Real Estate Advisor: October 2012
Investing in Rental Property: Five Steps for Success
Have you ever considered purchasing a rental property? Rental properties can be great investments, done right. In addition to realizing gains from property value appreciation, rental income can provide a monthly cash flow. Once the mortgage is paid off, much of your rental income will be profit, allowing you to work or to enjoy retirement.
Unlike your home, this investment isn’t something that you will be personally using day-to-day, so the benefits of ownership differ. Rental property is a tangible asset you can visit, use, and personally impact the worth of your investment. With sound judgment, and by following some basic steps, you can own property and realize gains; both short and long term.
Purchase with a Plan
Investing in real estate differs depending on the type and location of the property you are buying. Will you want to use the property part of the year? Vacation rentals are enticing on many levels, though considering how you will use them during less desirable periods may affect your potential rental income. Purchasing a residence has different implications than a property that will be rented commercially. Some investors buy properties with multiple units so they can have rental income from one or more units while fixing up and/or living in remaining units. Properties with multiple units have more to consider and maintain than properties that will be rented by a single person or entity. Knowing the type of landlord you intend to be will provide some focus as you consider properties. It will also provide valuable knowledge for your realtor helping with your search.
Being pre-approved for an investment loan and ensuring that your own finances are in order is not only wise, but will make it clear if you have enough capital to proceed. When taking on another mortgage, remember – you will want to have a healthy reserve fund in the event that the property produces less income than expected. Before you look at properties, sit down with a mortgage broker or lender to see how you qualify for a loan.
Research the local rental market so you know what you can realistically expect to charge and better understand the potential cash-flow of potential rental property.
Understand Your Investment
It is important to understand the condition of the building and surrounding property you intend to buy. Unless you are particularly knowledgeable about construction, always make offers for purchase contingent upon professional inspections.
Knowing the exact condition of the roof and foundation, plumbing and electrical, floors, appliances and other aspects of the property provides a much better sense of what you will need to repair, maintain, or upgrade for your tenants. In turn, this allows you to better understand the “bottom line” of your investment. After all, you are not likely to be present on a day-to-day basis to take note of any issues that arise. As the owner you have a vested interest in ensuring that the investment stays in good condition. You should have a budget for repairs and maintenance, and ensure that the purchase price enables you to make any necessary upgrades you might need to make prior to renting it to a tenant.
Additionally, you will want to know about locale, including parking and security issues and the zoning regulations that govern the property, including any multiple occupancy limitations and any restrictions on specific business activities. Your understanding of specific property, how it might be used, and the limitations you face when renting it out make you a better investor.
Evaluate Your Options
As you look at properties, consider your options – you have many. From location and style of building to type of rental and the number of units, each decision you consider will open new doors. Is this a long or a short-term investment? If the property is one that you think you will hold for a while, do you have a sense of what the future holds and how the neighborhood is changing? Buying properties in good locations is one of the best ways to ensure the steady flow of rental income.
And remember: properties don’t always have to stay the same. Consider things you could conceivably do to the property that might affect your income or investment. For example, can you add on to the home easily? Can you build a garage or change parking? Is it possible to convert a garage to an extra room? Are there regulations regarding subdividing or renovating the home? Can you add a bathroom?
Some communities limit the number of rental properties, while others have height or size limitations when building. If something you desire is not an option, know that going in. Even if you are not planning to change the property in any way in the beginning, understanding what you can and cannot do is a good idea.
Get Insurance and Assurance
Legal documents, including rental agreements between you and your tenants, and service agreements between you and concerned parties are essential. And don’t forget more mundane issues that can arise when renting out a property: If a community has fees for water, sewer, community clubs or other amenities, clarify responsibilities -- will these be the responsibility of the owner or renter? Getting the right information out of the gate and spelling it out for your tenants will aid you in the end. These agreements will give you peace of mind and provide legal recourse should you need it.
A real estate lawyer is an invaluable asset when you purchase a rental property. Not only can a real estate lawyer look over your purchase and rental agreements, they can advise you in other aspects of your investment, including interpreting local regulations. Your realtor will undoubtedly be another great asset, as they are full of more general information regarding local issues and market trends and can likely provide referrals to local property management services should you be interested. The more resources you have on your side, the more assurance you will have that your investment will run smoothly.
Proper insurance includes insurance on the structure itself as well as liability insurance, in case someone is injured while on the premises. In some locations additional flood, earthquake, and storm related coverage is a further way to protect your investment. Since you are responsible for the mortgage, you will want to have the right types of insurance with sufficient coverage to protect your investment.
Remember: You’re In Business
Buying a rental property is essentially going into business. When the monthly income from tenants exceeds the amount you pay in mortgage, maintenance, taxes and other fees, you realize a positive cash flow in the short-term. Additionally, if all goes well, you will also realize a profit when selling the property. Doing your research as you look at properties and make your choices enables you to be as prepared as you can be for the ups and downs that you will face in managing your business. In fact, what you learn can make you much more successful in the end.
Like all businesses where significant money will be changing hands, an accountant who is versed in real estate investing and tax implications will be valuable. You will be collecting rents and incurring expenses for repairs and services. Tax issues become more complex, and a professional will aid you in maximizing your returns on your purchase. Service providers like this can pay for themselves in the money that they save you. Once you know the bottom line with regard to your investment, you will be better equipped to determine a budget for projects related to the property.
Whether this is your first rental property, or you are a seasoned veteran of this sort of investment, your realtor is among your business contacts. Having a straightforward relationship where you present your needs and expectations up front enables you to get the help you need in making that critical step of executing the purchase. Additionally, realtors often have a wealth of knowledge and resources that they are willing share from handymen to potential tenants.
Success in business is not accomplished alone – developing a team of professionals from purchase through ultimate sale of the property is one key to achieving your goals. Follow these steps as you go into your new venture and you will start strong. The rest is up to you!