Real estate investments are a large percentage of all home sales, accounting for 24 percent of real estate transactions in 2012, according to the National Association of REALTORS®. If you are looking to feather your retirement nest, rental properties can provide an additional source of monthly income. They’re also a good way to diversify you investment portfolio if your 401(k) or other retirement plans are primarily held in stocks and bonds.
To determine if investing in a rental property is the right choice for you, here are a few things to consider.
Figuring out the dollars and sense
The first step is to calculate the potential cash flow; this is the amount of money a property brings in and the amount you need to pay out to cover expenses. It’s not uncommon for rental properties to start out having a negative cash flow which means that the amount you collect for rent does not cover the mortgage payment. If that is the case, you need to determine whether you feel comfortable making this additional cash outlay each month. Here’s how to estimate what your monthly cash flow will be.
1.Estimate your income
The first step is to determine the amount of rent you can charge for the property. Look at what comparable homes (same size, location, amenities) are renting for in your area. You can get a good idea by browsing craigslist, Zillow or Trulia for rental properties. When estimating your income, allow for the amount of time that your property may be vacant. Most landlords factor in about five percent per year; however, figures vary depending on the current rental market in your area.
2.Tally up your expenses
Your monthly mortgage payment and property taxes are your largest expenses. You may also end up picking up the tab for utilities, such as garbage, water, or gas. Again, check what comparable rental properties are offering in your market. If you do plan on paying utilities, use your own usage as a ballpark estimate.
Property insurance is another cost. Your insurance company can tell you what the premium will be if you utilize the property as a rental.
Rental properties need repairs and maintenance just like any other home. Appliances break, plumbing leaks, fixtures wear out. Figure on spending about one percent of the property’s value per year on maintenance, repairs, and cleaning.
Finding a good tenant always pays in the long run, but it does take time and money to conduct and effective search. If you use a property management company or rental broker, include those fees. If you are conducting the tenant search yourself, add in any advertising expenses and a nominal cost, about $30, for running credit checks on prospective tenants.
The good news about all these operating and maintenance expenses is that they may be deducted from your rental income on your taxes. If you’re thinking about upgrading the property, keep in mind that expenses related to improvements to the property must be depreciated over time, rather than deducted in the year paid. Improvements are designed as actions that add to the value of the property or substantially prolong its life. Examples include adding a new bathroom, remodeling a kitchen, installing insulation or building a deck.
3.Calculate the cash flow
Now total all the monthly expenses and subtract that number from your estimated monthly income to determine your cash flow. To fully evaluate the investment, you also want to factor in the tax write-off benefits of depreciation. Depreciation is an accounting deduction that the IRS allows you to take for the overall wear and tear that occurs on the home over time. Only the building can be depreciated, not that land. The value of a residential structure is depreciated over 27 ½ years at a rate of 3.64 percent of the building value per year. For example, if you buy a residential rental property for $300,000, and the building is worth $200,000, you can take $7,280 each year as a depreciation deduction ($200,000 x .0364)
In addition, if your rental property shows a loss for the year, you may be able to deduct the loss on your tax return. It’s a good idea to consult with your tax advisor to help determine which deductions you qualify for and other tax implications for your situation.