Monthly Archives: August 2017

Getting Started in Residential Real Estate

Residential real estate investing is a business activity that has waxed and waned in popularity dramatically over the last few years. Ironically, there always seem to be a lot of people jumping on board with investments like stock, gold, and real estate when the market’s going up, and jumping OFF the wagon and pursuing other activities once the market’s slumping. In a way that’s human nature, but it also means a lot of real estate investors are leaving money on the table.

“Option real estate investing”

By understanding the dynamics of your residential real estate investment marketplace, and acting in opposition to the rest of the market, you can often make more money, as long as you also stick to the real estate investing fundamentals.

Real estate investing, whether you’re buying residential or commercial property, is not a get-rich-quick scenario. Sure you can make some fast cash flipping houses, if that’s your bag, but that is a full time business activity, not a passive, long term investment. The word “investment” implies that you are committed to the activity for the long haul. Often, that’s just what it takes to make money in real estate.

So, while the pundits are crying about the residential real estate market slump, and the speculators are wondering if this is the bottom, let us return to the fundamentals of residential real estate investing, and learn how to make money investing in real estate for the long term, in good markets, as well as bad.

A Return To The Fundamentals of Residential Real Estate Investing

When real estate is going up, up, up, investing in real estate can seem easy. All ships rise with a rising tide, and even if you’ve bought a deal with no equity and no cash flow, you can still make money if you’re in the right place at the right time.

However, it’s hard to time the market without a lot of research and market knowledge. A better strategy is to make sure you understand the four profit centers for residential real estate investing, and make sure your next residential real estate investment deal takes ALL of these into account.

  1. Cash Flow – How much money does the residential income property bring in every month, after expenses are paid? This seems like it should be easy to calculate if you know how much the rental income is and how much the mortgage payment is. However, once you factor in everything else that goes into taking care of a rental property – things like vacancy, expenses, repairs and maintenance, advertising, bookkeeping, legal fees and the like, it begins to really add up. I like to use a factor of about 40{7e85073c76c3d79b39e14375ac08e2b172f3657265e07e75076dfac08ff09335} of the NOI to estimate my property expenses. I use 50{7e85073c76c3d79b39e14375ac08e2b172f3657265e07e75076dfac08ff09335} of the NOI as my ballpark goal for debt service. That leaves 10{7e85073c76c3d79b39e14375ac08e2b172f3657265e07e75076dfac08ff09335} of the NOI as profit to me. If the deal doesn’t meet those parameters, I am wary.
  2. Appreciation – Having the property go up in value while you own it has historically been the most profitable part about owning real estate. However, as we’ve seen recently, real estate can also go DOWN in value, too. Leverage (your bank loan in this case) is a double-edged sword. It can increase your rate of return if you buy in an appreciating area, but it can also increase your rate of loss when your property goes down in value. For a realistic, low-risk property investment, plan to hold your residential real estate investment property for at least 5 years. This should give you the ability to weather the ups and downs in the market so you can see at a time when it makes sense, from a profit standpoint.
  3. Debt Pay down – Each month when you make that mortgage payment to the bank, a tiny portion of it is going to reduce the balance of your loan. Because of the way mortgages are structured, a normally amortizing loan has a very small amount of debt pay down at the beginning, but if you do manage to keep the loan in place for a number of years, you’ll see that as you get closer to the end of the loan term, more and more of your principle is being used to retire the debt. Of course, all this assumes that you have an amortizing loan in the first place. If you have an interest-only loan, your payments will be lower, but you won’t benefit from any loan pay down. I find that if you are planning to hold the property for 5-7 years or less, it makes sense to look at an interest-only loan, since the debt pay down you’d accrue during this time is minimal, and it can help your cash flow to have an interest-only loan, as long as interest rate adjustments upward don’t increase your payments sooner than you were expecting and ruin your cash flow. If you plan to hold onto the property long term, and/or you have a great interest rate, it makes sense to get an accruing loan that will eventually reduce the balance of your investment loan and make it go away. Make sure you run the numbers on your real estate investing strategy to see if it makes sense for you to get a fixed rate loan or an interest only loan. In some cases, it may make sense to refinance your property to increase your cash flow or your rate of return, rather than selling it.
  4. Tax Write-Offs – For the right person, tax write-offs can be a big benefit of real estate investing. But they’re not the panacea that they’re sometimes made out to be. Individuals who are hit with the AMT (Alternative Minimum Tax), who have a lot of properties but are not real estate professionals, or who are not actively involved in their real estate investments may find that they are cut off from some of the sweetest tax breaks provided by the IRS. Even worse, investors who focus on short-term real estate deals like flips, rehabs, etc. have their income treated like EARNED INCOME. The short term capital gains tax rate that they pay is just the same (high) they’d pay if they earned the income in a W-2 job. After a lot of investors got burned in the 1980’s by the Tax Reform Act, a lot of people decided it was a bad idea to invest in real estate just for the tax breaks. If you qualify, they can be a great profit center, but in general, you should consider them the frosting on the cake, not the cake itself.

