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Apartment Investing

Some of the gurus make it sound easy to buy apartment complexes. They say you look for a poorly run apartment building with insides in need of paint and carpeting, the metal railings unpainted and rusting, perhaps the grounds poorly kept and probably a high vacancy rate.

Investing limit rationale

The gurus also say it is often less work than with single family houses. An example of this might be venture capitalists and other types of investment bankers. Each has upper and lower limits of deals they will do. If it is too large and takes too much money, they may not have the experience or the money to do that deal yet. On the other hand, they all have lower limits below which they will not invest. Why? They have deals coming to them all the time. Each deal takes a similar amount of time to evaluate and negotiate and structure. Therefore, why spend the time on a small deal when you could do a larger one in the same time and make considerably more money. Plus, if you do a small deal, you have to do more deals to make the same profit and that means spending time that you could have been doing other things.

The gurus who push investing in apartments make the same argument. Why not spend your time on larger deals and make more money? Of course, if something goes wrong, you could be in a lot more financial trouble. However, because of the size of the deal, you are in some ways more protected because the lender will be lending to an LLC or corporation and you are somewhat protected. Possibly more so than investing in a single family house.

No Personal Qualification

One of the key factors that is attractive besides the size and greater money is that you don’t need to qualify personally for a loan with the bank. On commercial loans of this sort, the cash flow of the property is the determining factor.

Making Money

The idea is to find an apartment complex that is run poorly with a high vacancy rate or with rents that are below market. Part of the loan to purchase the property will be assigned for rehab. Once the units are fixed up and rented, the property will have more value. Or, once the leases roll over and the rents are raised to market value, the value of the property will increase. Why? Because commercial valuations are based on cash flows and raising the rents jumps cash flow and has a multiplier effect on the property value.

In residential real estate, the value is based on comparables. With commercial, you can increase the value of the property by increasing cash flow even if the real estate market if flat. Sweet deal!

You then have some choices. You can sit back and enjoy the cash flow or you can sell and have a fantastic payday. If you decide to sell though, you need to understand 1031 exchanges or you will be giving a lot of your money to the government.

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Specialty Contractors

There are the general contractors, but then you have the specialty contractors such as roofers, tub refinishers, carpet guys, railing & stairs contractors, floor refinishers, etc.


There are a lot of people who claim to be roofers, but that is partially because they are attracted to the margins. We have used one guy for years who used to work for one of the major companies in the area and is now on his own, so he has lower overhead and is a lot cheaper. But, because of their training, he is good.

Tub Refinishers

If your tub has a nick or scratches you might want to contact a tub refinisher. If it is a high end house, get a new tub. If it is for a rental or a lower end house you should look at the refinish option. When they are finished it looks almost like new.

Carpet Installers

Carpet can cover a lot of sins. If there is a floor that is in too bad a shape to be refinished, or it has 2 or 3 layers of tile / linoleum on it, you can put down a thick padding and then carpet and  save a lot of money compared to redoing the floor. Ask to see an example of their work so you can see if their seams are visible or not.

Railing & Stairs Contractors

If you can find a good metal fabricator they can really add value to the place you are working on. If a set of stairs need to be replaced, you can get them to put in a set of modern looking open riser stairs. This can be a real wow factor. At the same time if you are replacing railings, you can have them include baskets or scrolls or twists in the spindles which aren’t much more expensive but give a much fancier look and ads value to your rehab so you can sell it for more.

Floor refinishers

Finding a good one can be hard but worth it. Try calling or stopping in to several companies that sell flooring. They usually know floor refinishers and can recommend several to you. Don’t refinish a floor yourself. But, do refinish the floor if it needs it. It can make a dramatic difference in the appearance of the house. The problem is that the sanders are tricky to handle and can seriously gouge and damage the floor. (I would love to know how the professionals learn to do it in the first place.)

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So if you are going to rehab a house, you need contractors. First you might want to read the segment on rehabbing.

Paint and Carpet

For a simple job, that people call paint and carpet, you would just go in and paint the house and either clean or replace the carpet and refinish any hardwood floors if they need it.

If you are going to get a carpet cleaning done, you should go for steam carpet cleaning. It is more effective. Otherwise, check around and get several prices for replacing the carpet.

