How to Deal with Evictions (and Avoid Them in the First Place)

If you are a real estate investor, the odds are that you’ll be renting to tenants at some point.

And if you’re renting to tenants, at some point you will need to file an eviction. It’s not a matter of if — it’s a matter of when.

Every opportunity comes with its downsides.  For real estate investors, dealing with evictions is an unfortunate reality.  But, there are things you can do to make them less painful (for both you and the tenant) as well as things you can do to avoid them from happening in the first place.

  1. Be kind, civil and respectful

The eviction process has evolved over time to be a civil way of resolving uncorrected tenant violations.  It’s a process that allows time for the tenant to either appeal or correct their violation.  There’s no need for you to get “tough” and “take things into your own hands.”

In fact, one of the nice things about living in a society that upholds laws is that you are technically not the one who’s making the final decision — it’s the legal system that does. 

A simple, “I’m sorry, but it’s important that we follow the due process of the law” is going to be far more effective when explaining things to your tenant than a shouting lecture. In fact, a tenant is far more likely to correct his or her error if you are pleasant and respectful rather than angry. Even in the event that you do have to have to evict a tenant, you’ll feel better throughout the process if you keep a positive attitude as much as possible.

Remember also that eviction laws vary by region.  Be aware of what those laws are and never overstep them.

  1. Considering giving the tenant a chance to “opt out” first

In many cases, I’ve been able to avoid the eviction process altogether by coming to terms with the tenant first.

One time I had a couple of young guys renting an apartment unit who I (and the police) discovered had been involved with some illegal matters. After the charges were pressed I sat down with them and asked if I could help them find a better place to live.  They quickly agreed to move out as soon as possible.

In cases like these, you can have an “opt-out” agreement prepared that they can sign, relieving them of their obligations in return for leaving by a certain date (the sooner, the better). This way there is “no harm, no foul” and neither of you has to go through the drawn-out legal process.

  1. Make sure you have a good lease written up 

There’s only so much you can do about a tenant you’ve already let in who you have to evict — but when it comes to avoiding that problem, there’s a lot you can do upfront.

I always recommend finding a good attorney to help you write up a lease.  Think carefully about everything you want to go into the lease, and be sure that any new tenant understands and has read it thoroughly before signing.  A well-written lease will make the eviction process easier later on since you will have it as a continual reference.

You may ask: do I need an attorney with every eviction proceeding?  Not necessarily — it depends again on state/local laws.  It’s always a good idea to have one in your contacts list, though, depending on what situations you may find yourself in at some point in time.

  1. Have a solid system in place for pre-screening tenants

Prospective tenants may be annoyed by the need for credit checks and proof of income/employment, but there’s a vital reason you need these criteria when you select a tenant.

A proof of income is not a 100% guarantee your tenant will pay the rent every time, but it’s the one of the most accurate metrics you can use.  I recommend requiring that tenants earn 3x (monthly) the amount of the rent — this leaves a cushion for them with other expenses, including the unexpected.  

Credit checks are not solid proof of responsibility, either, but they are still a good indicator.  If your tenant has had a dip in their credit, be sure to find out the reason. Make sure they are doing their best to build their credit back up.

Finally, a list of references is always good to have.  Being able to talk to an employer or former landlord should help you get a real feel for the level of responsibility in your prospective tenant.

What about “second chances”…?

“Everyone deserves a second chance” is a refrain we’ve all heard many times. You may wonder how this applies to evicting a tenant.  Should you decide to give some tenants a second chance, based on their situation and your “gut feel”?

The problem with this approach is that it quickly becomes inconsistent. How do you know for sure that this person over here deserves another chance, while the other person over there does not?

The legal process of eviction usually has second chances built right into it.  Typically tenants have at least a month and sometimes multiple months from the time you file for eviction until the time the law enforcement comes to escort them away. During this time, the tenant has the continual opportunity, at any point, to correct their violation.

Evictions are not a fun topic, and these days they can be downright controversial.  However, remember that they are a part of the legal system, and at least in theory the laws are designed to be fair to both tenant and owner. They are a “last resort” after doing everything you can do on your part to remind, warn and implore your tenant. 

Finally, having a good vetting system in place ensures that you will have to do far fewer evictions. Hold to your standards, and both your and your tenants will be happier for it.

