Putting Together a Team

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Being part of a team is probably not the first thing you think of when you start investing in real estate. You may be doing most (or all) of the work on your own — or hiring an extra pair of hands to help out here and there.

Real estate investing, though, is a business.  And just like any good business, you will eventually need multiple reliable people working alongside you.  

These people may work for you, but they will bring with them knowledge and experience that you lack. It’s important to have an attitude of respect for these people and a sense of being part of a team — not only will you go further, you will also find the whole journey of real estate investing far more enjoyable.

Here is a quick look at the type of people you’ll need on your team, sooner or later:

Bookkeeper

Attorney 

CPA

Home Inspector

Realtor-broker

Lender 

Subcontractor 

This is not an exhaustive list. If you get serious about marketing, for example, you’ll need your own website, which will require creatives and other people qualified to help with digital matters. 

However, this list is a good starting point. 

Before going through it in more detail, it’s important to keep in mind that you shouldn’t try to build your team all at once.  People come into the picture as needs arise and as your business grows. It is a process that should happen strategically but also organically.

Bookkeeper

A bookkeeper is probably one of the first people you should add to your team (besides subcontractors for maintenance work). 

Managing data such as receipts and other information saves you invaluable time.  Also, an extra pair of eyes keeping tabs on things ensures that nothing goes awry — especially as your business grows and becomes more complex.

Bookkeeping is not a particularly specialized field, making it easy for you to train whoever it is you decide to take on.  This is a person you will be working with continually, so be sure to choose someone you are temperamentally compatible with. 

CPA

Unless you majored in accounting with a specialty in “real estate”, you will want a really good CPA.  Their focus should be helping you make the most savvy decisions possible throughout the tax year so that you don’t get hit with taxes you aren’t prepared for. 

Attorney

The existence of attorneys is evidence of the flawed world we live in.

Hopefully it happens later rather than sooner, but at some point, you will probably need at least one attorney.  If your taxes or financial situation are complicated, it may be wise to find a good tax attorney.

You may also want an attorney specializing in real estate to help you with matters such as purchasing property, leasing, and evictions. 

If you are in a situation where lawsuits are relatively likely (if you a own large, multi-unit property, for example) then you will want to find a good attorney specialized to help you with this as well.

Remember, you don’t have to find all these people at once!  Look for an attorney with a specialty that’s the most relevant to your current situation.

Realtor-Broker

A good realtor-broker is invaluable.  They will have their hand on the pulse of the market and by the time they’ve achieved their position, they have accumulated a lot of valuable experiences.

These people have the potential to not just work “for” you, but to be your mentors and advisors — those who you can look up to and learn from, especially as you’re getting started.

Lender

A good relationship with a good lender is critical if you plan to fund your purchases with a loan (which is the majority of us). Be sure you fulfill all your obligations and go the extra mile wherever you can so that they will continue to do business with you.

If you invest in different types of properties, you will need to form a relationship with more than one lender, since lenders specialize. Some lenders focus on single-family homes, while others are more geared toward commercial properties.   Choose a lender (or lenders) who specializes in your type of property.

Home Inspector

I have learned from hard-earned experience that this is a job you do not want to outsource.

A home inspector saves you invaluable time and money by inspecting the property beforehand and alerting you to any maintenance issues (and possible red flags).  A good home inspector helps you keep your eyes wide open so that you aren’t blinded by a “good deal” or become too emotionally attached to a prospect before you decide to buy.

Subcontractor

Unless you are a wiz at every type of maintenance issue there is, you will need to hire at least one subcontractor — and most likely, more than one.

Certain types of maintenance are going to be more specialized than others.  Heating and air systems, for example, are usually best left to a specialist.

Plumbing is another maintenance concern that will occupy a lot of your focus and can quickly get out of hand if not handled expertly.  It’s one thing to unclog a toilet by yourself — it’s quite another to fix a “mystery” leak that’s getting more serious by the moment.

Just like with the other members of your team, you can add new subcontractors as needed.  Treat your subcontractors well so they will want to come back and work for you again.  It saves more time and money than you might imagine to be able to depend on the same person or crew, month after month (and year after year), rather than looking for someone new.

Conclusion

Many people who go into real estate don’t realize what a “social” business it can be.  It’s important to know ahead of time that you will be meeting, interacting with and depending on multiple people with very different backgrounds and specialities.

Look at this as an opportunity to broaden your horizons and enrich your knowledge. Choose good, trustworthy people to work with and you will have many meaningful experiences as you invest in real estate. 

Outsourcing vs. DIY How to be Efficient

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Passive income should be the end game as a real estate investor, but it takes a while to get there.

In the meantime, you will need to invest both money and time (and possibly physical energy) upfront.  

But what if you’re limited in both of these resources?  Most people don’t have unlimited time or money when they start investing in real estate. 

The key is to be as efficient as possible. 

And being efficient means knowing your strengths.

For example, when I started out as a real estate investor, I did my best to save money by doing all the maintenance work myself.  (As much as I could handle, anyway). This included all the plumbing.

