3 Ways to Make a Stellar Real Estate Deal Out of an Average One

by | BiggerPockets.com

Early on in my real estate investing career, one of my goals was to buy one rental property a year. I used to dream about having them all paid off, free and clear, by retirement.

Keep in mind that this was at age 29, just after I passed my real estate exam and bought my first investment property. My theory was that since real estate agents don’t usually have much of a retirement plan, I could either cash flow off 20 houses or even sell one each year in retirement.

Then my goals quickly morphed. One year, I bought seven rental properties, followed by nine more properties the next year. At 40, I was well on my way to having over 100 units like many of my investor friends.

But then my dream changed again. I realized that by using creative financing to increase cash flow and by incorporating some tax and note strategies, I might not need to have that many units to have the lifestyle I wanted. Instead, I could improve the real estate deals I already owned, bringing them from good to great, while also adding new alternative investments to my portfolio.

Related: 4 Actionable Ways to Find Real Estate Deals, Even in a Red Hot Market

What’s an “Average” Deal?

When it comes to real estate investing, every deal is unique, but the “average” real estate deal varies based on your market.

For my friends and me living outside of Philly, the average deal was a 2 to 3-bedroom twin or row home that could rent for $750-$1,000 a month, and it usually cost well under $100k.

I know some of you are probably thinking, “there’s nothing like that around where I live,” but just hang in here with me.


I’d pick up a 3-bedroom house for $40k-$45k, and after repairs and closing costs, I’d be all in at approximately $65k, with an ARV (after repair value) of about $100K. If I sold that house for $100k, less real estate agent fees and transfers taxes, I would be at $93k, netting approximately $28k before taxes. Since it’s usually less than a year from start to finish, I might net approximately $19,600.

If I couldn’t sell it or didn’t want to, I’d go to the bank, and they’d give me a 20-30% down, 30-year mortgage, and I’d probably be glad to cash flow $300 a month (or maybe a little less on a 2-bedroom).

Deals like this one were common amongst real estate investors in my area. We also purposely didn’t keep big properties due to increased maintenance costs, and we preferred those that were easy to rent.

3 Ways to Improve Your Real Estate Deal

You’re probably wondering how you can take an average deal and tweak it to make it better. It’s easy. Try to save money on taxes wherever possible, find the highest and best use of that property at that time, and utilize the best financing available, either through terms or the proper use of equity to increase cash flow. Now, I know, I just said a lot. Let’s break it down.

1. Save on taxes whenever possible.

For real estate investors, the biggest hit usually comes in the form of a capital gains tax when selling a property. One of the simplest strategies to avoid the more expensive, short-term capital gain tax is to wait a year and a day before selling. At that point, it would be considered a long-term capital gain, which is usually subject to a lower tax rate.

There are three other strategies that come to mind, all of which may help to reduce the amount of taxable gains from the sale.

  • One is a strategy my friend, Mark Halpern, uses all the time, and that’s selling on a lease-option.
  • The second strategy for those of us with sizable portfolios is to keep the recently acquired property that’s just been renovated and sell an older property from your portfolio, maybe one with a bigger gain and less depreciation deductions left. There’s no harm in juggling your inventory every once in a while.
  • My third strategy is to possibly sell with owner financing (and with a nice down payment), and then maybe sell a partial of the note to try to recoup the rest of your capital.

Related: This Simple Advice From Warren Buffet Guides Me to Deals No One Else is Finding

2. Pursue your property’s highest and best use.

Pursuing the highest and best use of a property could mean a range of things.

Personally, I’ve done everything from adding two bedrooms in the third-floor attic to putting a new kitchen in the old dining room and adding a first-floor bedroom where the smaller obsolete kitchen used to be. I’ve rented the garage in the alley to a third party, and I’ve even built more garages to increase property value and cash flow.

What can you do with the property to get the most “bang for your buck”?


3. Think outside-the-box with financing.

Another way to improve the profitability of your deal is to get creative with financing.

This can be anything from taking out a longer-term loan (i.e. 10-year fixed, interest-only mortgage to jack up cash flow) to utilizing the equity in your property through a HELOC (Home Equity Line of Credit) to lend as private money to another rehabber. The latter is a form of arbitrage, which would allow you to make additional money on the spread.

Another strategy would be to accelerate the pay-down of debt. Personally, I love when my returns from investing pay down my debts for me.

We’re republishing this article to help out our newer readers.

So, what are your favorite strategies to maximize your real estate deals? Do you use any tax strategies or finance hacks?

