Local Real Estate Investment Madness

The real estate market has been pretty interesting in my area in recent months, and perhaps in yours as well. It’s a topic worthy of discussion on this blog, since many of us consider property ownership to be a key part of our early retirement strategy.

If you live in an area where houses are currently expensive (San Francisco, Vancouver, New York, London, good slices of Canada and Australia, and anywhere else enjoying a surplus of demand) you might be frustrated that even owning your own place seems out of reach. In such an environment, you can often rent a house or apartment for less than the mortgage interest and taxes/insurance/maintenance would cost on a similar space. If the rent vs. buy decision leans towards “rent”, it usually means that buying extra properties for investment income is also a bad idea.

On the other hand, much of the US housing stock is still on sale, presenting favorable conditions for both investment and cozy living. In my own city as well as most of the Denver area, this is definitely the case. In other areas in the US Southwest, there are even better deals to be had. As long as this persists, I’m going to keep an eye out for investment opportunities and pick out some good ones. Just a few examples from the recent shopping list:

Property 1: Nice Neighborhood Fixer-upper

A house recently came up for sale literally right in my back yard (I can see its rooftop over the fence when I eat breakfast each morning). It is a 3-bedroom house with a full basement, 1200 square feet on the main floor, plus a huge yard. But it had been abandoned by the owners at some point via the “jingle mail” process, leaving a bank to take it over and attempt to re-sell it. In fairly ugly condition, but with good bones and potential.

Asking Price: $165,000
Renovation cost to bring to nice condition: $25,000 ($10,000 actual cash for materials, $15,000 of unpaid DIY labor from me).
Potential Rental Income: $1600/month

I put in an offer on this place for $150k, figuring that after paying myself $50/hour for renovations and buying materials, I’d have $175k invested. Gross rental income (at $1600/month) would be $19,200/year, and operating costs (tax, insurance,maintenance) would be about $3000. This would leave me with a net annual return of 9.25% on the total “investment”, or 10.125% on the actual cash outlaid, since the materials for renovation would only be $10k.

On top of that, the place could easily be resold after renovation for about $240k after selling costs, leaving me with a tidy $65k in capital gains whenever I eventually decided to sell it. On an hourly basis, you could thus consider the 300 hours I would spend renovating the place to be bringing in an income of over $250.00 per hour.

Sounds pretty good, right? People often complain that it is hard to get 7% after inflation, and here I can get 10% within 300 feet of my breakfast table! This is exactly why I find real estate so interesting.

Epilogue: Unfortunately, I was not aggressive enough on the bidding for this place and another buyer outbid me. But the education that came from doing the analysis was fun and useful anyway.

Property 2: Downtown Residential Double-Header

A good friend of mine found a sweet deal on a place just a block from the best downtown restaurants. It’s a historic little 2-bedroom place from the 1920s, in rough condition, but for the $131,000 he is paying, it is a bargain. He’s a carpenter, so bringing it back to life will be no problem, especially since he plans to live there. He is also putting a Financial Independence Ace up his sleeve, since this place can easily rent for $1300/month once he fixes it up. After expenses, this is even more than the 10% net income I could have earned on the place in my own backyard. Since this friend has been known to go on long journeys to other states and countries in the past, he can now use his new house to fund his lifestyle abroad, by simply renting it out before long trips.

But that’s just the background for Property 2. The place I was interested in was right next door to his. Currently owned by the same person that sold him his place, this is a nearly-identical 1920s historic house. But mine had a full basement instead of a crawlspace, and a second building at the back of the lot: a 1500 square foot concrete garage structure with a flat roof. Inside, this place is set up as a “monster garage/man cave” arrangement with enviable workshop space as well as a kitchenette and bathroom with shower.

Both units are currently configured as rentals, with a stable tenant in the garage. Total income is a combined $2000/month. I put an offer in at $190,000 for this property, which would yield 10.5% net income, with the potential for much more once I got around to doing some much-needed renovations on both the house and garage, allowing much higher rents in the future (12.6% after accounting for renovation costs). The sellers did not accept my offer (yet), although their counter-offer came close, so these returns are almost within reach.

The fun in owning this property would be to team up with my friend to create a sparkling jewel in the heart of the city – both matching houses would be restored and painted with beautiful colors, fancy front porches and deluxe landscaping. The downfall of this deal is that mine would always have a commercial feeling: not every family wants a 1500 square foot concrete building in their back yard, so future buyers would be limited to investors or people with a serious love for workshop space. (When buying rental properties, always consider the eventual exit strategy, rather than just the retirement income).

Property 3: A Downtown Landmark

Some other friends and I also toured a big old brick 2-story commercial building on the nicest block of Main Street. Built in the 1880s, this beauty has high ceilings and about 3800 square feet of rentable space (a 2600 square foot retail space on the main floor and a 1200 square foot 3BR apartment above). Plus a 2 car garage on the back alley and flat roofs which present amazing rooftop patio potential for the residential space.  Potential rental income was about $3,500-$4,000/month in its current condition (two tenants are already in place), although that could rise considerably once the apartment is renovated. Asking price was $350,000.

This was more of a fantasy exercise, since the price is more than I could safely handle right now, commercial space can be subject to long vacancies, and I don’t yet know much about the business. But it was still neat to think that a person could own such a significant chunk of a historic downtown, for less than the price of a 1-bedroom condo in many cities.

On top of that, our downtown is undergoing a bit of a renaissance right now, including a city-funded rebuilding of the alleys behind the prime downtown blocks (including the alley behind this building within the next 12 months), which creates new pedestrian walking spaces and storefronts – potentially increasing desirability of this building. On top of that, a major new high-end residential project just broke ground a few blocks north of here, which at $21 million is worth about as much as the rest of the downtown buildings combined. It is a speculative endeavor, but if it were undertaken with some confidence and patience (and without much leverage), this building could be a very profitable and fun investment as well.

– – – – – – – – –

The possibilities in real estate investment are endless if you enjoy the work. I am writing about these three examples just to give you a feel of the thought process you might go through if you were to evaluate places in your own area. All of this is made even more fun by the fact that Mrs. MM holds a Colorado real estate license, so we get quick access to information and commission-free sales for any deals we do ourselves.

Equally interesting is the idea of investing in properties in other cities. The deals in my area are reasonable, but people in Arizona, Nevada and many other places have access to houses with even better cashflow right now. I contacted one MMM reader/investor about the idea of buying a place in Las Vegas as a rental, and although he was duly cautious on my behalf, the deals sounded quite favorable. Another reader (who is also a friend) from Australia contacted me personally, asking if I might help him buy an investment place right here in Longmont, since that country’s market is sizzlingly expensive right now, yielding poor returns.

After we return from the winter trip, I will be more serious about getting the next investment house purchased. Although we don’t technically need the extra income for ourselves, I still love the idea of restoring old houses, improving neighborhoods, and generating good investment returns – which can in turn be used for bigger projects (and bigger charitable donations) in the future.

  • Jimbo November 23, 2012, 6:19 am

    This post made me drool… As a canadian, I cannot express much more than jealousy at what you have described.

    I cannot wait for a price correction to be able to look at deals like that.

    The housing market in Canada is starting to show signs of cooling down, though. I think in a year or two, the picture will be very different.

    My savings will probably go into a rental house at some point in the future. Hopefully the deals will be as attractive as what you just described.

    Maybe I should get my Real estate license in the meantime, just for fun…

    • Mr. Money Mustache November 23, 2012, 8:15 am

      The license is a good idea, Jimbo.

      And remember, Canadians can buy property in the US just as easily as US residents. As long as you have the cash, since it is hard to get a loan as a non-resident with no job here.