I am not shy about confessing that I am a terrible plumber.  I soon discovered this while working on the plumbing issues of my various properties.

It usually took hours, or even the entire day for me to get a certain plumbing task accomplished.  I may have saved money by not outsourcing a plumber, but I also lost money by spending all my time working on that plumbing project — time that I could have spent more efficiently in other ways. 

For example, I could have instead used that time to talk more with my realtor-broker and other colleagues and mentors, learning about how to find better value properties to purchase that maybe didn’t have quite as serious plumbing issues (or other structural problems). 

If I had done that, I would have been investing in my education and in my strengths (self-education and networking), which would have led to a more efficient outcome overall.

It’s okay to do some of your own maintenance in the beginning. In fact, unless you are already blessed with an impressive financial portfolio, you will probably need to do some of your own maintenance work (as well as busywork).

What I recommend doing when you start out is two things:

  1. Create a vision for yourself
  1. Identify your strengths

Here’s an example of what your vision might be:

“I want to have a team that includes at least maintenance contractors in one year’s time. By that point in time I want to only be doing less-specialized maintenance work, like knocking down old walls.  Or paint jobs.”

Having a vision (or a goal) gives you a timeframe, and motivates you to then figure out a solution.  

How are you going to make sure you can afford and manage three new contractor’s within a year’s time?  That’s where your strengths come in.

Here’s an example of what your strengths might be:

“I am really good at searching the Internet and finding the best people and the best value possible. I am good with search filters and knowing what to look for.  I’m also really good at people skills, and emailing and calling lots of people in a short amount of time.”

Having this vision and list of your own strengths in front of you, it should now be much easier for you to come up with a strategy.

You will probably realize that instead of doing specialized maintenance tasks yourself, you can start outsourcing these tasks, one at a time, to a contractor.  You will be able to afford it because you have the skill of being able to network and find people who can do a good job at a great value.  You may have to invest a little more money at the very beginning, but if it’s a good value, you will save far more money over time.

Focusing on your strengths also brings meaning to your experience as a real estate investor.  Too many people get burned out and overwhelmed trying to do everything at once, and trying to do too much right away.  Or from simply having unrealistic expectations.

In the beginning you don’t need to know everything.  You just need to know some basics.  What matters is that you have a vision and a strategy. And the common sense to know what your strengths are, what you enjoy doing, and how that translates into being as efficient as possible.

One final important thing: mistakes (including lack of efficiency) are also a part of the learning process!  Have realistic expectations and a resolve to keep learning, and I can all but guarantee that you will succeed in the long run.

Location vs. a “Good Deal”: How to Choose

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Most of us have heard the phrase “location, location, location.”  It’s a common perception that location matters more than anything — and there is some truth to that.

But what if you find a great deal in a “not quite as good” location? Is it still a worthwhile investment? 

It’s a great question that many people have asked me before. The short answer is, “it depends.”

Location for living, versus location for investing

When people say, “location, location, location,” they’re usually referring to choosing a property you plan to live in.

But when it comes to an investment property, you won’t be the one living there.  Does this change things?  Actually, it does.

You may, for example, find an incredible deal in a less-than-ideal neighborhood. Even though you wouldn’t personally  want to live in that neighborhood, there may be plenty of other people who do. The key is finding a good, stable tenant in this scenario. If you do, then you have a great situation on your hands.

Unsurprisingly though, the less desirable the location, the harder it will be to find a quality tenant for your property. So location certainly does play a factor in how well your investment comes out. 

Think of it this way:

When you are investing in a property, you want to think in terms of how you’re going to come out of the investment.  

It may be a great “deal” now, but the cost of the property is just one factor.  Does the price seem “too good to be true”?  There may be a structural problem accounting for that.  Hopefully not a nuclear reactive cesspool buried under the house — but a serious enough issue that you would need to look into.

If the price is related to the location, and the location is a less than ideal one, consider whether that may change over the years.  If you see potential in the quality and security of the area in the long term — if there is the possibility of the location value going up in the future — then it may make sense as an investment. 

The Bigger Picture

Here is a shortlist of factors to help you determine “location” versus “good deal”:

What kind of tenant are you interested in having?  More reliable and responsible tenants are likely to be in better neighborhoods (with more expensive properties). The trade off for a great deal on a property in a lower-quality neighborhood is often a less responsible tenant.  There are always plenty of exceptions to the rule, but this is the broader reality.

-Think about structure, not just location. Location matters, but you want to make sure the structure itself is solid.  If there are structural issues, be prepared to factor that into how much you will need to invest, financially. Sometimes a good deal is truly a good deal — other times it’s a red flag.

-What is the potential for appreciation? A great deal now isn’t as meaningful if the property won’t appreciate much over the years (or even loses value). 

The bottom line: when in conflict, go with “location” over a great deal. 

A good location is much more likely to keep appreciating, meaning that you will come out of your investment well.

But if you find a truly good deal in a not-as-great location that you have researched and believe you can make a good return on, whether in the short-term or long-term, then it may indeed be the right choice to go with.  Careful research and weighing of options are all part of the process of being a real estate investor.

