Real estate buyers and renters are the engines that drive all of the profits in our real estate investment business. When they get a loan to buy your house or when they pay you monthly rent, everything else works.
So, wouldn’t it make sense to study and learn how and why these crucial customers choose to live in certain locations? As real estate investors, we can become very wealthy owning or controlling the real estate products these key customers really want.
You could also think of this as searching for demand real estate. Demand real estate can be the macro-location, like a particular region, city, town, or school district, and the micro-location, like a particular neighborhood, street, or lot.
This article is an exercise to help you brainstorm two things:
- Is the larger regional area of your target real estate market in demand? If so, why?
- What smaller locations within your market are the most in demand?
A solid economy with steady or growing jobs is pretty much essential for all demand markets. But the variety of other qualities of demand markets can be as different as the diverse people who live in our country. That’s what makes real estate so interesting, and that’s what this article will explore!
Why is Your Region, City, or Town So Great?
If you live in the town where you invest (the best approach, when feasible), this exercise should be easy. You probably know why you live where you do, even if you have not thought about it much. If you’re investing out of town, you’ll need to research and put yourself in the mind of customers who will be living in your target market.
The best way to put yourself in the mind of your customer, I have found, is to write down a promotion for your area. Explain to yourself and others why this is such as great place to live.
If you were a regional tourism marketer trying to recruit people to live in your area, what would your promotion say? In addition to jobs, think about the things that matter in the day-to-day lives of people living there.
Here is a list that might get you thinking:
- Natural features (beach, mountains, lakes, forest, national parks, etc.)
- Art and cultural venues
- Good public safety infrastructure (fire and police)
- Excellent public schools
- Convenience to major transportation arteries (interstate highway, railroad, or seaport)
- Competitive job environment (lower taxes, flexible wages, reasonable regulations)
- Sports teams and events
- Universities, libraries, learning centers
- Old architecture and buildings with character
- Shopping or commercial districts
- Biking and walking paths
- Public transportation (trains, buses, trolleys, bike share, etc.)
- Competent and forward-thinking local government
Notice that these features are almost all natural or public assets that are expensive, invaluable, or take years to develop. That means they’re not easy to duplicate or replace in the next town or region. If you can invest in communities that have these types of features, your tenants and buyers will be drawn to them (and to your properties) for years to come. Plus, if you happen to vote or talk to your local politicians, it would be wise to remind them how important it is economically and otherwise to protect, create, and promote these types of public assets.
It’s also important to identify some of the particular demand locations within your community because if your real estate is more convenient to them, it’s likely your properties will be more in demand and valuable over the long run. For example, I rent to many college students. For them, walking to campus and walking to the downtown bar area is very valuable. Buying rentals as close as possible to these core locations helps me keep units full and rents increasing.
Why My City is So Great
The real motivation behind this article was my curiosity to learn what makes your location a great place to live or invest. So please be sure to visit the comments section below and tell me all about your own location or investing market.
I will get things started by sharing the benefits of living and investing in my great part of the country in the Southeastern United States.
Clemson, South Carolina at a Glance
My home and my primary investing market are both in Clemson, South Carolina, a small college town of only 13,905 people (while Clemson University next door has 20,000+ people). We are located in the Northwest corner of the state near the Georgia and North Carolina borders. The population count is probably a little underreported because college students are notorious for not turning in official papers on time. There are also two other small towns, Pendleton and Central, in immediate proximity to Clemson that add another 8,000 people to the mix and put us over 20,000 people in our little community.
We are near the Interstate 85 corridor halfway between major metropolises Charlotte and Atlanta. We are also 30 miles outside of Greenville, SC, which is a thriving small city with an amazing downtown that is US headquarters for business giants like BMW and Michelin.
Why I First Chose to Live Here
I originally chose to live in Clemson as an 18-year-old senior in high school when Clemson University offered me a scholarship to play football. I could have also gone to school at Georgia Tech right in the big city of Atlanta or at William and Mary University in old town Williamsburg, VA, but I loved Clemson’s small town atmosphere and the natural beauty with views of the Blue Ridge Mountains (Southern Appalachians) and the recreation destination Lake Hartwell. It also helped that we played in a football stadium each Saturday in the fall cheered on by 80,000 screaming fans with orange tiger paws.
