Rental Property Investing 101

For-rent-2The good news about real estate investing is that most people can earn a fairly substantial amount of wealth over their lifetime if they educate themselves and make better decisions when purchasing property. The bad news is that contrary to all the TV shows about flipping houses and people making money, or turn-key hassle-free rental properties, real estate is actually really hard work, it’s time-consuming and it can be a risky place to invest your money.

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Here are some tips that should help you earn real estate wealth. By the way — it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Think long term (skip get-rich-quick schemes)

Long-term ownership is the key to real estate wealth. If you buy decent properties and hold them forever, that’s going to provide the highest likelihood that your real estate will have significant equity down the road. Also, if it sounds too good to be true, it always is — especially in real estate. Drop the idea that there is fast and easy money to be made in real estate. It’s just not true. Sometimes people get lucky, but you don’t have to worry because that “lucky” person will never end up being you.

Cash flow positive properties

A significant portion of investors buy properties that are cash-flow negative or have very low investment returns. That means the buyer puts in their equity cash capital when they purchased the property, and they are still investing additional funds each month, which could go on for decades depending on how bad of a deal they purchased. The better way to invest is to buy properties where the rents minus all the expenses, including the mortgage payment, provide positive cash flow that you can deposit in the bank. So if you collect $1,200 in monthly rent, then subtract expenses of ($400) and a mortgage of ($500) you will have $300 per month left over. Nice job!

Simple analysis tool: The 1 percent rule

A simple way to do a quick analysis is to take the conservatively estimated monthly rental income and divide it by the purchase price of the house. You still need to pencil out your deal with rents and actual conservatively estimated expenses, but this back-of-the-napkin test is a quick and easy test to see if it  makes sense.

  • Example of a good deal: If you can collect $1,600 per month in rent and you paid $200,000 for the property, you are collecting rent that is 0.8 percent of the purchase price (0.8 percent = 80 basis points in financial terms). And that’s probably a really fair deal.
  • Example of a bad deal: If you can collect $1,600 per month in rent and you paid $400,000 for the property, you are collecting rent that is 0.4 percent of the purchase price, or 40 basis points. And that’s not a really good deal.

Find good quality properties

Smarter investors work hard up front to find the good areas where the rents provide a nice positive cash flow and investment returns, low crime rates, better schools, and decent amenities nearby like parks or retail. Coupled with good tenants who have excellent credit, you also create low vacancy rates. Smart investors also buy properties that are in decent shape, although every property needs paint, carpeting and some plumbing and electrical work from time to time. Do that hard work upfront and spend the money to put your properties in very good shape, you’ll get a little more rent and probably have a bigger pool of interested tenants from whom you can then choose. Lastly, do your homework, talk to other investors, read guides and books, shop properties, pencil out deals and have a long term ownership plan. Hopefully it will translate into a nice cash flow retirement picture.
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Tax Savings: Rental Property Depreciation Explained

House-on-tax-forms-300x199One reason you might consider investing in rental properties is to save money on federal income taxes. While this may be true, you should fully understand how rental properties and taxes work in order to determine whether you will save money from your rental property ownership.

If you’re already an investment property owner or are thinking about becoming a landlord, here’s a refresher on how the depreciation expense could help you maximize your tax savings.

The basics

In doing your annual 1040 federal income tax return, you’ll record your rent and all expenses on a Schedule E form. The net amount of gain or (loss) is then recorded on your 1040 form and can shield your income from taxes if you had a loss. One of the bigger expenses on most rental property owners’ Schedule E is something called depreciation. Here’s how it works.

When you own property, each year you write off costs for money you expend where the cost is a one-year expense, such as gardening, general maintenance, repairs and HOA fees. But what if the cost is for an improvement such as a new kitchen or new sidewalks? Because those costs have a useful life beyond one year, you must “capitalize” and depreciate those costs. That means you divide the total cost by the useful life of the improvement, and write off 1/nth of the cost per year. For example, you do $15,000 worth of driveway and sidewalks, with a 15-year useful life, so you can write off $1,000 per year ($15,000 divided by 15 years).

