Every other day, someone comes to our office and asks what to do with the million dollars they suddenly have, according to a favourite fantasy of mine. Well, I’m certainly prepared for that day when it happens. Here’s what to do if you really have had a huge windfall (like a million dollars), plus tips on property investing you can look into:
The first five steps of a million-dollar windfall
Before you announce your huge lottery winnings, inheritance, sale of 1980s collectibles, etc, take some preparatory steps. The sharks will be at your door in a minute, and by the end of the week a whole bunch of people will be looking to swindle you.
The first five things to embark on for your personal betterment are as follows:
Pay off your debts
You’ll want to pay off all your debts, with the possible exception of your mortgage. As most mortgages have an interest rate of just two per cent or lower, so it’s quite easy to out-invest it. You may be better off holding onto that money. HDB loans compound at 2.6 per cent interest per annum, which is still significantly lower than most other outstanding loans you may have.
Start with credit card loans (26 per cent per annum), followed by personal loans (six to nine per cent per annum), followed by renovation loans (around five per cent per annum). After that, settle your car and education loans (around three to five per cent per annum). The mortgage always comes last, as its interest rate is the lowest.
Pay for maintenance and repairs
Pay for all the broken things in your life that needs fixing. This could be a busted-up car, surgery you’ve put off for a while, a faulty toilet bowl, so on and so forth. Note that you shouldn’t be reckless when settling these issues, just because you now have money. You should still take the time to scout around for the best deals.
One common tendency is to be over and done with all this “boring stuff” quickly at any cost, because you want to get to the juicy bits like quitting your job or investing.
Settle insurance issues
Insurers have all sorts of products to help you use that windfall, like Universal Life Policies. Done right, you may be in a position to never bother with endowment plans or comparing policy premiums again.
This may entail a lot of front loading (paying up in advance), but could result in coverage for the rest of your life, without ever paying another cent. It could also guarantee millions in pay-outs for your beneficiaries, so they can have a windfall if you are involved in an accident.
Lock away five per cent of your windfall in cash
Put it in a fixed deposit, put it in a bank overseas, or – even better – put it in your CPF Special Account, where it’s guaranteed to grow at five per cent per annum. This ensures that, if anything goes wrong, you’ll always have a safety net.
Wherever you put the money, make it hard to access. That helps to impede yourself from dipping into this “fall back” fund.
Redo financial planning goals, with an expert
Get a qualified wealth manager and financial planner, to revise things like your desired income upon retirement (you may even want to retire sooner). You’ll need to rebalance your portfolio, now that you have more cash to go around.
You may be recommended some higher risk investments. It’s generally safe to put five per cent or so into higher risk, higher return assets, such as an equity fund dealing in penny stocks. This will offset the lower returns from your safer investments.
But what about buying property for investment?
And now, we move on to talk about about property investing. Before we get into that, did we mention there are five steps to take to better your life first? Yes?
Go back and read them again, and please make sure you do them first. You want to build a safety net and a firm foundation, because property investments are capital intensive. They require a huge commitment, and are not easy to sell off if you make a mistake. You need to cover all your bases before you start buying condos left, right and center.
When you’re ready, here’s what you need to know:
When buying a property to let out, compare the rental yield to your other investment options
By this point, your wealth manager would be recommending different investments with varying rates of return. To compare property investments to these, just work out the rental yield (on the assumption that you intend to buy and rent out the place).
To do this, use the 99.co map to determine the general rental cost per square foot in the given area. Next, (annual rental income / total cost of property) x 100 = rental yield.
So if the annual rental income is $38,400, and the total cost of the property (inclusive of stamp duties, renovation, etc.) is $1.6 million, the rental yield is about 2.4 per cent.
Note that, if you take a mortgage rather than pay for the property upfront, it’s usually only worth buying if the rental yield can at least beat the mortgage interest rate.
You can also compare the rental yield to the rate of return, among the other investment options you have.
Most wealth managers will advise you to mix your property investment with other assets, so don’t expect to put everything into buying a single condo.
Decide early on if you plan to hold on to the property long term or offload it within a few years when there is capital appreciation
Do you intend to eventually move into the investment property? Or perhaps you intend to pass it to your children. In such a situation, you should look at factors beyond rental yield.
You may not mind that the property doesn’t grow as much in value as your other investments if it’s your intent to live there one day. You may also decide you’ll not sell the property as it is your plan for your children to inherit it, in which case you may be happy to holding on to the property as long as it’s not a liability (the rental yield matches the mortgage interest rate).
Try not to mess up your financial plans later, by suddenly deciding at the last minute that you don’t want to sell, or vice versa.
Focus only on property investing without thinking of upgrading your home
A common instinct is to buy a more expensive and luxurious residence, and then rent out your current home. But before you do that, ask which would really make you happier.
You might, for example, make more money by renting out the shiny new property you buy, and then staying on in your older unit. If you’re comfortable where you are, there’s no reason to move out.
Work out what you can do with the excess money – it might mean more holidays, retiring a little earlier, or running that dream business. This may be more meaningful than going somewhere with a bigger pool.
At $1 million, you’d best keep property investing local
It’s not advisable to start dabbling with overseas property, not when your windfall is just $1 million. Singapore has a well-regulated, largely corruption free property market; above all, property taxes here are among the lowest in the world. There’s a reason why foreigners rush to buy property in Singapore.
Besides, Singapore banks have had incredibly low interest rates since 2008 – around two per cent or below, compared to a norm of four per cent in most developed countries. You’ll want to ride on the low interest rates of home loans here if possible.
You can consider overseas property investing once you’ve grown that $1 million, and can withstand the risk. Remember that if anything goes wrong abroad, you’re not dealing with Singapore’s legal system. Hiring a lawyer is going to be necessary, and a single bad property deal can set you back way more than $1 million.
Make the most of your $1 million windfall! Be sure to share the tips here with other accidental millionaires!
If you found the information in this article useful, you may wish to find out more about the difference between buying an investment property and a property to stay in.