A Realtor’s take on Real Estate Investing

I am a Realtor by profession. Most of my business is in helping people buy and sell a primary residence. I work with a few investors and a few companies with their commercial office spaces. When I talk about “investing” or personal finance, a lot of friends and associates immediately think I’m pushing product and referring to real estate investment. Although I do have investment property, I rarely talk about real estate investing. Some of my Realtor colleagues think investing in real estate is the BEST and ONLY way to go. I disagree. Here’s why…

Stock investing basics

Investing in the the stock market is for everyone. It’s EASY, less work, more reliable, more liquid, and requires less discipline and skill than investing in real estate. I’m confident that I can buy index funds and get at least an 8% return over any 20 year period. Here’s how I plan on doing it: buy VTSAX and VFWAX, hold onto it, reinvest dividends and interest, and repeat. Sounds pretty simple huh? It is! I can set up automated monthly contributions in about 2 mins and literally not have to tinker with it for years. Yes, the value of stocks will drop at times, but the market will always go back up.

Real estate investing basics

I am ALSO invested in real estate with rental properties. Returns can be huge! Another attractive benefit of rental income is that it’ll likely keep coming in, even when the stock market is losing value. It’s a great way to diversify your investments and income sources. The investment gets a little more complicated than stocks though. With rental properties you have to go through the whole home buying process (search, negotiation, inspection, mortgage process, etc), put a 20-25% down payment on it, market the property, interview/select renters, form a new business entity, draft a rental agreement/contract, manage your renters, perform routine maintenance on the property, fix things that break, deal with bad renters, find new ones when their lease ends, make mortgage payments, find a way to reinvest your profits, and repeat with each new property. Sounds a little more complicated than stocks huh? IT IS! So with the added work, stress, and risk, you MUST have potential for greater returns.

For me, I won’t even consider a rental property if I don’t think I will have a 10% annualized return on capital in the first year. If the following formula is true, I will consider the investment:

Net Income ÷ Initial Investment ≥ 10%

Here’s how I define net income and initial investment:

Net Income =  Expected rents – mortgage payment – property taxes – insurance – HOA payments – expected repair and maintenance costs – owner paid utilities

Initial Investment = down payment + mortgage closing costs + inspection costs + real estate fees + renovation costs (if applicable) + licensing or business setup fees

I have a rental property getting $1350/month in rent. I’ll assume it remains occupied 95% of the time (11½ months/ year). My mortgage, including HOA, taxes and insurance is $900/month. I’m not paying any utilities (the half month I’ll pay each year is about $50). Most months I don’t have any repairs, but I’ll estimate $40/month since I’ll pay for HVAC tune-ups each year and something else always comes up. So Net Income = (1350*12*.95) – (900*12) – 50 – (12*40) = $4,060.

Before this property had renters I put $30,000 as a down payment, I got the seller to pay all my closing costs, I paid $200 in real estate fees to my brokerage, I setup a new business entity for about $100, and I paid $400 in cleaning and repairs. So Initial Investment = $30,700.

So I estimate my annualized return on capital to be 4060 ÷ 30700 or 13.2%. 13.2% is a great return! This number will likely go up in future years as rental rates go up; however, repair costs, property taxes, and HOA costs will probably rise over time too. Imagine I have to replace an AC unit. There goes $4k and basically my entire year’s profits. Unfortunately, these deals are hard to find, especially with how hot the real estate market is right now. And as you can see, it’s a whole lot more work and risk than stocks.

Other Things to Consider

New HVAC systems, flooring, appliances, roofs, structural problems, or windows can easily take profits from 10% to 0% (or worse). You gotta be prepared for if/when those happen.

Your interest rate will be about .50 – .75% higher on an investment property than on a primary residence.

Your renters will be paying down your mortgage for you as well, but be careful in counting this towards profits/income. On a $200k mortgage, you’ll pay it down about $10k in 3 years of payments. Remember that you only realize those earnings that when you sell or refinance. Both of those are expensive.

Current tax code is very friendly to real estate owners. You can depreciate your property for a tax deduction. Just be aware you’ll eventually have to pay a big bill if you decide to cash out.

Even if you are turning a profit, owning a rental property can limit your ability to buy additional property.

Real estate investment is not for everyone. You gotta know what you are doing, understand your risks, know and stick to your numbers, and realize that if you buy something it can be expensive to get out of it. Feel free to ask me questions if you want my opinion on potential real estate investments.

3 thoughts on “A Realtor’s take on Real Estate Investing

  1. Thanks for the practical aspects of real estate investment. For someone from the outside looking in its easy to discount the risks and focus on the rewards, something that’s only ok if you’re under 25. I would say that stocks are not particularly easy but you can outsource all the management to a management company via a mutual fund which is what you mentioned doing which let’s you simply and easily invest in hundreds of great companies at low cost since those investment costs can be spread out over many people. You can do the same with real estate by buying REITs and REOCs. But at the end of the day let’s be honest, just like opening your own restaurant or starting your own consulting company, owning your own real estate investments exposes you to the swings of fortune and sometimes those pay big.

    • Thanks for your comment. I like your analogy to starting your own restaurant. It pointed out something that I didn’t mention in the post (I try to keep them short). Like a restaurant, real estate requires an initial lump sum investment, it can pay you regularly, it can occasionally pay big, but it can also require you to keep putting money in to keep it alive. In a real bad scenario, it can bleed you dry. With stocks, there is no maintenance cost really, and your risk is limited to the original amount invested (unless you’re shorting stocks).

      Thanks for pointing out REITs. Most of my peers haven’t really brought them up, but can be a good way to diversify. I think of publicly traded REITs in much the same way as mutual funds/ETFs, in that it is a hands off, conservative, buy and hold type investment. I don’t recommend privately held REITs, unless you REALLY know what you are doing and have good reason to trust the decision makers. I know of too many family and friends that have been hit up to invest in their neighbor’s brother-in-law’s REIT, that has no track record or accountability. In those scenarios they are gambling on someone’s dream as opposed to making a calculated investment or one where they can at least account for their own money.

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