One area of the real estate market that is thriving right now is rental property. In the first quarter of this year, landlords and property managers across the country rented more apartments and homes than they have during the first quarters of the past ten years. And according to the Wall Street Journal, the amount that renters are willing to pay has also jumped to a nationwide average of $991 per month.
All indications suggest that the rental market will continue to improve because of the combination of low vacancy rates and rising rents. In fact, the demand for rentals is predicted to far exceed supply through 2015, with some 4.5 million new renters expected to enter the market in the next five years.
What to consider before buying a rental
Being a landlord has its challenges. The recession took a toll on rental prices for a few years and any future economic downturns could do the same. Once the job market returns to normal, there’s a strong possibility that more people will choose to move from rentals into homes of their own. And the demand for rental properties could become oversaturated at some point, resulting in an investment bubble of its own.
What’s more, while the income from a rental property can be significant, it can take at least five years before you’re making much more than what you need just to cover the mortgage and expenses. In other words, the return on your investment doesn’t happen overnight.
However, in the long run, if you select the right property, it could turn out to be one of your best investment decisions ever—especially since rental real estate provides more tax benefits than almost any other investment.
Tax deductions for the taking
One of the great things about owning rental properties is the fact that you’re able to deduct so many of the associated expenses—including a sizable portion of your monthly mortgage payment.
The commissions and fees paid to obtain your mortgage are not deductible, but the mortgage interest you pay each month is—including any money you pay into an escrow account to cover taxes and insurance. Whatever your mortgage company reports as interest on your 1098 form at the end of each year can likely be deducted.
For example, you may be eligible to deduct credit card interest “for goods and services used in a rental activity,” repairs made to the building, travel related to your rental, expenses related to a home office or workshop devoted to your rental, the wages of anyone you hire to work on the building, damages to your rental property, associated insurance premiums, and fees you pay for legal and professional services. However, as is the case with any transaction of this type, be sure to consult your attorney or accountant for detailed tax information.
What to look for
As with any real estate investment, the location of the property and its overall condition are both key. But with rental properties, there are some other factors you’ll also want to consider:
Utilities: Look for a building with separate utilities (water, electric, and gas, etc.) for each rental unit. This will make it far easier to legally charge for the fair use of what can be a very costly monthly expense.
Competition: If your property is one of the few rentals in the neighborhood, there will be less competition for interested renters.
Transportation: Rentals that are near popular public transportation options and / or major freeways (without being so close that noise is an issue) are usually easier to rent—and demand more money.
Landscaping: Properties with small yards and fewer plantings are far easier and less expensive to manage.
Off-street parking: Not only is off-street parking a desirable feature (people with nice cars usually don’t like to park on the street), it’s also a requirement for rental properties in some communities.
How to start your search
Unlike homes, rental properties do not typically have a visible ‘for-sale’ sign standing out front (as landlords don’t want to irritate, bring attention to their current renters, or turn off any prospective renters). Therefore, if you are interested in a rental property, your best option is to schedule an appointment with your real estate agent/broker to discuss your investment goals and identify what opportunities currently exist in your market place.
Condominium homes are a great, low-maintenance choice for a primary residence, second home, or investment property. This alternative to the traditional single-family home has unique issues to consider before buying, as well as unique benefits. Here’s some background information to help you decide whether purchasing a condo is a good match for you.
Increasingly, condos are not just for first-time home buyers looking for a less expensive entry into the housing market. Empty-nesters and retirees are happy to give up mowing the lawn and painting the house. Busy professionals can experience luxury living knowing their home is safe and well-maintained while they are away on business. If you are considering buying a condominium for a home, here are a few things you should know:
With condominiums, you own everything in your unit on your side of the walls. Individual owners hold title to the condominium unit only, not the land beneath the unit. All owners share title to the common areas: the grounds, lobby, halls, parking areas and other amenities. A homeowners’ association (HOA) usually manages the complex and collects a monthly fee from all condominium owners to pay for the operation and maintenance of the property. These fees may include such items as insurance, landscape, and grounds upkeep, pool maintenance, security, and administrative costs.
