Archives for May 2012

The 4 Resources Needed to Invest in Real Estate

Over the last decade or more, it seems like there have been a lot of real estate investment books, TV shows, infomercials, and seminars talking about how much money can be made in real estate.  While there is money to be made in real estate, it may not be as easy as you think.  Many of these shows and books usually have a creative way to make money, but most of those creative strategies are very risky, take advantage of others, or are too time-intensive to be worthwhile.

If you want to make money investing in real estate, your strategy is heavily dependent upon these four resources:

1. Cash & Credit
2. Knowledge
3. Time
4. Expertise

Cash & Credit

If you do not have a lot of cash, your investment opportunities will be limited.  Most financial institutions will not lend money for investment property without at least 20% down payment.  Majority of auction strategies, such as buying foreclosures, require all cash. And while many real estate “gurus’ say that you can invest in real estate with no cash or credit, they are often wrong.

If you are really serious about investing in real estate, start saving up your money.  Real estate can cost quite a bit compared to alternative investments such as stocks & bonds.  At the time of this writing, average home prices in Clovis, NM are $139,000.  A 20% down payment is $27,800.

As my professor used to say, “Cash is King.”

Knowledge

If you want to invest in real estate, there are a lot of things to be knowledgeable about.  For starters, you will need to know the law.  Owning property brings with it a lot of legal responsibility.  If you own rental units, you will need to know what the law says about landlord-tenant relations.  There are a lot of myths about what you can get away with as a property owner… just because you think that you can lock out a tenant who owes you money doesn’t mean that you have legal permission to do it.

Other areas where you may need to be knowledgeable are finance, property maintenance, property management, and taxes.  Real estate can often be complicated, so you will need to have the right connections and knowledge to be able to handle the situations thrown at you.

Time

Time can often be an area that beginning investors don’t think about.  You will want to make sure that you have enough time to handle the tasks that are involved in investing.  If your strategy is to rehab houses, this is a very time intensive strategy.  If you invest in rental houses, they still require time to manage, maintain, collect rent, and more.  If your schedule makes it hard to do some of these tasks, it may be worth looking into a more passive investment.

Even if you have the time to be a good investor, it doesn’t always mean that it is worth your time.  For instance, if you can make $20 an hour on a side job, and the profit you make investing only brings in $10 an hour, your time is still better off working the $20 an hour job.  Few investors actually pay attention to the amount of time involved; all the time it takes to search, buy, market, manage, and maintain an investment property may be more than it is worth per hour.

Many big investors do well because they take advantage of economies of scale.  It often takes the same amount of effort to manage 10 houses as it does 3, so it works for them. It may be hard to make it worth it if you only have a couple of investment properties.  So, make sure to analyze the time it takes and whether it is economical.

 Expertise

Another resource to take into consideration is your expertise.  Many investors started making good money in real estate because they have a skill that they could do themselves.  For instance, someone in construction could rehab a house a lot cheaper than someone who isn’t.  Someone who is good at managing rental units can avoid the cost of hiring a property manager.  You get the idea.  The more hands-on you can get with your investment property, the less money you will spend to hire others.

You won’t make much money if you get a large loan, pay contractors to fix everything, and hire a property manager to oversee your investments, as there is not much left over for yourself.  Make sure to take into account the expertise required to invest, and exploit the areas that you can do yourself.

Photo Credit: Money” by PT Money on Flickr.

Why Getting Pre-Approved is Important to Starting a House Search

Many buyers get frustrated when their Realtor asks if they have been pre-approved.  They think, “all I want to do is look at houses, we can worry about the pre-approval later.”  We understand your frustration, but let me help explain why the pre-approval process is so important….

1. A Pre-approval Letter shows that you can buy a house

Unless you plan on buying a house for cash, you will need some sort of financing.  If you cannot obtain the financing, say hasta luego to the idea of buying a home, for now.  There is not much more that is frustrating (to buyers and Realtors alike) than to look at houses for several days only to find out that you cannot obtain financing to buy one.  Therefore, we usually ask for a pre-approval so we can both have reassurance that you can buy a house.

2. A Pre-approval Letter helps define your search

It lets you know what you can spend, so it saves time and energy from searching for houses that you cannot afford.