Any residential real estate investing deal that stands up under the scrutiny of this fundamentals-oriented lens, should keep your real estate portfolio and your pocketbook healthy, whether the residential real estate investing market goes up, down or sideways. However, if you can use the real estate market trends to give you a boost, that’s fair, too. The key is not to rely on any one “strategy” to try to give you outsized gains. Be realistic with your expectations and stick to the fundamentals. Buy property you can afford and plan to stay invested for the long haul.

Real Estate Investing For Beginners

As a new real estate investor, when you begin researching information on real estate investing for beginners, you’ll find that there are a lot of gurus and mentors out there looking to sell you high priced information. You’ll also find plenty of chatter-boxes at local real estate investing forums and other watering holes that will share (brag?) all day long about their investing trials and tribulations, especially if they have tenants or rehabs. (Those types of projects tend to be fraught with problems, something that can scare beginner real estate investors off – when maybe it should be attracting them!) You can also find some excellent offline resources at the library, bookstore and your local investor club. Maybe you’ll even find someone who’s out in the trenches on a regular basis and is willing to take you out on the streets to show you some of his properties.

What you won’t find as often, especially for free, is a coherent, executable business plan detailing what it takes to get going with real estate investing as a beginner.

What you really need is a handbook entitled: Real Estate Investing For Beginners that lays everything out for you A to Z, with what to do at every step along the way.

Unfortunately, putting together a super and useful reference like that is time consuming and you have to consider that a) If someone is already making money investing in real estate, her time is valuable, and b) if she’s going to invest her valuable time in putting together a real estate investing guide for beginners, she’s got to have an angle.

That’s an excellent thing to keep in mind – everyone in the real estate investing education industry seems to have an angle. They are directly incentivized to make you feel that real estate investing is easy, you can do it, and if you just part with some money, they will give you the handbook with all the answers.

BEWARE: If you can’t figure out how they’re getting paid, you’re missing something… Everyone wants to get paid in this business.

Well, I hate to tell you… I don’t have that comprehensive handbook for you either.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that I can give you some very important words of wisdom that helped me when I was getting started in real estate investing as a beginner. (And I started right out of college without a good job or anything, so don’t think it can’t be done.)

Real Estate Investing Observations – What Every Real Estate Investing Beginner Needs To Know:

1) You will have to trade time or money to get what you want in real estate. You can’t get something for nothing, so even if you buy an expensive course to get someone else’s experience and shave years off your learning curve, you’ll still HAVE a learning curve. Plus, you’ll need to find leads, and that type of marketing takes (you guessed it) time and/or money.

2) Leverage cuts both ways. When the market is going up, leverage can be a great ally in helping you acquire more property with less of your own money. However, when the market is soft or declining, as also happens with real estate market cycles, having a lot of leverage can put you “upside down” on your equity and cash flow – a very risky situation. Protect yourself by “making your money when you buy” and passing up those “skinny” deals.

3) It’s all about NEGOTIATING with the motivated sellers. A lot of courses make you believe that if you find the motivated sellers, you can just pluck up the deals like daisies in the orchard. That’s almost true. Whether you’re working in commercial or residential real estate, you’ll get much better deals when you negotiate with a motivated seller. However, the key is that you must NEGOTIATE. You have to make offers that will work for you and engage the sellers in conversation. Very rarely will the buildings be lying these listed for 50 cents on the dollar (if they are, they’ll be snapped up by other investors). You have to find sellers that you think may be motivated and offer them your low cash offer or terms offer in order to see if they’re willing to work with you. Engage them in the conversation by making lots of offers, and NEGOTIATING with the ones that are motivated.

4) Figure out your rate of return. Sometimes, when you don’t have a deal, it’s easy to think “any” deal would be good. However, sometimes the best deals are the ones you PASS on – you “make” your money by saving yourself from some expensive mistakes. Don’t waste time on property that doesn’t make sense when you run the numbers. Don’t get emotionally attached just because someone says they’re motivated or willing to work out terms with you. Run the numbers. Always focus on the numbers.

5) You get paid for solving problems. This is a business with a lot of problems. Sellers can get very emotional, or have a lot of financial trouble, at the time that you’ll be working with them. That’s stressful for anyone, especially when the transfer of a large asset like a house, apartment building or office/retail center is involved. Realize that you may go through some challenging emotions of your own. That’s natural. If you can hold it together and survive the up-and-down roller coaster, you should do okay.

No one says real estate is easy unless they have a course to sell you. It can offer some great returns, but there’s a reason not everyone goes after them. Not every property is a winner and finding and acquiring the winners can be a challenge. However, if you are committed to making your real estate investments work for you, then focus on getting yourself educated and staying in for the long run.

