A Guide To Buying And Managing Rental Property

A guide to buying and managing rental property

If you're looking for a guide to buying and managing rental property, this post is for you. I've been buying and managing rental properties since 2005. Today, rental properties account for over $100,000 a year in semi-passive income to help take care of my family.

Now that interest rates have tanked, mostly thanks to the global pandemic, the value of cash flow has gone way up. The reason why is because it now takes a lot more capital to generate the same amount of risk-adjusted cashflow.

Given rental properties general cash flow, I believe the value of rental properties have also gone way up as well. However, the market is not fully realizing the value yet. Which is why I'm a buyer of rental properties in 2021 and beyond.

Rental Properties As An Investment

Real estate is all about asymmetric risk and reward. When the government gives you subsidies in the form of mortgage interest tax deductions, a $250K/$500K tax-free profit, and bailouts for overextended homeowners over and over again, you’d be silly not to invest in real estate. When you can invest lots of other people’s money and not have to split the proceeds if you make a killing, that’s a wonderful thing!

There’s a reason why every rich person you know owns multiple properties. There’s a reason why enormous fortunes have been made through real estate as well. How can President Donald Trump still be a billionaire after declaring bankruptcy?

Asymmetric risk and reward.

It’s no wonder property owners were once called lords, or now more colloquially, landlords. The wealthy own assets, while the not-so-wealthy lease assets.

After 30 years of paying $2,000 a month in rent, your return on $720,000 is negative 100%. At least through a mortgage you’ve got an asset which you can live in rent free or pass on to your children once paid off. You might not make money as the downturn has certainly shown, but at least you have a chance.

When it comes to making money, if there is no risk, there is very little reward. The biggest reason for the widening wealth gap is due to the ownership and lack of ownership in real estate. The best real estate investment I have made was simply buying my own place to live at age 26. Today, the property is worth about $1.3 million and is fully paid off.

Here are some key points for better real estate investing.

Guide To Buying And Managing Rental Property

1) Choose the best location in a strong job market. 

For long-term equity growth, a residential rental property in a good location is key.

Look for proximity to major roads, public transportation, and most importantly, schools. Research rents in the area you want to pursue, both in as-is condition and with repairs or improvements.

You also want to get inside the minds of your audience: If you are in a college town, for example, it's important to know how students think, the maximum distance they're willing to be from campus and the locations they consider ideal, so you can buy a property that will be in high demand.

Above all else, make sure the property is located in an area where the job market is robust and there is an influx of residences. Job and income growth are the key when deciding where to invest property across the country. Here are my top cities to buy real estate in 2020 and beyond.

2) Start small and slowly work your way up.

Start with an affordable initial investment like a single unit or a duplex versus a whole apartment building. That way if things go south and you are unable to afford to pay for mortgage or maintenance, you are not running the risk of going bankrupt.

Because you're just getting started, avoid properties needing significant repairs, since these could cause you to overextend yourself.

Consider using a property manager and ask friends for referrals for attorneys, contractors and other real estate professionals who can help you and will become valuable contacts over time, Coon says.

One of the best ways to build a real estate portfolio is to buy your primary residence first, live in it for 2-5 years, then buy another primary residence, and repeat. Over a period of 20 years, you'll be able to amass three or four properties with relative ease.

The great thing about this strategy is that you get to find enjoyment in your properties, write down the mortgage interest and property taxes, slowly make improvements to the home, and take your time finding a new home.

Related: Buy Real Estate For Lifestyle First, Income Second, Principal Appreciation Third

3) Do the math over and over again.

It's important to treat each rental property like its own business to serve as a good investment.

The most important consideration for prospective landlords is to accurately estimate rental income and the costs associated with leasing. Until a landlord has a precise grip on these issues, they risk owning a property that — rather than a profitable investment — is a net loss every month.

Betting on appreciation alone is not a good idea.

Rental purchases should have positive cash flow and good rate of return after putting down the mandatory 20% – 30%. The higher the yield, the higher the cash flow. Investment real estate is often valued by its capitalization (cap) rate, which is computed by taking the net operating income divided by the going cap rate in the neighborhood to come to an appropriate price.