Think of the emotional drain of finding the house of your dreams and then the bank says that you cannot afford it.  We would rather you not look at those houses that you cannot afford.  If you can only afford a $100,000 house, we need to make sure you are only looking in that price range.  If you look at too many houses outside of your price range, you will not enjoy the houses in your price range as much.  A Ford Focus never looks as good after you drive a Lamborghini.

3. You’ll have more leverage in negotiations with the seller

Having a pre-approval letter really makes your offer look good to the seller of the house.  They are more willing to negotiate with someone who is pre-approved than someone who isn’t.  Plus, if there are multiple offers on a house, yours will be ranked higher due to the fact that you are already pre-approved.  It is less risky for the seller than looking at an offer from someone who isn’t.

4. A Pre-approval letter is better than being pre-qualified

Many banks will give you an informal estimate of what you can afford, and this is known as pre-qualification.  It is not a statement of fact, but rather an opinion.  Make sure you get an official Pre-Approval letter.  This is a statement of fact, and will hold a lot more weight than a pre-qualification letter.  It takes more work to get pre-approved, but it will save you a lot of time in the long run.

We hope this gives you a few reasons why it is so important to get pre-approved.  If you have a hard time starting the pre-approval process, give us a call and we can help lead you in the right direction.

Photo Credit: Tax Return and Calculator” by TaxBrackets.org.  CC Licensed.

Rent vs. Own: 6 Reasons Why Renting is Better than Homeownership

Recently I wrote a post about why owning is better than renting.  Now I would like to look at the flip-side to that argument…. why renting is better than owning.  In my industry, it is taboo to talk someone out of owning a house.  It would be comparable to a car salesman convincing you to stick with your current vehicle rather than buying a new one.  But, the truth is, there are a lot of advantages to renting, and I would not be a good real estate professional if I didn’t talk about all facets of real estate.  So, here we go…

1. More flexibility

If you are new to your career, just arrived to town, still going or just finished college, or if you have a complicated financial circumstance (in the process of divorce for instance), renting may be the better solution for you.  The reason is because your future may change in an instant, and it is a lot harder to move from an owned home than it is from a rental.  I wrote an article about why it  wouldn’t be cost effective to own unless you planned on staying for at least 2-5 years.  If you are in a situation where your living arrangements could change quickly, renting definitely offers more flexibility than owning.  Some people just love to move often, and renting just works better for them.

Renting also offers more flexibility with your neighborhood preference.  For instance, say you moved into a neighborhood because you liked the shops nearby, or liked the neighbors, or whatever, and those factors changed…  The stores nearby closed down, a bad factory moved into the area, or your friends moved.  If you are renting, you can choose to relocate to another neighborhood pretty quickly.  A homeowner may have to wait for a while to sell their house (especially if the neighborhood is no longer as desirable).  Overall, renters usually have more flexibility with their living arrangements.

2. Fewer carrying costs (maintenance, insurance, property taxes, etc.)

While it is true that most homeowners pay less for their mortgage than a comparable rental, they also have to worry about maintenance issues.  Some of these maintenance costs can be quite expensive; roof repairs, plumbing problems, painting, electrical issues, and more.  When you are renting a house, these costs are usually covered by the landlord.  This is definitely one of the perks to renting instead of owning.  Your rent payments are predictable payments, no worrying about unpredictable maintenance expenses that come up.

3. Sometimes it is cheaper than owning

If a person does not have a large down payment (at least 20%), they will probably have to pay Private Mortgage Insurance, which can make owning nearly as costly as renting.  Or, if your credit score is not good enough to secure a lower interest rate, that could make a mortgage more costly as well.  Remember, just having a lower mortgage payment is not all that matters, it is the unexpected costs like maintenance that can actually make rent cheaper than owning.  If an owner is hit with a $10,000 roof replacement bill, it could take several years to even break-even with a comparable rental.  Therefore, if a rent rate is similar to a mortgage rate, renting may be cheaper in the long run due to the predictability of maintenance costs (or lack thereof).

Let’s not forget that some tenants have a really good rent rate because their landlord never raises the rent.  In these cases, their rent may be cheaper than owning.  No use spoiling a good living arrangement.

