What Is The Best Investment Property? Part 1

With the low mortgage rates and super-low housing prices, many investors who have fled the crazy stock market would like to invest in real estate. Most of us think we know something about real estate and, really, we do. After all, everyone lives in real estate of one kind or another. Owning your own home and owning a rental-producing asset are two different things, however. Let’s assume you are looking to purchase rental property for the first time. Let’s also assume that you will have the 30% or 20% down to invest and want to leverage your money to best possible advantage. What would be the best use of your money?

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Single-Family or Multi-Family?

Many first-time investors automatically gravitate towards single-family homes.  That’s what most people know best, so it makes sense. But, is that the best use of the available money? I would say no. On the same amount of land and  often for the same price, it’s possible to purchase a duplex, a triplex or a quadruplex. That means for the same money, you will get double, triple or quadruple the rent. It also means that if one renter does not pay, you still are receiving half the rent, two-thirds or three-quarters. This will make quite a difference because you have to pay the mortgage and the expenses of the property every month whether you have tenants or not.

Therefore,  all things being equal, which they never are exactly, my preference is to purchase a multi-family dwelling instead of a single family one.  A fourplex is probably the most units a first-timer can handle.  Beyond the fourplex also more complicated loans apply. An investor can even purchase up to a four-unit building with an FHA loan which requires only about 3.5% down plus another 3 to 4% in closing costs. Using such a loan puts the investor at a significant advantage due to the gain in leverage from the smaller down payment. fixer Fixer or Repaired?

Many first-time investors naturally tend to look at fixer properties because they are cheaper than properties in good condition.  If the investor is an experienced rehabber or in the construction business, then it might make sense to buy a fixer. As long as the buyer has experience, knows the cost of the needed materials, and can either do the work himself or can get it done at a reasonable price, integrated into the purchase price, then a fixer can be an ideal asset.

For everyone else, though, it’s really not a good idea. During the rehab, the investor is paying the mortgage but receiving no rent. Sometimes repairs take longer than anticipated. As a rule of thumb, rehabbing a property always costs more than anticipated. Besides the loss of rent, the investor should take into consideration the wear and tear on his personal psyche. Searching out reliable contractors and overseeing their work can be exhausting. For someone with a full-time job, the time lost to the new property can never be recovered.

Fully-Occupied or Vacant?

Another issue that investors have to consider is whether they want a fully-occupied or a fully- or partially-vacant building. Often, sellers are trying to get rid of properties which they have saddled with bad tenants or tenants not paying market rents.  Asking for the rent roll and checking it carefully will show if the existing tenants are paying or not. A smart investor also has a good idea what the rents for the proposed purchase property ought to be. The purchase price should usually be a multiple of the yearly rents. Thus, if the yearly gross rents amount to $26,000, then the purchase price should be about 10-12 times the rent, or $260,000- $312000, depending on the market.  In some markets investors will find properties for significantly less.

In the MLS listings, frequently the would-be investor will encounter “pro-forma” rents alongside the actual rents of the property. This means the seller has failed to keep his rents at market, so the potential  or “pro-forma” market rents are included.  That’s fine as long as the price of the property is calibrated on the actual, not the pro-forma, rents. Of course, usually sellers want to base their price on the pro-forma rents.

But, think about it. The new investor will have to approach the existing tenants with a hefty rent increase as a first introduction, not a good start. Some of the tenants will leave rather than pay more. Others will have to be evicted. Whatever happens, it will cost time and money for the new investor. Reasonably, then, the investor should not pay pro-forma prices.

If the investor feels confident that the current renters are paying close to market rents and have a good history of on-time payment, that is the ideal situation. On the other hand, there are good reasons  to purchase a vacant property as well. The new owner will be able to thoroughly investigate each and every unit, which is usually not possible with tenant-occupied, making any repairs or cosmetic updates required. Plus, the new owner will set the deposit amount, the rent amount and the qualifications for the renter. Don’t want dogs? Want to check credit and do a background check? Want to limit smokers? Any of these are possible with a vacant building.

Is The Housing Crisis Over and Out?

Housing Is On The Upswing

The Good News

The worst of housing times may be slowly working its way into a dim memory as home buyers are returning to the marketplace. The national housing stats are suggesting that the terrible pain of the last six years may, at last, be coming to an end.  According to the National Association of Realtors [NAR], national home sales rose 3.4% in April for a total of 4.6 million homes sold  and the median home price for the nation rose to $177,400, a full 10% over last year. Of course, the  NAR has a vested interest in the health of the housing sector and its stats may be on the rosy side, as many commentators have pointed out. Still, 10% increase in value, even 5%, is terrific news.

