A rule of thumb most investors use when evaluating a property’s rental viability is the “1% rent multiplier rule.” The monthly rental income must be equal to or greater than 1% of your initial investment. So, if your total cost to get the property rent-ready (purchase price, closing costs, renovations) is $150,000, the property should rent for at least $1,500 per month, net of HOA or condo fees.
Of course, real estate markets vary widely across the country. In some metro areas, it’s common to be able to get a rent multiplier well over 1%. But there are many locations where it’s challenging to get anything close to 1%. In such areas, what makes other factors may determine a good investment property.
A lease is a legal contract that binds both the landlord and the tenant. State and local laws differ, but in general, landlord-tenant law addresses five aspects of the relationship:
How much security deposit a landlord can charge and how it is held
What information the landlord must communicate to the tenant, such as disclosing the possibility of lead paint
Rules of possession of the unit
As a landlord, you enter into a legal contract to allow tenants to possession of your property. You must provide “safe and habitable” living conditions. This means you must address property maintenance issues on time. And you must respect your tenant’s right of possession – you cannot enter the property without providing proper notice.
How will you know if you’ll make money on your rental? There are many factors, but a quick calculation of your Return on Investment (ROI) and Cash Flow will help you evaluate whether a property will make an excellent rental investment.
ROI is calculated by dividing the annual income by your total investment. If your rental income is $15,000, and you paid $150,000 for the property, your ROI is 10%.
Cash Flow refers to how much money you make from your investment each month. If you collect the rent of $1,500 and your expenses total $1,200, your property cash flow is $300 per month.
The main operating expenses — which are easy to calculate and budget for monthly — are:
homeowners association (HOA) or condo fees
Be sure to factor in unexpected costs as well. You’ll have regular maintenance costs, such as replacing HVAC filters. And you’ll likely have repair costs that will vary year to year based on when appliances break or wear out and need replacement.
The initial purchase of the property has unique expenses, including closing costs (such as transfer and recordation fees), lender and title company fees, and escrow items such as property taxes and mortgage insurance. Budget for future expenditures such as a new roof, water heater, and appliances.
Owning rental properties is a long-term investment. Transaction costs are high, and real property is an illiquid asset that you can’t sell quickly if you need cash. So, make sure you do your due diligence and weigh the risks and rewards of rental property investing.
Huge tax benefits including taking depreciation on an asset that is likely appreciating
Collect monthly rental income
Provides portfolio diversification (real estate is not correlated to stock market fluctuations)
High potential for asset appreciation
Tenants pay off your mortgage, providing you with equity at no cost to you
Potential for negative cash flow due to bad tenants or a high vacancy rate
You take on landlord responsibilities
Your property value is subject to housing market fluctuations
You could lose money by underestimating expenses or overestimating rent
Make an informed offer in writing using state-approved contracts, and back it up with proof of funds that you’re able and willing to close if your offer is accepted quickly. Along with your offer, you’ll typically need a copy of the bank statement from which your down payment will come, a pre-approval letter from your lender if you’re financing the purchase and an earnest money deposit check.
There are a lot of negotiation strategies, and it seems everyone has an opinion about what works best. However, after several deals, I realized that haggling is counterproductive most of the time (and gets extremely tiresome very quickly). I make my best offer initially and walk away if it’s not accepted. I don’t enjoy sparring — investing isn’t a sport. There’s a price at which my numbers make sense. If I can’t acquire the asset for that price, I move on and look for a deal I can get done where the numbers do make sense.
A homeowner insurance for rental properties is sometimes called “landlord insurance” and is also known as a “dwelling fire policy” or “fire and special perils policy.” Homeowner insurance covers your house if it burns down or there’s a break-in. And it pays medical and legal bills if someone gets hurt on your property. When you rent out a home, there’s a higher risk of loss to you and your insurer.
This insurance covers the house itself, other structures on the property (such as a garage or shed), the owner’s (not the tenant’s) possessions, lost rental income if the house is damaged and uninhabitable, and some liability protection for the owner in case of an injury or lawsuit. Read the fine print and all the exclusions.
Landlord insurance is a more expensive must-have that helps protect you, your property, and your tenant. If you have a mortgage, your lender will demand you carry it.
Never (and I do mean never!) buy a home unseen. Even if I know the neighborhood and can view hundreds of photos online; Even if the price is so low that I know it’ll be scooped up quickly if I don’t act immediately, I don’t make an offer on any property unless I’ve walked inside it personally. A seller isn’t going to post the picture of the standing water in the basement corner.
Hiring a professional licensed inspector is a not-to-be-missed step.
He will inspect the condition of the foundation, roof, plumbing, electrical, HVAC, appliances, etc.
Then he’ll give you a report of what needs immediate repair and what will need fixing in the near future.
For example, the water heater may work fine now, but the report reveals that it’s past its intended useful life. You’ll want to know this so you can decide if you’re going to replace it before you put tenants in the property or budget for an immediate replacement when it stops working.