Bubble or “New Norm”? Some Thoughts on the (Near) Future Real Estate Market

Start typing in the Google search bar “Is the real estate market in a bubble right now?” and you’ll quickly see that thousands of other people are asking the same question.

No one knows what will happen, but it’s human nature to keep hoping for an answer.

And since no one has an answer, the next best thing is a well-educated guess.

And the best-educated guesses about the real estate market are the most open-ended ones.

In other words: it depends. It depends on several things, actually.

Before I go into what those things are, I think it’s important to mention that the real estate market is still in a state of flux right now. Come back in a month and I might have a different response.

There are several drivers behind the sky-high demand in the current market. These include low interest rates, immigration patterns, demographics, supply chains, and inventory.

For each of these, there is more than one possible scenario.

  1. Interest Rates

This is probably the most obvious driver. Plenty of prospective homeowners feel that now is the time to buy since interest rates have hit record lows.

If interest rates continue to stay low, we will most likely see continued demand for homes — leading to prices remaining high.

However, inflation tends to be the consequence of policies and other artificial measures to keep interest rates low. If inflation becomes more serious, interest rates will inevitably rise, leading to a cooling off of the market.

Also consider that even if interest rates remain low, at some point real estate prices will hit some kind of ceiling. The higher prices go, the fewer buyers there will be out there who can afford those prices, even at an “affordable” interest rate.

2. Immigration Patterns

This is one of the most interesting factors at play with today’s real estate market.

The pandemic of 2020 launched what was essentially a nationwide game of musical chairs: people from cities (and suburbs) left their homes to move to the suburbs and even rural areas. Many of these people moved out of state. The novelty of being a homeowner and living somewhere else, thanks to being able to work from home, became a huge motivator.

The question is, will these recent immigration patterns remain fixed? Now that the pandemic is mainly on the retreat in this country, employers are starting to require their employees to spend more time at work in person.

People will continue moving to hotspots like Florida and Texas for the time being, but it’s also very possible that there will be a tapering off of immigration overall, once the FOMO and novelty of living elsewhere/working from home begin to wear off.

We won’t know for sure either way how the game will end until the music stops.

3. Demographics

Millennials took a lot of heat for a number of years for being okay with living in their parents’ basements.

Now it appears that many Millennials are ready to start forming their own households and clearly, they are doing so. They are a key demographic in the current demand for homes.

Whether enough of them will find homes for the time being (or content themselves with waiting) will be a factor, most likely, in where home prices are at.

An exacerbating factor, arguably, are Baby Boomers who are not ready or willing to sell their homes yet. Traditionally the older generations begin to move on to retirement homes to make room for the younger. But as long as Boomers continue to prefer living in their houses we may see a continued housing shortage, leading to continued demand.

4. Supply Chains

This is one that I see being rectified over the next year or so. Because the pandemic came on so suddenly (not to mention unexpectedly), suppliers (lumber, appliances, etc.) were simply not able to keep up with demand.

Of course, there have been some complicating factors: a shortage of employees in blue-collar industries has made it harder for manufacturers to step up their output, for one thing.

It may take longer or shorter for supply chains to catch up with demand, but unless something untoward happens, I see this as happening at some point before too long.

5. Inventory

At the end of this month, the federal moratorium on evictions will be lifted. While a few states will continue to use state-wide measures to prolong the moratorium, we should see a number of property evictions happening at the beginning of next month.

As a result, property owners who are tired of being landlords will be ready to sell.

The main question here is: how many properties will return to the market when this happens? Will it be a flood or more of a trickle?

Besides the moratorium, there are a few other ways that inventory could increase. People who were previously too nervous about putting their homes on the market due to the pandemic and uncertainty of the times may now feel more emboldened.

Some older folks may also be ready to make the jump to a retirement community now that they don’t have to worry about “lockdown” and not being able to leave — although as I said earlier, more and more people seem to be choosing to stay put, even as they age. Mortality and health ultimately will decide where they (and their homes) go, and it’s still too early to tell.

Bottom Line

All of these drivers are currently influencing the real estate market. There is also no question that things will continue to change: there will be evictions after moratoriums are lifted, interest rates will fluctuate, and so on.