The biggest capital asset of any property is the actual purchase of the house. When you buy a rental property and will own it for longer than one year, you can depreciate the structure. First you must divide the purchase price of the property between the land and the building. You can use your tax assessor’s estimate of the cost of each of those components, an appraisal or an insurance agent’s estimate of the cost of the building. Either way, you can only depreciate the building, as theoretically the land portion of your purchase price is not “used” up and cannot be depreciated.

Crunching the numbers

Here’s an example: Let’s say you buy a single-family home for $200,000. The tax assessor’s estimate of the land value is $75,000, and the building value estimate is $125,000. Your depreciation expense that you take each year against rental income would be $125,000 divided by the IRS allowed 27.5 years of useful life (residential real estate) for a depreciation expense each year of $4,545. So thanks to that depreciation expense, you are saving (assuming you can use passive activity losses) $4,545 multiplied by your marginal tax rate (which is a topic for another day). This could be tax savings from $1,000 to $2,000 per year, just for the depreciation amount.

The calculation and write-off are pretty straightforward, but the actual tax savings amount gets a little more complicated. Many people flub this calculation from the start, so it’s best to find a licensed tax professional and start saving some money going forward.

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Tips for Avoiding Rental Property Disasters

Leaky-bathroom-pipe-96664aIf you plan to be a landlord, you should know that owning and managing property is hard work and can be very stressful. All kinds of issues can occur, taking up your time, energy and effort, and possibly making you wish you had never become a landlord. Here are a few things rental property owners can do to ease headaches and help reduce the risk of having issues. They don’t always work, but hopefully they will be worth your while to implement and follow.

Put properties in good shape

Properties that are in good shape usually are treated better by your tenants. Everyone wants to live in a nice, clean place, and renters will probably take better care of your properties if you’ve provided them a nice place to live. Try to do the work when you first purchase the unit and it’s still vacant — upgrades when you have a tenant inside will be a major pain for all parties. Items such as newer flooring, paint, appliances, window coverings and landscaping are good bets. They’re expensive, but hopefully you’ll thank yourself for needing to make fewer repairs down the road.

Have plumbing fixtures and valves changed out

Water issues are prevalent in all properties, and they can cause the most damage and be the most time-consuming issues to resolve. If the plumbing valves, supply lines, faucets, toilets or washer/dryer hoses haven’t been changed in years, it’s probably time to do that. Make sure the main water shut-off valve works — and that your tenants know where it is — just in case. Again, these measures are costly, but you’re trading an upfront investment for lowering your risk of problems from a leak.

Be attentive and fix broken items

If something breaks, work hard to resolve it quickly. Obviously water, gas or electric items need immediate attention. Broken appliances might take a few days or a week, but the quicker the response the better the landlord-tenant relationship. Sometimes it’s hard to get to non-emergency items in an expedient manner, but do the best you can to fix the issue. Ultimately your tenants will be much happier and better tenants.

Treat your tenants with respect

All properties have “property” issues like the three above, but they also have “tenant” issues, which are a much bigger hassle and can take a lot longer to resolve. Treating your tenants with respect — and trying to resolve issues in an amicable manner instead of starting a fight — will hopefully have them return the favor toward you. As the landlord, it’s in your best interest to step up to the plate and make sure relations with your tenants stay on a good track. Your life will be a lot easier when a real issue occurs, such as a pipe breaking and flooding the unit.

These tips aren’t easy or quick, and you’re never going to succeed at all of them all the time. If you work hard to keep on top of the issues it should make your landlord life easier, more profitable and with a much higher likelihood of success.

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How to Choose a Good Real Estate Sales Professional

People-holding-question-marks-b4d383Buying real estate is complex, and it’s imperative to select a competent, honest agent who will skillfully represent your best interests throughout the entire process of selecting, negotiating and closing on your property.