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For more good news,  purchases of new homes rose almost 10% over last year. At the same time the purchase price of these new homes rose almost 5% to a national median of $235,700. Housing starts are up over 50% from their 2009 low.  So, it does seem as if there is some ground for optimism. Finally, the combination of  incredibly low mortgage rates and low home prices has begun to attract the public, still stunned from the worst economic downturn in decades.

Why Is This Happening?

For the millions still underwater and behind in outrageous payments, even thinking that the housing crisis may be on its way out is a cruel joke. Nevertheless, there are some solid reasons for an eventual and actual end to the housing crisis of the last few years.  Our U.S, labor market has been improving over the last two years ever so gradually, diminishing the ranks of the unemployed slightly month by month. Add to that enticing mortgage rates which remain at historic lows and it makes sense that home buyers with the wherewithal would begin to have enough confidence in their future prospects to make that big home purchase.

Rent vs. Buy

Rental rates have been rising throughout the country and renting has many advantages over owning a home. Nevertheless, rental rates are still much higher than the cost of owning a home in great swaths of the country. This is based on purchasing a home with 20% down and owning the same home for at least 5 years  Additionally,these stats take into consideration only the purchase price of the home,  not the ongoing costs of maintaining it.

Though for the most part  in Southern California rental rates are still cheaper than owning a home, the allure of home ownership is still a strong pull both for the younger, first-time buyers as well as older, more experienced ones. The many young people who have returned to live with Mom and Dad or those who have rented with roommates for several years are now yearning to live free–in their own homes.

Is The Crisis Finally Over?

Millions of homes are still underwater. Millions of homeowners are still faced with foreclosure or the prospect of short sale. With that in mind,  the housing crisis is certainly not over.  Despite the modest recovery in the U.S., now our global trading partners are starting to slow down or even crash themselves, especially the EU and the BRIC countries [Brazil, Russia, India, China], which had been keeping the economic engine stoked.  This country is recovering and we may manage to keep up the trend going mainly by satisfying pent-up internal demand, especially in housing.

 

Should I Buy Or Sell Now?

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It seems clear that now and for the rest of this year, it’s a good time to buy a home. Prices are still very low and mortgage rates are very low. Both of these factors are likely to extend through the end of the year and into 2013.

For those thinking of selling, it’s a more mixed picture. For those deeply underwater, home prices are unlikely to spike in the next few years, so better to bite the bullet and sell now.  For those who want to move up, this  seems to be the ideal time to make the move. And, of course, many have little choice in the matter: whether it’s through marriage, divorce, new babies or new jobs, selling is really the only option.

 

 

My, How Mortgages Have Changed!

The horse has already bolted out the barn door, which the mortgage industry is now nailing firmly shut.   Due to the banks’ foolhardy loans during the “bubble years”, home prices and loan values are now at an all-time low, but few are able to benefit. The reason? Those who want a home loan today need pristine credit. That means a FICO score of 750 to 775.  Since the nation’s median score is 711, that means fully half the population would not qualify for a new home loan even if the 20% down payments were no problem.

Because of the new, much tighter loan qualifying guidelines, the terrific bargains out there will have to remain a tantalizing, but forbidden  treat for potential buyers. In the past before the current crisis, a FICO score of 700-725 was considered “solid”, a good risk for the bank. FICO scores range from 300 to 850.  Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, two government agencies, are now covering about 75% of the mortgage market and, according to data just released pursuant to the Dodd-Frank financial-services legislation,  have approved borrowers with 750 to 775 for 75% of their mortgages when in 2005 that high a FICO accounted for just 5% of approvals.

Paying close attention to credit reports is now, more than ever, of prime importance for would-be home owners.  Having a score below 750 does not make getting a mortgage approval impossible, just more expensive. Besides the 20% down payment required for conventional mortgages,  a 730, for instance, would cost an extra .125 percentage points per year.  Between 700 to 725, previously an un alloyed approval, the borrower will pay an extra quarter percentage point. Below 680, it gets harder to find an approval and, of course, costs more.

Those who already own their homes and are looking to tap into today’s great loan rates will face similar obstacles. The banks will look for the higher credit scores, adequate income and what is now increasingly difficult to come by–at least 20% equity in the property. The rules for refi really are little different from those for first-time buyers. Cash-out refis also are subject to stringent approval guidelines as home values are still dropping or wildly gyrating in many areas. And, unlike the past, no one seems to have much faith in the future any more.

