Since Latvian sites are doing rather well at attracting Estonian investors, then I decided to also test out the third Latvian portal, adding a small amount of loans at Viventor to my investments, which already include Twino and Mintos.
What does Viventor offer?
Viventor started off with offering low interest and low LTV real estate loans and they just recently added short term (1 month) Spanish consumer loans with a set 12% interest rate and a buyback guarantee. Essentially what they seem to be building towards in one sense is a Mintos-like marketplace where different originators can finance loans and have 10%ish returns with buyback. It will be somewhat interesting to see how the battle for their marketshare will work out when competing against one another, but since Viventor has seemed to start from southern Europe there might be enough room for all. Also, P2P in general holds such a small part of the overall lending market that there should be room for everyone.
How does the site work?
Overall, the site at this point works rather weakly. It seems to be developed live, meaning a lot of things investors are used to from other sites are missing. This includes things like a properly functioning autobidder, data export, easy to read cash flow report, and a whole pile of comfort functions.
I invested into my first loans manually and supply isn’t an issue in the sense that the site doesn’t really have a whole lot of investors yet and their history is by far the shortest of all P2P sites nearby. However, provided that they manage to work on usability they might have a volume issue rather soon as well (at this point there are 144 loans listed on primary market).
Overall, I hope for very quick improvements for the web, proper reporting would be step number 1, since I created a business account and require usable documentation. Secondly, adding on other originators would likely increase their trustworthiness a fair bit as well. Interesting times at least, seeing Latvians claim large parts of the Baltic P2P investors’ money.
With the (arguably) impending crisis, many people have started to look into the risk levels of their investments with a bit more diligence. I asked Loit Linnupõld (Crowdestate) and Marek Pärtel (Estateguru) a few questions about how risk is managed in their investment portals.
How to assess the risk of crowd funding real estate?
The problem with many hybrid ways of investing is that evaluating the levels of risk associated with it becomes difficult due to how some risks may help balance out others while some may actually compound and create additional risk. Some things to keep in mind:
- All real estate projects, crowd funded or no, follow the ups and downs of the market. If the market falls out from underneath you, then this will influence you whether you are in rental real estate, business real estate or crowd funding projects.
- Crowd funding adds both a level of certainty (wisdom of the crowds) and a level of unreasonable enthusiasm (others are investing, so it must be good). You should still base your decisions on your own analysis, not on what others are doing.
- (Real estate) crowd funding is still a new enough investment that we don’t have significant historical returns to base our thoughts on. Then again, past returns don’t predict future returns anyways. We can however ‘ballpark’ based on existing data in similar fields.
What do the portals do to manage risk?
I asked both Loit (CE) and Marek (EG) about how they manage risks, and how they hope to prevent problems from happening in their portfolios.
In case of a real estate crisis do you feel that crowd funding real estate & real estate loans are overall more or less risky to own than individual pieces of real estate? (Let’s assume a reasonably diversified portfolio).
Loit (CE): It really depends on a specific property, it’s cash flows and financial leverage. Technically, property is property regardless of whether it has been acquired directly or through crowdfunding. Nevertheless, I believe crowdfunding adds a new layer of common knowledge and if we combine that with crowdfunding platform’s due diligence (if they do it), that can significantly reduce the risk of picking wrong assets. Crowd is much smarter than any single individual alone and it is quite remarkable, that the wisdom can be shared and spread digitally between crowdfunders.
Marek (EG): To be prepared for a potential real-estate crises, smart investors should watch out not only for high returns but also for low and diversified risks. Every investment is a risk and once you accept this fact, then next thing that comes into play – it is how well you understand those risks and what measures you take to control them. One of the best things to control risks is diversification. Individual investors can’t typically buy several pieces of land or properties, to diversify their risks. If you bought a flat you still depend on developments in vicinity of your property. Its price may go down even without a crisis.