Regarding refinishing the floor, be careful. Hire a professional who knows what they are doing. We have seen people rent machines and try to do it themselves. It is harder to do than it looks and we have seen many trashed floors with gouges and uneven. It looks so bad that you need to replace the floor, carpet it, or take a hit on the value of the house. Whichever, instead of saving money, you have lost money.

A good painter can be worth their weight in gold. They can make a place look brand new and greatly increase the value with a skillful paint job. They need to prep correctly. It will often save money to use more expensive paint because you will probably only need one coat of paint instead of 2 or 3 and all the time that entails.

General Contractor

You can get a general contractor who will take care of everything and give you a single price for the whole job. This can be an easy way to start out. One way to find them besides online or in the phone book is to go to your local REIA (Real Estate Investment Assocation) and ask for names of good contractors.

But then as you move forward, you want to get to know different specific contractors. You may want to have a general contractor do part of the work but bring in your own plumber or electrician.

It is more work on your part to coordinate the different specialties but you can save money by doing this.

More Complex Jobs

For more complex jobs, one of the most important trades is the electrician because wiring is throughout the house and in almost every wall. If there are problems and you have to start opening up walls to fix them, the costs can mount fast. You need to look and see what condition the electrical system is in. Is it the ancient knob and tube? If so, you probably should replace all the wiring in the house.

Plumbing is more confined and is only in a few areas of the house but is also very important. If the bathtub is scratched or has problems, you can hire a tub refinisher who comes in and puts a new surface coat on the tub and it will look as good as new.

You may need carpenters, although it may be easier to let the general contractor deal with this. Probably more important is someone who can do sheetrock. If you get the right person, they will do it quickly, will do it right and you won’t have problems with nail pops and they will probably be the same in price or cheaper because they know what they are doing.

The roofer is another key person. You may be able to make some repairs or put a new layer of roofing on. In most places, if there are two layers, you can’t put another layer on. You need to tear  them off and put on a single new layer.

You may also need  someone to repair or replace siding. In some cases, rather than painting and repairing the exterior, it is easier to put siding on.

Why you need to pay your mortgage early

Mortgages can be a pain the neck sometimes, especially when the property has a high rate of vacancy. Most people will tell you that the longer the mortgage payment plan the fairer the deal is, but even if you are paying in small chunks does not make the expense any smaller. In fact, the longer you pay your mortgage the more expensive it gets.

pay your mortgage

But there are so many other benefits that you get when you pay your mortgage early. In this article I will highlight just five reasons you should pay your mortgage earlier.

You own it

You might think that you already own the house because you are living in it, but the truth is before you pay your mortgage in full, even if you don’t default in your monthly remissions, you still live with that perpetual fear of losing the property to the bank if anything happens and you can’t pay as promptly as you thought.

The loan associations or banks that lend to you, hold the title to the property and you must deliver by paying the mortgage in full to have the peace of mind and call yourself a property owner and…

Mean it!

It increases Cash flow

Mortgage payments take the largest chunk of property revenues every month.

Before clearing the mortgage, you can’t even have a proper investment or meaningful savings. Clearing your mortgage reduces your monthly expenses— in the long run and leaves you with a lot of money to invest in other businesses.

Also, with cash flow, you can also improve your property value which should always be the next phase of property investment after acquisition.

You save on Interest

While it is true that the principle forms the real headache of mortgage payment, interests on the principle will pile up to tens of thousands if you stretch time.

Paying earlier saves you a lot on the interest. The simple logic is, the longer you pay the mortgage, the higher the interest that accompanies it. It is because of high interest that most property buyers opt to pay for their properties in upfront.

Easy access to loans

The real estate business thrives so much on loans. As a real estate investor you always find numerous opportunities that would pay so much in the long run but require large sums of money to jumpstart.

For example, you might bump into a rundown apartment in a cheap neighbourhood with promising returns, but if you have a huge loan, your credit score will not be favourable, you become a huge risk to lenders.

Clearing your mortgage improves your credit score and make it easier for you to access other crucial loans.

You become risk-averse

While most entrepreneurs will shun risk averse investors, being risk averse is an instinct many investors have thrived on.