I broke this rule myself and got burned. I decided not to get an inspection on a home that was well maintained and looked in great shape. Both the seller and I wanted to move forward quickly. I had my team ready to start the renovation. Everything looked good to my contractor and me during the final walkthrough. I took the word of the owner that all systems and appliances worked. She was living in the house and seemed trustworthy. But it turned out the plumbing in the second bathroom had to be completely redone. (Perhaps the seller didn’t know about the issues because she lived alone and had been using only one bathroom for years.) An inspection would have revealed the problem. I could have avoided a repair cost that put me over budget and diverted precious rehab resources from their intended use.
Make sure you do proper due diligence on all aspects of every deal. There are a lot of so-called “deals” touted, but you need to make sure you get it right. How much will the rehab cost? What are the monthly holding costs? What permits do you need and how long will it take to get them? The list of questions you need to be answered is extensive.
A property is a huge investment, not a consumer product that can be returned if you don’t like something about it. That foundation crack will need to be fixed and will be expensive. The mold in the back of the closet might need professional mold remediation, which is also expensive. It’s way too easy to go into the red on a property. Checking it out personally before I buy is simply a must-do every time.
Obviously, make sure your numbers are right when evaluating deals. I frequently see investors focus on the listing price of active comps (similar properties currently on the market for sale) when estimating a property’s after-repair value. The listing price of a property is really just a guestimate arrived at by an owner or real estate agent. The real market price of a house is the final price agreed to by the buyer and seller. Recently sold properties are more indicative of a similar property’s market value than active or even pending listings.
It takes knowledge, experience, and persistence to research and analyze deals. And you’ll always regret it if you don’t do so thoroughly!
Rental property investing is a strategy that involves buying properties that are rented, giving you monthly income. For a property to have positive cash flow, the rental income must exceed all the costs of owning and maintaining it. There are a number of ways that you can go about investing in a rental property.
Get Started Without Getting Your Hands Dirty
If you’re intrigued by the idea of investing in rental properties — but don’t want to hassle with fixing toilets in the middle of the night — check out Roofstock. This is an investing platform that lets you purchase pre-vetted turnkey properties. There’s no need to do any of the heavy liftings. Properties are taken care of by certified property managers (or you can choose to DIY if you prefer). There’s just a 0.50% fee, so if you purchase a $100,000, you’ll have to pay just $500. That’s a good bit cheaper than what you’ll be charged by a real estate agent.
Invest in Crowdfunding
Crowdfunding is a strategy that’s more passive than owning actual property, making it a great strategy for beginners.
Real estate crowdfunding means pooling your money with a group of investors to make a more significant investment in a property or group of rental properties. That means the minimum investment is easier on the wallet. Some crowdfunding platforms offer investments as low as $500.
On many crowdfunding platforms, you’ll find properties that are already vetted and have cash flow. This is ideal for investors who don’t want to deal with the hassles of researching, buying, repairing, and leasing properties themselves.
Crowdfunding is more comfortable and more affordable than buying a property outright. But many crowdfunding sites limit access to deals to accredited investors only. Also, easier doesn’t mean less risky. You still need to do extensive due diligence on the crowdfunding company and the specific investments before diving in.
CrowdStreet is our recommended real estate crowdfunding platform, as it offers only commercial real estate, no fees for participating investors, and includes a private Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) for non-accredited investors.
“House Hack” Your First Rental Property
As a beginner, a great way to start investing is to “house hack.” This is a slang term for buying a rental property that you’ll live in at the same time you rent out part of it.
Often this takes the form of buying a duplex. You live in one side and rent out the other side to tenants. Or if you’re single, buy a three- or four-bedroom single-family home and live in one room and rent out the extra bedrooms to friends or peers.
Ideally, house hacking allows you to live rent-free because the rental income from your roommates (or tenants) is sufficient to cover all property costs.
One benefit of house hacking is that you’re onsite to manage the property, so you don’t have to pay for property management when the tenant clogs the toilet. Of course, a downside is that you might not like living in the same duplex as your tenants or sharing the kitchen of your home with roommates in a single-family residence.
Invest in a Turnkey Rental Property
Another option that offers a higher level of passivity than purchasing and managing rentals yourself is buying a turnkey property. There are companies in the business of acquiring properties, turning them into ready-for-market rentals, and then selling them to investors.
In most cases, you’re buying a new or fully renovated property that’s already tenanted, and the turnkey company manages everything for you. That means you won’t have to worry about finding and screening tenants, maintenance issues, or overall management. You’ll want to do your due diligence and understand what you’re investing in and the unique risks.
Buy a Single-Family Home
Another way to invest in rental real estate is to buy a single-family home and rent it out. The market for single-family homes isn’t propelled solely by live-in buyers. In fact, even hedge funds have stepped up their intangible interest property, purchasing homes to rent as perennially falling rates allow for higher returns on invested capital.
So what’s so hot about single-family homes? Low costs of borrowing and excellent spreads between rental prices and mortgage payments. Elsewhere, investors are padding the real estate market with fresh cash to make their foray into the rental business.