THE OTHER DAY, on a cross-country flight, I sat next to a nutritional therapist. We started chatting and rattling off the requisite row-mate questions: Are you headed home? What are you reading there on your Kindle? What do you do? She explained how she helps her clients analyze their diets and the impact that their eating habits have on their bodies. And then she surprised me with this question: “What worries you the most about your health?"
The question caught me off guard, but I answered her quickly: “I'm not getting enough sleep,” I mumbled. She furrowed her brows inquisitively, so I quickly started rambling on: “I have terrible insomnia. I get maybe four or five hours of sleep a night. I'm so envious of people who can sleep eight or 10 hours a night. I'm always exhausted, yet I can't get my brain to shut down at night. I've tried everything. Not watching TV or looking at a computer screen for at least an hour before going to bed. Reading something dull. Cutting out caffeine. Exercising. Taking naps. Warm baths. Nothing works. I've just kind of accepted it."
It was true. I've battled insomnia for years and simply accepted it as part of my physiological programming. She nodded and surprised me again: “Are you a vegetarian?” This time, it was me who furrowed my brows. “Well," I said, “I'm not a big meat eater. I actually don't eat red meat or pork. I stick with poultry and seafood, and even that is pretty minimal. I prefer fruits and vegetables. Why?” She smiled and announced, “Honey, you need more protein. It will help you sleep."
My inner skeptic kicked in: What about all the “heart-clogging, cancer-causing” research about red meat? She stopped me. “You don't have to eat meat. Eat tofu. Nuts. Eggs. Cheese. Peanut butter. Heck, have a couple of protein shakes. But the bottom line is, you need more of it."
I was speechless. I thought I had a healthy diet. Despite my weakness for dark chocolate, I mostly eat fresh fruits and vegetables. I snack on almonds and carrot sticks and yogurt. I drink tea. But I would never have guessed that insomnia was my body's way of asking for a hardboiled egg instead of a handful of strawberries.
The truth is our bodies tell us when something's wrong. And we have to pay attention to make sure that what we take in is working in our favor, not against us. Interestingly, the same philosophy applies to the asset portfolios we assemble in the apartment industry.
Every property we choose to bring into the fold has a distinct effect on the other properties in the mix, as well as the portfolio as a whole. As we learned during the Great Recession, a few bad apples (pardon the pun) can literally make a whole portfolio worthless. Granted, in the past year, we have adeptly worked through the backlog of bad assets—companies have negotiated with their lenders and equity partners to generate workout scenarios that enabled them to hang on to the good assets and better manage (or clear out altogether) the troubled properties. Now, with clean slates, apartment owners and investors are looking ahead at what is poised to be the best rental market in more than two decades.
Yet what are we doing? Binging. It seems to me that everywhere I look, firms seem to be competing to acquire any asset possible in strong markets. And therein lies our mistake. I see it in Washington, D.C., already. Smaller companies and private firms are vying for a foothold in one of the country's best rental markets, but as they lose core, Class A assets to institutional investors and public REITs armed with immense wealth and deep pockets, they are instead grabbing at the leftovers—assets that aren't quite core or high-end or even well-maintained.
For companies that have the wherewithal to deliver the investment and time needed to make these assets valuable contributions to a portfolio, things may fare better. But the risk in this kind of behavior is that the properties are added to an already pressured mix, as the asset manager moves on to the next acquisition, and the poorly vetted property corrupts the quality of the entire portfolio, laying the foundation for another round of problems a few years down the road.
The reality is that we have to be smarter and more methodical when we pick up our pens to sign a deal; we have to invest the time in understanding the implications of our acquisitions and pencil out the assumptions and forecasts we make. After all, what we buy—like what we eat—is a decision not to be taken lightly. And it should be the only thing keeping us up at night.