      • Derek @ Freeat33 November 23, 2012, 9:07 am

        I’m Canadian also, so a when I looked into buying a property in Florida, I thought the prices were great. I couldn’t figure out how to actually buy a property without being in Florida and shopping around. Maybe there is a service that does this. Then you would need to have a property manager also. Seems a little scary at first.

        • Hamster November 23, 2012, 6:59 pm

          My wife is a real estate agent in Whatcom County, Washington (across the border from Vancouver, BC). She has worked with Canadians who have purchased homes here. It’s possible for Canadians to get a mortgage with certain US banks, but on different terms compared to US borrowers. The Canadian borrowers will get something more like a 5/1 Adjustable Rate Mortgage rather than the longer term fixed options for US borrowers.

          Her Canadian investors often get a better rate/terms by taking out a home equity line on their Canadian home, if that’s an option.

          If any specific questions about Canadian real estate purchases here in Whatcom County, you can go to the forum and send me a personal message (Hamster), that I can forward to my wife. I check that e-mail occasionally.

        • Captian and Mrs Slow November 25, 2012, 12:01 pm

          For Canadians buying in the US especially Flordia it’s important to do your research (especially taxes) easy to get caught up in the emotional aspect of buying, a bargin isn’t a bargin when it comes back and bites you in the ass.

          • Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies November 25, 2012, 12:20 pm

            I agree that you need to research taxes no matter where you buy, but as a Floridian, I would point out that Florida RE taxes aren’t particularly high in many parts of the state – we did a breakdown of our recent property tax bill on our blog here -http://www.plantingourpennies.com/2012/11/16/local-tax-time-property-taxes/ . We also have constitutional amendments that protect both homesteaded owners and investors from HUGE upward swings in taxable valuations (for homesteads it’s a 3% yoy cap, and non-homesteads it’s a 10% yoy cap).

            So you get some degree of predictability in the expenses. For instance, even though our duplex has doubled in market value since we bought it two years ago, our taxable value will take a while to catch up, even at a 10% increase every year.

            The public records are generally also super easy to access in many counties, so you can easily find properties similar to the ones you are considering, and look up their official valuations and the corresponding tax bills. In our county it’s all easily searchable online.

            I would argue that makes FL way easier to research and go in with eyes wide open than other parts of the country whose public records laws aren’t nearly so broad.

            Anyhow, just my $0.02 on FL and taxes.

            • Captian and Mrs Slow November 25, 2012, 12:35 pm

              Hi I was thinking of no resident taxes filing a tax return as a Canadian etc definitely doable just be aware of different rules

            • Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies November 25, 2012, 3:41 pm

              RE taxes would be the only taxes you would pay on an investment property in Florida (except for sales tax if you buy something other than food when you visit).
              There is no state income tax in FL – so once the property tax check gets mailed away once a year (and it comes as a bill – you don’t have to file anything), all of your tax woes are between you, the US govt, and the Canadian govt.

        • Mr. PoP November 26, 2012, 7:32 am

          In southwest Florida there are specialized realtors who assist folks from other countries-the mechanics of the thing seem to be relatively simple. On the otherhand, the realtors I’ve spoken with have little or no knowledge of how to tell a good deal from a bad one, and only minimal knowledge of particular areas down to the neighborhood level. I am weary of investing outside of my geogrphical location because of these things.Having a property manager also cuts into the margin of the deal…

      • Paul November 25, 2012, 9:29 am

        What about the fact that Canadians can’t legally do any work (themselves) on places they purchase in the USA (for investment, ie rent it out) as they are technically taking away jobs from Americans. If you plan on renting the place even one day a year you are required to hire American’s to do any work. Even cutting the grass, pathetic.

        This is some serious BS and basically takes away any sweat equity opportunity for us Canucks.

        • Mr. Money Mustache November 25, 2012, 1:47 pm

          That sounds like incorrect information to me.. once you own a house, you can hang out in there and do whatever you want. Nobody even knows you’re doing it! Some municipalities require that licensed contractors before they’ll issue a permit for certain types of work (electrical, plumbing, structural), but that is not the case in my area.

          Any legal issues relating to working in the country are handled at the border. So in the worst case, you might avoid saying, “I’m going to renovate my investment house”, and instead, “I am visiting my vacation house”. But I cross the border twice a year with a vanload of tools and nobody ever even asks why they’re there.

          • Paul November 25, 2012, 4:59 pm

            MMM with all due respect you are mistaken. If you buy a property in the US as a Canuck and use it for recreation purposes you can do as much work as you like. If it is an investment property that will be rented you cannot legally do any work. Please feel free to contact Homeland Security in the US if you don’t believe me.

            As for you coming to Canada to do work on friends and family properties there is no issue since we don’t technically give a shit nor have the resources to.

            Now if you own a US recreation property and do some improvements and sell it say a year or two down the line you should have no issue. But if it is generating a cash flow there’s no dice. As the saying goes No tickie, no laundry.

    • Derek @ Freeat33 November 23, 2012, 9:10 am

      Jimbo, I am a fellow Canadian and really agree that U.S real estate seems very favorable next to ours.
      We purchased a rental on the water near our home town, but due to the previous owner it will require $50,000 in renovations. Then we might end up living there. I guess I’m not doing that well at this real estate investing!

    • Doug November 23, 2012, 4:00 pm

      I also live in Canada, and am not at all surprised that many over priced real estate markets (especially Toronto and Vancouver) are correcting and coming back to reality. In fact, I am surprised the bubble lasted as long as it did. However, reality is starting to set in now. If you want to see a good blog about this topic look at http://www.greaterfool.ca . In fact, a posting on that blog led me to this site!

      • Mr. Money Mustache November 23, 2012, 9:58 pm

        Yeah, I like that greaterfool.ca site as well – and I have noticed quite a few visitors coming over from there, just from links people put in the comments section of Garth’s site. It must have a pretty big readership.

        • Chris L. November 25, 2012, 9:58 am

          I posted a few links a while ago. Many people there complain about how much money you need to retire, yadda, yadda, blah!

          I don’t post there much, but when it’s appropriate, why not. The readership is in the millions. People are pretty dissatisfied with RE market in Canada. Love watching the RE shows where they have to decide from a house of 120k and 150k and we’re looking at double that for a worse house.

          I’ve been invested in RE since 2001 and do renovation work (run a small biz). I sold one of my rentals this past spring and plan to wait for a good deal. Things have been looking worse and worse since 2003. Now the cashflow is zero with most cases lucky to break even at that. Lots of fools in the market so I’m happy to be in cash.

          We sure are envious of your market…as RE investors.

          I personally wouldn’t buy in the US unless you had a good “man on the ground” – personal friend or family who could run the show. Just too much headache and worry for me – but then, I’m a hands-on guy. Hopefully things come back to normal before too long.

  • Rohit @ The Money Mail November 23, 2012, 6:44 am

    I have been analyzing some properties in and around NYC. There are some multi units where the rent covers the mortgage payment. So they may still be good investments. Still not finding any thing in new york city but away from the city there units one can look at.

    • Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies November 23, 2012, 9:25 am

      Don’t forget to account for occupancy rates and other variable expenses when making these kinds of calculations. Rent = mortgage payment is not a safe bet when there’s likely to be boatload of other expenses that you need to cover.

      There are still a few deals to be had in S Florida if anyone wants to throw their money down in our neck of the woods. We got our duplex two years ago for $50K, and now similar ones in the neighborhood are going for $100K. But they’re still going to get $1400-$1500 in rent, so it’s still do-able as an investment. Just with a much higher cost basis than we managed to snag.

      • ultrarunner November 23, 2012, 5:27 pm

        Vacancy loss in Boulder county is, for all intents and purposes, zero. At least the areas of Boulder county where I’m buying rental properties and have friends w/ rentals… I can’t speak for Longmont, but I would guess it’s pretty close to zero.