Please share below!

About Author

Dave Van Horn

Since 2007, Dave Van Horn has served as president and CEO of PPR The Note Co., a holding company that manages several funds that buy, sell, and hold residential mortgages nationwide. Dave’s expertise is derived from over 30 years of residential and commercial real estate experience as a licensed Realtor, a real estate investor, and a fundraiser. As the latter, Dave has raised over $100 million in both notes and commercial real estate. In addition to his investments and role as CEO, Dave’s biggest passion is to teach others how to share, build, and preserve wealth. He authored Real Estate Note Investing, an introduction to the note investing business, helping investors enter the “other side” of the real estate business.


  1. David Roberts

    Dave you are one of my favorite bloggers. Great ideas.

    Ive used HELOC money to lend out to another rehabber. Its great stuff. Nothing lioe turning that money sevwral times a year for more gains!

    I echo loving when real estate pays your debts down. It paid my student loans off and is now paying my wife’s down quickly!

  2. Ashley Wilson

    So I had this opened on my computer from yesterday, with a few other posts that I didn’t have time to get to…so while reading it, I said to my husband, “you have to read this article…it’s really good”…and then I get to the bottom and see you wrote it and told my husband and we both had a good laugh…we should have known it was you! You always write such great articles…and from a fellow Philly Suburb resident, would love to learn more! For example, what areas are you buying the rental examples you give? The only places I know with those spreads are not in really good areas. Great article as always!

    • Dave Van Horn

      Too funny! Long time no see, Ashley! I remember our discussion from awhile back.

      I’ve mostly stuck with Delaware County throughout most of my career as a SFR investor. It’s a little tougher now then it was, not so much with crime but with taxes and township fees. Plus there’s slower appreciation. I’ve dabbled in Chester County and I also have a place upstate that I built for a vacation home that I’m thinking of Airbnb-ing. Anyway, I’ve more moved on to nationwide investing with notes and commercial real estate. Much easier at my age, IMO.


  3. Joseph Edelstein on

    ” I’ve more moved on to nationwide investing with notes and commercial real estate. Much easier at my age,”

    What type of commercial RE? Isn’t commercial much riskier?
    What would be a good way to start with notes. Where and how can we get good training on that.

    Your sharing always appreciated.


    • Dave Van Horn

      Hi J,

      I prefer to do apartment investing above all else, but I also like storage centers, parking garages, etc. Pretty much anything that has on-site management.

      I don’t think commercial is necessarily riskier. There’s more money at stake but it’s just a matter of how well you do your due diligence.

      And there’s really no one size fits all answer to your question about notes. The first question you have to ask yourself is, “do you want to be an active investor or passive investor?” If you PM me I could give you a free copy of my Intro to Note Investing E-book.


  4. Bill B.

    Thank you for this post.
    I’m curious why you don’t have 1031 exchanges listed as a way to legally avoid taxes? Legally deferring 100% of taxes would seem better than paying any tax on a sale.
    Thank you for your time and effort.

  5. Hi Dave. Always read your articles and learn something. What do you think about borrowing cash from a correctly structured whole of life policy, using this to fund your real estate deal and then paying yourself back from the cash flow at a slightly higher interest rate, thereby adding more cash value to the pokicy and the abikity to do this again and again.

  6. Kevin Su

    Hi Dave,

    Good stuff here. I love reading your articles and like your idea of valuing the access to capital. As a newbie to start buying rental properties in knowing I will be putting LOC on them eventually, should I buy them under my LLC in the beginning? I heard from other posts saying that getting LOC as a company would require me proving that my LLC is profitable rather than showing my own credit score and giving personal guarantee.

    • Dave Van Horn

      Thanks Kevin.

      It’s a personal decision but I think getting as many mortgages as you can in your own name is the best strategy since you’ll get better financing terms and in turn, a higher yield faster than if you were buying utilizing an LLC. But that’s just me. I treat my own name like a separate bucket just like an LLC. is a separate bucket. And of course I have other strategies to minimize the risk in doing so. Everything from increasing my liability insurance, to carrying an umbrella policy, and even protecting my assets through debt utilizing HELOCs. Plus, I can always move properties later into an LLC once they’re paid off.


  7. Karen Hamblet

    Living in the Pacific Northwest where deals like this have not been available for years….you are hoping for appreciation on your rental property which has happened. The rents will not pencil out for investments here, if anyone knows where to find such deals on the West Coast , let me know.

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