Real estate has long been considered a viable and reliable area for investment. Unlike the stock market, which can fluctuate based on the whims of the market, real estate is relatively cyclical in terms of time and is extremely local in nature. This means that a slow market in Los Angeles, California does not necessarily mean a slow market in Miami, Florida. In addition to this, the asset in a stock market is just a number on a computer screen – it’s not tangible, or something you can touch and feel. Let’s compare this to real estate, where you can actually see (and live in!) the asset you buy. You can add paint to improve it cosmetically, do more extended maintenance to improve it structurally, and generally control what you do with the asset.
Passive real estate investing through the “buy-and-hold” strategy entails buying a property for the long haul. This is opposed to wholesalers and flippers, who buy properties in the hopes of making a quick return. Buy-and-hold investors purchase a property, typically using bank financing, and rent it out for long-term passive income. The term “passive” means that you are not actively working for the money you earn. After the initial investment into a turnkey residential property or an income-producing commercial property, investors typically hand the property over to a property manager who takes care of the tasks related to hosting a tenant. These investors then receive a check from the property manager each month with a portion of the earnings.
The buy-and-hold strategy is ideal for retirees who don’t want to actively manage an investment and just want to receive a steady flow of money throughout their retirement. It’s also quite ideal for young investors who have a longer investment horizon, or time consideration, for their investments. They can purchase income-producing properties whenever they are financially viable, even at the start of their careers! Now they can collect a paycheck from their employer and a check from their rental property. Most employed adults have a 401-k plan through their employers, and typically have a pension plan as well. Real estate investing is a steady and relatively safe way to build a retirement portfolio and diversify your investments even further.
One important concept related to passive real estate investing using the buy-and-hold strategy is the benefit of using bank financing instead of buying a property with cash. It’s true that you can often negotiate a much lower purchase price when you have cash to pay with – it’s enough of an incentive for the seller to forego the pains of dealing with a buyer who must get approved for a mortgage and ultimately fund the loan at the closing table. The seller gets cash in their bank account, and the buyer walks away with a new property – everybody wins, right? Not exactly, and that’s due to a concept called return on investment, or ROI.
Return on investment is a metric that many investors use to determine how successful their investments are. It’s expressed as a percentage and is calculated with a simple math problem: (total money earned) divided by (total money spent). It is typically calculated on an annual basis, so the ROI for your first year owning the property will be calculated as follows: (total rent money earned in year one) divided by (total amount of money spent purchasing the property, including the purchase price, closing costs, and any money spent on initial repairs and improvements). This calculation gives the investor a general idea of how much “bang for the buck” the property has.
When an investor buys an investment property using all cash, the portion of the equation related to the total amount of money spent is extremely high. This, in turn, drives the ROI metric down and essentially tells the investor that he or she is getting a low return on the property for year one. On the other hand, when an investor buys a property with bank financing, the bank typically requires a 20-25% down payment. Though this may sound high, it’s a lot less money than paying 100% in cash. This lower initial investment will drive the ROI up when compared to a cash transaction. Keep in mind that ROI should increase as the years go on, because the total money spent is generally the highest at the time when the property is initially purchased. ROI is just one of many metrics that investors use to gauge their success, but it can be a quick and helpful signal.
Once you’ve decided whether to purchase using cash or financing, it’s important to have a general sense of what your profit will be. A licensed real estate agent will be able to help you get the relevant figures for the properties you are interested in. Profit is essentially the money you earn after all expenses are paid, and for a residential rental property it’s calculated as follows: (total rental income) minus (total property expenses). Pretty simple, right? Let’s expand a bit on what property expenses consist of. These include your monthly mortgage payment if you’re using bank financing and monthly HOA dues if the property resides in an area with a homeowner’s association. It’s also important to include escrows in your calculation of property expenses. Escrows are funds put away for later, and these include property tax payments, property insurance payments, and a reserve for maintenance and repairs. You should determine what profit threshold you are comfortable with so that you can easily spot the properties that fall within your requirements.
Here’s a simplified example of how to calculate your profit. Let’s say you found a single-family home with 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. You’re putting down a total of $50,000 plus $5,000 closing costs. The homeowner’s association charges $150 per month. The yearly taxes on the property for the prior year were $3,000, and property insurance runs about $1,500 per year. The property needs a little bit of work, so you figure you’ll need $500 for paint and electrical panel replacements. After speaking with your mortgage broker, you find out your monthly mortgage payment will be $800 per month. Then, after speaking with your real estate agent, you find out that the average rent in the neighborhood is $1,600 per month for a 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom house. What’s your profit? How about ROI?
Profit = Total Rental Income – Total Property Expenses
Total Rental Income = $1,600 per month
Total Property Expenses = $800 monthly mortgage payment + $150 monthly HOA payment + $250 monthly tax escrow + $125 monthly property insurance escrow
Profit = ($1,600) – ($800 + $150 + $250 + $125) = $275 per month
Return on Investment = Total Money Earned / Total Money Spent
Total Money Earned = $275 monthly profit * 12 months
Total Money Spent = $50,000 down payment + $5,000 closing costs + $500 initial repairs
ROI = ($3,300) / ($55,500) = 5.9% annual ROI
Once you have these figures, you can make a more informed decision on whether the rental property in question is right for you. If you’re ready to get started with passive real estate investing through the buy-and-hold strategy, consult with your licensed real estate agent and mortgage broker.
Charles Carillo is the founder and managing partner of Harborside Partners. He has invested in over $25 million worth of real estate, in several states, and has extensive knowledge in renovating and repositioning multifamily and commercial real estate. Charles holds a BS from the Connecticut State University.