Getting Started in Residential Real Estate Investing

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.

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.

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% of the NOI to estimate my property expenses. I use 50% of the NOI as my ballpark goal for debt service. That leaves 10% of the NOI as profit to me. If the deal doesn’t meet those parameters, I am wary.
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.
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.
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.

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3 Things You Must Do to Succeed at Real Estate Investing

Here are three simple guidelines that must be followed if you plan to succeed at real estate investing. It’s not everything, of course, but at the very least, you must be willing to commit to these things if you want to become a successful real estate investor.

Shall we get stared?

Acknowledge the Basics

Real estate investing involves acquisition, holding, and sale of rights in real property with the expectation of using cash inflows for potential future cash outflows and thereby generating a favorable rate of return on that investment.

More advantageous then stock investments (which usually require more investor equity) real estate investments offer the advantage to leverage a real estate property heavily. In other words, with an investment in real estate, you can use other people’s money to magnify your rate of return and control a much larger investment than would be possible otherwise. Moreover, with rental property, you can virtually use other people’s money to pay off your loan.

But aside from leverage, real estate investing provides other benefits to investors such as yields from annual after-tax cash flows, equity buildup through appreciation of the asset, and cash flow after tax upon sale. Plus, non-monetary returns such as pride of ownership, the security that you control ownership, and portfolio diversification.

Of course, capital is required, there are risks associated with investing in real estate, and real estate investment property can be management-intensive. Nonetheless, real estate investing is a source of wealth, and that should be enough motivation for us to want to get better at it.

Understand the Elements of Return

Real estate is not purchased, held, or sold on emotion. Real estate investing is not a love affair; it’s about a return on investment. As such, prudent real estate investors always consider these four basic elements of return to determine the potential benefits of purchasing, holding on to, or selling an income property investment.

1. Cash Flow – The amount of money that comes in from rents and other income less what goes out for operating expenses and debt service (loan payment) determines a property’s cash flow. Furthermore, real estate investing is all about the investment property’s cash flow. You’re purchasing a rental property’s income stream, so be sure that the numbers you rely on later to calculate cash flow are truthful and correct.

2. Appreciation – This is the growth in value of a property over time, or future selling price minus original purchase price. The fundamental truth to understand about appreciation, however, is that real estate investors buy the income stream of investment property. It stands to reason, therefore, that the more income you can sell, the more you can expect your property to be worth. In other words, make a determination about the likelihood of an increase in income and throw it into your decision-making.

3. Loan Amortization – This means a periodic reduction of the loan over time leading to increased equity. Because lenders evaluate rental property based on income stream, when buying multifamily property, present lenders with clear and concise cash flow reports. Properties with income and expenses represented accurately to the lender increase the chances the investor will obtain a favorable financing.

4. Tax Shelter – This signifies a legal way to use real estate investment property to reduce annual or ultimate income taxes. No one-size-fits-all, though, and the prudent real estate investor should check with a tax expert to be sure what the current tax laws are for the investor in any particular year.

Do Your Homework

1. Form the correct attitude. Dispel the thought that investing in rental properties is like buying a home and develop the attitude that real estate investing is business. Look beyond curb appeal, exciting amenities, and desirable floor plans unless they contribute to the income. Focus on the numbers. “Only women are beautiful,” an investor once told me. “What are the numbers?”

2. Develop a real estate investment goal with meaningful objectives. Have a plan with stated goals that best frames your investment strategy; it’s one of the most important elements of successful investing. What do you want to achieve? By when do you want to achieve it? How much cash are you willing to invest comfortably, and what rate of return are you hoping to generate?

3. Research your market. Understanding as much as possible about the conditions of the real estate market surrounding the rental property you want to purchase is a necessary and prudent approach to real estate investing. Learn about property values, rents, and occupancy rates in your local area. You can turn to a qualified real estate professional or speak with the county tax assessor.

4. Learn the terms and returns and how to compute them. Get familiar with the nuances of real estate investing and learn the terms, formulas, and calculations. There are sites online that provide free information.

5. Consider investing in real estate investment software. Having the ability to create your own rental property analysis gives you more control about how the cash flow numbers are presented and a better understanding about a property’s profitability. There are software providers online.

6. Create a relationship with a real estate professional that knows the local real estate market and understands rental property. It won’t advance your investment objectives to spend time with an agent unless that person knows about investment property and is adequately prepared to help you correctly procure it. Work with a real estate investment specialist.