When clearing your mortgage early becomes a priority you become blind to high risk investments that may sway you off the path. In the end you clear your mortgage early and say “Now bring it on” because you are now free to invest in high-risk ventures without the fear of losing your home.

In conclusion, there are so many benefits of clearing your mortgage early, but it is also good to assess your financial realities. If your revenues aren’t sizable, then it makes perfect sense to pay in small amounts over a long period of time— this will be expensive in interests, but it will be easier to your financial realities than committing huge finances that cripple your other facets of life.

Beginner Tips for Real Estate Investments

You have finally decided to make some real estate investment for your future. Then you discover that the industry is intimidating and unpredictable. Here are four beginner tips to point you in the right direction.

  1. Real Estate InvestmentsUse a structure

Using a limited liability company or a limited partnership is better than investing with your name. Although there is paperwork involved, a competent attorney will come in handy at this stage. Save yourself future risks by starting on the right foot.

  1. Decide on your niche

You can get your bucks through several methods, depending on how much capital, time, and skills you possess.

  1. Residential real estate investments. You may buy apartments for rent to tenants for an agreed period of time. Often, the lease agreement in the United States is twelve months.
  2. Commercial real estate. Office buildings and skyscrapers are capital intensive but provide a steady income once you make multi-year leases.
  3. Industrial real estate investments. Your property may target industrial firms or customers who temporarily use the premises.
  4. Mixed-use investments. A sizeable amount of capital can afford you a city within a city.
  5. Indirect real estate investments. If you do not want to deal with the properties, you may still gain from the industry through other ways. Real estate investment trusts (REITs) allow you to buy shares and get dividends from corporations. You may also purchase land or a building and lease it back to a tenant.
  6. Know where your profit comes from

Real estate investment involves a lot of risks. You need to know the market well and understand when to make your profits.

  1. Real estate related income. Here, you make your money by buying and selling or managing a property.
  2. Cash flow income. You can buy a premise and rent it out to tenants who in turn pay you cash. Your clients can either be individuals or businesses.
  3. Real estate appreciation. Properties go up with new developments that bring scarcity around your area.
  4. Ancillary real estate investment income. Within a large premise, you may decide to operate your mini-business such as laundry facilities and make profits.
  5. Do your math

No, you do not need college skills to make calculations. However, you need to understand the costs involved such as taxes, utilities, regular maintenance, and insurance. A spreadsheet should help you make an informed decision. Ensure that bookkeeping is part of your business.

As earlier stated, the real estate business is risky but rewarding. If you start with the basics, you learn the ropes and become a guru within no time.

Importance of Home Inspections

Importance of Home Inspections using a home inspector

Home inspections are an all-encompassing examination about the home condition. This is a process that is mostly ignored by buyers. A home is an important purchase and a home inspection is an inexpensive way of discovering the homes universal condition. Thus, to avoid a costly mistake, it is recommended to do home inspections so that you do not end up purchasing properties requiring major repairs.

A professional who is a certified home inspector conducts general inspection of the home. Generally, a good home inspector assists the buyer in exactly understanding what to acquire. A home may appear ready-to-move position, but it is an home inspector who considers the features such as plumbing, electrical wiring, insulation, roofing and structural features and unveils issues that fails to gain attention of the buyer.

A buyer must understand exactly about the home before purchasing as he is making a vast investment. Having a certified home inspector do a thorough inspection of the property is essential. Home inspection processes are done in different types before purchasing a home. Importantly, a certified home inspector inspects the exterior, structure, electrical, roof, HVAC, plumbing, insulation, interior and ventilation. As the inspection is complete, the home inspector provides a report suggesting repairs or improvements essential meeting the current standards.

Home inspections reveal problems that could be pricey.  This also may be a great tool in negotiating with the seller.  As a buyer you may negotiate the price based on the findings of the home inspector.  During inspection within the home, if flaws were found, the buyer has an opportunity to negotiate based on the repairs he has to pay or about the issues he may find problematic.

  • Another very important home inspection process is the termite/wood destroying inspection. The home inspector checks for structural damage signs caused by wood boring insects. A general home inspector also performs this inspection if he is paid an additional cost.
  • A radon inspection is also done importantly before buying a home as it is considered dangerous to health. Radon is a gaseous element that is a breakdown of radium and occurs in granite areas. A radon test is done using a radon kit that is hung or placed in the house for a period of two to seven days. If the test is high, alleviating radon meant seal concrete slab floors, water drainage systems and basement foundations.
  • Other inspections include well water testing, septic tank testing and oil tank testing.  General home inspectors are qualified to perform all the tests. It is important you check the qualifications of the home inspector and if required consider skilled professionals.