Small Town Life With Bigger City Cultural Perks
I like the area because the small town pace of life is slower than the stress filled go-go lifestyle in bigger cities. I also like the intellectual energy and youthful enthusiasm surrounding a research university. We have a free (grant supported) public bus system called CatBus. There is always entertainment in the form of collegiate sporting events, musical and theater productions, festivals, and public lectures. For families, our area is home to an award winning elementary school and one of the highest rated high schools in our state. This is a rare combination of small town living and big city perks that I (and now many others) love.
Students typically attend Clemson University, graduate, and then move on to bigger places with more job opportunities. I found a way to stick around by creating my own opportunities (for a roadmap to do the same thing, see my articles “How to Quit Your Job and Invest in Real Estate” – Part 1 and Part 2). Most residents who live in Clemson have jobs related to the University, but some people also commute 40 minutes to Greenville. Our area is also home to many retirees, so service businesses to that demographic are also popular.
As a real estate investor, my main source of renters are students and University employees. The University has been growing for almost 12 years now, so we have had low vacancy rates and increasing rent prices.
The land, forests, rivers, waterfalls, and lakes surrounding my town are what makes it truly unique. The area was originally home to the fascinating Cherokee Native Americans, whose names stuck with many of the current towns and landmarks (Lake Keowee, Tamassee, Oconee).
Clemson University, originally an agricultural-focused land grant college, owns a 17,500 acre treasure called the Clemson Experimental Forest, which is filled with hiking, mountain biking, and horse riding trails. The forest also has small lakes, waterfalls, and beautiful views. The town of Clemson and Clemson University are virtually surrounded by the Experimental Forests, making it only a 3-4 minute drive, bike, or walk before you’re in the woods!
For water lovers, the nearby Chattooga River is a wild and scenic river and has some of the best white water kayaking on the east coast of the US. Lake Hartwell and other nearby lakes Keowee and Jocassee have abundant fishing, kayaking, boating, and other opportunities. One of my family’s personal favorites is to hike to one of the dozens and dozens of beautiful waterfalls nearby.
Low Cost of Living
Most people are shocked by the low cost of living when they move here from other, more expensive parts of the country. The median price of housing in Clemson is $193,100, but the surrounding areas in Pickens County are only $124,000. Rents for a non-student, single family home average about $1,000 – $1,200 in Clemson or $800-900 outside of Clemson. Students typically calculate their rent by the bedroom, and the range is $200/bedroom on the very low end and $800/bedroom for premium, luxury apartments next to campus.
To give you an example of property taxes, my home has a tax value of $135,000, and my annual taxes are $832 (or about .6% of the tax value). For owner occupants, we have a good deal, but be careful on rentals! Investment properties in South Carolina are charged higher tax rates, so as a rental, my same property’s taxes would likely be closer to $2,500 per year.
Gasoline, food, alcohol, and other purchases are also relatively cheap compared with other parts of the country. A big part of this are lower state sales taxes and lower wage costs.
Compared with cold Northern climates or steaming tropical climates like in Florida, Clemson is a wonderfully happy middle point. Summers can get brutal at 90+ degrees and very humid, but the winters are mild with typical 50 degree days. We have our token one or two snows per year so that we can build snowmen and throw snowballs at neighbors, but then it kindly melts very quickly. The fall and spring are joyful here, with amazing colors when the leaves change and explosions of flowers and green during early March.
But It Could Always Be Better
No place is perfect, and here is a list of features that are negative or need to improve:
- Our job and rental market is too heavily dependent on Clemson University. I would love to see us encourage more the high-tech, research, and entrepreneurial industries like small college town Blacksburg, VA.
- The art and music scenes are not as stellar as other college towns.
- Our walking and biking infrastructure needs considerable improvements. Most of the wonderful natural assets, downtown district, and residential areas in town are not easily connected by foot or bike.
- The age demographics are too heavy in the college student and the retiree sections, but not the 25-55 age category.
- The food and shopping scene is too heavy on fast food and pizza and light on local, unique restaurants and boutiques. This is largely because of the age demographic trend.
I have actually become a member of my town’s Planning Commission to change some of these problems and to encourage smarter growth. I also helped to start Friends of the Green Crescent to establish a greenway and more walking/biking paths in town. I’m optimistic about the future!
- Why is your hometown or target investing market a great place to live?
- Why would buyers or renters choose to live, work, and play there?
Share details about your market in the comment section below, and we can all learn from one another.
Try to focus on the topic headings from my article or in the list of possible features I provided. Also give us some links to wikipedia or tourism pages for your location. Thanks for sharing!