There’s no reason amateur real estate investors can’t profit from small, individual property purchases. With home values currently rising 3.9 percent year-over-year, and expected to rise another 2.6 percent over the next year, why not allocate some of your savings toward real estate?

To get started off on the right foot, you’ll need to make some decisions. Follow these steps prior to entering the real estate market.

Assess your current finances

Typically, financial professionals advise buyers put down at least 20 percent of a home’s purchase price. But to avoid being responsible for two mortgages, many investors wait until they can pay for real estate outright. Obviously this requires a large savings, but to skip the lender and avoid interest rates you might opt for a foreclosure listed below the local market median.

If you do need a mortgage, you might consider living in your investment property to take advantage of owner-occupant rates. You don’t have to live there forever, either. Lenders typically require just one year of residency to lock in the lower rate for the remainder of the mortgage. Owner-occupied interest rates are much more favorable than secondary home or rental property loans.

For those fortunate enough to purchase multiple income properties simultaneously, it’s important to choose the right financing.

“We recommend our clients leverage their investment capital using cheap 30-year fixed-rate mortgages and buy as many income-producing properties as possible. This is how they accelerate their wealth-building with our turnkey properties,” says Marco Santarelli of Norada Real Estate Investments.

Determine the potential cash flow

House flipping shows can make quick profits look easy. Typically, most homeowners don’t profit when they sell shortly after closing. Of course, a major renovation on a flipped home increases the potential for short-term profit, but such extensive upgrades are going to cost a lot of money. Unless you’re capable or experienced in large-scale home improvements, don’t assume you can flip a house by yourself to benefit immediately.

Renting out the property, on the other hand, is more of a long-term strategy. Pricing requires some serious calculations to attract the largest number of possible tenants, while still covering the mortgage and homeownership costs. Although you’ll aim for profit in the beginning, the real money usually flows in after the mortgage is paid.

“When I calculated my potential cash flow from renting out my house I started with Zillow,” says Andy Prescott of Art of Being Cheap. “I looked at Zillow’s rental estimate to see how much income I could expect. Since I was renting out the home I was already living in, I knew exactly what my mortgage, insurance and tax payments would be, and had a pretty good idea how much I would spend on repairs. So I subtracted all my expected payments from my expected income to get my expected cash flow. If that number had been close to zero, I would have been nervous about unexpected expenses, but since I had a few hundred dollars cushion I knew renting my home out would work out well,” Prescott says.

Today’s rental market is notoriously expensive, and competition among lessees is high. Even if you’re not looking to be a landlord long-term, it could be financially wise to rent out your unit at least until median sale prices in the region peak.

Decide on your investment type

Many investors default to considering individual direct ownership as their only way to profit from real estate. However, partnerships (both close and limited) and publicly-traded investment trusts are designed to help investors who might not have the time, or the skills, to run real estate investments on their own. Partnerships can benefit individuals with similar investment interests who aren’t quite ready to dive in solo. Real estate investment trusts (REITs), on the other hand, enable investors to fund multiple projects simultaneously without the hassle of day-to-day management.

“REITs behave in a certain respect like stocks (potential for capital appreciation/loss) and in certain respects like bonds (high levels of current income),” says Rich Ellinger of Wealthminder. “These somewhat unique properties, combined with the ability to raise rents on the underlying properties in inflationary times, mean that REITs behave a little differently than other types of investments. Although subject to economic fluctuation, REITs have performed well in the past few decades. Over the past 20 years, REITs have appreciated approximately 13 percent per year — the top among all equity classes,” Ellinger says.

Unsurprisingly, your financial capabilities, estimated profit margins and choice of investment are all interconnected. Whether you’re starting out with $10,000 or a million, staying informed in the real estate industry — even as a passive investor — is a key to success.


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