Leveraging Your Time

Turnover rates

Retail stores have ways of tracking what is selling. One is dollars / sq. foot. You look at the items in one area over a certain amount of time. Take the amount of sales in that time and divide by the square feet of floor space they take up. Then compare to other items in other parts of the store. This way you can get an idea of what is making you the most money.

Another tracking statistic is turnover rate which has more application to real estate investing. Let’s say you have two products and product A has a $1 profit and product B has a $2 profit. Which is better? It is not necessarily B.

What if you only sell one of B a week and you sell 100 of A a week. So on a weekly basis, Product B has a turnover rate of 1 and product A has a turnover rate of 100. A is far outperforming B even though you make less per sale.

Banking and Finance have similar concepts and since their “product” is money, it involves how often do they reuse or re-lend their money but that is a whole other discussion so we will leave it at that.

Turnover in Real Estate

Many people who start investing in real estate have some connection to it, such as being a plumber, a contractor, or an electrician for example. They figure they will save money by doing as much of the work themselves as possible.

That is fine if you are looking to just supplement an income, but isn’t good if you are trying to grow this into a business so you don’t have to work everyday.

An Example of Turnover

Let’s say that it normally takes you 4 months to rehab a house when you are trying to do a lot of the work yourself. (Sometimes these types of projects take a year or two instead of 4 months. Then you have to factor in carrying costs as well.)

Let’s also assume you usually make $30,000 profit on a rehab.

Now, if you were to hire other people to do the work, who weren’t doing it nights and weekends, but full time, they would get the work done a lot faster. We will assume the rehab will be done in a month and a half and the extra cost is $10,000 so your profit is only $20,000.

Conclusion on Turnover and Leverage

So in one case you take 4 months which means you could do 3 rehabs in a year and you make $30,000 profit on each for a total of $120,000.

In the other case, it takes 1.5 months which means you can do 8 rehabs in a year and make a profit of $20,000 on each for a total of $160,000 in profit.

So by hiring other people and leveraging their services for time, you can make more money and grow faster if that is what you want.

The numbers will vary, but you get the concept. Be aware of time and do some calculations to see if it makes sense to do some tasks yourself and what you will hire others to do.

Where to Invest?

One question some people have is where should I look? Should I look in the wealthy areas, the middle class areas, the poor areas or the hood? To some extent any of them will work, they just take somewhat different strategies and temperaments.

Investing in Really Bad Areas

If you want to invest in the hood, the really bad areas, are you comfortable going to those areas? What about at night? Yes, you can get properties for very little money, but it might be a bit more difficult to get financing than in somewhat better areas.

In addition, how much of a hard ass are you about being a landlord. If you are a soft touch, you are going to get abused financially as a landlord, especially in these areas. If you aren’t really tough and experienced as a landlord, or have someone who can do property management for you, avoid these areas.

There will be little appreciation in value, in fact, possibly depreciation depending on what is happening in the area. Also, if you want to sell, you will probably only be able to sell to another landlord who is also going to be looking for a deal.

Investing in Expensive Areas

If you want to go for the really expensive areas, you will probably be looking for foreclosures. You would then do any repairs necessary and sell it. This is called flipping or wholesaling. Flipping is legal, but got a bad name because a lot of people committed fraud while doing it. Fraud is obviously not legal. It would be tough to buy a place in this price range and rent it out and make it cash flow. Also, if you make a mistake or miscalculation it is going to cost you a lot more money on one of these properties.

Most investors go for the last two categories. If you are new to investing, this is where you should be looking.

Investing in Middle Class Homes

Middle Class “cookie cutter” homes is an area many people like. These are good for either fixing up and selling or for renting. Both depend on getting the right price as with any real estate transaction.

John Schaub, a very wise investor and a nationwide speaker on real estate only invested in these types of areas. He looked for properties he could rent. He figured the tenants would pay off the mortgage and then he had a great long term income stream.

