Thinking about purchasing an investment property? Real estate has produced many of the world’s wealthiest people, so there are plenty of reasons to think that it is a sound investment. Experts agree, however, that as with any investment, it’s better to be well-versed before diving in with hundreds of thousands of dollars. Here are the things you should consider and investigate.
- Purchasing an investment property to earn rental income can be risky.
- Buyers will usually need to secure at least a 20% downpayment.
- Being a landlord requires a broad array of skills, which could be as diverse as understanding basic tenant law to being able to fix a leaky faucet.
- Experts recommend having a financial cushion, in case you don’t rent out the property, or if the rental income doesn’t cover the mortgage.
1. Are You Cut out to Be a Landlord?
Do you know your way around a toolbox? How are you at repairing drywall or unclogging a toilet? Sure, you could call somebody to do it for you or you could hire a property manager, but that will eat into your profits. Property owners who have one or two homes often do their own repairs to save money.
Of course, that changes as you add more properties to your portfolio. Lawrence Pereira, president of King Harbor Wealth Management in Redondo Beach, Calif., lives on the West Coast but owns properties on the East Coast. As someone who says he’s not at all handy, he makes it work. How? “I put together a solid team of cleaners, handymen, and contractors,” says Pereira.1This isn’t advisable for new investors, but as you get the hang of real estate investing you don’t need to remain local.
2. Pay Down Personal Debt
Savvy investors might carry debt as part of their portfolio investment strategy, but the average person should avoid it. If you have student loans, unpaid medical bills, or children who will attend college soon, then purchasing a rental property may not be the right move.
Pereira agrees that being cautious is key, saying, “It’s not necessary to pay down debt if your return from your real estate is greater than the cost of debt. That is the calculation you need to make.” Pereira suggests having a cash cushion. “Don’t put yourself in a position where you lack the cash to make payments on your debt. Always have a margin of safety.”
Investment properties generally require a larger downpayment than do owner-occupied properties; they have more stringent approval requirements. The 3% you may have put down on the home where you currently live isn’t going to work for an investment property. You will need at least a 20% downpayment, given that mortgage insurance isn’t available on rental properties. You may be able to obtain the downpayment through bank financing, such as a personal loan.
4. Find the Right Location
The last thing you want is to be stuck with a rental property in an area that is declining rather than stable or picking up steam. A city or locale where the population is growing and a revitalization plan is underway represents a potential investment opportunity.
When choosing a profitable rental property, look for a location with low property taxes, a decent school district, and plenty of amenities, such as parks, malls, restaurants, and movie theaters. In addition, a neighborhood with low crime rates, access to public transportation, and a growing job market may mean a larger pool of potential renters.
5. Should You Buy or Finance?
Is it better to buy with cash or to finance your investment property? That depends on your investing goals. Paying cash can help generate positive monthly cash flow. Take a rental property that costs $100,000 to buy. With rental income, taxes, depreciation, and income tax, the cash buyer could see $9,500 in annual earnings, or a 9.5% annual return on the $100,000 investment..
On the other hand, financing can give you a greater return. For an investor who puts down 20% on a house, with compounding at 4% on the mortgage, after taking out operating expenses and additional interest, the earnings add up to roughly $5,580 per year. Cash flow is lower for the investor, but a 27.9% annual return on the $20,000 investment is much higher than the 9.5% earned by the cash buyer.
6. Beware of High Interest Rates
The cost of borrowing money might be relatively cheap in 2020, but the interest rate on an investment property is generally higher than a traditional mortgage interest rate. If you do decide to finance your purchase, you need a low mortgage payment that won’t eat into your monthly profits too much.
7. Calculate Your Margins
Wall Street firms that buy distressed properties aim for returns of 5% to 7% because, among other expenses, they need to pay staff. Individuals should set a goal of a 10% return. Estimate maintenance costs at 1% of the property value annually. Other costs include homeowners’ insurance, possible homeowners’ association fees, property taxes, monthly expenses such as pest control, and landscaping, along with regular maintenance expenses for repairs.
8. Invest in Landlord Insurance
Protect your new investment: In addition to homeowners insurance, consider purchasing landlord insurance. This type of insurance generally covers property damage, lost rental income, and liability protection —in case a tenant or a visitor suffers injury as a result of property maintenance issues.
9. Factor in Unexpected Costs
It’s not just maintenance and upkeep costs that will eat into your rental income. There’s always the potential for an emergency to crop up—roof damage from a hurricane, for instance, or burst pipes that destroy a kitchen floor. Plan to set aside 20% to 30% of your rental income for these types of costs so you have a fund to pay for timely repairs.
10. Avoid a Fixer-Upper
It’s tempting to look for the house that you can get at a bargain and flip into a rental property. However, if this is your first property, that’s probably a bad idea. Unless you have a contractor who does quality work on the cheap—or you’re skilled at large-scale home improvements—you likely would pay too much to renovate. Instead, look for a home that is priced below the market and needs only minor repairs.