Your monthly expenses will include the mortgage or debt service, taxes, insurance, lawn and pool maintenance, property management (optional) and insurance. At least 20 percent down payment will likely be required if financing the purchase.

Vacancy, turnover and eviction are realities of leasing any property. Therefore, wise landlords must assume at least a month's rent loss annually. Buying and managing rental property gets much easier if you've properly done the math.

Best Rental Property Markets 2023

Best markets to be a landlord
Markets with the highest cap rates (net rental yields)

Related: Why I'm Investing In The Heartland Of America

4) Improve the property just enough to attract high rents.

To keep your cash flow at optimal levels, don't spend too much on upgrades for a rental property that will likely need maintenance and repairs during turnovers anyway.

Imagine a box of minimum standards and never go outside that. This keeps your monthly rent at an appropriate ratio of about 1.2 to 1.4 times the monthly cost of the property, with plenty of cushion.

Because maintenance is also a given when owning rental property, a home warranty that costs $500 per year may be a good idea, depending how handy you are. Getting property insurance is a must.

Consider what type of maintenance is required based on the type of property you purchase. For a single-family home, the landlord is generally responsible for things like lawn mowing and snow removal, but if you buy a condo or townhouse, that maintenance is included in the condo fee, resulting in a more hands-off process.

Below are some of the worst rental property markets due to low cap rates. You should consider deploying the BURL method for real estate investing if you want to make more money in real estate.

Worst Rental Property Markets 2023

Worst markets to be a landlord by cap rates
Worst markets to earn a rental return

Related: The Best Rental Lease Form To Use

5) Screen tenants like the CIA.

Dealing with tenants can be stressful, but it doesn't have to be if you properly screen your applicants thoroughly. Ask for the credit report, credit score, bank statements, resume, LinkedIn profile, references, proof of employment, and income statement. Definitely call the previous landlord and the one before that to ask if there are any issues.

If you're likely to waver with applicants who are not qualified, or with late rent payments and other lease violations, you may need to hire an agent [property manager] to protect your investment.

Tenant income should be at least three times the rent and verified by having their employer sign a form. One bad dead who doesn't pay for a month can ruin your rental returns.

Once you start accumulating a lot of rental properties, it's good to have a separate bank account for your rental properties. This way, there's no co-mingling of funds and the rental properties are easier to manage.

When To Sell Investment Property

Owning rental property is like a war of attrition. The longer you can hold on, the wealthier you will likely be. But you might not necessarily be happier since it takes time to maintain and manage. Since real estate is also cyclical, there are times when it might be better to sell than to buy.

The best time to sell your investment rental property is when the returns are no longer worth it. You can compare the returns to the risk-free rate of return, Treasury bond yields. You can also compare the returns to the time you're spending managing the properties.

I've thoroughly gone through a list of 13 items to consider if you've been thinking about selling investment property in this latest article: When To Sell Investment Property.

Whenever you're itching to sell your property start thinking about your children and grandchildren. In 20 – 50 years they will be amazed at how wise you were for building your real estate empire today.

You will get better at buying and managing rental property over time. Stick with real estate for the long term and get wealthy!

Related: Red Flags To Look Out For Buying A Rental Property

Real Estate Recommendation

Buying and managing physical rental property takes work. If you don't have the downpayment to buy a property, don't want to deal with the hassle of managing real estate, or don't want to tie up your liquidity in physical real estate, take a look at Fundrise, one of the largest real estate crowdsourcing companies today.

You can invest in residential and industrial properties with as little as $10 with Fundrise. Fundrise offers private real estate funds that predominantly invest in residential and industrial properties in the Sunbelt region. The Sunbelt region has lower valuations and higher rental yields.

Real estate is a key component of a diversified portfolio. Real estate crowdsourcing allows you to be more flexible in your real estate investments by investing beyond just where you live for the best returns possible.

Sign up and take a look at all the residential and commercial investment opportunities around the country Fundrise has to offer. It's free to look.


About the Author:

Sam owns rental properties in San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, and Honolulu. He spent 13 years after college working at two of the leading financial service firms in the world. During this time, Sam received his MBA from UC Berkeley with a focus on finance and real estate. 

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