8-31-18: Should we buy a rental property?

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Question of the week:  Should we buy a rental property?


 Answer:  This is a common question for those of us in the real estate industries, as well as for professionals in other industries such as family attorneys, accountants and financial advisors. Looking to secure a long term investment many families would like to purchase a property to rent out for investment income and long term value appreciation.


Is it right for you?


As you can imagine, there are several factors to consider before deciding to purchase rental property. Here are some that come to mind, but certainly not a complete list.


The first question you must answer is, what are my expectations? Do you want positive monthly cash flow? Are you most concerned about long term appreciation and growth of your initial investment? Do you want a loss on your tax returns to off-set income? Each of these factors can be obtained, but each also has different requirements for how you purchase the property.


Positive cash flow can be very challenging in the California, especially if you are in a county that touches the Pacific Ocean. Cash flow is determined by what income the property will generate from rents minus the expenses of ownership: mortgage, taxes, insurance, maintenance and vacancy. Because real estate prices have grown it takes substantial down payment to achieve positive cash flow in most properties. For instance, if you are looking at purchasing a $500,000 home as a rental in an area where the market rents for the property are around $2500 can you achieve positive cash flow? The minimum down for a single family residence non-owner occupied loan is 20%, and today the rate is about 5.125% with that down payment. The monthly PITI is almost $2800—your cash flow is not positive. Putting 25% down the rate drops to 4.875% and your PITI drops to $2500 so you are cash flow neutral before maintenance and upkeep. Before closing costs you have invested $125,000 for neutral cash flow.


That said, if the property increases in value an average of 3% for the next five years your property has increased in value about $80,000 so on paper you have seen your initial down payment increase about 65%, from $500,000 to about $580,000. As well you have likely had depreciation on your taxes, that provided you with a loss on your tax returns for the property (if you are eligible to claim real estate losses) which has saved you tens of thousands of dollars in income taxes. So your monthly cash flow is neutral, perhaps slightly negative, but you have seen your investment grow in value and gained cash flow with your tax deductions.


Keep in mind the above scenario is based on finding a home for $500,000 in an area that rents for $2500 per month and would increase in value an average of 3% per year over five years. That said it appears this type of scenario checks the boxes for cash flow (after taxes), appreciation and deductions on your tax returns.


What are other factors to consider? Costs is a very important consideration. It costs money to purchase real estate, the rule of thumb is about 3% of the purchase price, and it costs money to sell real estate, the rule of thumb is about 8% depending on real estate commissions. So in the above scenario you have about $15,000 on top of your down payment to close the transaction and if you sell at the end of the five years your costs of sale are about $46,000. For your total investment of $140,000 your next gain in equity from the market is about $34,000 which is a  nice 24% return over the five years.


Keep in mind that $34,000 will be taxed as capital gains and any depreciation you claimed will be “recaptured”, a fancy term for taxed. Check with your tax preparer but depending on your income the taxes could exceed $10,000.


You can avoid the taxes by participating in an IRS tax deferred 1031 exchange, which entails selling the property and having the proceeds transferred to an escrow to purchase another property. You avoid the taxes, but you are not benefiting from the capital appreciation as it has to roll over into another property.


One mistake many first time investors, and some experienced, make with investment property is they care too much. Too often they want to purchase property they would want live in, or spend too much money on the property. I have seen clients spend tens of thousands of dollars to upgrade kitchens, bathrooms, floorings, etc, to be of the type and quality they would want, but for tenants who generally do not treat their homes the way they would if they owned it. If you want to get in the real estate rental market as a landlord you must remember that it is a business, you are buying an investment not a home and as such your objective is to provide a clean, safe property for rent. Putting in granite counter tops and solid oak cabinets will not increase the rents you can collect, perhaps it puts you at or near the top of the market for the area you are in, but if the market is $2500 you won’t be able to rent for $3000 just because of the nice kitchen.


Which brings me to the most popular way most families obtain their first piece of rental property: convert your existing home to a rental when you purchase your next home. This has many advantages. First, you save on closing costs. Second, you do not need a cash investment for the purchase of the property—though you will need one for the purchase of your new home. Third, the loan is already in place and likely at a lower rate than the current market for non-owner-occupied financing. Fourth, if you sell the property within three years of converting it to a rental you probably can avoid capital gains tax should the property appreciate.


Should you purchase a property for rental income and investment? The answer requires a lot of thought and research as to the short and long-term consequences. Before you make the decision consult with your tax preparer and investigate other options with the money you would be investing.  Compare possible rates of return in cash flow and appreciation, costs of acquisition and divestment, on-going costs of maintenance and loss of income, and the potential tax liabilities.


I am happy to be part of your investigation by running numbers and scenarios for different sales prices, down payments and types of properties if you are considering purchasing rental property.


Have a question? Ask me!


Lots of major economic news this week. On Tuesday the Conference Board reported that consumer confidence is at its highest level since October 2000. The higher confidence is supported by increases in personal spending and earnings in July. Spending increased 0.4%, the fifth month in a row for the primary economic engine for the country. The increase in spending was greater than the increase in personal incomes, which rose 0.3% in July, causing a slight downtick in the savings rate. The higher earnings, increased spending and tighter labor market caused prices measured by the PCE index to increase 2.3% in July, the highest level in six years. More importantly the index used by the Federal Reserve to gauge inflation, the PCE price index stripped of energy and food to reach 2.0%. The different pieces of data are each supportive of higher interest rates and collectively provide a strong push for higher rates.


Also putting upward pressure on rates, was the revision of 2nd quarter Gross Domestic Product released this week showing growth of 4.2%, revised upward from the initial report of 4.1%. A combination of tax cuts and consumer spending pushed corporate profits higher for the quarter helping push GDP growth.


Rates for Friday August 31, 2018: My economic training and experience is telling me that rates should have gone up this week based on the data. They are flat from last Friday, and have remained flat since the first Friday in August. Investors are tempering their decisions on bonds and mortgages waiting to see if a big shoe drops from the White House on tariffs with China and other nations. Earlier this week there was an apparent understanding with Mexico to revise our trade agreements, perhaps the same can occur with Canada, which would alter NAFTA. We will see how those negotiations and others go. If the result is positive in regards to no tariff wars and updated agreements we will definitely see rates go up–absent some other major issue or crisis.



30 year conforming                                            4.375%            Flat

30 year high-balance conforming                      4.50%               Flat


Please note that these are base rates and adjustments may be added for condominiums, refinances, credit scores, loan to value, no impound account and period rate is locked. Rates are based on 20% down with 740 FICO score for purchase mortgages.



To slightly change the famous Alice Cooper song, Schools In ‘Til Summer. Our Long Beach Poly junior was a bit grumpy in the early hours of Wednesday morning seeing the wrong side of seven o’clock for the first time in months, I’m sure she was the only teenager or younger in the city in that frame of mind.


Hoping all your students have a successful year!


Have a great weekend,



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