7 Common Challenges Real Estate Note Investors Face

by | BiggerPockets.com

Every once in a while, someone asks me about the disadvantages of investing in notes, especially as it pertains to risk compared to other asset classes, such as real estate.

While all types of investing have their own particular disadvantages or risks, your perception of and approach to those risks may change as you gain experience. For example, when I got started in real estate and purchased my first investment property, my understanding of how to mitigate the risks was minimal compared to when I purchased my 40th property.

Note investing is no exception. I’ve been in the notes business for years, and I’m humbled to say that I’m still learning. That said, here are some of the main challenges that note investors face.

Compliance Regulations

In recent years, compliance has become a big one, especially with the inception of Dodd Frank and the creation of the CFPB (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau). Not only has there been an uptick in federal oversight of financial institutions, but now the non-bank sector has become just as regulated. We also have an increase in the state licensing requirements with very little uniformity, thus creating a menagerie of various requirements.

Now, even the small mortgage investor has to be aware of compliance, as it pertains to everything from the FDCPA (Fair Debt Collections Practices Act) and auditing third party vendors to securing borrower data and confidential information. Let’s face it, I could write a book just in reference to compliance.


Related: The 8 Non-Negotiable Habits of a Successful Note Investor

Legal Issues

Another disadvantage to note investing is related to legal issues, because after all, legal is the biggest expense one encounters in the note space. After a borrower defaults on his/her loan and all other options are exhausted, the legal process would begin, and of course the foreclosure requirements, timelines, and allowable expenses will vary from state to state.

Knowing whether your loan is in a “deed of trust” state versus a “judicial” state is a good place to start as far as trying to figure out the foreclosure process, especially when it comes to things like hiring your foreclosure attorney, sending a demand letter, filing a lis pendens, bidding at the sale, and ejectment timelines after the sale.

Beyond the more obvious legal threats, let’s not forget bankruptcy, which could possibly create another entire arena of potential delays and tie ups. Other legal issues can crop up as well. For example, maybe there are back taxes, municipal liens, or homeowner association fees piling up. Maybe you need to secure the property and winterize it, cut the grass, or change the locks, etc.

Collateral Issues

Another potential challenge is in regard to collateral documents. This could be things missing in your paperwork, such as a copy of the original note, an assignment, or an allonge.

There can also be issues with the physical collateral. For example, the property condition may have declined. Or there are cases where the property may have been condemned by the city or even torn down.

Market Conditions

Although note investing may not be as well-known as real estate investing, it is still an asset backed investment with a piece of real state acting as collateral behind the mortgage. One threat to this investment is the fair market value of the collateralized property could decline in value, leaving the investor potentially exposed in a foreclosure situation, where there may not be enough proceeds from the foreclosure sale of the property to cover the full loan amount.

Capital Intensive

With junior liens, you may even have issues when a more superior lien tries to foreclose ahead of you. This is why we suggest monitoring the status of any lien that may be ahead of you in case you want to reinstate or buy out the more superior lien in order to protect your position.

Fewer Tax Benefits

Note investing can also be a capital-intensive business without some of the benefits that are more common with owning traditional real estate, such as depreciation and appreciation. With notes, there isn’t a tax break that’s similar to depreciation — although you may get a tax break if you invested from your IRA or retirement type of account or maybe if you set up a non-profit to buy and sell notes.


No Appreciation

As for appreciation, your payoff can only really go up if there are missed payments, late fees, or corporate advances added on to the original UPB (Unpaid Principal Balance). In other words, notes just don’t appreciate like hard real estate. There are situations where what we call “phantom appreciation” may occur. For example, let’s say a note was purchased at a discount because it was only partially covered by equity. If the real estate market were to improve, increasing the value of the collateralized property behind the note, the value of the note and mortgage would go up also.

Related: The Investor’s Guide to Performing Due Diligence on Real Estate Notes

By now, you may be thinking that there are a lot of disadvantages or potential threats to note investing in general. To be quite honest, you’re right, and I’m sure we didn’t even come close to covering them all.

So, you’re probably wondering what would possess someone to do note investing, and the short answer is that many of us have found ways to deal with or mitigate these risks or potential threats. In that way, it’s very similar to real estate investing. I have family and friends who think I’m crazy for dealing with tenants and all the issues and problems that come along with hard real estate investing.

In note investing, if you have regulatory or legal issues, you can employ legal counsel or hire a licensed servicer. Although it’s a capital-intensive business, no one says you have to use your own money. Rather, you can use OPM (other people’s money).