In these areas you have a greater chance of appreciation than in poorer areas and they will weather any market downturns better than poorer areas. The other thing is that if you are looking to sell, you have a much larger pool of buyers. For expensive homes, the pool of buyers is small and for poor neighborhoods and especially the hood you also have few buyers except for landlords who are also looking for a deal.

Investing in Poor Areas

So the downsides of the poor areas were kind of covered above. They are likely to have less appreciation and there are fewer homeowners to buy the property. It can be a good area to build up rentals for income but the people tend to be harder on houses and do more damage than in more middle class areas.  You will also probably be a bit more challenged landlording in these areas. However, the prices are cheaper so you can potentially get more property.

If you are savvy and know what the trends are, you can do very well by investing in a poor area that is being gentrified and moving to middle class. That way you get the best of both.

Hope that helps.

First Purchase & First Contractor

Fear! It can be incredibly difficult to make your first real estate investment. You don’t want to screw up and lose a lot of money. One key to this is finding a good contractor or contractors.

General Contractor

For your first time unless you have knowledge of building you will probably want to hire a general contractor who then hires and oversees all the subcontractors. Sometimes it is more expensive this way and other times good general contractors can actually save you money. But to start, use them and then get to know some plumbers and electricians and maybe to some of the subcontracting yourself.

How to Estimate Repairs Before Making an Offer

To put in a bid, you need to have a general idea how much a renovation will cost. You also need to make repairs that are appropriate for the neighborhood. You can put top of the line everything into a house in a blue collar neighborhood and lose your shirt and never get the value back out. Or you can put really cheap appliances and fixtures in a nicer neighborhood and have no one want to buy the house.


One way you can find contractors is to look up REIA on line. It stands for Real Estate Investment Association. Most cities have one. Go to their meetings and ask around for suggestions for good contractors.

Contractor as Consultant

When you find a house you think is a good buy, ask 2 contractors to meet you there (not at the same time) and go through the house with you. Tell them you will pay them for their time. It might be $100 to $200. But consider it paying for education. Your cost could be much much higher if you estimate wrong and buy at the wrong price.

Have them go through and tell you what they think should be done to fix up the house and what it will cost. You want prices for different things, not just a total price. You also need a list of what will be done. Most likely they will make different suggestions so you won’t really be able to compare their two proposals in a direct comparison. But you will get a good idea of the ball park number for repairs. You can then make your offer.

If the contract is accepted, you might then bring in a third contractor to give his ideas and a price. What you then want to do is figure out what features you like that all three have given you. Combine them into a list of features / repairs that you want and ask them for a price on this list. They shouldn’t have a problem doing this because it probably isn’t that different from what they gave you to start with.

Then choose one and sign an agreement with him to do the work. You do not have to pay this one for his time. The other two you should pay for their time since they are busy and could have been doing something else and have taken the time to educate you some. As you gain more experience you can still get 2 or 3 quotes but you won’t have to pay for their time usually because you have more experience and can tell them more specifically what you are looking for.

1031 Exchange – Why They Are Important

What is a 1031 Exchange? It is called that because that is the section of the tax code that defines what they are and how they need to be done. They are also called like kind exchanges or Starker exchanges. They are primarily used in real estate but can be used for other types of property as well.

Tax Free Swaps or Exchanges

So what is it? It is a swap of one investment asset or one business for another. Normally when you sell one and buy another there is capital gains tax to pay. If you follow the 1031 rules you will have little or no capital gains tax to pay when you exchange one property or business for another. Forbes has a nice little article on them.

Tax Deferral

This allows you to continue to grow the asset or business tax deferred. That is a huge bonus because you can leverage that money you didn’t have to pay in capital gains taxes into even more growth. Plus, you can do it as many times as you want. There is no limit on the number or frequency. (Always check with your lawyer and accountant to make sure nothing has changed.)

You don’t pay tax until you finally sell without doing a 1031 exchange. Using this method almost guarantees that you will pay only long term capital gains and not short term which is generally a much lower tax rate.

The rules are very specific for 1031 exchanges. Don’t try to do this on your own. Definitely use an attorney who has done a number of these so you don’t mess up and find you owe a lot of taxes.