EstateGuru p2p lending platform gives you the possibility to significantly diversify your portfolio, splitting your money into smaller pieces between different types of loans (flip, bridge, buy to let, mezzanine, commercial, land, residential etc), in different locations by different borrowers and in the future also even in different countries.
One should understand the difference between investing in property crowdfunding (investment into equity and no security to investors given) and crowdlending platforms (investment secured by mortgage). We would suggest investors to do always their own stress tests- what happens to their investment if market goes down 20% (predicted m2 price of is not 2000 but 1600). In case of, say a 20% market decline, do investors earn some profit still, do they get back their invested money in some portion or lose it all- it largely depends on the capital structure of the project – what obligations the Borrower or Developer needs to fullfill before paying to platform investors.
Today we see clearly from UK, Europe and US statistics (altfi.com, Lendit.co) that institutional investors prefer lending platforms over crowdfunding ones as safer bet when making their capital allocations.
How has Crowdestate/Estateguru prepared for potential economic downturn scenarios? What kind of defences are in place to keep oversight of the projects and protect the investors’ money?
Marek (EG): First of all, all investments on EstateGuru platform are protected with 1st or in some cases 2nd charge mortgage. Not all Crowdfunding platforms have this security in the first place and with any fluctuations in Economy, their investors will be hit first. Smart looking business plans and fancy projects are not sufficient when property prices go down. But at EstateGuru we implemented second level protection – LTV at our projects is never higher than 75%, normally its around 60-69%, which means that even if property prices go down 25% we would still be able to recover our investors’ funds in case the borrower fails to repay the loan. In addition to the mortgage EstateGuru often asks the Borrower for a personal guarantee as extra security in order to make his EstateGuru loan repayment the top priority.In addition our partners have years of experience in Real Estate and we are able to foresee bad signs much in advance, so we will start working with Borrowers (refinancing, sale of assets etc.) much earlier to prevent Investors from litigation process and from potential partial loss.
Loit (CE): We continue to do our proper due diligence, picking only the best and business wise reasonable investment opportunities. Someone has pointed out, that most of the profits are earned at the moment of purchase and a our due diligence is focused on eliminating the odds of opening a bad project for crowdfunding.
Regular meetings with Sponsors (i.e. developers) and pre-agreed reporting formats ensure we have adequate information on project’s progress.
As the real estate related bank lending becomes less and less available, there will probably be a decrease in new projects started and we might see some of its effects in next 12 – 18 months.
What is the absolute worst case scenario of what can happen to the projects in your portfolio?
Loit (CE): There are several absolute worst case scenarios, that might happen, and they all end up with real estate becoming worthless (Russian tanks invading Estonia) or completely illiquid (like in the end of 2008 to mid 2009, requiring the major global economic crisis hitting employment and income). Both scenarios might probably lead to partial or complete loss of the investment, depending on the specifics of the project (location, timing, leverage, demand etc). Its all about project’s cash flow – if you are able to generate cash either through even slow sales or leasing the property out, you will probably survive. Collateral is not the replacement of cash flow.
Marek (EG): A sharp decline in property prices (say 50%) lack of overall demand for property and in case of default longer than expected litigation time could be the worst case scenarios. Since our projects are diversified between residential and commercial, in different locations and are on top of that protected with 1st Charge Mortgage (this means our investors will have 1st claim on the money received from property sale) and LTV of no higher than 75 (currently average is 60% at EstateGuru) – we feel that all above mentioned measures make our investments one of the best protected on the market and give best risk/return ratio.
As you can see, both portals have given significant thought to what might happen in case of an economic downturn. I do agree fundamentally that a retail investor can never diversify to the extent that is possible with crowdfunding. However, it is important to keep in mind that you don’t stop analysing projects even while you are still diversifying – it’s better to not take in a bad project even when you aren’t really diversified yet.
In addition to that, I like that Loit also pointed out the wisdom of the crowd and Marek emphasised that all investors should stress test their own portfolios to make sure they are making correct investment decisions for their own risk levels.