4. No risk in economic recession or depression

If our economy goes into a recession, homeowners initially suffer more than renters.  During a recession the market slows down, house prices fall, and many homeowners are stuck paying for mortgages on homes that no longer have any equity.  Just look at what happened to house prices in bigger cities over the last several years (Phoenix and Las Vegas ring a bell?).  Foreclosures have sky-rocketed around the country, and more people are looking to rent to avoid that mess from happening to them.

Let’s face it, the United States is in a lot of debt.  There are two ways that a government can pay off debt: inflation of the currency, or stopping the spending and letting the country go into a recession/depression.  Usually it is a combination of both.

Renters are not affected nearly as much as homeowners in times of deflation.

6. No Debt

Many financial advisors don’t see a mortgage as bad debt, but it is debt nonetheless.  If you really wanted to stay out of debt and avoid the mortgage altogether, renting is your alternative.  There are many advantages to being debt-free.

Photo Credit: “Unfurnished Apt for Rent” by turkeychik on Flickr.  CC Licensed.

Google’s Products Continue to Impress

There are very few companies that continue to impress me like Google has.  They are constantly innovating and improving their products day after day, month after month, and year after year.  It is no wonder that they continue to dominate the search engine market with 65% of all searches conducted.

If you haven’t checked out their product line, click here to browse through their services.

Their products are simple, easy to use, and powerful.  Majority of them are free, and the beauty is that most of them can sync together with one another.

Here are a couple of products that I use on a daily basis:

Gmail

I doubt there is another free e-mail service that can top google’s gmail.

Google Voice

My main phone number is now my google voice number.  I have all of my contacts stored online (and in Gmail) in case I ever lose my phone.  I can transfer calls to any phone I want, so I am not always tied to my cell phone.  Each voicemail is transcribed and written in text for me. Every conversation, text, and voicemail is stored online and I can search through them with Google’s powerful search.  On top of that, I can have personalized voicemails for each person and I can text people through my computer (even take calls on my computer) instead of my phone.

Google Calender

Great calendar that sends notifications to my phone and lets me collaborate events with others.

Google Drive

This is one of the latest products of Google, and I imagine I am going to use it a LOT.  It is Google’s version of a hard drive, but yet your files are stored online so that you can access them from any computer/phone you want.

Recently my mom’s computer broke down and she nearly lost all of her files that she had accumulated over years.  Many of these were hundreds of pages of documents that she had crafted, and it was one of the most desperate feelings to see all that work disappear.  Nowadays we store everything on Google Drive just in case something like that happens again.  Many people are eery of online backups, but I would trust Google’s servers anyday over our own computers.

Google +

Google + is similar to Facebook and Twitter, but it is far more than just a social networking platform.  It is a way to combine many of your google products into one.  I love my google + profile, and actually have all of my Facebook and Twitter feeds going through Google +.  It is a nice place to do searches and chat with others around the country that are talking about the same subjects as me.

Many More

Other great products that are used on a consistent basis are Google Maps, Google Reader, Picasa Web Albums, and more.  They are truly coming out with products all the time that are moving technology forward.

Photo Credit: “Google” by Carlos Luna on Flickr.  CC Licensed.

Rent vs. Own: 7 Reasons Why Homeownership is Better Than Renting

Homeownership is usually considered a better alternative to renting, thus the reasoning why many people call it the “American Dream.”  I think that both have their advantages and disadvantages,  but in this post I will cover 7 reasons why homeownership is better than renting…

1. Homeowners can customize their property

As a homeowner, you can customize your property any way that you like.  You can paint, add a patio, remodel the bathrooms, put in new flooring, and more.  Most landlords would not allow you to do this, but being a homeowner gives you the right to do it.

2. Homeowners get tax benefits

Mortgage interest and property taxes are tax deductible.  You can also qualify for energy efficient deductions, home office deductions, and more.  Plus, if you own your home for 5 years, you can pretty much avoid federal taxes on the sale of your house.

3. You don’t have to deal with a landlord anymore

This can be a good advantage if you have dealt with bad landlords in the past.  You now have control over the privacy of your home and can maintain it the way you see fit.  If something goes wrong, you can control who to call and how fast you want them out (of course, you now have to pay the bills for that service).

Also, a landlord cannot ask/force you to move from the property.  When you own your own home, you have certainty about your living arrangements.

