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Flip, Rent, or Hold: What’s the Best Path to Real Estate Riches?

Maybe you’re addicted to those home-flipping shows on HGTV where glam couples buy grim shacks, spend 22 minutes smashing down walls and adding funky kitchen backsplashes, and then make tens of thousands selling the refurbished places on the open market. Or perhaps you’re jonesing for a steady stream of extra income and feel certain you’ve got what it takes to be a landlord.

Or just maybe you’re on the prowl for a hands-off way to make serious real estate money with financial investments that don’t require laying down new flooring or screening prospective tenants.

Whichever option floats your boat, you’ve got plenty of company. After the epic boom-and-bust of the speculative home-flipping market in the aughts, everyone again seems to be looking to make a quick buck by becoming a real estate investor. But these days, there are a dizzying variety of different takes on the once-simple idea of property investing—all requiring varying levels of blood, sweat, tears—and risks. Which one might be right for you?

“Over the generations, real estate has proven itself to be a pretty good, time-tested investment,” says Eric Tyson, who co-authored “Real Estate Investing for Dummies.” “Like investing in the stock market, people who follow some basic principles and buy and hold over long periods of time should do fairly well.But, of course, there’s no guarantee.”

And that’s why the thrill-a-minute world of real estate investing isn’t for everyone—especially when life savings are involved.

OK, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s go shopping.

 

1. Home flipping: Not exactly like reality TV

First half of 2017 gross returns: 48.6%*
2014 gross returns: 45.8%
2012 gross returns: 44.8%

If the Property Brothers or Chip ’n’ Joanna can do it, why can’t you? Real estate reality TV has made the “fixer-upper” flipping market seem fun, very sexy—and mostly foolproof. But becoming a successful home flipper is a lot harder than it looks on television. And it isn’t always as wildly profitable as you might think.

The returns appear deceptively high, as they don’t account for hefty renovation costs, closing costs, property taxes and insurance. Flippers should figure that about 20% to 30% of their profits will go straight toward such expenses, say experts. The median returns above only reflect sale price gains—not net profits.

Newbie investors need to make sure they’re thoroughly familiar with a neighborhood before they consider buying a potential flip in it, says Charles Tassell, chief operating officer at the National Real Estate Investors Association, a Cincinnati-based investors group. This means looking at what kinds of homes are located nearby, what sort of shape they’re in, and how much they’ve sold for. Wannabe flippers should pay attention to the quality of local schools, transportation, and the job market—just as they would for their own home. Those are the things that can make or break a sale. And an investment.

A market where homes are still affordable but appreciating rapidly is ideal. Once they’ve settled on an area, flippers need to focus on the basic structure of prospective homes. Special attention should be paid to a home’s heating and cooling systems, foundation, and roof—the things that are most expensive to fix.

Then they need to create a realistic budget. Experts recommend setting aside 10% to 20% to cover any unknowns—like what’s inside the walls. Costly surprises are par for the course.

“The biggest hurdle of flipping is: The costs are never what they seem to be on HGTV,” says flipper and landlord April Crossley, co-owner of Crossley Properties in Reading, PA. She owns the business with her real estate agent husband, and they do 8 to 10 flips a year. “In fact, they’re always way more.”

Flippers are gambling that the housing market stays strong in their target area—at least long enough to resell their investment home.

“You’re constantly anticipating what the market will be doing 6 to 12 months in the future,” says Daren Blomquist, senior vice president at ATTOM. So if you miscalculate, and it drops, you could lose a lot of money.

2. Investment (rental) properties: You, too, could be a landlord

First half of 2017 returns: 13%*
Three-year returns: 9.9%
Five-year returns: 11.67%

Perhaps flipping homes, and all the varied costs and stressors associated with it, isn’t for you. But you’d still like to be a hands-on real estate investor. Why not consider buying investment (rental) properties?

One big advantage is the tax deduction folks get for their rental properties. They can write off their mortgage interest, property taxes, and operating expenses, as well as repairs.

Like home flippers, landlords-to-be should look at growing areas with new jobs moving in, says Steve Hovland, director of research at HomeUnion, an Irvine, CA–based company that helps smaller investors buy and manage properties.

“I’m very bullish on high-growth markets, like Texas, the Southeast, Arizona. You’re always going to have new renter demand,” he says. But coastal cities can be tough for aspiring property owners because they’re just too expensive.

First-time investors may want to target middle-class neighborhoods near top-rated schools, where stability rules and tenants are more likely to hold steady jobs. These homes often require less maintenance—a boon to landlords who don’t live nearby.

Landlords who aren’t local or don’t want to deal with 3 a.m. calls about an overflowing toilet will want to consider hiring a property manager who will find tenants and coordinate (but not perform) maintenance. But that eats into profits, costing about 7% to 12% of the monthly rent.