        • Mr. Money Mustache November 23, 2012, 9:55 pm

          Agreed.. never had a vacancy, or even HEARD of a fellow landlord having an unplanned vacancy, in my 8 years of renting out houses so far. (In various Boulder county towns).

          But recently things seem to be even tighter – like San-Francisco-style urgency among the applicants – 10 responses in the first hour after posting, etc. I think this will cause some upward pressure on our low local rents, which will make all of these investment numbers even better.

      • Brian H. July 12, 2014, 1:27 pm

        I appreciate all your comments. You seem very knowledgeable. I was considering getting a rental property in Jacksonville. Any opinion on that? I live in northern va so I’d use a property manager. Thanks!

  • Samantha November 23, 2012, 6:45 am

    Wow. Interesting article. This reminded me that we are in charge of our personal economies; there are always deals to be had. We’re not in a position to do this yet, still paying off our own mortgage. But I am excited for our future of real estate investing!

  • TheSpanishOne November 23, 2012, 6:53 am

    I am reading you from Germany but I lived in California for 1.5 years and I must say it still puzzles me how different the American and the European societies are. Specially with respect to consumerism and environmentalism. Most of the topics and you discuss in this blog are much different in Europe. For instance: using the bike. In my company, I would say 10% of people actually cycle to work all-year-round (me included ;-) and that might go up to 20% during summer. I bring the topic on this post, because I think the housing market is also very different on this side of the Atlantic. I have recently started looking for housing opportunities where I leave and in my hometown in Spain and it is difficult to find such good deals with a 10% return. In the areas I researched, usual returns range from 5 to 8% at the most, but no more. That is, even after the housing burst in Spain!.

    Anyway, I really like your blog and the ERE one. It’s nice to find other people with similar aspirations that have done it!.

    My girlfriend used to tell me that I am cheap, and then I replied: I am not cheap, I am financially responsible. After reading your blog (and ERE) I can add: and I am not the only one ;-)

    So for the sake of your readers, please keep up the wood work!.

  • Carl Jensen November 23, 2012, 7:11 am

    “All of this is made even more fun by the fact that Mrs. MM holds a Colorado real estate license,”

    We are looking at real estate investment properties in your neck of the woods as well. My wife and I were discussing her getting a license to have access to information and also get the buyer commission on transactions. From looking at the license requirements though, it appears that you need an “employing broker.” In other words, it sounds like you have to sign on with a real estate company. Since the license would be primarily for our own purposes, we didn’t want to go down this route. So, did Mrs. MM actually work as a full on agent at some point? Any advice would be appreciated.

    • Mr. Money Mustache November 23, 2012, 8:13 am

      Yeah, she did the whole “Employing Broker” training/tithing for the required two years, then immediately became independent as soon as that requirement expired. Now she could even in theory employ other brokers and take THEIR commissions, not that there are any plans for that.

      The ability to keep all of your commissions instead of forking over 30-50% of them is HUGE! Plus monthly license upkeep costs are much lower (I think it’s about $50 total).

      • Carl Jensen November 23, 2012, 9:28 am

        Excellent! I have my wife on the computer doing research now to find a broker. If your wife should change her mind, let me know. We don’t even mind paying her the normal commission cut. Better her than a random broker.

        Have a badass time in the Aloha state. Sometimes, you can find cheap inter-island flights. Take a day-trip over to another isle once the family shows up.

        • Mr. Money Mustache November 23, 2012, 12:48 pm

          Thanks for the offer, Carl!

          We normally don’t take on real estate deals for others, except very occasionally for houses right within our own neighborhood (the area called “old-town Longmont”), since we know it so well. Plus it is fun to help improve the area by encouraging restoration of the old homes.

          If you happen to be in this area, get in touch with me through the contact button.

          (Epilogue, 9 months later: Carl ended up buying a house with Mrs. MM’s help and we are now neighbors. Woohoo!)

          • Carl Jensen November 24, 2012, 4:28 pm

            Just to be clear, we’re not looking for someone to take on real estate deals. M just looking for a broker to work under for the mandatory 2 year time period.

  • Justin@TheFrugalPath November 23, 2012, 7:35 am

    Owning property can be a great way to invest your money. Right now in my area starter homes are going for $30k-$50k. I would love to jump in right now, but my financial situation does not allow it.

    In the long run you might be thankful that the property behind your house was sold to someone else. Having tenants living within a short walk could have pros and cons.
    There is a possibility that they’ll show up unannounced at your house and bother you more often than if they lived a few miles up the road.

  • nomoreuntdebt November 23, 2012, 7:47 am

    I’ve mostly seen you post about single-family housing on this blog. Do you have any experience with multi-family units? i.e. duplexes, 3 & 4-plexes?

    I’m thinking about taking advantage of a first time home-buyer FHA 3.5% down payment to purchase one of these units, then live in one and use the cashflow from the others to cover the mortgage / insurance / maintenance expenses. I have no consumer debt, just a pile of student loans. Would this be viable strategy to further reduce living expenses while I’m still aggressively paying down debt?

    • Mr. Money Mustache November 23, 2012, 8:56 am

      Good point UNT – although I like the idea of single-family places because they match my renovation tastes, the best income is often found in multi-unit dwellings. I’ll have a look at that market before making the final purchase.

      As for your own situation – yes, if you can line up the financing, it is often fantastic to live in one unit and rent out/manage the rest. I have met many people who do just this, and they are well rewarded. It”s a combination of a part-time job and an investment that can get someone to financial independence quickly, even without a high-salary job.. as long as the rental income is high enough relative to purchase price.

    • Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies November 23, 2012, 9:17 am

      We considered buying a triplex as our primary residence, living in the top half and renting out the bottom. As it happened, we were outbid, and ended up buying a single family foreclosure that we live in, and then purchased a rental duplex in another neighborhood the following year.
      Two properties combined, we paid a little more than the price of the triplex actually went for, but our duplex units are bigger and rent for more than what we would have gotten for converted garage apartments. It’s also a bit nice that the renters live 20 minutes away. We like them, but having a little bit of air in a business relationship is healthy, I think.

      Watch out for fees on the FHA loans – I hear that mortgage insurance rates are climbing like mad because the FHA is on the brink of having to ask the treasury for a bailout.

      • Mr. Money Mustache November 23, 2012, 12:57 pm

        Wow, congratulations on what sounds like a nice investment house portfolio, Mrs. Pop!

        I feel completely the opposite way when it comes to rental house proximity. 20 minutes? You mean by CAR!? That’s a commute I try to do as little as possible, and thus any issues with the rental house would become aggravating and expensive inconveniences. As it is now, taking care of my rental is just an excuse for a 10-minute bike ride.

        Buying the house next door would be even better – I could keep an eye on things and fix them without even having to pack a backpack of tools. Plus, any improvements I made to the exterior and landscaping would directly improve my own view, and eventually my resale value. Rental house tenants don’t bother you as long as you provide them with a good house where nothing breaks – they want independence and privacy just as much as we owners do.

        • Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies November 23, 2012, 3:01 pm

          Thanks, MMM! And yes, 20 minutes by car. (I’ll just punch myself in the face to save you the trip.) In defense of the duplex’s location, it is on the way home from work for Mr. PoP, so he just stops in on his way home to mow the lawn, etc.

          We definitely have our eye on the duplex next door to ours for another investment – we know having them that close would be even better than just having two in the same neighborhood. But prices have gone up pretty dramatically (about doubled) from when we bought ours 2 years ago, so that changes matters a bit.