The real question is, which of these things will be the main driver for determining the near-future real estate market? I don’t necessarily think we’re in a bubble, but things never stay static either.

Which of these drivers do you think is the biggest?

And are there any other important drivers I may have overlooked? Let me know in the comments below!

Commercial Vs. Residential Real Estate: What Are the Big Differences?

I was recently talking to a friend who said this about commercial real estate: 

“It’s not that different from residential.  It’s just more numbers and zeroes.”

For the most part, I agree.  Both commercial and residential are similar when it comes to the fundamentals.  Both involve careful cost-benefit benefit analyses.  Both involve tenants, taxes and leveraging debt.  

There are some big differences, though, as well. 

Just like with most things out there, both have their pros and cons.  (I love and invest in both residential and commercial, for the record).

Here’s a quick preview of some of the key differences:

Lease structure

Valuation (price and ROI)

Transaction process

Sophistication/level of education required

Before diving into the differences, though, some quick semantics first:

“Residential” properties are recognizable to almost all of us in the forms of houses and other buildings people dwell in.

“Commercial”, on the other hand, takes a wide variety of forms — anywhere from business offices to restaurants to shopping complexes to storage units.  

On a technical level, a residential building (like an apartment complex) can be considered a “commercial” property from the perspective of a lender when it comes to certain finer points.

But to keep things simple, in this article when I use the word “commercial” I’ll be referring to properties with business operations.

#1 Lease Structure 

When you are renting out a house or apartment unit to a tenant, the lease tends to be year-to-year; maybe a little longer, maybe a little shorter.

Commercial real estate, on the other hand, usually involves longer leases — upwards of ten or even fifteen tears. The upside of this is pretty obvious. It’s great to have a tenant who most likely won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

The downside is, when you eventually do lose a tenant, the space can be harder to fill.  Side note: for this reason, if you invest in commercial real estate it is especially important to have a strong network.

In residential real estate leases, the owner is generally responsible for maintenance and care of the building. When it comes to commercial real estate, this typically isn’t the case — instead, the business owner is responsible for maintenance in addition to paying rent.

This is certainly a positive aspect of commercial real estate for investors who can afford it.  Something to keep in mind, though, is that the process of structuring the lease may be more complex and even require the help of an attorney.

#2 Valuation 

This is one of the most important differences between residential and commercial real estate.

With residential real estate, you are comparing properties to each other to get a feel for what a “good deal” is.  When you buy a property, you’re often hoping to increase its value within a short time frame (anywhere from weeks to a few years).

On the other hand, commercial real estate values tend to be more stable and fluctuate less.  When you buy a commercial property, you aren’t focused on “profit” so much as you are “return on investment.”  Each commercial property has a different value based on its individual qualities, with a certain % of return you can expect if you decide to purchase it.

In other words, it’s a more stable and fixed investment.  You’re not likely to suddenly see an increase in your property’s value but you’re also not likely to see a sudden drop.  

 #3 Transaction  

When you’re buying a residential property like a single family home, there’s a good chance that at some point you will be dealing with either an end-use buyer or seller.  These people see the transaction as more than just money changing hands — it’s an emotional process for them involving a home, with values that aren’t always as tangible.

With commercial real estate the mood of the transaction process is different — generally speaking, it’s “all business.”  Humans are emotional, of course, so that doesn’t mean that commercial real estate transactions are robotic and flawless, but there definitely is a different dynamic at play.

#4 Education

By now it’s pretty clear that commercial real estate is more complex than residential.  There is more paperwork involved and there is more jargon involved.  

If you already have experience buying or selling residential real estate — even if it’s just your own home — that’s great.  That’s a good start to your education.  In order to have a good handle on investing in commercial real estate you will need to further your education.  A great way to do this is to find a mentor: someone who has successfully invested in commercial real estate and is willing to spend a little of their time with you explaining what they know and answering questions.

In summary:

  • Commercial real estate is often more “stable” than residential, but it also requires more education to understand and maneuver
  • The lease structures for the two are very different.  Residential leases are shorter, which means more turnover but vacancies are easier to fill.  Commercial leases are generally longer-term and more stable, but vacancies can take a while to fill
  • Commercial real estate is focused on ROI.  You generally know what % of a return you can expect; it’s less risky
  • The transaction process with commercial real estate tends to be less emotional but more complex than with residential
  • Commercial real estate has a higher “barrier to entry” than residential, due to generally being more costly as well as more specialized and complex

To this I will add:

Most people, for obvious reasons, start out in residential real estate and work their way “up” to commercial real estate. The buying and selling process for a single-family home is more familiar (and usually more affordable) to most of us than the process of buying and selling a business complex.  It makes sense to start smaller and to start with what you know.

