Last month, my wife and I closed on our new home. Because we earn a high income, we were able to save a significant downpayment on our new house without having to sell our old one. We’ve turned our first home into a rental property now – the new tenants just moved in this month. And that makes me a newly minted, first-time landlord.
There was some debate about whether to sell our old house or keep it. I’ve heard of plenty of rental property horror stories and with the real estate market on a tear, there were good reasons to sell and cash in on the equity we’ve gained. But I thought the decision was an easy one. We had to keep the house!
At the outset, we didn’t have a lot of reasons to sell the house. We don’t really need the equity that we’ve gained – at least I don’t think we’d use it for anything particularly interesting. And we’re a family of entrepreneurs, which means we’re willing to take chances. Plus, I haven’t had a regular job in over two years, so it’s probably not a bad idea for me to have something to do. We also had a good amount of seed money from when we rented out a spare room in our house on Airbnb (I never really spent the money that we earned from Airbnb over the years).
This new endeavor means you’ll start to see some content around my experience managing a single rental property. I thought it’d be a good idea to kick start this new content with a look at what this rental property is all about and what the numbers should look like.
Why Convert Our Primary Residence Into A Rental Property?
I’ve always been a fan of earning money using the things you already own, so converting our primary residence into a rental property made a lot of sense to me. It seems like an easier way to get started with real estate investing – or at least a lot less scary compared to buying a house specifically as an investment property.
The house is a 4 bedroom, 2 bathroom home that my wife purchased in 2010 for $237,000. Her parents gave her the money for a down payment, so she did have that benefit. She then house hacked by renting out the other rooms to roommates, covering her mortgage with the rental income.
The house turned out to be a great purchase – 2010 might have been one of the lowest home value years in recent memory. To understand the value, consider that the previous owner bought the house in 2006 for $290,000. Today, we’d probably get $300,000 to $350,000 if we sold it, so it took at least 15 years to regain the value that it lost from the housing crash of the mid-2000s.
What makes our house a particularly good rental is how close it is to a large state university – just a 10-minute walk to campus. Turning any house into a rental means finding a location with appropriate demand. And I don’t think anything creates more demand for rental units than a large university. This huge demand means vacancy rates should be low – potentially no vacancy at all. Obviously, there are downsides with renting to students – more turnover and more wear and tear on the house are the two big things that come to mind. But I think the benefits should outweigh the costs.
In addition to the good location, we also have an incredibly low interest rate on our mortgage. I refinanced the mortgage last year when interest rates dropped dramatically at the start of the pandemic. Interest rates ended up dropping even more, but I couldn’t have known at the time. Still, our current rate is just 2.75%, with 14 years remaining on the mortgage. The low interest rate and relatively short time remaining on the mortgage means a lot of our monthly payment on the house is going towards building equity.
Finally, there are tax reasons to at least try being a landlord for a few years. Specifically, under current tax laws, you can exclude capital gains taxes on the sale of your primary residence so long as you lived there for 2 out of the last 5 years. In other words, we can try renting our house for up to three years and if we find that being a landlord isn’t for us, we can sell the house and cash in on our equity tax-free. That’s reason enough to at least try being a landlord. (Source: https://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc701)
The Anticipated Rental Property Numbers
Okay, let’s get to the part you probably care about – the numbers. As mentioned, the house is a 4 bed/2 bath that’s geared towards students because of how close it is to the university. I have it rented at $2,400 per month on a 12-month lease. Gross yearly rental revenue equals $28,800.
Fixed costs include the mortgage, taxes, and insurance. Here’s what the costs are for these three items:
- Mortgage = $882 Per Month ($10,584 per year).
- Taxes = $4,100 per year (approximate)
- Insurance = $2,100 per year (approximate)
In total, our mortgage, taxes, and insurance equals $16,784 per year. If we take the rental income minus our fixed costs, we’ll end up with a little over $12,000 in cash flow (or about $1,000 per month).
Of course, there are other costs to consider beyond the mortgage, taxes, and insurance. Maintenance is the big one. There will be regular maintenance – and probably more than most properties because of the higher turnover and the fact that students tend to put more wear and tear on properties. There are also going to be large expenditures, things like new boilers, water heaters, roofs, etc. I’m at a point where I don’t actually need the rental income, so for now, I’m setting aside 100% of the rental income to go back into the property for maintenance.
Vacancy is another potential cost to consider. Given the location, I have a feeling that my vacancy rate is going to be low. Student leases generally go for 1 year and they’re asked to sign a new lease early in the spring semester. That should give me 6 months or more to find a new tenant, which means I should be able to avoid long vacancies.
My next cost is utilities. The tenants pay for electricity and gas, but I’m covering water, sewer, and trash. I probably could have had the tenants cover this utility as well, but I never paid for water or trash when I was a renter, so I figured it was normal for the landlord to cover this cost. I estimate that it’ll cost $100 per month, so you can figure that I’ll have about $900 in cash flow before maintenance.
Finally, I have to pay for a yearly rental license. I believe it’s about $300 per year, so that’s another small cost to think about each year.
Earnings Beyond Cash Flow
The interesting thing about a rental property is that you can earn income from it in other ways, although it’s not income that’s accessible to you unless you sell the property. Specifically, there are two ways a rental property can generate income beyond cash flow – principal mortgage paydown and appreciation.
Currently, on every mortgage payment I make, about $600 goes towards reducing my principle. This number will continue to increase with each payment until my mortgage is fully paid off. So, with each payment, I’m gaining $600 of equity.
In addition, the home does appreciate over the long run, although it’s not consistent or predictable every year. Still, depending on what you value my home at now, you can say it has appreciated about 2.5% to 3.5% per year on average. At its current value, I can expect it to appreciate about $7,000 in the next year. It’s not income that I can count on or that I necessarily consider as part of the value of the rental, but it is something that does happen.
So, if I really wanted to make the rental sound good, I could theoretically think of it like this:
- $10,800 in cash flow
- $7,200 in principal paydown
- $7,000 in appreciation
- Total = $25,000 in value each year.
I’m not thinking of it like that, but it is a fact that I’m gaining equity each time I pay down my mortgage. And over the long term, the house should increase in value.
The Plan – Hold Our House For As Long As Possible
I come from a family of immigrants. And like many immigrants, we valued tangible assets. My family moved three times when I was growing up. Each time, my parents kept our old house and turned it into a rental. Over the 34 years I’ve been alive, my parents have still never sold a house. Seeing my parents follow this strategy probably rubbed off on me.
My son is a year old now. We have 14 years left on the mortgage. If we can hang onto the house for that long, by the time my son is ready for college, we’ll have an asset that can probably fully pay for his college. Or maybe if he goes to our state university, he can live there and we can collect rent from his roommates. Or maybe someone makes us an offer that we can’t refuse at some point. A lot of things can happen.
Like anyone starting with anything, I know I’ll make some mistakes. I figure at my age and my current stage in life, I can afford to make them. We’ll see what happens.