And the payoff you get, as compared with flipping a home, isn’t in one lump sum, and isn’t always steady. For example, landlord and flipper Crossley rents out multiple single-family homes, duplexes, and apartments in the Reading, PA, area, and once had a couple stop paying their rent for six months after they went through a divorce. She had to eat those losses, as well as attorney fees, while she went through eviction court to get them out.

Landlords also need to have insurance on their properties and set up their rental companies to protect their personal assets, in case they get sued.

And like other investors, owners also run the risk that home prices—along with the rents they were counting on—could plunge. “You have to be prepared for the worst. When something goes wrong in a tenant’s life, you’re the last person to get paid,” Crossley says.

3. U.S. REITs: Buying shares in real estate instead of companies

Year-to-date returns: 2.75%*
Three-year returns: 8.39%
Five-year returns: 9.79%

Those who’d like to own apartment and office buildings like a legit mogul but don’t have the bank balance to do so may want to turn to Real Estate Investment Trusts. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of REITs. You don’t need a fancy finance degree to understand how they work.

Most REITs are publicly traded corporations that investors buy and sell shares in—just like stocks. Only instead of buying shares in Apple, you’re buying shares in real estate. Shares can range in price from just a few dollars to hundreds of bucks. Investors can buy into them on certain exchanges.

As with stocks, investors can make money by buying shares at a low price and selling them at a higher one, and by collecting quarterly dividends (payouts are made every three months).

There are two main kinds of publicly traded REITS. Equity REITs own rental properties ranging from homes to business space, and make money collecting income on them. Residential and commercial mortgage REITs allow investors to buy mortgage debt where investors profit from the interest.

4. Crowdfunded real estate: Like Kickstarter for property

Year-to-date annualized returns: 8.72%*
Two-year returns: 8.89%

Crowdfunded real estate is like the younger, cooler cousin of REITs. Simply put, it allows ordinary folks to pool their money to invest in things like apartment complexes, office buildings, and shopping centers. It’s like a Kickstarter for buying real estate—instead of funding your college roommate’s feature-length documentary about Furries.

Previously available only to uber-wealthy accredited investors, crowdfunding only became open to the general public in March 2015. That’s when the government enacted new rules opening up the investments to folks without ginormous bank balances. So there isn’t much data available yet on how these investments perform over the long term.

While REITs can hold tens of thousands of properties and be worth billions of dollars, crowdfunding companies are often significantly smaller, holding just one or a handful of properties. And they often require a long-term commitment from investors.

As with REITs, the two main options in crowdfunded real estate investing are equity or debt. Equity, the riskier of the two, involves investing in a fund connected to commercial or residential development. It makes money from the income the property generates and the increase in the value over time. The investment is usually tied up for about five to seven years. Debt is the loan used to get the project off the ground and continue to finance it through the life of the project.

“These are long-term investments, so if you pull your money out early, there’s usually a financial penalty,” Ippolito says. That’s a big difference from REITs, which can be sold at any time. “Retirees who need the money soon probably should look elsewhere.” Debt is a bit safer, but the payouts may not be as high.

5. Home appreciation: The investment you can live in

One-year appreciation: 10%*
Three-year appreciation: 26.7%
Five-year appreciation: 44.8%

Folks don’t need to flip homes or pour money into crowdfunded projects to make money as a real estate investor. Instead, they can search hard for the perfect home, get their finances in order, negotiate smartly, and close the deal for the best possible price.

And then live in it.

Real estate typically appreciates over time. That means that buyers who buy a home in a decent area and keep it in good shape should make money when they decide to sell. Depending on the market and the home, sometimes a lot of money. But they should plan on being in that home for at least five or so years, so they can build up enough equity in the home to net a profit once real estate agent fees and closing costs are accounted for.

“In general, buying a home is a good investment and a way to build wealth and equity over a lifetime,” says Joseph Kirchner, senior economist at realtor.com®. “[But] even if you’re buying it to live in the house for the next 30 years, it is always better to buy when prices are low.”

And as folks build equity in their home, through appreciation and paying down their mortgage debt, they can take out home equity loans or home equity lines of credit against their property.

But of course, just as with the other investments on this list, there are risks. The country could enter into a new recession, or there could be a local housing market crash if a big employer leaves the area. Or homes in your area could simply be overvalued.

However, when home prices fall, they do generally rebound—eventually.

“Good markets aren’t going to last forever,” says real estate investment author Tyson. “Even the best real estate markets go through slow periods.”

Post courtesy of realtor.com

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5 Tips Real Estate Investors Need to Know to Find Good Deals

With real estate prices reaching ever-higher highs in large swaths of the country, the availability of deeply discounted properties is drying up. And that means it’s getting tougher for real estate investors and home flippers to find great deals worthy of their time and cash.