Some people choose to only focus on one or the other.  I love and invest in both, and there’s no reason you can’t too.  In fact, investing in both is a great balance. The key with commercial real estate is furthering your education to get your foot in the door.

Should I Buy or Wait? A Closer Look at the “Post”-Pandemic Market

Image by Harry Strauss from Pixabay

If there’s one thing that most people — investors and non-investors alike — agree on, it’s that no one saw the pandemic of 2020 coming.

Since then, we’ve seen a lot of ups and downs in the world…in the real estate market, though, it’s been mostly “up.”  This is good news for those who simply want to sell.  It’s a bit trickier if you’re an investor.

The million-dollar question everyone is Googling right now is: “What’s going to happen to the real estate market?”

Tied to that is the question of: “Should I buy now or wait?”

Unfortunately, I do not happen to own a Magic 8-Ball (if that changes, though, I will be sure to let you know). What I am able to offer you are some possible scenarios, tied to several key factors.

These key factors are:

Interest rates

Forbearance/foreclosures of mortgages and homes

Supply and prices of lumber and other goods

Comfort level of sellers

Note: these are not the only factors involved — just the ones that I find are the most relevant. The topic of the pandemic and how it has affected the economy is obviously both broad and disputed.

Let’s take a look at each of these and see what the possible scenarios are. In some scenarios, buying now may be a better choice, while the smarter idea may be to wait in other scenarios.

It’s hard to say for sure which scenario is more likely, but knowing what the possibilities are will help you to look for the signs and be ready to make a move either way.

Interest rates

This has been one of the biggest drivers for rising demand in the real estate market. Who wouldn’t want to lock in a 15 or 30-year-loan at less than 3%?

If rates continue to stay low for a good while, there isn’t necessarily a reason to rush. On the other hand, if inflation continues to grow, we might see rates go back up before too long.

Does that mean you should try to “lock in” a loan with a low interest rate now, before it’s “too late”?

If you’re talking about a fixed-rate mortgage and you are able to find something within your price range, that may indeed be a good move. The trickiest part here is finding something within your price range, especially since the continual demand for properties has driven prices upwards to the point that a property in today’s market with a lower interest rate does not always mean a better “deal.”  

Also, if you go with an adjustable-rate loan there is always the risk of being hurt by rising interest rates later. So while lower interest rates are a good thing in and of themselves, a good deal of homework should still be involved with any acquisition you make.

Forbearance/foreclosures of mortgages and homes

When COVID hit, many homeowners were given forbearance to pay their mortgage to prevent mass foreclosures from happening and causing another recession.

Some of the thinking with this was: once the economy “reopens”, people will be able to go back to paying their mortgages.

Will that be the case once the moratoriums are lifted nationwide in a couple of months from now, or will homeowners still be empty-handed and forced to foreclose?  Certainly, there will be cases of both, but which situation will be the majority?

If the latter, then we can expect to see a sudden influx of homes on the market when that happens.  However, depending on how high demand continues to stay (or even rise), we may not necessarily see much of a drop in home prices. (Also, it will depend on where those interest rates are at).

Supply and prices of lumber and other goods

The sky-high price of lumber was one of the most bizarre consequences of the pandemic, and yet in hindsight, it does make sense.

Homeowners with time and stimulus money on their hands decided to do home improvement projects — including expansion.  Meanwhile, demand for houses also meant a demand for the materials for building houses.

Part of what was so crazy was just how high the lumber prices went.

A similar situation is happening with other materials and appliances needed for construction. Builders are struggling to finish their projects on time, and the delays are adding to the problem of low inventory.

Surely these shortages have to end sometime, right?  Of course, but as always, the question is when

My best guess is that we’ll see things settle quite a bit within the next twelve months or so as suppliers get a better handle on stocking items and adjusting to demand, while demand itself may drop a bit during the cooler months when construction is more difficult in the colder parts of the country.