          As for renters, around here, it seems like there’s a different level of independence/neediness of tenants between single family renters and duplex renters. We mostly rent to college kids for whom this is their first apartment, and they don’t know how to figure out stuff like adjusting the temperature on the water heater to their preferred setting. The first month or so, they sometimes call with a lot of questions, but they do get the hang of it. I fear if we lived next door they would call Mr. PoP over every time they needed a light bulb replaced. =)

    • Mike November 23, 2012, 11:23 am

      One of my friends bought a large single family and renovated it. He lives in one room and rents out the others which pay the rent and other expenses. So roommates is another way you could go.

    • Hamster November 23, 2012, 6:16 pm

      If the price is right, and the rental market is right, then it’s very viable.

      In terms of cashflow, multi-family will usually bring you better returns than single family (although single family property values often appreciate more than multi). You can get a mortgage as an owner-occupant up to 4 units. Over 4 units, or non-owner-occupied you need to get the mortgage as an investor, not occupant, and you will pay higher interest and need to put more down. I think that if you can stand sharing walls with tenants (and your family member–if any–are ok living in a multi-family), then it’s a way to let the government-supported mortgage industry help you to become an investor.

      My wife and I did that 5 years ago by buying a duplex and renting out one unit while living in the other. She got tired of living in a relatively small place with tenants next door, so we ended up buying a single family for ourselves and now we just rent out both duplex units. It’s been a good investment so far. The returns have beat the stock market over the past 5 years despite the property value being down, and it’s been a great learning experience. We bought another duplex 2 years ago as a short-sale and it’s even more profitable.

    • Brian November 25, 2012, 6:35 am

      We bought and live in a 2 unit. It has been one of the best financial decisions we’ve made. I like that a lot of the major maintenance items like roof and basement, yard, garage, hvac, are shared so you only have to take care of one. It is not that much more maintenance than your own single family.

      Another benefit is that when you leave town, someone else is at your place. This is really nice.

      The downside has been mentioned, that sometimes you just want your own place. But I wouldn’t give that up for the rental income for relatively little time.

      Also, once you are ready to move on, you can rent your own space in the multi unit, and youve had time to get it running right and now you know the inns and outs of the place.

    • Joe @ Retire By 40 November 26, 2012, 7:02 am

      I like the plex idea too, but it depends on your location. In my area, the 4 plexs are all in weird locations. I couldn’t find any 4 plex in the area I really like so I picked one up in an OK location. Being a landlord isn’t really a good fit for me. I think I’ll probably end up selling the rentals in a few years once the price recover.

  • jlcollinsnh November 23, 2012, 8:26 am

    Very interesting.

    As you know, I just returned from Ecuador and part of that trip was spent looking at real estate.

    Shortly I’ll be working on a post about it with the rent v own analysis at its core. Sort of a counter point to the rent v. own post I did awhile back…

  • GoGoGadgetChris November 23, 2012, 9:38 am

    I am curious to hear any thoughts on buying multiple units in a condo/townhouse development. The 100 unit complex I live in is very nice and there are units that will rent for $1,500 but the mortgage payments are only about $800 ( with 20% down). Downsides are the $215/month HOA dues and the constant threat of the HOA establishing a maximum allowed number of renter-occupied units. Plus, if a roof collapses, you’re on the hook for a special assessment for each unit you own. Would the convenience of multiple rentals in the same project outweigh the eggs-in-one-basket risks?

    • Mr. Money Mustache November 23, 2012, 12:40 pm

      I’d would personally not worry so much about the all-eggs issue, as long as the price is low enough that the units could easily be re-sold for a break-even or profit, even in a recession. If you take the total cashflow after paying HOA, property taxes, mortgage payment, minor maintenance, allowance for vacancy that is consistent with your market, a 10% annual ROI on the cash you are tying up in the downpayment, a reasonable fee for your time in managing the rental, and still come up with a good positive number, it could be a good project.

    • catalana November 24, 2012, 7:48 am

      I would be wary of anything with non-avoidable monthly fees if it is vacant. You are effectively increasing your leverage, which will feel fine when tenanted, and like the worst decision ever when vacant. (Been there, done that, got the t-shirt).

      IMHO monthly fees should also be knocked off potential rent when you do your yield calculations.

  • totoro November 23, 2012, 10:19 am

    I have always loved real estate. I love analyzing the deal and do a spreadsheet for each proposed purchase. I currently own three multi-family units (two triplexes and a duplex). Two are in Victoria and one in the Okanagan. One is operated as a vacation rental. All are cash flow positive.

    The vacation rental in particular makes a significant sum and provides us with a family vacation ski place in winter and beachside accommodation in summer. It is a a legal vacation rental which is peace of mind. I also travel to this area once a month for work and my company pays the vacation rental for my accommodation. In winter I rent one suite out to students at a much lower rate. Our kids do two ski weeks a year there as part of a great package deal offered by the local mountain that includes the bus up, full day lessons, lift tickets and equipment for $400. They are really proficient now

    While it is true that house prices in BC are very high right now, interest rates are very very low relative to the prior 20 years – even for 10 year mortgages. I look at overall affordability and monthly cash flow and deals can still be found that make sense in some places. If you are banking on appreciation, I expect that this will be disappointing in these areas for the next 10 years or so.

    In the states things are much more favourable in many areas, but the restrictions for Canadians in terms of DIY on rental properties, as well as more complex tax issues, caused me to stop looking at Arizona. I also could not picture spending loads of time in the States in the future. I’m quite happy with local travel .

    Right now we are looking for a fourth and likely final property prior to retirement.

    So, while I’m not as expert as some, I have learned a few things that work:

    1. Buy in a college/university town.
    2. High quality furnishings are available for cheap on craigslist. You can create an upscale atmosphere for under $2000.00 all in. I have a stock set of products that I buy new including pots/pans, kitchenware, bedding and towels – but everything else is used. I recently purchased a lovely couch/loveseat set for $150 for a furnished rental that originally was over $4000. I am looking for a similar deal now for a solid wood dining set with six chairs. $300 is a common price but they are availalbe for $150.
    3. Vacation rentals are location dependent. Be as close to the amenities as possible – ie. the beach/wineries/ocean.
    4. Buy places that need upgrading but have had the major things done like wiring/plumbing/roofs/perimeter drains.

    What I have wondered about from time to time was investing in another area of Canada that has better appreciation potential and greater ROI – like Hamilton and Thunder Bay. We have family in both places. What stops me is the lack of deep familiarity with the local market and the worry about distance and lack of regular in-person presence. This seems to be less of a worry for some MMM readers so I’m not sure if I should try to overcome these concerns?

  • Tanner November 23, 2012, 10:21 am

    An Australian investor has bought 3 houses in my neighborhood and flipped them for at least $60k profit each. And that is just the houses in my neighborhood I know he has bought and flipped. It’s nice because it brings up the value of my neighborhood, but I wanted to buy a couple of these houses but couldn’t compete with the quick cash close. If you are interested in Phoenix let me know. My wife and I watch the market everyday and mostly miss out because we can’t compete with cash investors. I have been trying to getmy wofe to become a real estate agent because i dont trust any real estate agents i know. But still deals to be had in phX if you act quick. I’ll probably buy another house between now and spring. Winter is always a good time to buy because less competition from regular buyers.

    • Captian and Mrs Slow November 25, 2012, 12:22 pm

      Sounds like a bubble market and of course the risk is gettting caught being the last person holding the cards, this is what is happening in Torontos condo market, is turning and saddening those quick flips are turning into a cash flow negative nightmare.

      Just found this on greaterfool.ca

    • Tanner November 26, 2012, 10:22 am

      Actually phoenix bottomed out last summer. My wife and I missed out on several houses needing little work in the $50 to $60K level last summer. I have been watching the market for the past 10 years. It topped out about 2005 – 2006, and last summer it was at early 90s levels. It’s still a depressed market, with houses to be had between $80k to $150K that need some work, but investors swooped in as soon as they saw the market and the roi here at insane levels.

