Before you make the leap
Becoming a Landlord
by Rick Kahler
Renting Your House 101
Buying a Duplex
Renting a Spare Bedroom
Landlord. The very word implies wealth, authority, and status. Maybe that's one of the reasons there are so many books and seminars claiming to teach you how to build wealth by owning rental property.
Yes, you can get rich as a landlord. You can go broke, too. And in between those two extremes, you can find yourself dealing with a bunch of problems like leaking roofs, non-paying tenants, and economic downturns. The risks of building wealth with real estate are substantial. This is true whether you want to become the biggest property owner in town or just buy a second home as a rental to help finance your retirement.
With the current low interest rates, it may be a great time to buy a second home. Before even considering such a purchase, though, here are some important points to consider:
- Do you plan to eventually live in the house yourself? If so, buying it now and having a tenant pay the mortgage for you might be a great move. Still, you need to take the following factors into consideration and make your decision carefully.
- Will you need current income from the property? Then you'll need to be able to buy it without a mortgage. Otherwise, the mortgage and other expenses will eat up most of the rent payments, and you won't have any cash flow.
- Do you have the time and skills to manage the property yourself? Water heaters quit, pipes need to be replaced, and furnaces go on the blink. Will you be able to do your own maintenance or spend the money to hire it done? Are you available to check out prospective tenants and show the property? A management company can relieve you of the hassles of arranging for repairs and vetting tenants. You'll still pay the bills, though, plus fees of perhaps ten percent of the rent.
- Be realistic to the point of pessimism about your expected return. Assume that expenses like repairs, maintenance, taxes, and insurance will be about 50% of the gross rental income. Always figure the income based on a property being vacant for several months of the year.
- Be aware that a more expensive house won't necessarily provide a corresponding increase in rent. The rental market eventually tops out. If a $150,000 house rents for $800 a month, a $350,000 house may only rent for about $1400.
- If your main reason for owning real estate is investment income, and you have a small amount of money or don't want the risk and management headaches of owning a house, a real estate investment trust (REIT) is often a wiser choice than owning real estate directly.
- Be patient. If you over-buy income property and try to get rich quick, you risk losing it all. At one time, Rapid City lost a number of military jobs and rental properties were sitting vacant. As I scrambled to make mortgage payments, it felt as if I didn't own my rental houses. Instead, they owned me. Right now I have interests in companies that own paid-for rental property, but getting to that point took over 30 years.
The IRS classifies some income from rental property as "passive." Trust me, there's nothing passive about being a landlord. Owning rental property can certainly be one way to add to your net worth and contribute to a comfortable retirement. Just like any other form of wealth-building, however, it requires education, good decision-making, an awareness of the risks, and plenty of effort.
Updated November 2016
Take the Next Step:
- Subscribe to After 50 Finances. You've learned how to work smarter, not harder. This weekly newsletter is dedicated to people just like you. Subscribers get a FREE copy of our After 50 Finances Pre-Retirement Checklist, a list of everything you need to do to be ready for retirement.
- Determine if debt could derail your retirement and what you can do about it now. Our checklist can help you. Afterall, one of the most important ingredients for a comfortable retirement is to be debt free when you retire.
- Find tools and resources geared specifically for the 50+ crowd in The Dollar Stretcher section dedicated to your financial issues. If you're over 50, your financial needs are different. And so are your questions.
Share your thoughts about this article with the editor.
Trending on TDS
- How retirees can live on a tight budget
- Will you outlive your money?
- Planning the five years prior to retirement
- What the 50+ crowd needs to know about compound interest
- Side gigs well suited to retirement
- What boomers need to know about homeowners insurance
- When you're 55+ and didn't save enough for retirement