Single-Family vs. Multi-Family Properties: Which is Better?

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When many of us hear “residential real estate,” the default image in our minds is a single-family home, perhaps with a white picket fence and a grass lawn.

But of course, there are several different types of dwellings that people (families) can live in. The breakdown between these two is pretty simple: single-family and multi-family.  A multi-family residence can be anything from a duplex to an apartment building.

The important question is: which should you invest in?

There’s no winner-takes-all answer for this one. Both have their pros and cons. I have multiple years’ experience investing in both types, and in this article I’ll go over each so that by the end, hopefully you’ll be able to choose the best option for yourself.  (Hint: you can definitely invest in both, at different stages of your career.  That’s what I have done). 

Let’s start with single family properties, since that’s the one that most people are more familiar with.

Single Family Properties: At A Glance

Single properties are defined as a property outfitted for a single family. In everyday language, a house (or a condo or townhouse). 

Of course, people are creative with space and more than one family or group of individuals may choose to occupy the same home. But the idea is that it is a structure on a property to comfortably accommodate the needs of just one family.

Typically the sellers you will deal with will be both investors and end-use sellers. Likewise, as a seller you will encounter both investors and end-use buyers. 

Pros:

Single-family properties, because they are usually smaller and therefore less costly, typically have a lower financial barrier to entry. You will usually have more financing options available as well — including an FHA loan if it’s your first time buying a home.

Single-family properties are more familiar and therefore more comfortable for most people. Many of us have lived in a single-family home for most of our lives. The thought of owning and maintaining a single house is less intimidating than owning and maintaining a large apartment complex.

You will probably find yourself dealing with fewer maintenance calls if you are leasing a single-family property. Tenants who rent a house instead of a unit at a giant complex are more likely to see their landlord as a person of modest means — whether or not that is actually true. Because all they can see is the single property they live on, they’re less likely to associate you, the owner, with being a corporate figure.  As a result they are more likely to not want to “inconvenience” you with superfluous maintenance requests.  This is a quirky bit of psychology but it’s been true to my experience.

Cons:

Since a single-family property only accommodates one family (read: one paycheck for rent each month), your income from rent dries up completely as soon as that family or individual moves out. There are no other renters/units to buffer you. You will need to find new renters as soon as possible in order to offset your monthly mortgage payment.

There is also usually no “discount per unit” when buying a family property or even multiple family properties. This is something we’ll discuss more in the next section.

Multi-Family Properties: At A Glance

Multi-family properties can come in the form of everything from a duplex (a property that houses two families) to an expansive complex with multiple units. 

The range and differences between them are beyond the scope of this article — one thing I will say, because it’s obvious, is that the simpler/smaller the property, the lower the barrier entry is to financing and managing it. A duplex, for example, is much less complicated to manage than a large apartment building. And apartments themselves come in all ranges of size and number of units.

Pros:

Although there is a higher barrier to entry cost with multi-family properties, there is a lot of value in multi-family properties once you are able to finance one.  The actual money to purchase may be higher upfront, but the potential return of investment is often better in the long run than with a single-family property. Multi-family properties may also include a “discount per unit,” allowing you a better value the more units you purchase.

Multi-family properties offer value in multiple ways. One particular benefit is having a lot of the infrastructure centralized: one roof over multiple tenants’ heads is more cost-efficient to repair than multiple roofs over multiple tenants’ heads. When tenants all live close to each other in the same complex, it’s easier to “do the rounds” with maintenance and take care of tasks.

Turnover is a reality with any rental property, but with multi-family properties, especially those with more units, you will always have remaining tenants to help buffer your monthly mortgage payment while you look to fill that vacant unit. Word of mouth spreads, and when tenants enjoy living at your complex, others often come knocking.

One final, although less obvious pro to buying multi-family properties is that when you either buy or sell, your transaction will be with another investor — not an “end user.” This means the transaction is likely to be more straightforward and less emotional — you won’t be dealing with sellers who are sentimental about their former home, or buyers who are desperate to move in even though their approved loan is less than ideal.

Cons:

You will face a higher barrier to entry with purchasing a multi-family property, and usually will need a down payment of 20% or even 30%. While multi-family properties can be very profitable, they are not always easy to start out with for this reason. “Bargains” exist, but even when they do, they will cost much more than a single-family property.

You will also be doing a lot more maintenance. One reason for this is public space: multi-family properties have common areas, whether in the form of landscaping, front desk office or recreational area (like a swimming pool). 

Also, tenants of multi-family properties are usually more inclined to make maintenance calls. They see your property as a large and “professional” outfit and expect that someone will be on hand to respond to maintenance calls quickly.  

Conclusion:

Both single-family and multi-family properties can be awesome investment choices.  The best starting place is your own financial situation and what you feel comfortable with. 

Starting out with a single-family property is usually a more conservative choice and may make the most sense. But if you have the means, a multi-family property is a very worthwhile investment endeavor.  I recommend starting out more conservatively and then trying (buying) more properties/property types as you gain experience.