“There are fewer foreclosures to buy, but there’s more interest in buying foreclosures,” says Daren Blomquist, senior vice president at ATTOM Data Solutions, a real estate data firm. “Competition, even at the foreclosure auction, is pushing prices up.”

Bank-owned property sales, foreclosure auctions, and short sales still made up 16.9% of single-family home and condo sales in the first quarter of 2017, according to ATTOM. But that’s down from 20.3% of sales a year ago.

“Back in 2007, you were getting 20% off the actual value” on bank-owned property sales, Leland DiMeco, owner and principal broker at Boston Green Realty, told ATTOM’s Housing News Report. “Now you have them selling for 5% off, if that.”

So how can established and aspiring real estate investors and home flippers find a real deal?

Tip No. 1: Be proactive and look for off-market properties

Some landlords prefer to quietly shop around their properties to investors instead of listing them publicly. This way, the owners don’t upset any tenants currently living there.

“There is quite a bit of the pie that does get moved around, legitimately, but just off-market,” DiMeco told ATTOM.

So would-be investors shouldn’t wait for property owners to find them—they should find these folks themselves.

“If you like a neighborhood, you can go knock on doors,” Blomquist says. There might be “homeowners who may want to sell and don’t even know they want to sell yet.”

Tip No. 2: Act fast and pay with cash

There are still deals to be had—if you act quickly, says real estate investor Brandon Turner, author of “The Book on Investing in Real Estate With No (and Low) Money Down” and “The Book on Rental Property Investing.” He owns 52 rental units in 18 properties and has flipped about a dozen homes in Grays Harbor County in Washington.

“You have to work faster than everyone else,” he says. “I try to make an offer within 24 hours of a new listing coming on the market—the same day, if possible.”

Paying all cash can also sweeten the deal for sellers who might have multiple offers, he says.

Tip No. 3: Don’t ignore potential tear-downs

Real estate investors might not initially see the value of buying an overpriced, small, or run-down home within the city limits. But many of these homes in desirable locations can be sold to a developer to be torn down. Then a multifamily building or larger home can go up if the zoning permits it. And that can translate into some serious moolah.

It requires some vision and a bit of a leap of faith. With a potential tear-down, “it may not be a good deal to buy it as a single-family home. But if you can buy it for what it could be, it can be an excellent way to find value and deals,” Turner says. However, this approach is not without risks and obstacles.

“If you’re going to build a new house, it takes a good while to get all the permits,” he adds. “The danger is if the market begins to decline, you might be unable to sell it.”

Tip No. 4: Seek out nasty, smelly homes

Investors shouldn’t shy away from hardcore fixer-uppers and “nasty” homes, says Turner. That’s because there is not as much competition for these potential diamonds in the rough. Many lenders won’t issue loans on these properties if they’re in really bad shape.

“The stinkier the house, the better,” Turner says. “Smells are easy to fix. A good coating of oil-based primer, new carpet, and cleaning will take care of almost any smell.”

He typically looks for the “nastiest house in the nicest neighborhood,” he says. Even homes in need of serious TLC can be profitable if they’re in the right location.

“You can’t fix a neighborhood, but you can fix the house,” he says.

Tip No. 5: Look in another city or state

Many would-be property investors living in pricey parts of the country would love to become landlords—but can’t afford to do so in their own cities. So they can consider buying in lower-priced markets such as the Midwest.

“Look in other geographies that aren’t in your backyard,” Blomquist says. Focus on places that are growing “that still have a lot of lower-priced inventory available.”

But they should make sure to do their homework first to make sure they understand the neighborhood they’re buying in and who their potential tenants or buyers would be. This includes how much they can realistically charge.

Landlords might need to hire property management services if they can’t afford to get there quickly if something breaks. And that eats into profits.

———

Remember, becoming a real estate investor is still risky

Despite the stinky homes, investing in real estate might seem like a glamorous way to make a little extra cash—just look at all of those home flippers on HGTV! But in reality, it’s not risk-free.

Landlords sometimes have tenants who trash homes or don’t pay the rent on time. Flippers might encounter permitting problems or find costly structural issues in homes that cost quite a bit more than expected.

“We’re in a booming housing market. Everyone’s confident if they buy a piece of real estate it’s going to go up in value,” says Blomquist. “That’s true for the long term.

“This housing boom is on a lot more solid foundation than what we saw 10 years ago,” he says. “But you have to be very cautious because, in the short-term, we have seen … that prices sometimes do go down.”

Courtesy of realtor.com

Some Helpful Tips For Investing In Real Estate Using Retirement Funds

Most people mistakenly believe that their retirement accounts must be invested in traditional financial related investments such as stocks, mutual funds, exchange traded funds, etc. Few Investors realize that the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) permits retirement accounts, such as an IRA or 401(k) plan, to invest in real estate and other alternative types of investments.  In fact, IRS rules permit one to invest retirement funds in almost any type of investment, aside generally from any investment involving a disqualified person, collectibles and life insurance.