Also, if you’re worried about FMV (Fair Market Value), property conditions, occupancy, or liens being valid, you can mitigate most of these issues through your due diligence process.

For us, the fact that note investing is a very scalable business model, and these assets can be bought at a nice discount more than compensates for some of the risks we encounter.

So, what are some of the threats/risks that you’ve learned to mitigate in your note or real estate business?

Leave your comments below!

About Author

Dave Van Horn

Since 2007, Dave Van Horn has served as president and CEO of PPR The Note Co., a holding company that manages several funds that buy, sell, and hold residential mortgages nationwide. Dave’s expertise is derived from over 30 years of residential and commercial real estate experience as a licensed Realtor, a real estate investor, and a fundraiser. As the latter, Dave has raised over $100 million in both notes and commercial real estate. In addition to his investments and role as CEO, Dave’s biggest passion is to teach others how to share, build, and preserve wealth. He authored Real Estate Note Investing, an introduction to the note investing business, helping investors enter the “other side” of the real estate business.


  1. Jignesh Shah

    Great piece Dave, couldn’t be better in terms of clearly laying out risks of note investing in RE…perhaps you should write that book, I would buy it!

    For a newbie investor like myself, could you recommend where one could get more information on the local note investing market & perhaps suggest some basic steps to do proper DD on the collateral behind the notes? Btw, did you see John Oliver’s last show this past Sunday? Great take on private debt buying, though with this kind of spotlight from popular shows this is going to be causing more headaches for investors (or prospective investors such as me) such as us!

    • Dave Van Horn

      Thanks Jignesh!

      I actually have written a book about it! And it covers a lot of what you have questions about. I’ll PM you a free copy!

      And yes, I did see the recent John Oliver episode. Funny as always, with an interesting take on debt (sticking mostly to medical debt, which is a whole other animal). My only qualm was he didn’t cover the positives as much as the negatives of the industry. Approaching the ten year mark of being in the debt industry, I can definitely say there’s plenty of both!


    • Dave Van Horn

      Thanks for the comment Michael!

      And you’re right, the online market place is just as risky for note buying as it is for most other industries. In fact, the best price I ever got on a note was on an asset I never received!

      I should also say, there are plenty of reputable funds and exchanges out there, so due diligence and research are key.


  2. Patrick Desjardins

    In my humble opinion the biggest issue with NPNs, especially if your strategy is to hold them for cash flow, is the large expenses upfront vs the long term profits. Some months are rough in the beginning when legal expenses are much higher than your cash flow. You need solid reserves and you have to manage it really well.

    • Dave Van Horn

      Hey Patrick,

      You’re absolutely right here, notes are capital intensive and with NPN’s legal is your biggest expense upfront. This is why many can only go so far in the NPN business with their own personal capital. After that, there are really only two options. Either recapitalize quickly (either by selling a partial, completing a collateral assignment, or selling the note) or find a money partner(s).

      And like you said, management is key. Thanks for chiming in.


    • Dave Van Horn

      Hi ZJ,

      We do switch markets but it’s not to avoid BK assets. In fact assets in BK trade for cheaper, and we already know the outcome of them so they don’t bother us. That being said markets full of BKs are ones we pay attention to because that means there is likely a high amount of job loss in the area which can affect exit strategies.


  3. Michael Weckel

    Dave, A very well written article and as a newbie note investor, it gave me a few things to think about. I would also like to take a look at your book, could you please pm it to me as well? Thanks for the insight and help to other investors.

  4. Jeff Heflin

    Dave – Thank you for another excellent article! I have been considering adding note investing to my portfolio, but I’m still learning. I’ve found your past articles to be an excellent source of information as well. If you wouldn’t mind, I’d love to take a look at your book as well. I’ve got a background in credit analysis & risk management, so this seems like a good fit. Again, thanks for sharing your knowledge!

  5. Christina Fulle on

    Good article, Dave! I also loved hearing your interview on the NoteMBA podcast! Great content to use toward developing our note portfolio. I would love to read your book, Dave!

  6. Mindy Zimmerman

    Another great post, Dave. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and book! Peter at PPR sent me the Investor’s Guide to Performing Notes after I asked him a couple questions and I really liked the info you provided in that one. Can’t wait to read this Intro book, too. I was able to download it from the link.

  7. Thanks for the info! Huge difference in Performing vs NPN’s and the logic behind each investment; different legal caveats specific to each. . Notes are a great investment if have a solid understanding of how the debt industry works. I look forward to reading your book!


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