How to pick your first rental house

The first thing to know is that you want an exit plan.  You want to buy something that will be fairly easy to sell when that time comes.  That is why I usually suggest a single family home in a decent neighborhood.  When you sell it, your buyer pool will be owner-occupant buyers who will happily pay a full retail price.

The second thing to know is that you pick your tenants through them picking your house.  You have a crappy worn out rental, guess what type of tenant is going to be willing to live there?  You make your house one of the nicest ones in it’s price range and you will attract the best qualified tenants out there.  Also, if you have one of the best houses they could ever afford, why would they move?

Here are some things that I think make a house a good pick:

1.  A ranch house.  Who doesn’t like one?  They are suitable for buyers/tenants in all stages of life.  They are easier to paint by yourself since there is no staircase.  You can clean out gutters with a step ladder.  They are just easier to work on period.

2.  A house on a slab.  When the wax ring around the toilet fails and when water gets splashed out of the tub, there is no wood to rot.  Also there is no water to collect under the house and grow mold.

3.  A smaller house.  Fewer people can live in a smaller house.  That means less wear and tear.  While a 2 bedroom house has a little more limited market when you sell, tenants usually don’t care if a house is 2 or 3 bedrooms.

4.  A simple roof line with not much of a pitch.   The fewer ridges and valleys the better.  Not only are they cheaper to replace, there are fewer places to get a leak.

Here are some things I try to avoid:

  1.  Basements.  They all have the potential to leak.
  2.  Sheds.  They are just one more thing to maintain and tenants usually leave you stuff they don’t want when they move out.
  3. Huge yards.  When they get out of control, it takes a lot of time to bring them back.
  4. Big garages.  I’m talking more than a regular two car garage.  Usually tenants who are attracted to a huge garage have a lot of stuff to store or hobbies that need the space.  Either one means you might need a dumpster when they move out.
  5. Fireplaces.  Do you really want somebody starting a fire in your house?

Now a lot of this is based on paying retail.  If you get a great deal on a house with a huge lot or a basement, take it.  A good deal can make up for potential future headaches.

My ideal house would be a smaller ranch on a slab built after 1960.  It would be 2-3 bedroom and have 1-2 baths.  A normal sized, flatter yard for good drainage.  On the lower end, no garage is okay.  If the house is worth more than about $150k, I would want a garage more for resale than to make a tenant happy.

 

 

LEXpert advice on buying rental property

I met with an old friend and former neighbor last night.  He is interested in buying rental property.  Thought some of what I told him might be a good post.

When I first meet with somebody wanting to buy rental property, I like to let them know what I think the pros and cons are of each type, so here we go:

1)  Commercial-Good return, a bit more volatile than others.  When you sell, your only market is another investor or a business owner.

2)  Multi-Family-Good return, a lot of work, and typically more turnover!  The only buyers for this property will be investors.  I have never seen an investor that was willing to pay top dollar.  Also, most investors only sell their properties when they have cash flowed them to death and they are in dire need of repairs/updates.

3)  Single Family Houses-Not a huge return, less turn over.  When you go to sell, you can market it to an investor or an owner occupant.  An investor wants a deal based on the numbers.  An owner occupant will pay retail.  I think this model is the best for most people.

Unless you find a super bargain, entry level single family homes are a better choice than more expensive ones.  The numbers just work out better.  If you ever need to part with one of these houses, you can sell it to a first time buyer in a good market, or somebody downsizing in a bad market.  There were a lot of people selling their bigger houses and buying smaller houses during the Great Recession.

My personal favorite is a simple, one story house on a slab.  One story because it makes it easier to repair or clean gutters and you don’t have windows up high.  A slab because you eliminate the risk of rotting wood and mold under a toilet or tub if there is a leak the tenant doesn’t tell you about.