 

Great Short Sale News. You CAN Buy Another House.

Losing sleep over the precipitous drop in the value of your home? Wondering how you can continue to make payments on that $500,000 loan when the home now seems worth at most $300,000? Casting  jealous glances at the newcomers in your area who are getting bargain prices and bargain rates?

Guess what? Now you can short sell your home AND  buy another house at today’s prices and rates.

Over 14 million loans in the U.S. are now either underwater or in some stage of foreclosure. About half the nationwide sales to new buyers are either repossessions or short sales.  It seems to most underwater homeowners that there ought to be some way to connect the two–now there is. You can short sale your home and buy a similar property for half the price.

Lenders are  now coming out with new programs, many insured by FHA, which make it possible for homeowners to short sale their homes and simultaneously buy another property at today’s prices and today’s rates. Many homeowners have allowed their homes to go into foreclosure or waited helplessly for the loan modifications that never came simply because they couldn’t figure out where they were going to live if they left their homes. Some decided to stick out the school year. Others couldn’t bear to leave the neighborhood. Now they don’t have to.

Here are a few of the guidelines that will allow homeowners to short sale their current home and simultaneously purchase another home. First, they must be current on their mortgages. So, owners who have “let the property go” or who were not financially able would not qualify. Finally, here is some reward for those who have steadfastly made their payments in the face of dropping values.

Second, they must be able to qualify for the new mortgage.That means a FICO of at least 640 and income sufficient to pay for the new mortgage.That’s not as hard as it may seem. If a homeowner can pay the $500,000 mortgage at 6% or 7%, no matter with what great difficulty, think how easy it will be to pay the $300,000 with a 5% mortgage for an identical property.

Third, the buyer must have money sufficient to pay the minimum 3.5% FHA down payment and the accompanying  closing costs. The short seller will get no proceeds from the sale of his property. That’s a given. So, where will the money come from for the new property? If  it’s an FHA loan, the minimum down payment is 3.5% and that total amount can be a gift. Also, the short seller is eligible for the federal tax credit which goes up to $6500 for move-up buyers. That may be applied to the down payment or closing costs, but this is not yet determined.

Finally, some programs require that the new loan cannot be more than the previous loan. So, in this case the new loan cannot be more than the $500,000 which the  buyer was paying on the previous home. With the drop in prices today, in most markets, this will be an easy criterion to satisfy.

Impetus to do short sales just got much bigger. If you’ve been dithering about what to do and how to house the family after a short sale, these new loans could certainly aid in the decision-making process and give you peace of mind. Short selling your home and buying another one at today’s much lower values may, in fact, result in a significant improvement in your housing standards…

Mortgage Rates Fall Again!

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Freddie Mac  released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey (PMMS) in which the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 4.78 percent with an average 0.7 point for the week ending April 2, 2009, down from last week when it averaged 4.85 percent. Last year at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 5.88 percent. This is the lowest rate since1971 when Freddie first started the survey–that’s 38 years ago!!

The 15-year FRM this week averaged 4.52 percent with an average 0.7 point, down from last week when it averaged 4.58 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 5.42 percent. This is the lowest rate since Freddie began keeping track of the 15-year rate in 1991.

Five-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) averaged 4.92 percent this week, with an average 0.7 point, down from last week when it averaged 4.96 percent. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 5.59 percent. The 5-year ARM has never been lower in the life of Freddie Mac’s weekly survey, which dates back to 2005 for the 5-year ARM.

One-year Treasury-indexed ARMs averaged 4.75 percent this week with an average 0.6 point, down from last week when it averaged 4.85 percent. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 5.19 percent.

What does all this mean to you the homeowner or potential home buyer? That’s easy…Run, run to your nearest mortgage lender and grab these rates while you can…If you’ve thought of refinancing, now’s the time. If you’ve thought of home buying, now’s the time..

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How To Buy a Rental Property

Sometimes it’s best to cut to the chase. Buying a rental property is not brain surgery, but it does require preparation, called in real estate due diligence. I f you want to make money with your rental, you must do your due diligence.

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Bottom line: Research the area, the demand, the renters, and the zoning. And listen to your gut instinct.
Buying a rental property is different from buying for yourself. Banks know this as well.  Banks often require a larger down payment and charge higher interest rates for rental property than they do for owner-occupied homes. Today, for the best buyers, that is, those with those excellent FICO scores of 750+,  lenders are offering 4.5% on 30-year conventional fixed loans for owner-occupied properties.  For non-owner occupied, add 1%, so the rate for the same loan would be 5.5%. If your FICO is not quite as good, never mind, you’ll just pay a slightly higher rate. But, these are the best rates in 50 years!!