4. Owning a home forces you to save

There is an argument out there that owning a home is like forcing yourself to save.  A portion of your mortgage payment every month goes towards the principal of your house.  Whenever you sell the house, you can access all that equity that you have built up over the years.

5. A fixed mortgage won’t raise in times of inflation

If you have kept up with the economy, you may realize that inflation is the norm nowadays… and it looks to get worse before it gets better.  For the most part, inflation raises the cost of living, but not with your mortgage.  If you have a fixed mortgage, your payment will stay the same, regardless of inflation.  Renters cannot have the same guarantee with their payment.

6. House values usually increase

There is a good chance that your house value will increase over time.  If anything, it should increase to keep up with inflation.  If this is your only reason to buy a house though, beware.  House values also have the possibility of decreasing, as many have seen in other areas of the country.

7. Limited Payments

If you live in your house long enough, you can eventually pay off your mortgage and not have to worry about house payments anymore.  It could take 30 years (with a 30-year mortgage), but it is better than paying for the rest of your life in a rental.

Photo Credit: “Housing” by james.thompson on Flickr.  CC Licensed.

Rent vs. Own: How Long You Plan on Owning Can Make a Difference

How Renters and Owners View Homeownership as being Positive

One question that is asked a lot is whether it is better to rent or buy a house?  Whether buying is better than renting depends on several different factors.  For me, the starting factor is how long do you plan to stay in your house?

The general consensus is that if you do not plan on owning a home for more than 2-5 years, it is probably not cost effective to buy as opposed to renting.  Buying a house is a big commitment that requires some foresight.  There are extra costs involved.  There is more responsibility for maintenance, insurance, and taxes.  Although a mortgage payment is cheaper than rent, a lot of the initial costs aren’t recouped until 2-5 years of ownership.

NY Times has a great calculator to show this:  Check it out here.

Reasons as to why it takes 2-5 years for ownership to become cost-effective:

– Mortgages are structured so that there is more interest paid in the initial years of the loan.  This means that for the first several years of owning a home, not very much of your payments will be allocated to the principal of your loan, but rather to interest.  Therefore, you won’t be building much equity in the initial years.

– There are closing costs to purchasing a home.  They differ depending on the house and how your loan is structured, but there is still an initial expenditure other than just your down payment.  Even if a VA or FHA loan was used to reduce the amount needed at closing, those costs were lumped into the loan amount, and will still be paid off over the life of the loan or when the house is sold.  Remember, there are also closing costs to selling a house as well.

– Houses are not liquid assets.  This means that whenever you want to sell your property to get your money back, it may not happen as fast as you would like.  Unlike pulling your money out of a bank, getting your money (equity) out of a house takes time.  This is why you need to think of the exit strategy for your home.  Are you OK with waiting for it to sell?  Or, do you have another plan like keeping your house as a rental?

As you can see, there are several things to consider if you are on the fringe of buying a home, but don’t know whether you will be around for 2-5 years to make it cost-effective.

How to beat the 2-5 year rule

There is a way to lower the timeframe of cost-effectiveness though….

Since most people purchase the biggest house that they can afford (or the bank will let them), a way to lower your payments is to buy a home that is more modest.  It will lower your monthly mortgage payments and free you up to put the extra amount against the principal of your loan.  Depending on the situation, this could make owning more cost-effective than renting in a shorter timeframe than 2-5 years.

Another option would be to purchase a “fixer-upper” and do the work that is necessary.  Whenever you go to sell, even if it is before the 2-5 year mark, you might have created enough equity to have beat the initial cost of owning a home.

 Owning is still considered better than renting in the long-run

As you read through this post, it may be a little discouraging to hopeful homeowners, but it is only meant to reveal the inital cost of owning a home.  If you plan on staying around the area for longer than 2-5 years, you should really look at your options of homeownership.  In the long run, it is often more cost-effective to own a home as opposed to renting.  Plus, having your own place allows you freedom to customize and live in your home the way you see fit.

When it comes to home ownership, there is no black or white answer as to whether one should own or rent.  It all depends on the circumstances of each individual.

Photo Credit: “Trulia American Dream Infographic – Q1 2011” by truliavisuals on Flickr.  CC Licensed.