Investing in real estate
This is an investment as old as the practice of landownership. A person will buy a property and rent it out to a tenant. The owner, the landlord, is responsible for paying the mortgage, taxes and costs of maintaining the property. Ideally, the landlord charges enough rent to cover all of the aforementioned costs. A landlord may also charge more in order to produce a monthly profit, but the most common strategy is to be patient and only charge enough rent to cover expenses until the mortgage has been paid, at which time the majority of the rent becomes profit. Furthermore, the property may also have appreciated in value over the course of the mortgage, leaving the landlord with a more valuable asset.
Things to keep in mind
Your investing range will be limited by whether you intend to actively manage the property (be a landlord) or hire someone else to manage it. If you intend to actively manage, you should not get a property that's too far away from where you live. If you are going to get a management company to look after it for you, your proximity to the property will be less of an issue.
Talk to renters as well as homeowners in the neighborhood. Renters will be far more honest about the negative aspects of the area because they have no investment in it. If you are set on a particular neighborhood, try to visit it at different times on different days of the week to see your future neighbors in action.
In general, the best investment property for beginners is a residential, single-family dwelling or a condominium. Condos are low maintenance because the condo association is there to help with many of the external repairs, leaving you to worry about the interior. Because condos are not truly independent living units, however, they tend to garner lower rents and appreciate more slowly than single-family homes.
Single-family homes tend to attract longer-term renters in the form of families and couples. The reason families, or two adults in a relationship, are generally better tenants than one person is because they are more likely to be financially stable and pay the rent regularly.
When you do find your ideal rental property, keep your expectations realistic and make sure that your own finances are in a healthy enough state that you can wait for the property to start producing cash flow rather than needing it desperately. Real estate investing doesn't start with buying a rental property - it begins with creating the financial situation where you can buy a rental property.
Investing in a rental property
YOU PAY LESS TAX
You can deduct certain expenses from your income – reducing the taxes you owe. The list includes:
- mortgage interest
- property taxes
- property management
- utility bills (if you include them in the rent).
YOU MAY BE ABLE TO DEDUCT LOSSES FOR TAX PURPOSES
If your expenses exceed your rental income, you may be able to deduct that loss from any other sources of income you have. This could reduce your total tax bill.
YOU GET A REGULAR MONTHLY INCOME
Other kinds of investments may pay out less often or income may be less predictable.
As a landlord, you can deduct certain property expenses from your income – reducing the taxes you owe. If your expenses exceed your rental income, you may be able to deduct that loss from any other sources of income you have.
YOU TAKE ON THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF A LANDLORD
Rental units need repair – sometimes on an emergency basis. Dealing with tenants can be challenging, especially if they don’t pay their rent on time and cash flow is tight. If you hire a property manager to take care of these things for you, their salary is an added cost.
IT MAY BE DIFFICULT AND COSTLY TO SELL THE PROPERTY LATER
Real estate is not a liquid investment. That means it can take time to sell, depending on market conditions. It can also be costly to sell due to real estate and legal fees.
IT MAY BE DIFFICULT TO FINANCE THE PURCHASE
You must have a down payment of at least 20% when you buy a second property. You may need a mortgage. And, you will have high monthly expenses to cover when you own a building. Of course, you hope the income you receive from your tenants will cover this.
Top 10 features of a profitable rental property
Building permits and future development
Amount of listings and vacancies
The quality of the neighborhood in which you buy will influence both the types of tenants you attract and how often you face vacancies. For example, if you buy in a neighborhood near a university, the chances are that your pool of potential tenants will be mainly made up of students and that you will face vacancies on a fairly regular basis (during summer, when students tend to return back home).
Property taxes are not standard across the board and, as an investor planning to make money from rent, you want to be aware of how much you will be losing to taxes. High property taxes may not always be a bad thing if the neighborhood is an excellent place for long-term tenants, but the two do not necessarily go hand in hand. The town's assessment office will have all the tax information on file or you can talk to homeowners within the community.
Your tenants may have or be planning to have children, so they will need a place near a decent school. When you have found a good property near a school, you will want to check the quality of the school as this can affect the value of your investment. If the school has a poor reputation, prices will reflect your property's value poorly. Although you will be mostly concerned about the monthly cash flow, the overall value of your rental property comes in to play when you eventually sell it and retire someday.
No one wants to live next door to a hot spot for criminal activity. Go to the police or the public library for accurate crime statistics for various neighborhoods, rather than asking the homeowner who is hoping to sell the house to you. Items to look for are vandalism rates, serious crimes, petty crimes and recent activity (growth or slow down). You might also want to ask about the frequency of police presence in your neighborhood.
Locations with growing employment opportunities tend to attract more people - meaning more tenants. If you notice an announcement for a new major company moving to the area, you can rest assured that workers will flock to the area. However, this may cause house prices to react (either negatively or positively) depending on the corporation moving in. The fall back point here is that if you would like the new corporation in your backyard, your renters probably will too.
Check the potential neighborhood for current or projected parks, malls, gyms, movie theaters, public transport hubs and all the other perks that attract renters. Cities, and sometimes even particular areas of a city, have loads of promotional literature that will give you an idea of where the best blend of public amenities and private property can be found.
The municipal planning department will have information on all the new development that is coming or has been zoned into the area. If there are many new condos, business parks or malls going up in your area, it is probably a good growth area. However, watch out for new developments that could hurt the price surrounding properties by, for example, causing the loss of an activity-friendly green space. The additional condos and/or new housing could also provide competition for your renters, so be aware of that possibility.
If there is an unusually high amount of listings for one particular neighborhood, this can either signal a seasonal cycle or a neighborhood that has "gone bad." Make sure you figure out which it is before you buy in. You should also determine whether you can cover for any seasonal fluctuations in vacancies.
Similar to listings, the vacancy rates will give you an idea of how successful you will be at attracting tenants. High vacancy rates force landlords to lower rents in order to snap up tenants - low vacancy rates allow landlords to raise rental rates.
Rent will be the bread and butter for your rental property, so you need to know what the average rent in the area is. If charging the average rent is not going to be enough to cover your mortgage payment, taxes and other expenses, then you have to keep looking. Be sure to research the area well enough to gauge where the area will be headed in the next five years. If you can afford the area now, but major improvements are in store and property taxes are expected to increase, then what could be affordable now may mean bankruptcy later.
Insurance is another expense that you will have to subtract from your returns, so it is good to know just how much you will need to carry. If an area is prone to earthquakes or flooding, the extra insurance can add up and eat away at your rental income.