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7 Simple Steps to Becoming a Landlord

May 19, 2020
Tips & Tricks

(This advanced blog summarizes real estate investing tips and insights Lofty AI has acquired from working with thousands of investors and institutional funds.)

How to become a landlord

This post cuts through the noise and teaches you the 7 steps on how to landlord.

Landlords reap the benefits of passive income and future returns from property appreciation.

Don't be mistaken though. It takes hard work, responsibility, and a bit of upfront cash.

If you do it right, you'll make a killing.

If you do it wrong, you're going to have a bad time.

Below is the proven step-by-step process on how to become a landlord.

Person holding cash in one hand and holding out a mini-house in the other hand


1. Find a rental property

The first step to becoming a landlord is to find a property you want to invest in.

There are plenty of factors you want to consider when looking for your first investment property.

Let's dive in.

Location

The physical location of your investment property is very important.

You want to invest in a neighborhood that's up-and-coming. There should also be available properties that are cash flowing with high average occupancy rates.

Beware of most real estate investing blogs that tell you to invest locally or "in your own backyard".

That advice exists because most people know their local area very well and it also makes the property easier to manage. This is true, but only helpful if you happen to be living in a fantastic neighborhood to invest in. The chances of that are slim.

With the uptick in digital property management tools, it has become very simple to be a rental property owner outside of your local market

Property type

For your first investment property, you want to start out with a single-family home or a duplex. Ideally, you want to house-hack.

House hacking involves buying a duplex and living in one of the units while renting the other unit out. It’s a  great way to get started and allows you to keep watch on your property 24/7.

Read more: How Can I Find a Duplex for Sale Near me to Invest in?

Cash flow or appreciation (or both)

If you want to make money from real estate investing, there are two ways: Cash flow and appreciation.

The most experienced real estate moguls always focus on both.

Positive cash flow is a great way to generate passive income without having to do any extra work. Appreciation gives you the possibility to literally double your money in just a few short years if you really know what you're doing. The ultimate goal is to find a property that’s both positively cash flowing and primed for rapid appreciation.

Many investors will tell you that you have to choose between cash flow and appreciation. That's simply not true. Cash flow and appreciation are actually highly correlated.

Once your property begins to appreciate rapidly, you’ll be able to bump up rents and maximize your cash flow.

4 houses with a graph in the back and a line chart increasing over time


2. Run the numbers

Before buying a rental property, you want to make sure that it will be worth the time and effort you invest into it. That's real estate investing 101.

You want to do some quick financial projections to calculate the cash flow, cash on cash return, and cap rate. This will help you to determine the future returns of a potential property.

Also, you want to prepare for surprise expenses and missed rental payments and factor those into your projections. Most people assume a 5% vacancy rate per year.

As you’ll hear from most seasoned real estate investors: Always expect the unexpected.

Below is a list of the common expenses & additional expenses you want to account for.

Common expenses:

  • Landlord insurance for accidents, sudden loss and liability
  • Maintenance and repair costs
  • Rental licensing, mandatory inspections and annual registration fees
  • Property and rental income tax

Additional expenses to budget for:

  • Bookkeeping or accounting fees
  • Property management fees
  • Legal fees for lease review and in the event of an eviction

You may also be eligible for tax benefits on:

  • Depreciation
  • Mortgage interest
  • Insurance
  • Property repair
  • Travel expenses

3. Secure a loan

There are two different real estate investing loans available.

For your first property, you want to go with a conventional mortgage.

Conventional mortgage

Conventional mortgages follow the rules set by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac and are not backed by the federal government.

With a conventional loan, the minimum down payment on investment property is typically 20% of the home's purchase price. But, some investment properties may require a heftier down payment of 30%.

Your personal credit score and credit history determine your ability to get approved. It also determines what kind of interest rate applies to the mortgage. Lenders also review the borrowers' income and assets.

You must also be able to show that you can afford their existing mortgage and the monthly loan payments.

Most lenders expect you to have at least six months of cash set aside to cover both mortgage obligations.

Hard money loan

Hard money loans are secured by the property itself.

The primary focus of a hard money lender is the property’s profitability rather than the borrower's credit score and income (which they still look at).

This is why house flippers love hard money loans.

Profitability is estimated by the after-repair-value (ARV) of the property.

ARV is defined as: How much the property will be worth after you’ve put money into rehabbing it.