Here are several things to look for and consider when selecting the real estate professional to represent you in a transaction:


Real estate is a learn-by-doing process, and an experienced agent should be closing at least five to seven property transactions per year. Every transaction is complex, and each agent obtains new and relevant “training” on each deal. So ask each agent — you should interview at least three — how many transactions they’ve closed in the past 12 months and several years. If they have not closed that many, ask who is guiding them as they learn the business and what professional training they had to prepare them to assist you.


You also want to get references from the sales professionals’ recently closed transactions. Then take the time to call those references to ask how the agents performed. You will learn a lot by listening to what their past customers have to say. Google their names, too, and check the state for licensing information and any disciplinary information.

Time to work with you

An agent who has too many clients may be too busy for you and may not be right for you, either. Make sure they have the time to sit with and educate you, show you lots of properties and are willing to write offers on properties that you would like to buy. If they have too many clients at once, service to you may suffer. So make your best judgment.


Make sure they know the location, location, location in which you want to purchase property. Some agents are going to be familiar with the entire county and can talk to you about each neighborhood. Find a sales professional who is very knowledgeable about your targeted location.

Help you protect yourself

Will they help you make smart decisions? This is the largest purchase you are ever going to make, and your real estate professional should be well-versed in and advise you on how to do your “homework” when buying a property. Does buying make financial sense? Did you get a fair deal on yourmortgage? Have you looked at the HOA documentstitle abstract or plat? Are you procuring the rightinsurance for the proper amount? A good agent can guide you in these areas and should be on your side in a transaction.

The sales professional you use should be someone you trust and feel can do a great job helping you evaluate homes and get a property under contract. They should also help you navigate the escrow and closing process and negotiate in your best interest, whether it is the price, repair requests or other contract terms.

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Is Homeownership a Good Choice for Young People?

holding-a-houseIf there’s anything we’ve learned in the past few years about real estate, it’s that property doesn’t always go up in value. And because it doesn’t, you shouldn’t just buy property and assume that you’re going to earn equity and wealth from that ownership.

Instead, buying a home should be a personal decision based on your life and financial situation.

So if you are young, should you buy real estate? The answer, as with many things, is that it depends. But for the vast majority of young people, the answer is probably no. Here’s why.

Real estate is long-term

We buy real estate in order to hopefully earn wealth and improve our lot in life. The most likely way that you will earn real estate wealth is by owning property for long periods of time, preferably a decade or greater. This long-term ownership does not coincide with the habits and traits of most young people. So if you’re not very sure you will own a property for a long time, let a landlord deal with the inherent risks, pains and issues of real estate ownership.

Here are some reasons why, as a younger person, you might not own property long term.

Not settled in a career

At a young age, you rarely know whether you’ll be living in the same area for a long time. People are very mobile these days, including switching jobs, getting job transfers, changing careers, going back to school, etc. If you buy a property and have to sell it due to a career move in a few years, you’re most likely going to lose money on your real estate ownership.

Can’t afford a place you love

Additionally, you might not have the financial resources to afford a place that you really love, and you’ll end up buying in anticipation that you’ll earn equity and trade up in a few years. Now you probably will trade up in a few years, but you probably won’t earn any equity. In fact you’ll likely lose money — primarily due to steep transaction costs. The better way to go is to save your money for several years and buy a place you really love when you have the savings and income to be a homeowner.

Not settled in life

You finish school, get a job and work a few years. Then you realize you’ve got to move somewhere else, “see the world,” if you will! That house you bought would hinder your ability to relocate, and if you did move, you’d probably lose money.

So if you are young, wild and free — and not sure of your 5- to 10-year plan — you’ll probably do better as a renter.

When might it make sense to buy young? If you’re sure you’ll own the property a long time, then it’s probably a good idea to buy. Just make sure you can comfortably afford the payments along with all your other bills. Also if you want to be in the landlord business and plan to convert the property from a personal residence to a rental, then buying at a younger age would be a smart move for you.

Just ask yourself before you decide whether to buy real estate, “Am I sure my ownership will be for the long haul?”