Comfort level of sellers

During the peak of the pandemic and ever since then, many sellers have been hesitant to put their homes on the market.  Part of this is due to fear they won’t be able to find an affordable deal somewhere else, but part of it is also fear related to COVID — specifically, engaging in social interactions with buyers and other people involved in the selling process.

Keep in mind, too, that plenty of older people who may have planned to move into a retirement community also put those plans on hold once the pandemic hit.

Now that things are continuing to revert back to normal there’s a likelihood that at least some of these individuals will be ready to downsize or otherwise move on and sell their homes, adding to the supply.

One More Consideration

One other thing I should add:

Each geographical location has its own “micro-economy.” The housing market in Detroit right now is different from the one in Austin, to take an obvious example.

Whether it makes more sense to buy or wait depends on location as well as the other things we’ve mentioned.

While real estate value goes up over time, generally speaking, there are some locations where that is far truer than in others. Even though the current housing market situation we are witnessing applies to the country, generally speaking, you still need to do your homework when it comes to geographic considerations.

In particular, take stock of the economy of the area you are looking to buy in. Has there been a lot of recent growth? Is further growth sustainable? Are more people coming into the area than leaving? These are all helpful indicators.

Conclusion

All of the factors I’ve mentioned will happen in some form, sooner or later.  The big unknown here is when, and to what extent.

Will interest rates rise enough to dampen buyers’ demands within the next couple of years?  How much will moratoriums and evacuations add to supply? How many people who currently own will feel comfortable enough to sell in the next few months or years?

Because we don’t have a Magic 8-Ball to hand us the answer, the smartest thing — in my opinion — is to wait a bit and see. That doesn’t mean you should not buy in the meantime.  By all means, if you find something within your budget that has the potential for positive cash flow then buy.

But fear of a “worst-case scenario” should not be your driving motivator to make a decision. Right now the dust is still settling and it’s hard to see in which direction yet all the pieces will fall. While it can be hard to be patient, now may be a better time than ever to put those patience skills to use. 

Do your due diligence, keep an eye on changes in the market, have a positive attitude, and you will find the right deal for you, at the right time.

What is a “Good Deal”? Here’s Some Simple Math

Image by Shutterbug75 from Pixabay

As a real estate investor you’ll need to be able to do some math to know if you’re making a good investment or not.  

But don’t worry — you don’t have to be a whiz or create an Excel file. I’m talking about the kind of math that’s easy enough to do with your phone calculator.

Over the years I’ve come up with a fairly simple formula.  Other investors have come up with it independently of me, so that tells you it’s a pretty solid one.

The formula involves 3 numbers, plus something called the 1% Rule.

The 3 numbers are…

  1. What you buy the property for
  1. What it costs to renovate it
  1. What you rent/sell the property for

This should be pretty straightforward. Of course you will need to sell the property for more than you paid, even after the cost of renovation.

If you plan to rent, this is where the 1% Rule comes in.

Here’s how the 1% rule works:

Monthly rent = 1% of total investment cost

For example: You buy a property for $100,000.  Once you figure in purchasing and renovation costs as well, the total amount of your investment is $150,000.   1% of 150,000 is $1,500.  Therefore, you need to be able to rent your property for at least $1,500 a month.

(Side note: always make sure you factor in renovations and other upfront costs, not just the price of the property itself). 

Now, does a purchase prospect have to meet the 1% Rule? Not necessarily. But it’s definitely a good, conservative rule of thumb that will act as a guard rail.

The 1% Rule gained traction back when interest rates were higher than they are now.  It may be possible for you to have a positive cash flow while pulling in less than 1% a month, but let’s put it this way: if you are able to earn 1% or more a month, you’ll have a positive cash flow and a safety cushion as well.

If the property is going to earn you less than 1% a month, it may or may not be worth pursuing. You will need to go back to the drawing board and do some “less simple” math at this point.

All good so far?

There’s actually one more step you need to add, once you’ve figured out your monthly rent payment.

The step looks like this:

Actual cash flow = ½ of your monthly rent

A lot of investors aren’t prepared for all the costs that come with owning a rental property.  These costs include things like insurance and maintenance as well as vacancies.

To have a realistic estimate of what you will actually pull in each month, make sure that you halve the amount of your anticipated monthly rent.

