Want to Make Money in Real Estate? Understand Returns

Most people purchase real estate in hopes of earning wealth from their purchase, just as they would with any other investment asset.

However, real estate is unique in that it has four distinct components of investment return.

Essentially, here are the four ways you can make money as a result of real estate ownership:

  • appreciation in value
  • cash flows
  • income tax benefits
  • mortgage principal pay down

make-money-in-real-estateIt’s important to note that just because there are several components of returns, that does not mean you will earn money on real estate investments.

Many people lose money due to insufficient research and analysis, as well as through unmitigated risk issues. Do your homework before investing in real estate.

Appreciation in value

Most people buy investment properties with the thought that “it will appreciate in value and I’ll get rich.”

If the past six years have taught us anything, it is that real estate doesn’t always go up on value.

However, over long periods of time, say 15 to 25 years, real estate seems to perform well and has earned much wealth for many long-term holders.

Be aware, though, that appreciation does not pay the bills. It is better to invest based on cash flows, the next noted component of returns.

Cash flow positive

Most real estate investors do not understand how to pencil out their real estate deal. What this means is putting conservative estimates of rents and expenses down on paper and making sure that the rents, less all the expenses, leave the owner some cash in the bank. We call these “cash flow positive” properties.

Buying properties with true positive cash flow is the best way to ensure that your investment will add to your wealth. Far too many buyers purchase negative cash flow real estate and take additional monies out of their bank accounts each month, for years, to cover the deficit. That is no way to invest your hard-earned capital.

Income tax benefits

There are potential income tax benefits from owning rental properties. “Benefits” means that as a result of your ownership, you pay less in taxes than you would have if you did not own the property. Unfortunately, few investors really understand how this works.

If you are self-employed and pay little in taxes or you have income greater than $150,000, you probably have little tax benefit from your real estate ownership. Before you start banking on the tax benefits you’re going to get from a real estate investment, consult with a tax pro who can tell you whether or not you will actually save a dime.

Mortgage principal pay down

If you have an amortizing mortgage – which most are these days — you may realize some return. Each monthly mortgage payment pays the accrued interest, plus a little bit of the outstanding principal of the mortgage. That principal is pure investment return and it can really super-size your returns.

However, principal pay down does not provide cash flow, so it can’t help pay the bills if you need money for a plumber, electrician or handyman.

While all the investment returns may help your long-term wealth, the cash flow component is the most important. Cash feels nice in your hands, it pays the bills and, most importantly, it accumulates in your bank account and earns interest.

If your investment doesn’t generate cash, you won’t be able to pay the mortgage, you’ll likely lose the property and you’ll never realize the returns you’d hoped for.

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Rent It Out or Sell It? Options for a Home You No Longer Love

You might be one of the countless homeowners who’ve fallen out of love with your current home.

Maybe it’s the general area, the neighbors or the house itself.

3D red glass houseOr maybe the “dream” of homeownership has become a nightmare for some reason.

Regardless of your situation, push has come to shove, and it’s time to make a decision on where to go from here.

Your choices are to keep the house as a rental property for investment purposes or sell it and maybe buy elsewhere. Answering the questions below should help you decide which route is best for you.

Do I have the money to purchase another property if I hold this one?

When you purchase a home you need to have enough cash for a down payment and closing costs, plus funds for moving expenses and associated costs. A 20percent down payment is ideal because you’ll avoid paying private mortgage insurance (PMI). 

Therefore, take a look at your savings.

Do you see enough cash to be able to put down a hefty chunk of change on a new property? If you don’t, it’s probably best to sell your current property, and hopefully that will generate the cash needed to put down a large down payment on your new home.

Do I want to be a landlord?

Yes, all the TV shows make it look like owning property is fun and doesn’t take up too much of your time, energy and effort. Unfortunately reality TV isn’t reality rental property investing.

You do have the good fortune that your current home is probably already in good shape, so at least there won’t be a lot of money out of pocket to make it rental-ready. But you will still have to educate yourself, obtain leasing documents, advertise and show the property and screen prospective tenants.

It really can take a fair amount of time, so is that within your interest? Alternatively you could have a property management company handle it, but that would wipe out a lot of your potential wealth generation from the property.

Would this property even be a good investment?

Good real estate investments are cash-flow positive and provide a fair rate of return on the equity you hold in the property.

Will the rents less all the expenses and mortgage be positive? If the answer is no — and this is often the case — that particular property probably isn’t a good investment.

Talk to your financial adviser or accountant and ask for help penciling out your real estate deal based on the cash flows and current equity in the property. Once you figure out your current investment returns — free cash flow divided by your equity — you can compare those returns to other investments.

Maybe it’s better to invest elsewhere

If you could sell and generate a large chuck of change, like $100,000 or $300,000, you could invest that money elsewhere. Considering the risk factors for real estate, a well-diversified large capitalization stock mutual fund, with long-term returns of 7-9 percent per year probably is a better deal than owning real estate.

Note: As an added bonus on financial assets, no mutual fund has ever had a clogged toilet that flooded the house.

Those are some items to consider just to get into the landlord game. If none of those look appetizing related to your current home, sell it! Then you can decide whether to take a step back and rent for a while or try to find a new home and not repeat the home buying mistakes of your past. Good luck!

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