And never forget: Real estate is not a liquid asset. If you need to sell quickly, especially in a down market, you could have trouble getting the price you want or finding a buyer at all.

In addition, if you’re without a tenant for a period of time, the investment goes from cash cow to cash drain. For that reason,the typical advice for landlords is set aside about six months of monthly expenses. It’s good advice, but easier said than done. If you wait until you’re completely safe, you may never take the plunge.

Do the Math


Besides doing your due diligence  on the area and the property,  take some time to  sit down with a calculator and run the numbers.

First, you need a good idea of what rental prices for  comparable properties in the area fetch. How to find out? You could ask your friendly Realtor or these days check out the local Craigslist and figure it out for yourself.

Then total what you’d pay each month for the mortgage, insurance, and 1/12 of the annual property taxes. Include any expenses that you’re paying, like water, maintenance or community dues. If you’re not managing the property yourself, include the management fees. This is your monthly cost.

What you want to see on that balance sheet is a positive cash flow of at least 6 percent.

In addition to income, you can get a break on your income taxes. The Internal Revenue Service lets you depreciate the building portion of your property (minus the value of the land) over 27.5 years, which means much of your cash flow will be tax-deferred.  If  you ever sell the property, you’ll have to pay taxes on that depreciation, but if you don’t sell it, your heirs will never have to pay it.

And realize that this is not a short-term investment, you have to be in it for the long haul. The longer you hold the property, the greater your gain.

Before you consider buying a rental property, get an inspection from a certified professional home inspector. That way, you know exactly what you’re getting and what, if any maintenance issues you may have. Also, especially in the current financial climate, be prepared for “all those negative emotions” from people on the sidelines telling you not to buy.  The people who are telling you this, I guarantee they are not investors.

While owning rental property can be challenging at times, financially and even emotionally the rewards of a well-bought and well-managed property are  really worthwhile. You are providing housing to families, you are making money for yourself, and you are running your own operation. What could be better?

Mortgage Rates At 37-Year Lows!!

Finally, some good news.  Mortgage rates are now at their lowest since 1971 as the Federal Reserve continued to pour money into the morgage market in an effort to jump-start  housing sales. Freddie Mac announced that rates for 30-year, fixed conventional mortgages have dropped to 5.19%. This is the lowest rate since Freddie began its weekly mortgage survey in April 1971. Subsequently, nationwide rates fell to 5.06, the lowest since the 1960s.

All this comes as a result of the Federal Reserve buying up $600 billion of mortgage-related securities and other debt issued by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and other Federal Home Loan banks.

This has resulted in a surge of homeowners seeking to refinance adjustable-rate mortgages.  Refinancing, however, has become a much more difficult game than in the past few years when home owners seemed to view their homes as alternative ATM machines, refinancing sometimes two or even three times in the same year. Refinancing is now far more difficult.

First, homeowners must have equity in their homes.  Here in SoCal where prices have dropped over 35% in the past year, this means either the very conservative who did not participate in the refi craze or those who have owned their homes in good areas for a long time.  Second, the old days of no qualifying and no verification are over. Now homeowners must  qualify, providing evidence of   income via tax returns, W-2s  and bank statements. Also, even qualifying homeowners must be aware that refinancing costs money for points, title and  escrow fees as well as appraisal fees.  Yes, the fees are integrated into the new loan, but in these days of plummeting equity is that a good idea?

For those near or in foreclosure these new rates will mean little or nothing as the foreclosure will continue. However,Fannie and Freddie do plan to help distressed more homeowners via loan modifications. In fact, the plan is to up the loan mods from the 60,000 last year to 75,000 this year.  Loan modifications typically are applicable only to those who’ve missed at least three loan payments, have sufficient income to make a modified payment and still live in their homes.  Recent data have shown that, distressingly,  even those who get loan mods wind up in foreclosure a few months later.

Falling interest rates are a godsend to the economy. Just as consumers have benefited from falling gas prices, homeowners who buy now or who can refinance will find themselves with quite a windfall of extra money in their pockets. In the aggregate, this should account for billions of dollars of extra spending power and may accomplish its goal of stimulating the now-moribund housing sector.

It looks like good news for the new year. We could certainly use some.