Sticking with our earlier example, that means that your actual cash flow each month will be $750 (half of $1,500).  

The other $750 is going towards those other expenses.  In fact, it’s a good idea as a property owner to have a “maintenance reserve” fund for exactly these types of expenses.  It’s very possible for you to have a cash flow that’s greater than half your monthly rent — just remember, that the smart thing to do is start out with an estimate that’s more conservative.

My final two cents:

Time is valuable, so don’t waste your time or efforts on a property if you’re not sure whether or not it will be worth it.

There are other properties out there (even in today’s crazy market) and good opportunities exist, if you look far enough. It may actually be wiser to sit out a certain prospect and spend your day at the beach than to rush in and buy something that doesn’t jibe with the simple math.

With both time and some good simple math calculations, you’ll find the opportunity that’s right for you.

BRRRR: The Good and the Bad

Image by Nattanan Kanchanaprat from Pixabay

Believe it or not, the popular so-called “BRRRR” method has been around long before people actually started calling it that.  It was the method I used in the beginning of my real estate career — I sort of “discovered” it along the way — and I still use it to this day.

Does that mean it’s the best and only way to invest in real estate?

Not necessarily. There are definite pluses but a few pitfalls as well. As a quick review, here’s what the acronym stands for:

Buy

Renovate (or Rehab, if you prefer)

Rent

Refinance

Repeat

In theory, it’s a process that you can use on repeat to build your wealth. The reality is a bit more complicated. You can definitely make BRRRR work for you, you just have to be smart about it.

What’s Awesome about BRRRR

You don’t need a lot of money to get started! (Remember how I said this was the method I used in my early days?  That’s exactly why).

The idea with BRRRR is that you leverage the capital you’ve put in as a down payment or other means to use on your next property, after you have refinanced.  This is what allows you to repeat the process.

Refinancing your property also allows you to find a better lender and get a better interest rate. 

BRRRR is like a very skilled game of leapfrog. You are able to leverage your first acquisition to buy your next and so forth, without (theoretically) having to sell any of your properties to make your next purchase. 

If you don’t have a lot of capital to invest upfront, but are willing to do the careful work of acquiring the right kind of properties that will allow you to refinance at a rate rate later, BRRRR may be the right method for you.

What the Drawbacks Are

Almost everything good in life comes with a catch. BRRRR is no exception to the rule.

The BRRRR method works really well, but only within certain parameters.  You need to be able to increase the value of your property enough to be able to pull off the trickiest step: refinancing.

You can quickly run into trouble with BRRRR, for example, if your appraiser decides the property isn’t worth as much as you think it should be worth. 

Increasing the value of a property is not a cut and dry, “money = value” process.  Spending $50,000 to renovate your property, in other words, does not automatically make your property worth $50,000 more.

While renovation is important, it’s just as important that you buy a property with good potential in the first place — this includes factors outside your direct control, such as the quality of the neighborhood. 

Also, removing the cash equity from your property to make your next purchase always comes with a risk.  Make sure you have added real value to your property after renovating it, otherwise you will have little to no equity left besides what you originally put into it as cash.

Some Other Things to Think About

One thing that will help you succeed with BRRRR is having a good exit strategy.  By “exit” I am referring to the “refinance” phase — the point at which you are ready to move on to your next property.

Having a good lender (especially on the back end) and having the right conversations with them ahead of time is key. 

Be sure to ask all the necessary questions, such as, “what kind of things are you looking for in the properties you refinance?” and, “how much time needs to pass between purchasing and refinancing?”  

Knowing this information ahead of time allows you to develop a strategy and a realistic timeframe.  It will help you know how to add value to your property and keep you from trying to rush into the next property too quickly.

Just like with any investment strategy, remember to focus on the 1% rule. Cash-flow is the lifeblood of real estate investing. The amount of rent you earn needs to be relative to the cost of renovations.

Conclusion

The BRRRR method is popular for a good reason. It allows investors who don’t have as much cash upfront to still invest in multiple properties and grow their wealth.

However, there are always two sides to the coin. Having less money means more risk at every stage in the process, especially with renting and refinancing. You can mitigate these risks by doing your homework, being careful about your renovation budget, and having good communication with a good lender ahead of time.

