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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Do You Understand Income Tax Considerations of Rental Properties?

A rental property can generate “taxable losses” that can be used to reduce your normal salary income, hence the federal income taxes you pay.

Do-You-Understand-Income-Tax-Considerations-of-Rental-PropertiesIt’s difficult for most people to understand how taxes work, and even more confusing once we get into the realm of rental properties and taxes. Note that understanding how taxes impact personal residences are a completely different topic, as those are governed by totally separate tax codes and go elsewhere on your 1040 form.

Below are some of the basics to understanding rental properties and federal income taxes.

Often I hear people saying that they want to buy some real estate to save money on income taxes. However, depending on your tax situation, owning real estate might not save you a dime on taxes. It wholly depends on your specific tax picture and the IRS rules about Passive Activity Loss Limitations.

First and foremost you should never make real estate investment decisions based solely on tax considerations. The first order of business is do your due diligence and determine if an investment makes sense based on cash flows, cash on cash returns, renovation costs, rental income, financing, and the risk of any particular property. Once you believe it makes sense in every other sense, then you can contemplate the tax effects.

Important note: Always have a CPA, attorney or licensed tax professional guide you through your individual tax picture — this article is an illustration of one scenario but your scenario can be very different based on your financial picture.

To better understand, let’s first quickly discuss the IRS 1040 form.

The 1040 form you fill out each year does two things:

  1. Calculates the amount of federal income taxes you owe for the year based on how much you earned in salary, income, wages, profits and distributions — LESS all the deductions (tax “shields”/subtractions) to those totals in the form of losses, deductions and exemptions to get to your Taxable income on Line 43. Then, look at the IRS Tax Tables and determine how much you owe in taxes based on your tax filing status (Single, Married Filing Jointly, etc.) and your Taxable Income.
  2. Second, it reconciles the amount you owe from #1 above against the amount you have already paid during the year. This is commonly called “withholdings” from your salary, or if you are self-employed, you probably paid quarterly estimated income tax amounts to the IRS during the year.
  • If you paid more in #2 than you owe in #1, you get a tax refund!
  • If you paid less in #2 than you owe in #1, you write the IRS an additional check!

Tax Considerations of Rental Properties

Rental properties generally show taxable losses for the first many years. That taxable loss is essentially another “deduction” that lowers your taxable income — noted in #1 above — and hence lowers your income taxes.

This chart below shows an example of how a loss would be calculated. For example, this property might show a ($7,500) loss. That loss would filter through your IRS 1040 form, reducing your taxable income, and hence reducing your taxes.

This is how you might save money on taxes by owning rental properties — using losses on your rental real estate to reduce your taxable income, which allows you to pay less in federal income taxes.

How much it reduces your taxes depends on your income and filing status. It is a little complicated and can get very complicated depending on your situation.

There are also limits on how much of a loss on rental property any particular taxpayer can use to “shield” their income. These limits are called Passive Activity Loss Limitations. If your losses are over $25,000 and/or your Adjusted Gross Income is over $100,000, you may not be able to use all of the losses. You may have losses, but you are not allowed to reduce your income with them based on the IRS rules. Consult a professional.

Have questions? Just leave me a comment below and I’m happy to help you!

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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.

Click here to see what our videos and books can teach you about this.

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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