Friday, September 10, 2010

Q&A: What's My ROI on My Rental Property

When evaluating the return on investment of a rental property, you have a few different options on which numbers to use. The numbers depend on what exactly you consider income, and/or what exactly you consider an expense, and what exactly you consider your initial investment.

On the income and expense side, you have the following:

  • (+) Rent.
  • (-) Principal and interest payment.
  • (-) Property taxes.
  • (-) Homeowner's insurance. The cost of homeowner's insurance will vary based on location, age of the house, construction type, environmental factors, etc. Mine costs 0.4% of my home value, so I've been using that as a starting point.
  • (-) Maintenance costs. For my house, I estimate 1% of my home value in maintenance costs each year. For a rental property, I think I'd estimate 2%. A common rule of thumb is to use 3%, and you can't really go wrong planning conservatively.
  • (-) Utilities. This depends on the setup you have for rent - utilities included, a fraction of utilities per room, or utilities in the name of the tenants. In other words, it might not be applicable, but it's not really optional.
  • (+ optional) Principal portion of P&I, because it is adding equity to your net worth, but it doesn't help your cash flow.
  • (+/- didn't forget about it) Taxes. The interest portion of your P&I isn't directly tax deductible like it is for your primary home, but it is a business expense that offsets your business income. (Your business in this case is being a slum lord.) This applies to all expenses above, plus depreciation of the house, if you go that route. Tax laws concerning business income and losses are somewhat complicated, so I'm not going to go into them.

The net income is fairly straightforward to calculate once you choose what exactly you're including. It's much harder to estimate before you buy the property, unfortunately. Other than the estimates I listed above for insurance and maintenance, many house listings include the previous year's tax amount. Some will also include a history of utility costs, but you usually have to talk to the listing agent and/or current owner. Estimating the rent you can charge requires looking at rooms and/or houses in the area. I use and Google Maps (with the "Real estate" overlay enabled under the "More" button/menu and the Listing type selected as "For rent"). Then, just to be safe, I assume I will rent to college students that move out every summer and leave me with a 25% vacancy rate.

After all that, you find yourself with a net monthly income. You then have to determine how you want to calculate your return on investment. It comes down to whether you consider your initial investment as the amount of cash you parted with - your down payment, or the amount that you're responsible for - the total property value. You can also reevaluate your return on investment at any time using your current equity as your investment amount.

Personally, I'm not a fan of using your current equity to reevaluate. The theory is that as your equity increases, you can increase your ROI by selling the house and using the increased equity to get a new house (or two) with higher income potential. To me, this seems like messing with a good thing. I also hate being in debt, so this might be an entirely emotional position on my part. I also don't view increased equity from home appreciation as an increase in your investment. It's more of an unrealized gain. The only equity I would count is principal reduction, but in that case I would definitely include the principal portion of the P&I as income. The amortization schedule, where the principal portion increases each month, will then take care of the principal reduction to some extent.

Naturally, I made a calculator for this. Utilities aren't included because of the complexity in options. "Maintenance Costs" is a good place to tack that on if you need to. It's fun to play with, if nothing else. I view my maintenance cost and vacancy rate assumptions as conservative. If I can have a positive ROI even with these estimates, I consider it a win. Any extra is a nice bonus. Plus, rent will increase with inflation while P&I should remain constant (until it goes away completely!).

Home Value ($):
Down Payment ($):
Interest Rate (%):
Property Taxes / Year ($):
Homeowner's Insurance / Year ($):
Rent Income / Month ($):
Vacancy Rate (%):
Maintenance Costs / Year ($):
Count Principal as Income?
Yearly ROI?
P&I Monthly Costs Monthly Income Net Income ROI down payment ROI total value

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