4 - Risky Business?

Risk is one of those misunderstood concepts that seemingly plagues everything we do: riding a bike is risky, crossing the street is risky, buying property is risky.

I’ve found people throw around the word risk in a very self-limiting way and when it’s used in the context of any random conversation they: 

a) haven’t identified the actual risks that apply to that situation;

b) haven’t classified those risks in terms of their likelihood of actually occurring and the impact if they do occur;

c) haven’t identified ways of mitigating those risks or reducing the likelihood of their occurrence and severity should they occur.

Your mom or sister or brother or uncle will just say “oohhh that’s too risky for me” without understanding why it’s risky. This annoys me to no end because their ignorance suggests I haven’t evaluated risk and am therefore as ignorant and blind as they are myself—I am not!

Experience also reduces the risks that apply and time, of course, redresses many risks—especially in the world of long-term property investment.

Not taking risks could be said to be just as risky as taking managed risks! How else do we move forward as individuals and as a society and culture?!? NASA didn’t put men on the moon without taking risks.

The key to managing risk in any situation is understanding and qualifying the risks that might eventuate.

The example cited above of riding a bicycle is simplistic but the risks of riding a bike are numerous and include falling off, getting hit by a car, riding into a pedestrian, vehicle, animal, or lake, the chain falling off, getting wet if it rains, getting a flat tyre, having to shower when you get to work but having no soap. I used to ride my bike to work every day and these are all real risks!

Having identified the risks, scrutinise each risk in further detail to categorise and rate each one. Here are a few examples from bike riding:

  • Falling off: There’s a small chance you might fall off your bike and the result might be of no consequence if you land on your feet or it might be catastrophic if you bump your head. Maybe you’re riding over a loose surface or in the snow. Maybe you’re trying to stay balanced while you’re clipped in at a traffic light. Maybe you’ve made the poor decision to ride home after a few beers on a Friday night after work. The risk of falling off could be decomposed into several risks which are easier to think about and to manage but let’s keep things simple for now. In all cases, you can mitigate the risk of falling off by wearing a helmet and gloves, taking a safe route on bike paths and becoming familiar with the route and all of its hazards, and of course making good decisions while you ride such as unclipping from your pedals at intersections! You could also take out life insurance to cover your healthcare expenses, protect your income if you’re seriously hurt, and reduce your liability if you hurt someone else.
  • Flat tyre: This one’s easy: the risk is very low as it’s bound to happen every so often and is something that can be fixed on the spot in ten minutes (or worst case: call someone to collect you and your bike). Mitigation includes not riding over broken glass and fields of prickles; of course, you’ll also want to carry a spare tube or patch kit, tyre levers, and a pump and a flat may make you late for work… which might get you fired.

Don’t forget to take a moment to look at the risks in the context of what you gain, which in the case of our example include improved health (if you don’t fall off!), cost-effective transport and exercise, less stress, nice tan, etc.

In a similar vein, property investment has it’s own set of risks but it’s not inherently “risky”. You’ll want to identify the risks that apply to your situation but this is easily done and takes only a few minutes to think through the details. You’ll sleep better at night having done so—I promise: if your mind starts playing tricks, all you have to do is return to your risk assessment and you can say “nup, that’s a low-likelihood risk and although the consequences are high these mitigations are in place” and carry on sleeping.

Here’s a shortlist of property risks to get you started:

  • Buying a low growth property
  • Buying a property with expensive problems (pests, asbestos, etc)
  • Buying a low cash flow property
  • Paying more than the property is worth (i.e. buying at auction)
  • Sharks and dodgy investments
  • Problem tenants/property management
  • Vacancy
  • Unexpected repairs/shonky builder
  • Interest rate increases
  • Job loss
  • Hidden costs (stamp duty, mortgage lender’s insurance, council rates, insurance, accounting, management, etc)
  • Change in legislation (i.e. taxation laws relating to negative gearing)
  • Liquidity
  • Capital gains tax
  • Selling costs

It’s also important to weigh up the risks you identify in context of the reward—the gains you stand to make if the risks you identify do not eventuate. These might include income through a positively geared property, equity, and wealth.

We mitigated a number of the early risks related to buying by going through Open Wealth but I compiled a risk matrix for each of the risks that do apply in our case, specifically as we move into the post-construction phase. It’s a simple grid. I noted the risk, the criteria for that risk to be fulfilled, probability, impact, ranking, mitigation, and contingency.

Simplistic definitions for these terms are as follows:

Probability:

  • Improbable
  • Remote
  • Occasional
  • Probable
  • Frequent

Impact:

  • Negligible
  • Marginal
  • Critical
  • Catastrophic

Ranking:

  • Acceptable as-is
  • Acceptable with controls
  • Undesirable
  • Unacceptable

If, in future, I do encounter one or more of the risks I’ve defined, I have a ready-made framework for understanding those risks—at the very least—and some initial guidance for dealing with them in the heat of the moment. Hopefully I’ve taken steps to mitigate a risk before it becomes a big problem. If nothing else, my risk matrix is an integral part of my strategy relating to property investment and prompts me to think about things that might go wrong before they go wrong—or more specifically—how to measure my success or lack thereof.

Property investment is not inherently risky and I consider it to be far less risky than investing in stocks, where you have no real control over how your investment performs, or leaving in the bank to suffer at the hand of inflation. Many risks in the property sphere are readily overcome and the risk of losing money—or not making money—are often under your control with reasonable opportunities for mitigation.

Of course not doing anything is the biggest risk of all to building your future wealth. Time, conversely, is your biggest ally and will help to remove many short-term risks if you’re prepared to hold and ride out any lumps and bumps.

I suppose a disclaimer is also worth posting: I'm just a guy, I'm not an accountant, lawyer, solicitor, tax agent, mortgage broker, banker, financial adviser, insurance agent, land developer, builder, government agent, or anything else so I disclaim your application of anything I write here is to be applied at your own risk. What I write may be incorrect and you are best to seek your own professional advice (tax, legal, financial, and otherwise) before entering into contracts or spending your money. Your situation is unique to you and what I write here reflects my experience only. I'm learning too and expect to make many, many mistakes along the way.

Enjoy,

Michael

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