Why You Should Always Get a Home Inspection

Luckily for me, one of the biggest mistakes I ever made was early into my real estate career.

It’s such a simple yet important lesson that it would be crazy of me to not devote a blog post to it.

The lesson is this: Always have a home inspection done before buying a property.  There are no exceptions to this “rule.”

Here’s how I learned that the hard way…

In my early days of investing, I didn’t have a lot of money. (Note: it’s way easier to make a mistake or take too big a risk when you are financially inflexible. We’ll talk about this a little bit later).

As a result, a lot of the properties I chose to invest in were big-time fixer uppers.  Nothing wrong with that. The problem was that I tried to cut corners every way I could to be “financially savvy.” 

This tactic backfired on me one fateful day.

A good friend of mine helped me find a property that seemed like a great deal. Together we decided that I didn’t need a home inspection done. This was our rationale:

A home inspection would cost me 500 dollars (back in the 90’s, this was a bigger amount than it is today). To save that valuable money, I wouldn’t pay an inspector — my friend and I would “inspect” the property ourselves. 

After all, we could tour the property and see for ourselves what needed fixing, right? 

For example, we could turn on the faucets to see if the plumbing worked, and check if all the lights turned on.  And since we were going to renovate the whole thing anyway, how much did it really matter?

Fast forward a few weeks…

I got a call from my general contractor who was working on the property. He told me that there seemed to be some sort of problem with the electricity. He was having a hard time getting consistent power to his tools.

Having a bad feeling about all of this, I hired an electrician to come over and take a look. He opened up the service panels and low and behold, about half of them were on the edge of crumbling. It was a fire disaster waiting to happen. 

Needless to say, the power company arrived in minutes and shut the whole operation down. In the end, repairing all the electrical panels cost me far more than the $500 for a home inspection.

If I had paid upfront for a home inspector I would have known about the electrical fiasco waiting to happen. This means that I would have either:

A: Been able to choose to not buy the property after all, knowing it would cost a lot upfront in repairs

Or B: I would have been prepared beforehand and been able to budget for the repair 

What actually ended up happening was me being completely surprised (and then panicking) and having to react without much choice.

A few hundred dollars would have saved me from all that stress, and it would have saved me more time and money in the long run.  Having the information about a property that only a professional can give you puts you in the driver’s seat of decision-making and is well worth the cost.

The Penny-Wise, Pound-Foolish Catch 22

Did I decide to forgo the home inspection because I was simply being cheap? Not exactly.

As I mentioned earlier, I was a bigger risk-taker back in those days because I had way less money. There is a fine line between sensible frugality and unsensible risks. The latter was what I ended up doing.

Real estate investing is a risk to begin with — profitable rewards usually come after taking sensible risks.  On the other hand, it rarely pays to make your choices unnecessarily risky.  Trying to pocket some cash by forgoing a procedure like a home inspection is a classic example of how you can end up, in the long run, actually paying way more money and time than if you had done the more conservative thing upfront.

Bonus Lesson:

There’s actually another “rule” in real estate, related to this, that I may as well mention now:

Do not buy a property “sight unseen.”

The exception to this is if you are a big-time investor backed by plenty of funds, are buying multiple properties, and can afford to have a few of them not be profitable. I am guessing (just a hunch) that this is not the case for you.

Plenty of people buy sight unseen, whether it’s because they are living in a different part of the country or they have too much FOMO and feel like they have to put in an offer before they have time to even head out the door. 

While this can still work out alright in the end, my advice is to never (at least, with very few exceptions) buy sight unseen.

The bottom-line of it all, to quote an old-school maxim: “haste makes waste.”

In more modern terms: Taking extra risks to save money, as well as being in a hurry, are more likely than not going to backfire on you at some point. 

Summary:

  • Do not skip a home inspection under any circumstances. You are not able to fully assess everything that’s right and wrong with a property and thus run serious risks as a result

  • While it’s good to save money where you can, don’t skimp on things (like a home inspection) that will actually save you time and money in the long run, not to mention keep you and others safe

  • Avoid buying a property “sight unseen” if possible. It’s one thing to buy a gadget online; but a property is an enormous investment. Lower the risk as much as possible by keeping yourself fully informed and visiting the property before deciding to buy

The Mentality of Buying

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Buying a new property is one of the most fun parts of the real estate business.  It’s natural to feel excited — even giddy — about a “good buy” and all the potential that comes with it.