There you have it. As concise an insight into real estate investing as I could provide without boring you to death. Just take them to heart with a dash of common sense and you’ll do just fine. Here’s to your investing success.

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Real Estate Investing – Books,TV Infomercials, and Seminars

Real estate investing has become popularized today because of real estate investing TV infomercials and traveling seminar circuits. But real estate investing has not always been so popular.

In the 1960s, William Nickerson wrote, “How I Turned $1000 into Three Million in Real Estate” and “How to Make a Fortune Today Starting from Scratch.” It was one of the first real estate investing books to get national attention. A little later, Al Lowry authored “How You Can Become Financially Independent by Investing in Real Estate.” Al Lowry might be called “the father of the modern-day real estate seminars,” because he was the first to hold seminars as a result of his book sales.

But it was Mark Haroldsen who carried the real estate investing book/seminar thrust to the next level. Haroldsen wrote, “How to Wake Up the Financial Genius Inside You.” If you were tuned in to real estate investing at that time, you remember the newspaper and magazine advertising showing a picture of suave and bald-headed Mark leaning against the front hood of his Mercedes. The picture appeared everywhere in full page ads of major publications. And as Mark began selling his books, he began holding real estate investing seminars. I have had lunch with Mark and Al Lowry as they swapped stories of the advertising blitzes that vaulted them into national prominence for their real estate investing prowess. Mark later wrote “The Courage To Be Rich” and “Tax Free.”

But it was Robert Allen who capitalized on the previous groundwork by Lowry and Haroldsen. Robert Allen was reportedly paid $1 million advance royalties for his best-selling book, “Nothing Down,” a compilation of 50 techniques for buying property with no money. Robert had learned these techniques from several years experience with a commercial real estate firm. He later wrote “Creating Wealth” and “Getting Started in Real Estate Investing.” The Robert Allen Real Estate Investing Seminars became a phenomenal marketing bonanza. Conventions were held in the major cities across the country, like Orlando, LA, Dallas, Chicago and Atlanta. The authors of various real estate investing techniques spoke at these seminars, but their spiel focused on selling packages of real estate investing materials that they offered for sale. Millions of dollars of real estate investing materials were sold at these 3 day conventions. The convention frenzy ushered in what has since become known as “The Nothing Down Real Estate Movement” of the early to mid-1980s.

I keep all of these books in my personal library, and you can probably still find them in your public library and book stores. There’s a lot of great information in these books that can make you very knowledgeable, even though some of the ideas are out-dated.

We are now presented a variety of ways for making money in real estate investing in TV infomercials, books and seminars. Which is best? Who can say? Real estate investing is learned through trial and error. Real estate investing skills and techniques are acquired by practice. I don’t think anyone can dogmatically recommend a technique best for another person. Every real estate investor has unique needs and is in a unique situation. Objectives of real estate investing differs.

However, if you are limited with real estate investing educational dollars and need to generate quick return on investment, I think fixing up cheap houses is an ideal beginning point. Real estate investing in makeover properties generates quick, profitable dollars with low risk.

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Questions To Ask Before Enrolling In A Real Estate Investment Education And/Or Coaching Program

If you are like me, then you have an interest in real estate investment and want to do the right thing by educating yourself so that you can obtain your first real estate investment cheque. I have spent thousands of dollars over the years trying to find the company that would help me accomplish this goal. So what did I do? I watched various infomercials on the television with amazing testimonials of real estate investment success. I quickly found that once I registered to attend, my information was sold to various marketing companies, and I was in receipt of invitations to other investment opportunities that I didn’t even know about. Okay. Now I have sifted through all the invitations and I am on my way to a one-day seminar.

For the most part, the information delivered is tantalizing and I am hungry for more knowledge and the opportunity to start working on my first deal. I also find that the information delivered in the one-day seminar is in bits – for a beginner investor, it is not enough material to be useful. But what do I hear? I now have to register for a weekend workshop to learn more. Full of excitement and determination, I pay the $1500 to $2500 cost for the workshop and off I go. Again, the information presented is titillating and at least one of the presented methods is immediately implementable. The other participants and I followed the instructions given, but no results – we could not find a property matching the given search criteria. Therefore, the audience was not taught what the next steps would have been had we done so. Still filled with hope, I took careful notes and listened intently for the remainder of the workshop. What’s this I hear? I can have advanced training if I want, a coach to work with me one-on-one, and the almost guarantee that I would make money at that level? What’s the cost? Oh, only between $10 000 to $100 000. This is where I hit the proverbial brick wall. Where was I to find all that money, and for some of the workshops, the money had to be paid the very weekend! The long and short of the model is this; one has to spend anywhere from $1500 to about $100 000 without even doing your first real estate deal! It didn’t make sense.