      If it keeps up I think it could become a bubble again though, This investor activity is what drove it up in the mid 2000s. But I think the savvy investors know when to get in and out. Phoenix is still a buyers market, it’s just getting harder to find the deals, but still a lot of people foreclsoing and short selling due to buying the height of the 2000s. Also I think a lot more investors this time around are in it for the rental income rather than the quick lipstick and flip.

  • stealmystapler November 23, 2012, 11:35 am

    Your return could be even bigger if you can take advantage of federal (and in some places, state) tax credits for rehabilitating either of the historic buildings you mentioned! If they’re listed on the National Register of Historic Places, that is.

    I’m an architectural historian / historic preservationist, and I’ve worked on a number of National Register nominations for developers looking into projects like these. Any historian worth paying should be able to make a good argument for you, and the cost of the nomination will be far outweighed by your tax credit. I’ll admit that working through the process can slow things down a bit, and if you’re not interested in protecting historic features of the building (usually just exterior) this is not the way to go.

    I’m wasn’t familiar with what Colorado offers, so I did a quick search. History Colorado has a great description, and it looks like you can both state and federal credits for income-producing properties. http://www.historycolorado.org/oahp/preservation-tax-credits

  • LB @ Finanical Black Sheep November 23, 2012, 11:38 am

    I would love to hear how your rental properties come along if you choose to buy one, as I live in the same area and want to do the same thing. Of course, I live in a very inexpensive mobile home, while finishing school, so I don’t plan on buying another property for a few more years. I love houses, but my mobile home, which is in your area, is only $531 per month, WITH water and sewer. I just don’t know when I will make the jump to house ownership, when my home is so freaking cheap. The neighborhood and mobile home, is one of the nicer ones, and I can afford to pay for school in full each semester. (I got a killer deal on a used mobile home, because the property owners were selling the property for $1 million and just needed to get rid of the mobile home.) :D

  • Matt November 23, 2012, 11:46 am

    I wish I lived in a different state where the ROI on investment properties is much higher. Here in California you can make money but it requires much more money OOP.

    • mike crosby November 23, 2012, 1:49 pm

      Hey Matt, I feel the same way.

      A few years ago it was fun purchasing and selling in CA. Too much for me now.

      Moving makes sense to me. Not only would I make a lot on my house, but then I could have some fun getting back into buying and selling homes.

  • Mandy @ MoneyMasterMom November 23, 2012, 1:18 pm

    Real Estate Investing offers a lot of options, I always get stuck on the maintenance issue. I feel like having a real estate rental would limit my freedom to travel overseas for more then 10 days at a time.

    • Mr. Money Mustache November 23, 2012, 1:22 pm

      Huh? 10 days? Are you renting out a house that comes pre-stocked with exotic plants that only you can water? Because the rental houses I have owned have never been a factor when I take 2-month trips!

      I make about two trips to mine per year – one in the spring to activate the sprinkler system, and one in fall to shut it down for the winter. During each visit, I take care of any other things that might need fixing – a door handle replacement here, paint touchups or a furnace filter there. Other than that, as long as you don’t rent it to a really incompetent tenant, rental properties SHOULD mostly take care of themselves. Landlord tip: be sure that your tenants at least own a basic set of tools, a lawnmower, and a vacuum cleaner :-)

    • bill g November 27, 2012, 2:25 pm

      I haven’t seen my investment property for 5 years

  • Mortgage Mutilator November 23, 2012, 2:40 pm

    “It is a 3-bedroom house with a full basement, 1200 square feet on the main floor, plus a huge yard. Asking Price: $165,000”

    Holy damn you’re insanely lucky. Being another person in Australia I can tell you that a house like that in either Melbourne or Sydney (even 20 miles away from the city) would cost EASILY above $500,000. And that’s for a house that needs repair work on it! It’s MENTAL here right now!

    It’s also why I did so much research into killing off our mortgage and built up http://www.mutilatethemortgage.com. It details really specific ways to destroy any mortgage, but specifically Australian ones as they’re so high right now.

    I just wish we could have bought our house for $165,000… we’d have paid the damn thing off in 3 years!

    • Jen November 24, 2012, 7:50 am

      MortgageMutilator, YOU are insanely lucky, lol. I live in Singapore. A house like that, even 20 miles from the city center, easily costs $2 million :)

      • Mr. Money Mustache November 24, 2012, 11:38 am

        All this talk of luck is making me a little queazy! You’re only lucky if you happen to be BORN in a city with high wages, low property values and good rental investment returns. Where you actually choose to settle and get your job is a totally different matter that is not to be blamed on luck.

        Sure, it’s possible to succeed even in non-ideal cities.. but you can tilt the balance in your favor by insisting on wages that justify an area’s cost of living.. or insisting on creating a cost of living that works with the wages available.

        • Dave November 24, 2012, 4:25 pm

          MMM, the rest of the world is VERY different from the US and Canada. The US is the richest country in the world, and yet you can still *buy the necessary apparatus of living* for incredibly low average income multiples.

          I know there are less wealthy parts and wealthier parts of many countries, distance from main cities and so on, but still. The US is… unique.

          I mean, if I was able to live in the US, I would do a http://www.tosimplify.net – cheap petrol, good weather somewhere in the country all year round, etc, etc. Thinking about it in Canada :) Unfortunately I’m not a Canadian citizen yet so can’t snowbird.

          Surely in a fair society it would not be possible for people to make 10-12-15% on housing a year. I know it’s capitalism but still, it is rather insane.

          I mean… the amount of money people waste on car payments etc etc etc is also insane. But still.

          • Mr. Money Mustache November 25, 2012, 9:37 am

            Exactly Dave.. now you’re starting to catch on to the purpose of this blog: If the US is so wonderful and cheap, why are we all overconsuming to the point of having financial problems, to the great detriment of the entire planet?

            Because nobody knows how good we have it here.

            But there are also Mustachians outside of North America reading our conversation right now who will quickly agree that their neighbors also need a punch in the face regarding their unnecessary consumption. It is possible to spend much less than you earn in virtually every wealthy country.

        • Jen November 25, 2012, 9:04 pm

          Yep, totally agree. Talking about luck more in joking terms, because as you said – we choose to live in a (very) expensive area for a reason – i.e. high wages. It is all a trade-off and depends on one’s financial plans, goals and strategy. Like me – drooling at the thought of when I retire, sell my ridiculously expensive home, move to a much cheaper corner of the globe and have my fun :)

      • Captian and Mrs Slow November 25, 2012, 12:42 pm

        @ Jen you may want to google Andrew Hallan aka The Millionaire Teacher, he lives there and writes a lot about investing. What’s interesting is in spite of the fact he is a millionaire and can easily retire he still teaches because he loves it.

        I also bought his book for my nephews and Nieces for Christmas.


  • Will November 23, 2012, 3:41 pm

    I agree, that real estate projects can yield great gains, steady income streams, and pride of ownership.

    I would put up a few cautionary points though before deciding on real estate investments:

    1) legally speaking, somewhat risky. Consider having multiple LLC set up for each one. I know I may sound like a “waaaaaah waaaaaah scaredy pants” but it’s a fact we live in the most litigious societ on earth. If a tenant sues on one property, and they’re linked together, or linked to you personally without an LLC, they could take ALL your properties and even your assets.

    2) real estate is an enormous pain in the ass to “move”. If you want to sell a stock or bond, or fund….presto chango it’s done. Real estate can take weeks, months, or even years, and real estate transaction costs are completely ridiculous(6%)

    3). All it takes is one deadbeat and have fun with the eviction process. Better yet, rent and watch the movie “Pacific Heights”. Period end.

