision making strategy was designed (Cockpit Resource Management, or CRM) to “create an environment in which a diversity of viewpoints was freely shared.”
The main lesson for investors from these developments is to not place too much credence in any one person’s opinion. While wealth advisors and money managers may very well be more attuned to various financial market news, they are human too and can get distracted and make mistakes. It behooves everyone involved to pay attention and to ask questions if things don’t make sense.
While the autopilot technology and pilot training have both improved substantially, neither is perfect all the time. As in the example of the Miami to London flight in 2000, the autopilot worked beautifully until it didn’t. Fortunately the pilots were paying attention and reacted immediately and appropriately. As Lehrer determines, “the real reason planes are so safe, even though both the pilot and the autopilot are fallible, is that both systems are constantly working to correct each other.”
While many investors would prefer to remain completely uninvolved in the management of their investments, such a course presents multiple opportunities for mistakes to be made. There are good people and good systems that can help, but just like with autopilot, each can fail. You can vastly improve your chances of investment success by keeping an eye on things to make sure they are all working properly.
Much like flying a commercial airline is a complicated exercise fraught with risks, so too is investing. Also, much like some of the biggest and most avoidable mistakes with flying occur because of human error, so too does human error figure prominently in investment mistakes. Fortunately great lessons and insights about decision making can significantly improve the outcomes of both activities. Investors who pay attention and ask questions, even during these lulls, stand a much better chance of avoiding trouble.
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Interview an Influencer or Get Interviewed by a High-traffic Website
Have you heard of Tim Ferriss, the author of the Four-Hour Work Week?
His podcast is nowadays a staple content type that he provides to his viewers. Tim’s show has world-class performers who share their insights on a variety of topics, and he is well-liked on social media. Do Tim’s fans enjoy the show? So far, the show has received over 50 million downloads. On most days, it’s the most popular business podcast on iTunes.
Interviews, whether on video or audio, are inherently conversational, lively, and engaging. The great aspect is that it’s a win-win situation for both sides. The interviewer is exposed to a new audience, while the interviewee is able to provide his website visitors with new fascinating and authoritative information. You can ask an industry influencer to share your interview with their followers on social media if you interview them. Consider the organic traffic you’ll get from their social media followers, which number in the hundreds of thousands. Consider the level of interest generated by a prior Derek Sivers interview on the Tim Ferriss Show. Derek shared the show’s URL with his 283K followers on Twitter. It won’t hurt if you establish a relationship with the influencer as a result of the interview.
Similarly, being interviewed by a high-ranking website can result in a significant increase in search engine traffic. Harsh Agrawal’s blog, Shoutmeloud, received 35,000+ views in a single day after he was profiled by YourStory. That was the blog’s most popular search engine traffic source (with 600,000+ monthly visitors). Because interviews provide consolidated value, they can be used as a long-term lead generating source for your company. Consider how many bloggers you’ve learned about through interviews on YouTube and other high-authority websites.
You may also conduct a Reddit AMA if you have a very compelling storey to tell. Mateen’s AMA got about generating $85,000 in profit by selling TeeSpring shirts/hoodies received 2000 page views. He also boosted the number of visitors to his website on a daily basis.
By registering as a source with HARO, you can also answer queries from journalists. On HARO, Christopher from Snappa came across this question from Inc Magazine about the future of content marketing. He swiftly responded with a thorough response. He was mentioned in Inc a few weeks later as a result of this. HARO is an excellent strategy to have your brand mentioned on authoritative news sites such as Entrepreneur and Inc. Those backlinks will enhance your search engine traffic and increase your marketing strategy by improving your reputation in Google’s eyes. Contact an SEO agency to find out how you can do this and how they can manage it for you while you work on the bottom line of your business.