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Tips for Preparing to Buy a Home

first-time-homebuyersYou’ve been saving your pennies for a down payment and watching the housing market news. You see the low interest rates, are confident you’ll own a property for at least five years and know that you’ll be able to find a home that you’ll love within your budget.

You’re finally ready to buy a home!

Here are a few tips to help you get started.

Get with a lender

First up is going to a bank, direct lender, credit union or mortgage broker to get qualified for a loan. They will run the numbers to set your price range for financing. This will help you in working with a real estate sales professional to determine which areas and types of properties fit within your budget. The lender will also pull a credit report to see if you need to be aware of any credit issues. If necessary, this will give you time to start improving your credit picture to make you the most creditworthy you can be when it comes time to lock your loan rate and terms.

Find a competent real estate agent

You also should look for a real estate agent whom you feel can best represent you. Talk to friends and acquaintances for referrals, and interview at least three agents. Find out how many properties they’ve sold in the past few years, what training they have and whether they work as an agent full time and know the areas where you would like to purchase. Get some references from each one and actually take the time to call those references and see what they thought of the real estate professional’s service level and experience.

Educate, educate, educate

This will most likely be your most complicated, expensive and riskiest purchase of your life. You should talk to friends, family members and possibly a lawyer; read books, articles or take a class. In other words, do everything you can to better understand the real estate buying process and how to make the best home purchase decision.

Shop, shop, shop

Consider all the neighborhoods that fit in your price range. Drive them during the day, at night and on the weekend to get a feel for the areas. Look at the neighbors’ properties, any retail spaces nearby and check online neighborhood ratings, crime reports and school ratings. Learn all you can about where you are going to be a real estate owner.

With a price range from your lender, a good real estate sales professional on your side and a solid education on buying a home and the areas where you want to buy, you’re now better prepared to make 2013 the year of the home purchase.

Good luck!

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Can a Landlord Force Tenants to Have Renter’s Insurance?

Insurance-umbrellaMore and more landlords these days are requiring renters to have a renter’s insurance policy in place during their tenancy. There are a lot of benefits to both the landlord and the renter as a result of the tenant having a policy. And renter’s policies are inexpensive — about $125-$175 per year — and give a renter decent coverage for the cost. Let’s first talk about why you should have the insurance in place, then answer the question of whether a landlord can require a tenant have renter’s insurance.

Why have a renter’s policy?

Unfortunately, things happen. Houses get robbed, units flood and suffer property damage, fires destroy belongings. The reason you have insurance is so that when these things happen, you don’t have to shoulder the entire cost on your own. The insurance company steps in and helps out, so the problem isn’t as disruptive to your life and livelihood as it would have been if you had not had that policy coverage in place.

And a renter’s policy protects not just your personal property — like TVs, clothing, couches, computers — in case of a loss, but it also provides some liability protection in case the dog bites someone, you cause a flood to other units or a guest at the property gets hurt.

Lastly, many policies will provide cash to cover temporary living costs and rent on another unit in case you cannot live in the apartment due to damages. Talk to your insurance agent regarding this and all the coverage components.

Can insurance be mandatory?

Insurance is a contractual issue between you and the owner of the property. If you have an existing lease that doesn’t require it, then you don’t have to carry it.

But when your lease is up for renewal, the owner can require it as a term of your new lease or any lease extension.

Overall though, it’s a small price to pay for some fair coverage. Before you fight having it, call your insurance agent and get a quote for basic coverage, like $25,000 in personal property coverage. You’ll probably get a lot more information from your agent, and hopefully decide that getting the coverage is really a good idea to give you some added insurance protection in life.

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Offer Accepted: What Happens During Escrow?

EscrowSo the past few months you’ve shopped properties, submitted offers on many and gotten your hopes up, only to be let down. But you haven’t given up, and finally you get the call from your real estate agent: Your latest offer has been accepted!

You might think it’s the end of the road to property ownership. But really, it’s just the beginning of the hard work.

Once you go into escrow, many items still need to be reviewed, discussed and inspected as you move forward in the process. Here are several that you’ll encounter for the next 40-50 days until you finally close escrow.