    4). do you enjoy getting interrupted at any hour of the day or night because an appliance broke, the drain is clogged, a window won’t shut, there’s ants in the kitchen, the sink is leaking, the toilet won’t flush etc etc etc???? Can you fix those problems? Do you want to?

    5). Do you know how to screen clients? Legally? It’s a ton of fun, not

    6). Have you considered that the place you are renting could get trashed, depreciate, or otherwise go down in value because of a dirt bag tenant or their visitors?

    Remember that the law, although totally irrational, tends to be on the side of tenants not landlords.

    I suspect that for most people, it would be way easier to simply buy and hold Vanguard Index funds. They’re much more liquid, much easier to manage, far less time intensive, cheaper to transact the sale of, have less tax liability, have no legal risk, and on average outperform real estate in terms of selling. One could argue the income stream is higher with rent collection, but only if you can have it as a net gain (minus taxes, expenses, time cost, maintenance cost, and depreciation)

    • Karl Nelson November 24, 2012, 4:50 am

      Speaking as a former building manager (37 units), renting out property can have a steep learning curve (as indicated by the notes in Will’s post). When I have friends and family with an interest in owning rental property, I always recommend that they try working as a building manager for a year. At the lend of the year, you *know* if you can do the work well and someone else has paid you to make all of the new-comer mistakes.

      That said, I loved doing it, it strengthened my marriage, and it helped me form new friendships.

      On the other hand, my current job doesn’t mean that I need to respond to someone forgetting to turn off the tub in their top-floor apartment (discovered when the water reached the bottom floor–multiple apartment buildings certainly allow one to live in interesting times.).

  • James @ Free in Ten Years November 23, 2012, 4:57 pm

    Where do you stand on paying a real-estate company to manage your rental properties? I know it sounds anti-mustachian and that with the free time you have from not having to work you can largely do it yourself, but would that change if you had 10 properties? Or if you wanted to travel extensively when children are out of the picture?

    I’m thinking there must be a point where the management fees are worth it considering the total rental income and time investment trade off.

    • ultrarunner November 23, 2012, 5:38 pm

      I act as a “management company” for two friends who’ve rented their houses (one house, one condo) while they do post-docs (one out of state, one out of country). In 4 years, I’ve been to the condo 3 times (all legitimate problems) and in 1 year, I’ve been to the house zero times.

      Typical management fees around here run about 8-10% of gross receipts. There’s no way in *hell* I’d pay that on my houses. I’d literally be paying somebody $400/hr over the (admittedly small) sample set I’ve managed… and that includes the time I did the repairs, the management company doesn’t do the repairs, they just hire someone (and charge you).

      Rent good houses to good tenants and you’ll rarely hear from them.

    • TommyVee. November 30, 2012, 12:03 pm

      As I mentioned up thread we own and manage 5 properties in Boulder county right now, and professional management for local properties makes no financial sense at all, if you get good tenants (still more an art than a science for us).
      What does make financial and logistical sense for us is developing a good portfolio of plumbers, furnace guys, and handymen to handle jobs we are not efficient at or do not have the time or skills to handle. Finding reliable people takes some sorting, but we appreciated dependable repair people and we give them repeat work that they appreciate.

  • Jenny November 23, 2012, 6:49 pm

    Enjoyed this a lot… especially the part about ensuring you have an exit strategy WHEN YOU BUY!

  • ClevrChico November 24, 2012, 12:57 pm

    Very interesting, just remember the bad with the good.

    – Like the tenants that steal all the copper piping and skip town. It happened.

    – Or being the landlord that didn’t save enough reserves, and re-shingled a roof with a kitchen trash can and a hammer, replacing one shingle at a time. (Next door rental.)

    Obviously, MMM is doing things the smart way, but some of the internet ER discussion sugar coats over some of the negatives.

  • Daisy @ Everything Finance November 24, 2012, 9:48 pm

    I live in the Vancouver area (a suburb of, neighboring city) and consider myself super lucky because my partner is a carpenter. So we can deal with a fixer upper, and for properties like these, they’re not as affected by price fluctuations. But they are still expensive. We’ve always wanted to get into real estate as an investment.

    • wg99 November 25, 2012, 12:08 am

      I’m from calgary and it’s virtually impossible to find anything that has a decent cash flow. I think Vegas is a great opportunity now though. My boss bought a property in lake las vegas area, did some work on it and made 100K profit in a very short amount of time. It’s reasonably quick to get to Vegas so am contemplating doing something similar. It’s incredible that for 130K you can buy a decent property with a pool. That will get you a 1 bedroom in a sketchy part of town here….

  • FederalMustache November 24, 2012, 11:08 pm

    I love this blog but every time I read stories about investing in real estate like this it baffles me. Where are these magical properties that can be had for modest downpayments and the whole cost of the home is less than 200k? MMM’s entire offering price is only a bit higher than a downpayment in my market. We’re in Northern Virginia outside Washington, and not likely to move any time soon unless the government does. Do the real estate investors here just have enormous amounts of cash laying around or what? All the numbers in this blog and any other real estate investing book or blog I’ve read seem outrageously cheap compared to what I see next door.

    • Mr. Money Mustache November 25, 2012, 9:31 am

      Exactly! That’s part of the education Mr. Money Mustache is trying to give you here – house prices vary around the country and around the world. So a person in an expensive area like yourself might use this information to adopt the following strategy:
      – rent (rather than owning) while living in the current area
      – do not buy a rental house while living there
      – plan to move out of the high-cost zone when the time comes for early retirement
      – possibly pre-buy your future house in the more hospitable area, and use it as a profitable rental in the mean time.

  • JaneMD November 25, 2012, 7:20 pm

    (This is why the show ‘Income Property’ on HGTV is so popular – contractor remodels basement apartments.) We had to move out of state for education and are renting out our 1600ft condo (130k) and use a management company. The rent covers 80-85% of the mortgage and HOA fees. It’s not what I want, but Hubby views it as an investment property.

    We’re renting right now because the same 1600ft in our current neighborhood costs 350k. Now Hubby dreams of buying a duplex and renting out the bottom. I patiently remind him we have other loans to pay off first.

  • Holly@ClubThrifty November 26, 2012, 7:34 am

    We have two inexpensive rental properties for this exact reason. They are our future early retirement income generating machines.

    Go for it, MMM!

  • Kathleen, Frugal Portland November 26, 2012, 5:18 pm

    I wish I could do things like this! It sounds fun and exciting. I am not handy, nor do I live in an area where one can buy something like this. But I love reading about other adventures.

  • Linda November 26, 2012, 7:36 pm

    Part of the “sizzlingly expensive” camp here, in the little big country of New Zealand. The housing market is insanely overpriced, something like 8 times annual average household income.

    Even with our household earning more than enough to get a mortgage, there is no way I would spend NZ$650k on a house (median house price in Auckland). It’s funny arguing with colleagues over renting vs buying in this market, they are very set in the “Renting is throwing away money, buying is an investment” mindset.

    It is however very frustrating as a renter, when rentals are in high demand (it’s a bit of a fight at every rental application against other applicants), and of poor quality (rentals are run into the ground for maximum return for the owner), and have many restrictions (Most won’t allow pets, maybe a cat if you’re lucky, but absolutely no dogs…).

    Auckland has a housing shortage as well, and government restrictions/fees means less interest in building new housing in spite of the demand.

    Will be very interesting once the inevitable bubble bursts….

    • Offroad November 27, 2012, 6:31 am

      saved $60,000 last year by renting which is now making 5% in the retirement fund. If I bought would have had to tie that money up in a down payment, or purchase fees, or repairs.

      When people tell you to buy, ask them how much they made in equity on thier house last year. minus all the upkeep repairs, and all expenses (if they did not put $2000 into an account for repairs per year add that).