Key Features to Be Aware Of:

– For business and investments only, no personal assets like your home

– You can’t exchange partnership interests or corporate stock. You can exchange paintings.

– It must be a like kind exchange. However like kind is fairly loosely defined but there are little twists that you need to be careful of.

– Delayed exchanges – You can’t always find something to buy of like kind immediately. If you have a middle man hold the money and then buy the new asset for you, it can still qualify despite not being a direct transaction.

– Designate the replacement – You must specify what you will buy within 45 days of selling your asset or business. Many people create a list of possible properties so they have options in case one falls through. If you take any money from the sale before the purchase is made it negates the 1031 exchange.

– There are rules about listing multiple properties. The IRS says 3 as long as you close on 1. But you can list a number as long as the value of all of them is not more than twice the value of the property being sold.

– You need to close on the new property within 6 months of selling the old one.

– Some tax if what you buy is less than what you sell. You are taxed on the difference in the two prices.

– Decreased debt will be taxed. If your mortgage on the new property is less than the mortgage on the old property, then that is considered a gain and the difference will be taxed even though you received no cash.

– No tax ever! How? Die! If you have done 1031 exchanges and have lots of capital gains and have never sold the property, when you die, you get a stepped up basis. The property is now valued at the value it had on the date you died and not the value you bought it for. So that effectively means no tax is ever paid.

These are most of the main points you need to worry about with a 1031 exchange. You can see why it is recommended that you use someone familiar with them to guide you through the process.

Hard Money Lenders

Hard Money Lenders

What are they? These are individuals or small companies who lend money to rehabbers to be able to do a rehab project on a house or building. They are not pay day lenders or pawn shops or anything like that.

They typically have their own investments in rental real estate and are knowledgeable about real estate. Obviously, they also need to have enough money to lend out to people. Considering that they lend from $20,000 to perhaps $200,000 or more on a single transaction, they need to have funds or access to funds.

I had thought that they did all the lending with their own money, but later in talking with some people found out that some of the hard money lenders had connections into insurance funds and money sources like that that would use some of their money on higher risk projects to try and increase the return on their overall portfolio.

What are the fees and rates?

The hard money lenders will charge you points and a high interest rate. A point means a percentage point of the loan. Typically the fee will be 4 to 5 percentage points, although if you are lucky, if you find the right lender, you might only have to pay two to three percent. So if the loan is for $50,000 and the fee is four percent, or $2,000 and you would only actually receive $48,000. Then the interest rate is typically in the twelve to eighteen per cent range.

Why are the rates and fees so high?

In some ways, its because they can be and because people are willing to pay. Why would someone pay this  much when they could get lower rates at the bank?

1. Some people can’t get a bank loan so this is the only choice they have if they want to rehab a house.

2. Some people can qualify for a bank loan but don’t want to because of the time and effort involved and because of the other assets that the bank might want as collateral.

3. If done properly, and the rehab is done in a short amount of time and the property sold, it doesn’t really cost that much money.

You would never take out a hard money loan on a property you planned on renting. It would cost way too much and be very difficult to have a positive cash flow. This is when a bank loan or low cost private money should be used. But, if you are fixing up a house and turning around and selling it, you won’t be paying the high interest rates for very long.

Because of their experience looking at a lot of deals, hard money lenders can also help keep you from making a mistake in a purchase. If they don’t want to lend, chances are you need to take a second and harder look at the deal.

Typically, they will not give you all the money at once. They will split it into tranches (pieces) and give more to you once you have completed what you are supposed to. They will require you to give them a plan of what repairs your are going to make, in what order, and how much they will cost. They will also want to know what you are planning on paying for the property and what you expect to sell it for once it is fixed up.

If the lender doesn’t agree with these numbers, he may just say no. Or, he might tell you where he thinks you are wrong and how to change the numbers to ones he feels is more reasonable and that he will lend on.

How to Find a Hard Money Lender

Good hard money lenders can help you out and help educate you. Most have no interest in foreclosing and taking over the property. They just want to lend money and don’t want the hassles of foreclosure. However, there are others who look at it as a way to buy properties cheaply. There are many real estate clubs around the country. Search online for REIA which stands for real estate investment association. There is probably one near you. If you go to a meeting, you can ask around and get suggestions on good hard money lenders and ones to watch out for.