Easy Action Steps to a Successful Start in Real Estate

If you happen to watch cable or satellite television on the weekends, you can find between 20 and 30 channels early in the day with get rich quick infomercials hawking everything from books, tapes, seminars and even personal coaching services. Most are centered around real estate and I am not sure they are worth the time it would take you to order them by phone. I have spent thousands of dollars on real estate home study courses through the years and will continue into the future. I am always looking to further my education and understanding of what is really working in the investment real estate world.

Because of the time, energy and dollars that I have spent in the past, I have a pretty good idea of what a real estate investor wants to avoid as well as the best steps to take for a successful start. Education definitely plays a role in the success of a real estate investor as well as business savvy, attitude and at times, luck!

Here are a few detailed steps that an investor can take to improve the chances for success.

– Learn the basics of real estate in general.

As with any investment strategy or business, real estate comes with its’ very own lingo. There are terms and phrases that many of us have heard in the past, yet may not know the exact meaning. It is very important from the get go to do the research and learn the basics such as the meaning of the terms and phrases that are used in the real estate industry every day. You can start by using a search engine and searching the phrase “real estate definitions”.

– Begin home study education.

There are great benefits to home study and I do not mean the courses we eluded to on weekend cable T.V. At your local library, in the real estate investing section, there will be multiple titles recently written by authors with experience in their topic. Check out as many titles as you can read in a week and o to work reading. Write down sentences and topics that come up in the books that interest you and that fit into your reasoning for starting to invest in real estate. This will be the start of your plan for getting started.

– Develop a game plan.

By this point, you have an idea of the general terms and phrases for the property investing world and have begun to grow your interest and understanding of the specific strategies for real estate investing. It is time to formally develop your plan and start taking action. Each of the real estate investing books that you will be reading give specific advice about team building. It is a crucial step for your success and the best books offer advice about who to put on your team, where to find them and how important they are to your over-all success. Before you can start investing, you must have a plan for where you are going and how you are going to get there.

– Join local organizations for investors.

In every city, county and state there are multiple organizations whose missions are to assist real estate investors. Each of these organizations holds monthly meetings and some of the best even hold weekly meetings, where investors can network and learn. These meetings are crucial to a beginner investor because they offer the opportunity to build your team with experienced members. They also are fantastic groups to attend for tips, tricks and education. Join a group close to you and make your attendance mandatory. Attend as many meetings as possible each month. Often times, the simple step of surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals who are positive and re-enforce your determination to succeed, can have the biggest benefit on your future success.

– Find partners & Do not fall for get rich quick!

One mistake that is easy to make in the beginning is to set off on the path of “go it alone”. Another is to believe that just around the corner is a pot of gold if I can just find a deal like those guys on T.V.! One thing that is seldom talked about is the fact that most real estate investors have used partnerships in the past if they are not using them now. Partnerships are a great way to spread the risk of investing while learning the ropes. Those risks include using less of your available capital, credit and time. Partnerships can also be structured to be a simple 50/50 partnership splitting all costs and profits or a slightly more complicated partnership with one partner providing money and the other providing the deals, follow through and managing the investments. Either way, going it alone can be a lonely, long and expensive way to get started investing.

– Do not quit your day job!

This is a biggie and is a MAJOR mistake made by some first time real estate investors. Investing in real estate requires a total commitment – a “burning of the boats” mentality. There is no turning back when you decide to go all in. And in that statement lies the problem with leaving your day job first. Take time to develop your team, to build cash reserves, to learn the ropes. Take time to make small mistakes before you leave your full time employment and make a big mistake! Investing in real estate is a big picture endeavor and as an investor you have to be able to clearly see your future and plan accordingly.

These last two tips really go to the heart of why some investors not only fail, but fail miserably. Many times you can overcome the mistakes with the first few tips here by perseverance and a little luck. If you make one of the following two mistakes, they can quickly break a new investor and sour the experience for a good long time. Then again, if you follow all the previous tips, chances are you will have the team around you to guide you right past these last two tips and onto smooth investing.

– Once started, DO NOT under estimate repairs.

When you are estimating the repairs to a property for investment, unless you have an experienced contractor and trusted advisor on your team, you can miss the mark wildly. Even the best home study courses are not able to provide you with an accurate ability to estimate costs. It takes experience and time before you can accurately guesstimate repair costs. Missing the mark on estimated repairs can quickly break a bank account and take a property from profitable to money pit quickly!

– Do not purchase investment property for equity or appreciation

There is no bigger mistake an real estate investor can make today than to purchase property for its equity holding or future appreciation. Long-term investing today is centered around the ability of a property to perform with a positive monthly cash flow. In my home city for investing, Memphis, real estate investors purchase properties at extreme discounts, but over look those discounts if the property does not provide a high enough monthly cash flow. Equity and expectations of future home values are not good reasons to purchase investment property.