It's much easier to qualify for a hard money loan compared to a conventional loan. You're also usually able to get a hard money loan in a matter of days compared to a conventional loan which can take weeks or months.

The biggest issue with hard money loans is they’re much more expensive than conventional loans. They can go up to an 18% interest rate, and you also have to pay them back within a shorter period of time.

Signing a mortgage loan


4. Due diligence

Before purchasing an investment property, you're going to want to conduct due diligence.

Due diligence falls into three categories:

  • Financial due diligence
  • Physical due diligence
  • Legal due diligence

Financial due diligence

  • Financial due diligence starts off by making sure you have enough money in the bank to pay the down payment on a property.
  • You then want to verify that the property qualifies for conventional financing (mortgage).
  • Make sure you receive a copy of the last 12 months of utilities and other expense items like maintenance.
  • You want to have copies of the lease and rental history if the property is currently rented.
  • You also want to make sure and research the tax history of the property.

Physical due diligence

  • Physical due diligence involves a thorough inspection of the subject property.
  • Unless the property is newly constructed, it's unlikely that the property is in perfect condition. There may be underlying issues you will come across.
  • You should typically expect minor cosmetic renovations with each purchase. However, it’s the big-ticket items you need to look out for.
  • These expensive, big-ticket items include the HVAC, furnace, and roof.
  • Keep in mind that major repairs like this can severely impact your monthly cash flow.
  • The condition of the home contributes to its value, so make sure the condition of the home matches your monthly cash flow goals.

Legal due diligence

  • Legal due diligence starts with making sure that there are no liens or judgments placed against the property.
  • Many liens convey with ownership of the property and will be your responsibility once you become the owner.
  • You want to heavily consider hiring a professional title company to research the title and ensure it is free and clear. It's well worth the cost.
  • Legal due diligence is highly important, especially if you’re buying a distressed property.
Property inspection

5. Find and screen tenants

If there's one thing you take away from this section, it's to remember to always perform a background check and a credit check on your tenants. Do this even if they seem perfect after the first meeting or video chatting with them. Promise?

There are plenty of places to find good tenants these days. Craigslist is still a great place to start.

If you decide to go with a property manager, and there are plenty of great digital PM companies like Avail and Mynd. They'll also help you find a tenant and screen them.

Take the time to check references, particularly from employers and past landlords. You should also conduct an interview with the potential tenants to make sure you are comfortable communicating with them. 

6. Draft a lease agreement

There are plenty of standard lease agreements available online that you can use as a template.

When creating a lease agreement, there are specific items you want to make sure and include. Those are below.

Tenancy terms

The tenancy term states how long your tenants have a contractual agreement to stay in your property.

A lease typically starts at 12 months and usually requires a 60-day eviction notice unless there is "just cause".

"Just cause" refers to rules or laws that a tenant breaks.

Rent

In this section, you want to state the amount of rent, the date it is due, and what late fees exist if any.

You also want to include acceptable forms of payment. These may include credit card, direct deposit, or check.

Security deposit

A security deposit is an upfront payment paid by a tenant for potential future damages. It also includes move-out cleaning tasks after a tenant vacates the property.

In your lease agreement, you want to specify what the deposit will be used for. Examples might include damages, carpet cleaning, and move-out cleaning fees.

Restrictions

Restrictions may include rules against pets, parking restrictions, subleasing clauses, and more.

Disclosures

Disclosures include any potential hazards a tenant might come across while living in your property.

Lease termination and remedy

In this section, you want to state under what conditions, if any, tenants may terminate the lease before the tenancy term is over.

Also, you want to list any fees associated with early termination and whether there are remedies in case of a possible dispute.

Rental agreement or lease agreement

7. Decide if you need property management

If you’re investing further than an hour's drive from where you live, you want to hire a property manager.

They’ll typically charge 5-10% of the monthly rent, but they’ll save you a ton of time and effort.

Property managers help with:

  • Marketing your property
  • Selecting tenants
  • Maintaining the property
  • Creating budgets
  • Collecting the rent

Becoming a landlord with Lofty AI

Lofty AI's app makes it super easy to become a landlord from the comfort of your home.

Our product shows you cash flowing, A.I. vetted properties primed for rapid appreciation in 30 different US markets. This makes investing in real estate online extremely simple.

Lofty AI platform showing properties in Oakland, California
Lofty AI platform

Within our real estate data science platform, you can also connect with an agent that will walk you through all of the necessary steps to buy your first property.

To request access, just click the button below.

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