Home inspection & renegotiations

First you’ll need to schedule a home inspection and have an independent, licensed and insuredinspector go through the property to look for problems. Make sure to join the inspector at the inspection and ask a lot of questions, write down everything that needs to be addressed and get with a contractorto determine how much it will cost to make all those repairs. Then have your real estate professional negotiate with the seller for, hopefully, some additional fixes and/or cash credits at closing.

Mortgage financing

Hopefully you’ve kept your lender apprised of where you are in the process. Now it’s time to get into full-speed motion. Get your appraisal ordered and start resubmitting pay stubs, mutual fund statements and other document the lender requests. And lock in your interest rate, points and loan terms — and get those terms in writing.

Title insurance, plat/survey, schedule of exclusions

You’ll also get a thick packet of documents that you’ll need to review. Most people do not review them, and that’s a really bad idea. You need to look through the estimated HUD-1 costs, the title abstract, the title insurance policy schedule of exclusions and all other documents. Also review the plat or have a survey done and then walk the property to see if there are any encumbrances (get the title company to plot the easements). This is the time, before you close escrow, to figure out if there are title or physical property issues that pose a problem.

HOA documents review

If the property is in a common interest development, you’ll need to review all the relevant homeowners association documents — board of directors meeting minutes and notes, financial statements, state disclosures, reserve study, bank condominium certification, HOA unit demand statement, etc. This is a really time consuming, confusing and tricky process. Many people fail to do even the most basic HOA analysis, and if you don’t adequately review the documents, you might feel some pain down the road when issues occur — and they will occur.

Property and liability insurance

You also need to get with an insurance agent and make sure to discuss and procure the proper type and amount of insurance that you’ll need. This is especially true if you’re paying cash, as you don’t have the bank personnel to double-check that you are properly insuring yourself. Your best bet is to go meet with your insurance agent and get the appropriate coverage.

Sign documents, fund down payment, verify GFE

As items move forward, you will eventually be ready to sign documents, fund the down payment and verify the lender costs match the good faith estimate you were given. Make sure to read and review all these documents before you sign off that they are acceptable to you.

Close escrow

Finally, you will fund your down payment, the bank will fund the mortgage loan, escrow and title will prepare all documents, properly account for all the funds, then go record your purchase documents at the county courthouse. And you are now the proud owner of a nice piece of dirt!

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Real Estate Investing: Single Family Home vs. Condo

3D red glass houseIf you’re considering getting into the landlord game, you might wonder whether it’s best to buy a single family home or a condominium.

Many people say to stay away from condominiums because of all the issues with homeowners associations, and they have a point. However, single family homes have many issues, too, so don’t make up your mind so quickly.

Here are several things to consider in this “Rumble in the Investment Property Jungle.”

Round 1: Investment returns

When you’re buying an investment property, the first thing you should do is pencil out your real estate deal to see if it has fair cash-on-cash investment returns. As a general rule, you’ll find that single family homes typically have lower cash-on-cash returns than condominium properties. So a fair deal on a single family home might be a cash-on-cash return of 3 to 5 percent, while a condominium might have 4 to 7 percent returns. The condominium will probably take this round, but every property is different, so you need to pencil out your specific deal to understand the returns.

Round 2: Tenant turnover

Every time your tenants leave, you’ll need to re-rent the property. And it’s a lot of work! You have to advertise, take calls and emails, show the property, draft a lease, do a credit check, move the old tenant out, move the new tenant in, etc. And even if your old tenant left the place in perfect shape, you still need to fix minor issues, probably paint and maybe have the carpets cleaned.

Smart landlords know that you make the most money by keeping your tenants as long as possible. Apartment/condo units typically turn over every other year, while single family homes typically have much longer tenancies of three to five years. Clear winner on this round: single family homes.