Wait a minute. I now found that most of the real estate investors, who were calling themselves and each other gurus, were doing a massive on-line marketing campaign during the market’s downturn, only this time downplaying the ‘guru’ title. They were all offering one-on-one coaching. Why? No one was attending the conventions and workshops as before. The personal coaching idea sounded good. I decided to check out a few of them and tried one of them. I tell you the truth, because I was a rookie, I didn’t know what to ask for or what to expect from this coaching. As you can imagine, I did not get my money’s worth. By the way, the coaching was through e-mail and sometimes instant messaging only, at a cost of USD $1000 per month. Now, I could have allowed all these disappointments to derail my vision and cause me to be bitter. I refuse. Instead, I decided to use the experience to help others in similar situations make better decisions, spend less, and actually make money in real estate investment.

The sum of it all is this: not having the right real estate investment education will cost you money and just as truly; obtaining the right real estate investment education will cost you money. However, obtaining the right education is an investment, not a liability. What should one look for in a real estate investment coach/coaching program? What questions should be asked? Here are a few to consider:

• Before any money exchange hands, an outline should be provided to the student to ensure that both parties/sides understand what will be offered.

• Costs should be clearly defined and explained.

• Discuss funding. Will the coach/organization provide funding for your real estate deals? If not, will the coach/organization provide you with information that will allow you to access funding? What type of funding can you expect? Will it be transactional funding, hard money, private money, other?

• Discuss if there will be or is there an option to partner on deals. Will the coach/organization put up the funding for the real estate deal while the student does the ‘ground’ work? If partnership is an option, discuss and agree on the split. Will it be a fifty-fifty split?

• Discuss availability of the coach: Does the student have telephone, e-mail, and/or text access? What response time might the student expect? Does the student have to pay the fees for services like Skype or is it included in the coaching fee?

• What are all the things included in the coaching fee?

• If the coach is not available, is there a mentor or someone else that will be available?

• Is this a stand-alone coach or is there a professional team available to the student? Is there a lawyer, accountant, contractor, et cetera that are a part of the team? If the coach is a one-man-band, then this might not be a good option for you.

• Is there creative financing for property acquisition?

• What are the payment options for the coaching costs? What are the financing terms?

• How will the education be delivered? Will it be delivered through webinars, CDs, mp3’s, other? For how long does the student have access to the education?

• How current are the strategies being taught? Is there proof?

• Relative to the cost, how long is the coaching? How many hours of one-on-one coaching?

• Will the student be provided with a virtual assistant?

• What peripheral costs are entailed in the program? For example, LLC, websites, 800 numbers, et cetera. What other additional costs might the student expect to pay/cover?

• What real estate investment qualifications does the coach have? If the coach is reticent to discuss this, then that might be a cue to not sign up with that particular coach/organization. Also, if the coach has a bad attitude, then you should reconsider using him/her.

• Research the coach on-line. Look at reviews. Check out Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, LinkedIn, et cetera. Also use these sources to review his/her profile. Hint: If the coach has less than five hundred contacts in their profile, then that could be proof of inexperience.

• What is the approximate turn-around time from the time the student signs up and follows all coaching instructions, to the time the student does his/her first deal?

• How many hours per day/week is the student required to invest?

• How are deals analyzed? Does the coach personally review them? How many exit strategies does the coach utilize per deal?

• What is the coach’s real estate investment specialty: wholesaling, fix and flip, buy and hold, et cetera?

• What real estate strategy are you expected to start with? Will this complement or go against your current financial situation?

• How much money is the student expected to have on hand to do his/her first real estate deal?

• If student does not make any money in say the first three months of the coaching, what is the next step? Will the current real estate investment strategy be changed or adjusted?

• What guarantees does the coach/organization provide?

• Is there a rescission period? What is it?

• Can the student do the coaching with his/her spouse or business partner at no additional cost?

With these points to consider, you should be well on your way to making the right decision as to your real estate investment education and coaching. I am sure that as you read through the points, they caused you to think of other questions that you might ask. Good.

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