  • Offroad November 27, 2012, 6:27 am

    am I wrong to think: 1) you need a real estate licence to profit well from any real estate investments via sales and buys and rentals 2) You need to be able to build anything in a house to save big bucks on repair and upkeep.

    Seems the way to be well off is live cheap-frugal; learn how to repair build houses; learn how to invest in real estate. Same formula for the past 100 years.

    buy basement priced fixer upper. fix it. rent it out or sell it for the money you invested. repeat.

    • TommyVee. November 30, 2012, 12:08 pm

      I think a real estate license is almost required if your strategy includes frequent transactions, flips and so on.
      But we have done fine over the last couple of decades without real estate licences, because if your time horizon is long, and your properties have good positive cash flow, the realty commission gets lost in the noise over the long term.
      The most important thing is to select the right properties, and that is something we are still learning about. Nice properties get nice tenants and that makes a landlord’s life a lot easier. Most of our properties are rented at below market rents, but we have long term tenants that cause us no problems so we don’t want to rock the boat.
      When they move out, we will step our rents up to market levels, which are increasing around 8% per year in Denver Boulder right now.

  • Jeff November 27, 2012, 8:32 am

    Keeping your cash in the house only works if you don’t need the money. MMM can do this because the extra money is icing on the cake for him. For those of us who have less of a money mustache and more of a penny peach fuzz, getting a loan is the best way to maximize your ROI. I bought a foreclosure for $95k cash, put $55k into fixing it up, and financed out $125k (based on an appraised value of $170k). So my net investment in the house was only $25k. My net profits are $6k/year, so my ROI is 24%.

    Without the mortgage I could be making $12k/year, but I would have no money for my next investment, and it would take me 6 years to earn another $150k for another cash offer. Instead I can save an extra $25k every year and purchase another house every year (faster as the rental profits start piling up).

    Eventually I’ll have enough properties that it will be time to start paying down mortgages (highest rate first). Each mortgage I pay off will generate more cashflow to pay down the next mortgage. This makes the investments more stable as I get older.

  • Teresita November 27, 2012, 5:40 pm

    I’m in the USA out west. I rent out part of my home: a converted attached garage apartment with separate keyed entrance. Even with a high-maintenance tenant, I make $200-450+ per HOUR as a landlady.

    All I do is collect rent (and late fees), and call my handyman, electrician, and plumber for help as needed. When tenants move, I hire cleaning help and my handyman to fix and re-paint, using funds from the tenant’s security deposit. I return what security money is left to the tenant. I advertise for renters on craigslist and post photos and apartment details, including renting qualifications. I refuse to allow dogs but one cat or small aquarium animals are just fine. I charge a small application fee and call applicants’ employers and do criminal background checks. I accept cash or money orders ONLY. AS LONG AS YOU TAKE THE ABOVE STEPS AND DO NOT NEGOTIATE FOR RENT, LATE FEES, OR ESPECIALLY FOR THE INITIAL SECURITY DEPOSIT then you should be fine.

    Even without calculating annual rent increases (it actually decreased between 2009 and 2011), here is how I profit: $450/month x 12 months x 23 years (how many years I have left on the mortgage) = $124,200 minus approx $12,000 for repairs/maintenance/replacement of worn fixtures and appliances etc. So $112,200 PROFIT (not including tax breaks!) for a couple hours’ worth of work per month and a next door neighbor I get to hand-pick myself.

    You don’t have to be handy or rich to do this kind of thing!

    • 205guy November 28, 2012, 11:43 am

      One thing to be careful is that, in most states, you can’t charge the tenant for deep cleaning or normal wear and tear. If they leave the unit clean and livable, you can’t charge them for the polishing you do to make the unit look good for renting out again. Same for normal wear and tear, for example minor scratches in paint and wood or carpets. Essentially, tenants are paying for the use of the property, and that already includes the normal degredation through normal use. Think of it this way: if a shingle blows off the roof, you can’t charge the tenant for it, or if the carpet needs replacing after 10 tenants, you can’t charge it to the last one. Sorry to harp on this, but my fear is that investor landlords are always trying to gain that extra percent of return, and may be breaking the law (and exposing themselves to liability).

      Your comment also makes me think about multi-unit living arrangements and whether they are informal or legal. Creating a second dwelling on the same property is usually regulated by your local tax and planning departments. Things like separate entrances, lock-outs, and 2nd kitchens (which indicate a separate unit) can’t just be added–though they often are. Same as my comment on the Hawaii vacation rental post, 2nd units are regulated and rightly so. They are essentially a change in the property usage, and because they operate as a business, they change the property values. If you buy a property with a 2nd unit (such as in-law apartment) the purchase price usually reflects the potential income–thus sells for more than comps without the 2nd unit. If you add the unit yourself (hopefully in a legal manner), you pay for the construction, but you get the benefit of the improved property.

      In a similar vein, house-sharing arrangements (roomates, as another commenter her talked about having) don’t modify the house, but they do change the usage patterns. In some cases, say a college town close to campus, it’s the nom. In other cases, it falls into expected usage patterns–two single people sharing a 2 bedroom house is the same as a couple. But the commenter who talked about 4 roommates seems excessive: even if they’re mustachian, they probably still own cars and park them on the street, etc.

      I guess my main point is that mustachian landlords need to be respectful of the community where they live and/or invest. Putting in illegal units, increasing the density of the neighborhood, having more traffic (coming and going) because of excessive roommates are all hurtful to the community. Those actions, while seemingly innocent, are abusing the property to make money, and eventually hurt the community.

      • Mr. Money Mustache November 28, 2012, 12:05 pm

        These things are all true – and they are regulated differently in different areas. Some are very strict, as here in Hawaii, and some areas don’t care at all.

        After all, it is possible to be a great neighbor even with many people in a household (like some of the renters on the street where I live in Colorado), or a completely hellish single-family homeowner (like the guy down the street who drives a jacked-up jeep with a loud muffler and plays speed metal at all times while driving.. who also keeps two rusty “project” cars in his driveway).

        The best things you can do to be a considerate neighbor, in my opinion, are keep your exterior and your gardens nice, don’t keep a barking dog in the yard, and ride a bike instead of driving past your neighbors 5 times a day in the car. Adding extra people, as long as they are peaceful people, can actually boost a ‘hood instead of bringing it down.

        And meanwhile, if someone drives a Harley with a loud exhaust around in a big city, they can easily ruin the day of 300,000 people within earshot, just by commuting to work! If you want to improve the urban environment, start with the gas-burning abominations.

        Note that with inventions like AirBNB, people are skirting the old regulations more often these days. While I do agree wholeheartedly with respecting your neighbors, I admit to a bit of disdain for the way regulations are handled in some cities, because the departments are not run with customer service and the best interests of the people in mind. Cities might solve this conflict by more enforcing of rules which ensure people behave in neighborly ways (not making excessive noise in high-density areas, for example), rather than trying to regulate what happens within the property walls itself.

      • TommyVee. November 30, 2012, 12:29 pm

        While I agree that landlords have a responsibility to be respectful of their communities and to follow laws and regulation, I disagree completely with your comments about density.

        You say, ‘ increasing the density of the neighborhood, having more traffic (coming and going) because of excessive roommates are all hurtful to the community.”.

        If “increasing density” was truly “hurtful to the community” why would apartments in Manhattan rent for 10 times the rent in rural Iowa?? Many people love and enjoy the the liveliness and intensity of areas with high population density, which is partly why the majority of humanity lives in towns and cities, not in low-density sprawl.
        I would argue that increasing density almost always reduces environmental impact (shared walls and spaces, reduced driving, reduced infrastructure per capita).