Round 3: HOA vs. non-HOA

The biggest complaint about condominiums is dealing with HOAs and HOA fees. And while there are many HOAs that are in terrible financial, legal and operational shape, there are also many that are well-managed and in very good shape. HOAs can have strict rules, and if you or your tenant breaks them, you have to deal with the fallout. But those rules also keep harmony in the neighborhood and stops tenants from parking inoperable vehicles, appliances, etc., in their yards as might happen with a single family neighborhood. No clear winner here.

Round 4: Ongoing maintenance and repairs

As a single family residence owner, you would need to schedule and handle all the exterior issues — roofing, painting, landscaping — which is going to take up a lot of your time and energy. These are all tasks the HOA would handle in a condo community. Overall, it’s much less work owning a property in an HOA — and that’s why owners pay HOA fees. It’s a condo “KO” on this issue!

Round 5: Value increase

Many people believe that single family homes go up in value more than condos, but there really isn’t any conclusive proof of that. Most real estate, in a general vicinity, is going to appreciate about the same 2 to 3 percent per year over the long term. So you should exclude this one as a consideration. For building wealth, forget the appreciation and instead go for the better cash flow as noted above in Round 1.


So those are some of the items to consider. Either one can be a great investment, or a terrible investment, depending on what you purchase, how much due diligence you do before your purchase and how well you manage the property. Do a lot more research and talk to property owners, and then you can figure out how you will win the heavy weight championship of real estate investing!

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What Is Real Estate Due Diligence?

Woman-using-laptopPurchasing and owning real estate is always high risk — whether it’s a single family home that you’ll occupy or a 50-unit apartment building for income. You’ll hear experts say to make sure to “do your due diligence” when buying property, but what does that actually mean? What is due diligence?

The truth is, there isn’t an Easy Button for doing your due diligence. It’s really a time-consuming process, and few people have any idea what to do. So here is what it means and some of the steps you should consider and perform.

Do your homework

Due diligence means taking caution, performing calculations, reviewing documents, procuring insurance, walking the property, etc. — essentially doing your homework for the property BEFORE you actually make the purchase. If there are too many issues with the property — and that means too much potential risk and cost — then you can cancel your purchase agreement and look for a better property.

Here are just a few of the steps that apply to both personal residences and investment properties, although some may only apply to one.

Shop the marketplace

Make sure you know what the market has to offer. Too many people look at just a few properties, put in an offer and purchase. You should spend several months looking at properties before you buy.

Mortgage financing

Make sure the mortgage deal you get is fair and in line with competitors. Probably less than 20 percent of people get two bids for their financing, so they don’t know whether they’ve received a fair deal.

Pencil out your investment

If you’re buying an investment property, it’s vital to pencil out your deal. How do you know whether it’s a good deal if you haven’t done the math and compared it to other opportunities?

Property inspection

You probably had an inspection, but did you go to it? Did you review the inspector’s remarks on all the work that needs to be done? Then did you call a contractor or go to a home repair store to see how much it will cost to put the property in the shape you desire? Renovating properties is hugely expensive and high risk, so make sure you get estimates for the work before you decide to move forward with a purchase.


Did you check to see whether an insurance policy can be written for the property? How much will it cost? Some areas, such as fire-prone or hurricane-prone areas, might not even be able to get a policy. And even if they do, it might be prohibitively expensive. Get some bids before you’re too far along in your purchasing process.

Homeowners association

Do you know how to review the HOA documents to avoid communities that are in disastrous shape, out of money or have significant construction issues? This is actually a pretty complicated task, but you don’t want to buy into a total mess of an HOA. If you do, you will feel some discomfort as the years go by and you have to deal with the issues and special assessments that you will be required to pay.

Title insurance & plat

Did you look at the title abstract and insurance policy? This will help you see if there are some issues that should concern you. Talk to the title insurance company agent and lawyer to help you review the documents. Also look at the plat of the property, have the easements plotted by title and walk the property for encumbrances.

Those are just a few of the many items that make up due diligence when buying real estate. Remember, you have to do these before you close escrow on the property. If you fail to do the proper tasks, problems might arise that were preventable, and might make your real estate experience less than palatable, or downright life changing! Or they might cause you to lose all the money you’ve put into the property.

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