BUY LAND – THEY’RE NOT MAKING IT ANYMORE
INVESTING IN ATLANTA REAL ESTATE
Mary Anne Walser, Esq., Realtor 404-277-3527
It’s no secret that Atlanta is rich in real estate investment opportunity. We have experienced a steady rate of population growth and numerous large companies moving into Atlanta bringing thousands of workers with them. The only limitation to this skyrocketing growth might be TRAFFIC – although to date TRAFFIC doesn’t seem to have put the brakes on people moving to Atlanta at all. So Mark Twain’s advice to “BUY LAND, THEY’RE NOT MAKING IT ANYMORE” seems very good advice in our city where population is growing and the demand for housing ever increasing.
So say you want to diversify your portfolio a bit and invest in residential rental property. I help many do this and am asked some common questions that I thought I would compile to help guide others. So think of this as Atlanta real estate investment 101.
First, CAN you invest in rental property? The best scenario is if you have about $200,000 – $300,000 in cash that you can pay for a property. If you want to buy a reasonably priced property that is easy to rent out and likely to appreciate in a reasonably safe neighborhood, that’s about what you will need. Of course, I help plenty of investors who don’t have that much cash lying around. You can also get an investment loan. That allows you to leverage your investment and as long as you are careful not to get in over your head, given how low interest rates are right now, that’s an awesome option. The downside to getting a loan to invest in property is that investment loans carry a higher interest rate than owner occupant loans, and you will have more difficulty getting a great deal in purchasing a property because you will be competing with others who ARE making cash offers. For an investment loan, also, you will still need some cash – a minimum of twenty percent for most investment loans.
I generally suggest that investors consider single family properties rather than condos or townhomes. Most condominiums have rental restrictions under which only 25 to 30 percent of the units can be rented out at any given time. If all the rental permits are taken, you are not allowed to rent the unit. So rather than take that chance and deal with monthly homeowner dues and potential special assessments, with a single family home you have more control over your property and again – God isn’t making more land – so the land itself has greater value. The exception to this advice would be FEE SIMPLE townhomes. If you own a townhome in fee simple, there are no rental restrictions. You own the ground below the unit, the roof above it, and you are free to rent it out. Consider the neighbors, however; if they allow their property to deteriorate, it will directly effect that fee simple townhome.
Once you have determined if you have the financial wherewithal to invest and whether you want to consider single family or condo (or fee simple townhome), the next question becomes WHERE to buy. In a market downswing, there will be many options for good investment. In a more balanced market, you have to be a little more careful. Right now, though, just about anything you can get under $250,000 that is inside the Perimeter on the North end anywhere or just outside it in Sandy Springs or Dunwoody is going to be a good purchase. I mentioned traffic – it’s not getting any better. And so close in properties are rising in value. Properties in that price range are already few and far between and will be more valuable in the future.
The other area prime for investment is anywhere near The Beltline. We have seen what The Beltline’s Eastside Trail has done for properties around it – property values have skyrocketed there! And “The Beltline effect” has already increased values along the not yet completed West and Southside Beltline Trails. However, there are still values to be had there if you’re quick, savvy and have a great agent.
So, you have narrowed down areas of town and we are out looking at investment property. How do you analyze it? The first thing we determine is your tolerance for repair. Do you want something that is ready for occupancy or something that needs work so you can build equity through labor? Of course the cost of the renovation – which is typically more than you think or originally estimate – must be taken into account. I usually recommend that a first time investor without construction experience buy a property that is “ready to rent” without too much further work. If you do have some tolerance for renovation, carefully consider the cost in your investment equation.
In addition, it is best to find a property that will provide steady rental income AND will appreciate in value over the years. You cannot count on appreciation, so never bank on that alone – the property must bring in sufficient income to make sense as a purchase on its own whether it appreciates or not. So once we’ve identified the areas that are likely to appreciate, we consider how much income a given property will bring to you as an investor. The Capitalization Rate or “cap rate” is the ratio of the property’s net income to its purchase price and allows you as an investor to compare properties by evaluating a rate of return on that investment. Here is an example of how to calculate cap rate, using a quadraplex at a purchase price of $300,000. We have determined from examining other units rented in the area that each apartment will command $800 per month for rent. So here is how we figure the cap rate:
FIRST, CALCULATE GROSS INCOME
MONTHLY RENT = $3200 (quadraplex of 4 units rented for $800 each)
For ONE YEAR = 12 MONTHS
12 (months) X 3200 (monthly income) = $38,400 yearly gross income
SECOND, CALCULATE NET INCOME
-2,000 TAXES AND INSURANCE
-5,000 MAINTENANCE & OPERATING EXPENSES
$31,460 net income
THEN, DIVIDE THE NET INCOME BY THE PROPERTY PRICE
31,460 ÷ 300,000 = .104, or TEN PERCENT cap rate
Now, you can probably intuit the disclaimers I will put on this information. The net income can be difficult to figure as your expenses may be higher than anticipated. Maintenance can be a huge question. A property may need more repair than you know. Bad tenants and vacant units can be another pitfall – you may get a tenant who defaults or tears up the unit. There may be several months between tenants before you are able to rent it out again. (So you may decide to reduce the rental gross income by ten percent to account for potential vacancies in-between tenants). If you do not want to self-manage your property, you should include management costs as part of your operating expenses. Finally, this cap rate example presumes a CASH purchase. If you are financing the purchase then, of course, you must include the costs of financing.
Generally, investors consider a cap rate of ten percent to be a “good” cap rate. You have to make that determination on your own, taking into account other avenues you have for investment. Investment in real estate requires some courage and not a small amount of intuition. But as far as we know, as Tony Soprano said (rephrasing Twain), God ain’t making any more land – so perhaps it is time for you to consider buying more of it!
Mary Anne Walser is a licensed attorney and full-time REALTOR, serving buyers and sellers in all areas of Metro Atlanta. Her knowledge of residential real estate and her legal expertise allow her to offer great value to her clients. Mary Anne s a member of the Atlanta Board of Realtors, the Georgia Association of Realtors, the State Bar of Georgia and the Georgia Association of Women Lawyers. Contact Mary Anne at 404-277-3527, or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.