        On a local level, many neighborhoods in Denver, Boulder, and Longmont have become more vibrant and desirable as multi-family and mixed use redevelopments replaced single-family homes and single-use sprawling development patterns.

        One size does not fit all, and many people like other people, the more the merrier.

      • 205guy December 1, 2012, 4:12 pm

        Point taken that denser living arrangements can be both respectful and even better for the community than some non-mustachian ways, and also that there are many ways to be a respectful (and disrespectful) neighbor that have nothing to with density.

        However, much as I support dense living arrangements myself (having lived in and appreciated some European cities), I don’t think every increase in density is good or beneficial. I think the key word here is “redevelopment.” When you plan the density, you can create very livable communities that have all the mustachian benefits.

        Even if you live in a place that does not regulate the property uses, my main point is that you have to create a better community, not just cram in tenants to pay your mortgage. The comment I am basing this on said: “One of my friends bought a large single family and renovated it. He lives in one room and rents out the others.” I imagine a 3-4 bedroom house in a decent neighborhood with 4 people living in it. Average American house that size is in a non-walkable suburb, so I picked up on the extra traffic issue. But maybe it’s a renovated Victorian in a college town, and all is good.

        Even in cities, you can overdo the density. I’m thinking about the tenements in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Even to this day, new immigrants rent tiny rooms or even bunks from landlords or slumlords in semi-legal buildings (permits and actual usage may be “fudged” due to corruption). This leads to density that is unpleasant and unsafe.

        Yes, some growth has to be organic, it can’t all be planned, but if mustachians don’t want to be just like other money-grubbing landlords, they need to take into account the community. I actually think that’s what MMM was doing with his plans for a commercial/residential building in a downtown area. It was that other commenter’s situation that set me off on this tangent.

  • TommyVee. November 30, 2012, 12:18 pm

    Our family has been doing the real estate investment thing the early 90’s and I think real estate investment skirts the boundaries of early retirement in some ways. Since our real estate investments now generate enough income that we don’t have a financial need to work, in a way we are “early retired”. But managing and maintaining rental properties is a job too, just one that does not require many hours a month. I suppose if our properties were completely under professional management then that would be true “early retirement”, but the ~10% of gross rents that management costs around here seems painful, especially when we don’t visit or talk with some tenants for multiple months.

    I still do software development because I enjoy it, and the contract hourly wages are very good, so most people would not consider us “early retired”, but the flexibility to work when and how we want is very different from my previous life as a cubicle-jockey wage-slave, so we are somewhere on the continuum between employed and retired.

  • Denver78 December 28, 2012, 11:08 pm

    Loving your blog, MMM- I’ve been consuming it for the past couple of days. This article is awesome, and is exactly in line with what my husband and I did a little over a year ago. We live in Denver, and bought a four-plex in a great neighborhood (West Washington Park) in August of 2011. The house is solid, and the rents were very low when we purchased it. We lived in one unit for a year, and over the year were able to raise rents ~40% on the rest of the units to get them to market levels.

    The rents covered the mortgage completely, with an extra $500 going into our pockets every month as well. After living there for a year, we decided that we really wanted to be settled in a single family home, and so I sat down to do some math. My company was acquired this year for a price that made stock I had purchased over the years in an employee stock purchase program worth enough for a 20% down payment, so I wanted to see what we could do stay in a situation where our rental income would cover the mortgage of the four-plex and a new house too. We figured out that renting our unit for $1500/month plus the $500/month we were making would give us enough money to buy a house in the neighborhood where we wanted to live in Denver.

    We bought our dream house in August of this year (a historic house in a great neighborhood with amazing bones, updated systems, and just in need of some cosmetic TLC), and are amazed that we now own ~$1 million worth of real estate that our tenants are buying for us. Since we don’t have a housing expense, we are diligently saving toward our next investment property. I know that we had some turns of luck to get to this point, but I’m amazed at how easy this actually was. I have told a few close friends about what we actually did financially to buy these two houses and the net result, but only one of them really understood how possible it is- everyone else had a lot of excuses for why they wouldn’t be able to do something like what we did. I suppose the first step is saving enough for down payments, but that’s what the rest of your blog can help people do! I’ve been planning to retire when I can replace my full income with passive income, but reading your blog has me shifting to understand that I can retire sooner if we can work a little harder to live on less, and thus have less income to replace. Thanks for the inspiration- your blog is great!

  • Pete M January 18, 2013, 9:33 am

    I too have only just discovered your blog and it is making for fantastic reading! With respect to real estate investing, I would certainly agree there are some serious little earners to be found in the US at the moment – but with one or two caveats: Interest rates (they will rise at some point) and using high loan to value lending (if the market doesn’t at least stay stable or rise – negative equity is a possibility even with the best “fixer upper”).

  • Legal Eagle June 19, 2013, 11:31 am

    I have an investment in very cheap homes for section 8 rental. I have them for $13,500 each. They will get $700 each for the Section 8 vouchers. Assuming no appreciation (a safe assumption for these) the cap rate is, after taxes and insurance, 57%. Why do you feel it is better to invest in expensive properties than something that returns this type of ROI?

    I also own a $200,000 home that only cash flows at $500 after mortgage, taxes and insurance. This only gives me a cap rate of 3%. The more expensive one has appreciated in value and will continue to do so, gets me much more manageable renters, and is only 3 blocks away from my current home but I don’t think those factors outweigh the sheer cash flow of the first two.

    For the same amount of money as the expensive home I can get (even assuming the more reasonable price of $25,000 for comparable section 8 housing in a nicer area) 8 homes. This would net $56,000 of cash flow per year after expenses before income taxes (assume 25% rate) for a total of $42,000 per year. $6,000 vs $42,000. I think almost any amount of inconvenience is worth that. Take out vacancy and repairs and we are still easily covering your yearly expenses with 8 homes.


  • The Roamer May 5, 2014, 9:45 am

    As stated these numbers made me drool aswell. Here in California prices are ridiculous… We are considering buying our first home… We were also considering getting a real estate license to get access to all sale information in the area.. How did you go about getting license? Was it an online program? Would like to hear any recommendations… Sadly the market has rebounded… Article forthcoming on our blog about what we have found so far..

  • Andy G January 31, 2016, 8:04 am

    I realize that as an unemployed person MMM may have a hard time getting conventional financing for RE. But if it is possible why wouldn’t you go for it? A 30 year mortgage on a property in the price ranges you were talking about are not a massive amount of risk. 20%-30% down payment plus repair costs would make the ROI much higher as you know. You could have bought all three properties with financing if your offers were accepted.

    Thanks to MMM and a small host of others that are all familiar here I drank the koolaid of FI a few months ago. My savings have reached the “frugal” level and I continue to try and skin off the extra fat. 401K maxed out. But rather than investing the rest of my savings in Index funds I think saving for REI is the way to go. I’m a carpenter by trade and have been a project manager for decades so I’m made for real estate. But going the RE route is hinged on the notion of using financing to buy them. I would be a buy and hold investor only selling if the market was very favorable. So again, I am curious about your thoughts about financing versus paying cash for properties. Is there some logic I am missing that could sway me to go to the pay cash only camp?

  • xylia z April 8, 2018, 10:46 pm

    Dear person who will provide me with insight,

    Through lots of blogs I have continued to see the trend in controversy regarding real estate. Some believe owning a home is a hindrance to early retirement and renting is better while others believe owning a home is a good investment.

    My question is,

    How does owning a home, paying rent, renting home(s), or a combination like owning a home and renting out other homes affect the math for early retirement?

    In other words, how do these actions affect the savings rate and expected years to retirement found in this graph: https://networthify.com/calculator/earlyretirement?income=70000&initialBalance=0&expenses=25200&annualPct=5&withdrawalRate=4

    -Thanks, X.Z


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