The owners of the units in a condominium are all automatic members of the condo association. The association is run by a volunteer Board of Directors, who manage the operations and upkeep of the property. A professional management company may also be involved in assisting the board in their decisions. The condo association also administers rules and regulations designed to ensure safety and maintain the value of your investment. Examples include whether or not pets are allowed and the hours of use for condominium facilities, such as pools and work-out rooms. Should a major expense occur, all owners are responsible for paying their fair share of the expense.
The pros and cons of condominium living:
The condominium lifestyle has many benefits, but condominium ownership isn’t for everyone. Part of it depends on your lifestyle. Condominium living may not be optimum for large families with active kids. The other factor is personal style. By necessity, condominium associations have a number of standardized rules. You need to decide whether these regulations work for you or not. Here are some points to keep in mind if you’re considering condominium living.
Cost: Condominium homes typically cost less than houses, so they’re a great choice for first-time buyers. However, because condominiums are concentrated in more expensive locations, and sizes are generally smaller than a comparable single-family home, the price per square foot for a condominium is usually higher.
Convenience: People who love living in condominiums always cite the convenience factor. It’s nice to have someone else take care of landscaping, upkeep, and security. Condominium homes are often located in urban areas where restaurants, groceries, and entertainment are just a short walk away.
Luxury amenities: May condominiums offer an array of amenities that the majority of homeowners couldn’t afford on their own, such as fitness centers, clubhouses, wine cellars, roof-top decks, and swimming pools. Lobbies of upscale condominiums can rival those of four-star hotels, making a great impression on residents.
Privacy: Since you share common walls and floors with other condominium owners, there is less privacy than what you’d expect in a single-family home. While condominiums are built with noise abatement features, you may still occasionally hear the sound of your neighbors.
Space: With the exception of very high-end units, condominiums are generally smaller than single-family homes. That means less storage space and often, smaller rooms. The patios and balconies of individual units are usually much smaller as well.
Autonomy: As a condominium owner, you are required to follow the laws of the associations. That means giving up a certain about of control and getting involved in the group decision-making process. Laws vary greatly from property to property, and some people may find certain rules too restrictive. If you long to paint your front door red or decorate your deck with tiki lanterns, condominium living might not be for you.
Things to consider when you decide to buy:
Condominium homes vary from intimate studios to eclectic lofts and luxury penthouses. The right condominium is the one that best fits your lifestyle. Here are a few questions to ask to determine which condominium is right for you.
How will you use it?
Will your condominium be your primary residence? A second home? An investment property? While a studio may be too small for a primary residence, it might be a perfect beachfront getaway. Also, consider how your lifestyle may change over the next five to seven years. If you are close to retirement, you may want to have the option of turning a vacation condominium into your permanent home.
Where would you like to live?
Some people love the excitement and sophistication of urban living. Others dream of skiing every weekend. Whether it’s the sound of the surf or the lure of the golf course, a condominium home affords you the ability to live a carefree lifestyle in virtually any setting.
What amenities are most important to you?
The variety of condominium amenities increases each year. Decide what you want, and you can be assured of finding it. Most urban and resort condominiums have an enticing array of extras, from spas to movie screening rooms to tennis courts.
What are your specific needs?
Do you have a pet? Some associations don’t allow them; others have limitations on their size. Parking can be a major issue, especially in dense, urban areas. How many spaces do you get per unit? Do you pay extra if you have more vehicles?
Finally, once you’ve found a property you like, examine the association’s declaration, rules, and bylaws to make sure they fit your needs. The association will provide you with an outline of their monthly fees and exactly what they cover so you can accurately budget your expenses.
Review the association board’s meeting minutes from the past year to get an idea of any issues the association is working on. An analysis of sales demand and property appreciation compared to like units may help ensure that you make the best possible investment.