In the excitement of the buying process, it’s all too easy to overlook the “fine print.” There are unexpected costs and factors that will pop up when you buy a property.  Also, consider that a property that seems like a great acquisition may not be quite as great after you’ve done a little more homework.

I’ve made the mistake myself of getting too carried away with the emotional side of buying, only to deal with issues I wasn’t prepared for afterward (sometimes to almost disastrous consequences, I might add).

Few properties are “perfect”, and not every find needs to be a golden opportunity. Just make sure you do your due diligence ahead of time and go in with your eyes wide open.  Here are three factors that will help guide you in doing this.

  1. “Make Me Want to Land”

When I was getting my pilot’s license, my flying instructor shared with me some very interesting advice.  It’s since turned out to be invaluable in how I purchase properties.

“When it’s time to make a descent,” he told me, “your mentality needs to be, ‘make me want to land!’”

At first I thought his words were a bit counterintuitive.  After all, you need to land the plane, right?

But his point was: there are many dangers and unknowns when flying, especially so when landing. You should not actually land the plane until you have checked all the boxes that you’re safe and clear to do so. Even a small mistake could lead to regret or even catastrophe.

While buying real estate (usually) doesn’t come with the same mortality risks, there are still a number of risks involved. Especially ones that are easy to overlook in the euphoria of finding a place that “feels” right.

It’s important to stay as detached as possible all the way until the day you close on the property. You may have heard the advice “don’t fall in love with a home,” and there’s a lot of truth to that.

This doesn’t mean you need to be cynical or cautious to the point of obsession. It does mean doing your due diligence before buying and keeping your expectations neutral. Save that champagne bottle for the day you actually close.

  1. Do Some Deeper Digging

When landing a plane, I had to learn what all the “boxes” were that I had to check to make sure I was safe and ready.

Buying properties also involves boxes that need to be checked. Some of these boxes are easy to overlook or even forget.  Know ahead of time all the things you need to consider so that when you find a property you’ll have your list ready to go (and hopefully you’ll be able to check all the boxes!).

Here are several examples:

  • Migration patterns.  Are more people moving into the neighborhood, or moving out? What has been the migration trend over the years, and is that trend changing in any way?

  • Employment levels. What percentage of the people in the neighborhood are employed?  Employment is related to income, and level of income among residents in turn affects the value of the area as a whole.

  • Availability of housing. How many houses are currently available in the neighborhood?  Are there any more being built (or planned)?  A lack of available houses may indicate demand, but not necessarily.  Make sure you look into the “why.”

  • Cost of purchase vs. Market rent rates.  Is it currently more expensive to rent a home in the area you’re looking at, or to pay a mortgage?  

  • History of the property itself. If the home is cheap but the neighborhood is great, there may be a catch. Having a home inspector visit the property and taking the time to learn more about its history will let you know if there are any red flags.

Have a checkbox ready to go before you even get serious about buying a property.  It will be a valuable resource and streamline the whole touring/inspecting/purchasing process.

  1. Get a Second Opinion

One of the greatest things about investing in real estate is the wide variety of people you meet, many of whom offer a wealth of insight and experience that they’re only too happy to share with you — all you have to do is ask.

Some of the best decisions I ever made were thanks to the help of friends who were investors like me, but with more experience. Their advice was free but invaluable.  

Make sure you take the time to network and surround yourself with those who are more experienced than you. People who have been in this business a long time love sharing their insights and are usually only too happy to help.  Besides, a second (or third) opinion always helps you stay as objective as possible.

Summary

You can stay smart while buying a property and still have fun in the process. In fact, buying a new property, I’d argue, is more fun when you are empowered with the right tools and information going in.

Good investment opportunities come along all the time. Be ready to take the leap, but only after you’ve taken a good look first. Review all the checkboxes until you have no good reason not to land. 

Finally, take the time to talk to mentors and friends who you trust.  They’ll be happy to share their advice and honest opinions. Having trustworthy people to consult is not only a lifesaver, it’s a very meaningful part of the process as well.  Due your due diligence and you’ll be rewarded not just with a good investment, but with peace of mind.

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.