Landlording & Rental Properties

3 Impressive Ways that Buy-and-Hold Investors Gain Equity

Expertise: Landlording & Rental Properties
32 Articles Written

Think rental properties are ONLY good for cash flow?

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Guess again.

If you have a buy-and-hold strategy with real estate — in other words, if you are the proud owner of a rental property — you may think that the only money that you earn is through monthly cash flow.

If your property grosses $1400 per month, for example, and you net $200 after expenses (including your mortgage), you may view that $200 per month as the cash return on your investment.

While that’s true, cash flow isn’t the only way in which landlords earn their money. Rental property investors derive returns through both cash flow and equity appreciation. In this article, I'd like to talk a little bit more about how a buy-and-hold investor builds equity.

If you’re holding on to your properties for several years, you’ll build equity in three ways:

1. Initial Appreciation.

I’m using “appreciation” in a very broad sense of the word. The initial appreciation that you earn from your investment is the immediate equity gain that you enjoy the moment you sign the closing documents. In other words, this “appreciation” happens on the day you buy the house.

If you’ve purchased the house correctly, then you’ve bought the property at a discount relative to comparable properties. In other words, if every house on the street is a three-bedroom, two-bath brick ranch selling for $100,000 and you’ve bought the house for $90,000, then you’ve bought it at a 10% discount relative to comparable properties, and by extension, you’ve immediately enjoyed 10% instant appreciation on the day that you made the purchase.

Why would a seller offer a house at a discount? There are plenty of reasons. Perhaps the seller needs to move out of state in a hurry, and just wants to get the house off of his hands. Perhaps he’s a distressed seller who is in financial difficulty, and needs to cash out right away. Perhaps you picked up the house at a foreclosure auction or an estate sale.

Whatever the reason, there are plenty of houses that are available at discount relative to comparable properties, and this forms the first piece of appreciation that you’ll receive.

2. Equity Growth Over Time.

One of my favorite facts about rental property ownership is that not only do you receive monthly cash flow from day one (if you’ve bought correctly), but also your property will appreciate in value as time goes on. This appreciation is the icing on the cake. You buy for the cash flow, and you enjoy the appreciation as a bonus.

At a minimum, your property should appreciate at the same rate as inflation. In other words, real estate — by its very nature — is an inflation-protected investment.

Of course, there are exceptions. Some cities or towns that are heavily reliant on one employer or one industry. If that employer or industry dries up, these become ghost towns, and the real estate crashes along with it.

However, assuming that your property isn’t located in an area that experiences one of these unfortunate exceptions, you should be able to expect equity appreciation that at a minimum proceeds at the rate of inflation, or in the best case scenario, proceeds much faster than that.

3. Debt Pay-Down.

Your equity growth will come from both immediate appreciation as well as appreciation over time, but those aren’t the only two sources of equity gains.

Let’s not forget that tried-and-true, old-fashioned way of building equity, which is by paying down debt. The more you pay down the debt on your existing properties, the more equity you’ll gain, and if you choose to, you can borrow against this equity for future real estate purchases.

You’ll have to make a strategic decision as to whether you want to apply your free cash flow towards accumulating more properties or paying down the debt on the properties that you already own. There’s no right or wrong answer. Your decision will depend on market conditions, your risk tolerance, and your personal goals.

Regardless, however, the fact remains: Debt pay-down, if you choose it, is one of the safest and best ways to gain equity in your properties.

These are the top three ways in which buy-and-hold investors gain equity in their portfolios. But at the end of the day, equity is only secondary. Cash is primary.

Equity is nice, but it’s not the reason to hold a real estate portfolio. The reason that we hold is so we can enjoy the monthly cash flow — the passive income — that comes from the rent on our properties. Buy a property that cash flows nicely, and then, as a bonus, enjoy those equity gains that come along with it.
Photo Credit: reallyboring

Paula Pant quit her 9-to-5 job, invested in 7 rental units, and traveled to 32 countries. Her blog, Afford Anything, shares how to shatter limits, build wealth and maximize life. (At, she shares EXACT numbers from all her rental investments -- costs, cash flow, cap rate; it's all published for the world to read.) Afford Anything is a gathering spot for a tribe dedicated to ditching the cubicle. Read her blog, and join the revolution.
    Ziv Magen
    Replied almost 7 years ago
    So basic and true, and yet so many people tend to forget this, either buying without considering the initial equity, or settling on cashflow, just because of the dangerous mantra that says “property always goes up”. As my dad used to say when I was growing up – “invest in real estate, son, it’s the best monthly paycheque around”. Keep it simple, profitable and safe! Everything else is icing on the cake, not something to be relied upon – that’s a sure recipe for disaster! Great post, thank you.
    Replied almost 7 years ago
    Question s wen to sell. My goal was to sell when equity doubles or triple. Than go bigger and better. So, if you put 50k d, sell when you can cash at least 100k, or better yet 150k net.
    Replied almost 7 years ago
    Don’t forget that everything else is going up at the same time. It’s smarter to look at the income vs. investment. If (3) $50k houses NET $1k/month in rent, and one $150k house only NET $800/month then the 3 houses are the better investment. Management involved is a different part of the equation, as is risk ie the chance that all 3 houses vacant at once, vs the hassle of 3 tenants vs 1.
    Douglas Larson
    Replied almost 7 years ago
    Great stuff . . . And let’s not forget . . . . #4, Forced Equity. The kind of equity gained when a an intelligent investor improves the value of a residential or commercial property in one of several ways: 1. Renovations, additions or even just updating. 2. Re-zoning to a higher and better use. (eg. residential land or homes can become commercial). 3. Increasing rents on a multifamily residential or commercial space which increases income and a higher property valuation (equity). 4. Subdividing larger properties (especially land) to create several parcels worth more collectively than the original piece. Most investors think they are going to add value to a property but we must be careful not to over-improve or over-pay for improvements or overcharge our tenants and scare them off. Have Fun and Make Your Own Luck!
    James Pratt
    Replied almost 7 years ago
    Cash flow is the number one thing to go for. At 3% growth, in 24 years, your money/investment will double. Trouble with that is, inflation at 3%, your investment will be valued the same as todays money, no growth. With renters paying down your mortgage and giving you positive monthly cash flow, sure beats the heck out of any 401k or IRA plans. And the bonus is you’re only paying 15% tax (passive income) on your income , not 43.4%. Purchase properties at a discount, in growing areas, add value and enjoy the cash flow.
    Replied almost 7 years ago
    I also enjoy all the tax write-offs for property taxes, insurance, etc. that my tenants are paying for.
    Replied almost 7 years ago
    Depreciation to help offset the rental income is nice too, though I have to give that back to the IRS when I sell (unless it becomes my residence for 2 years before I sell). Reply Report comment
    Replied almost 7 years ago
    Depreciation to help offset the rental income is nice too, though I have to give that back to the IRS when I sell (unless it becomes my residence for 2 years before I sell).
    Replied almost 7 years ago
    And do not forget. As cash flow increases, by raising rent, the property is inherently worth more, especially in a multifamily property.
    Abel Vazquez
    Replied almost 7 years ago
    Awesome points made in this article. Also there more equity that yo u gain in your property overtime the greater the cash flow you will have coming out of that property as well. Thank you for this great article Paula. Abel
    Replied over 6 years ago
    Paula, Thank you for writing this article. I have always looked at each of the 3 items as ways to improve my business but do not necessarily think of all 3 when I go to purchase. It is good to be reminded to think of all 3.