One of the primary advantages of purchasing real estate with retirement funds is that all gains are tax-deferred until a distribution is made or tax-free in the case of a Roth account (after-tax). For example, if one purchased a piece of property with retirement funds for $100,000 and later sold the property for $300,000, the $200,000 of gain appreciation would generally be tax-deferred. Whereas, if you purchased the property using personal funds (non-retirement funds), the gain would be subject to federal income tax and in most cases state income tax.

The two most common vehicles for purchasing real estate with retirement funds is the self-directed IRA or an employer sponsored 401(k) plan.  However, most employer 401(k) plans do not offer real estate as a plan investment option and, thus, the self-directed IRA has become the most popular way to buy real estate with retirement funds.  Establishing a self-directed IRA is quick and relatively inexpensive and can be done in just a few days.  The most challenging aspect of investing in real estate using retirement funds is navigating the IRS prohibited transaction rules.  In general, pursuant to Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”) Section 4975, the retirement account holder cannot make a retirement account investment that will directly or indirectly benefit ones self or any disqualified person (lineal descendant of the retirement account holder and related entities), perform any service in connection with the retirement account investment, guarantee any retirement account loan, extend any credit to or from the retirement account, or enter into any transaction with the retirement account that would present a conflict of interest.  The purpose of these rules is to encourage the use of retirement account for accumulation of retirement savings and to prohibit those in control of the retirement account from taking advantage of the tax benefits for their personal account.

Aside from navigating the IRS prohibited transaction rules, the following are a handful of helpful tips for making real estate investment using retirement funds:

  • The deposit and purchase price for the real estate property should be paid using retirement account funds and not from any disqualified person(s)
  • All expenses, repairs and taxes incurred in connection with the retirement account real estate investment should be paid using retirement funds – no personal funds from any disqualified person should be used
  • If additional funds are required for improvements or other matters involving the retirement account-owned real estate investment, all funds should come from the retirement account or from a non-“disqualified person”
  • Partnering with yourself or another disqualified person in connection with a retirement account investment could trigger the IRS prohibited transaction rules.
  • If financing is needed for a real estate transaction, only nonrecourse financing should be used. A nonrecourse loan is a loan that is not personally guaranteed by the retirement account holder or any disqualified person and whereby the lender’s only recourse is against the property and not against the borrower.
  • If using a nonrecourse loan to purchase real estate with a self-directed IRA, the unrelated business taxable income (“UBTI”) rules could be triggered and a tax rate reaching as high as 40 percent could apply.  Note – an exemption from this tax is available for 401(k) plans pursuant to IRC 514(c)(9). If the UBTI tax is triggered and tax is due, IRS Form 990-T must be timely filed.
  • No services should be performed by the retirement account holder or any “disqualified person” in connection with the real estate investment.  Please see: Finally Some Clarity On What You Can And Cannot Do In Your Self-Directed IRA for additional information
  • Title of the real estate purchased should be in the name of the retirement account. For example, if Joe Smith established a Self-Directed IRA LLC and named the LLC “XYZ, LLC”, title to the real estate purchased by Joe’s Self-Directed IRA LLC would be as follows: XYZ LLC.  Whereas, if Joe Smith established a self-directed IRA with ABC IRA Trust Company (custodian), and the custodian purchased the real estate directly on behalf of Joe without the use of an LLC, then title would read:  ABC IRA Trust Company FBO John Doe IRA.
  • Keep good records of income and expenses generated by the retirement account owned real estate investment
  • All income, gains or losses from the retirement account real estate investment should be allocated to the retirement account owner of the investment
  • Make sure you perform adequate diligence on the property you will be purchasing especially if it is in a state you do not live in.
  • Beware of fraud if purchasing real estate from a promoter.
  • If using a self-directed IRA LLC to buy real estate, it is good practice to form the LLC in the state where the real estate will be located to avoid any additional filing fees.  Also, be mindful of any annual state LLC filing or franchise fees.

Using retirement funds to buy real estate can offer retirement account holders a number of positive financial and tax benefits, such as a way to invest in what one knows and understands, investment diversification, inflation protection, and the ability to generate tax-deferred or tax-free (in the case of a Roth) income or gains. The list of helpful tips outlined above should provide retirement account investors looking to buy real estate with a guideline of how to keep their retirement account from running afoul of any of the IRS rules.  However, retirement account holders using retirement funds to invest in real estate must be mindful of the broad application of the IRS prohibited transaction and UBTI rules and should consult with a tax professional for further guidance.

Post courtesy of Forbes.