Landlording & Rental Properties

Why Buying Into Section 8 Myths Is Leaving (Big!) Money on the Table [With Photo Tour]

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Row of colorful, red, yellow, blue, white, green painted residential townhouses, homes, houses with brick patio gardens in summer

Let me cut to the chase. For BRRRR investors, Section 8 is the best thing since sliced bread!

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Take a deep breath. Believe it or not, I’m not crazy. What I’m about to reveal to you is not a magic formula, even though the results sound almost too good to be true.

This strategy allows me to buy and hold property in some of the country’s hottest zip codes—while enjoying both cash flow now and long-term appreciation later.

I’ve been a landlord in Washington, D.C., for 30-plus years. My biggest regret? Not embracing this strategy sooner.

Related: Big City BRRRR-ing: Why It Might Just Be the Holy Grail [With Photo Tour!]

Busting Section 8 Myths

You’ve heard them. I’ve heard them. Stereotypes about Section 8 tenants abound.

Among the most common warnings about Section 8:

  1. They won’t care for your property (i.e., they will trash your house).
  2. They’re unstable and won’t pay their portion of the rent.
  3. They’ll attract drama and crime.

Sure, there will be cases where these hold true (especially if you don’t screen well—more on this later).

With that said, let’s address each of these stereotypes individually, and I’ll explain why I’ve found them to be more myth than truth.

  1. They won’t care for your property.

First, 30 years’ experience tells me that bad tenants come in all shapes, sizes, income groups, and professions. I’ve known wealthy people who have trashed homes, just like I’ve known college students who have trashed homes. Therefore, just because somebody has a good job or makes a decent income doesn’t mean they will take care of your house. Don’t kid yourself!

As a strategy, I purposely choose not to buy in what are commonly perceived as “Section 8 neighborhoods” (i.e., high crime and blighted areas).

What I’ve found is the voucher holders I’m trying to attract prefer not to live there also—especially if given a choice. Because there’s so much demand for quality affordable housing in desirable areas within D.C., I have the luxury of choosing from a large pool of tenants for my properties.

When I find a potential tenant for one of my single family homes, I do something you might find unbelievable: I ask to visit them at their current residence. Why? So I can see how they really keep their home. I apply this screening step to all qualified applicants.

Why do I take the time to visit a person’s home? From my experience, this one activity is hands down the best way to predict the condition of your property in three to six months’ time.

You may be surprised that the types of tenants who fill out my application form do not object to me visiting their home. In fact, many have “pride of rentership” and are happy to showcase it to me.

Sometimes, when I call to schedule a visit, I am told, “It’s OK to come anytime—even right away!”

This tells me the applicant doesn’t need to spend any time cleaning or patching things up. In fact, I find that these tenants keep their homes clean and orderly with low to no damage. The main issue is they live in a problem-plagued neighborhood—a neighborhood they desperately want to move away from.

word myths on colorful wooden cubes

I’ve rented to over 50 Section 8 tenants over the years, and I’ve found that they generally care for the property just as diligently as my market-rate tenants.

The majority of voucher participants are families with children. We know that some kids, especially younger ones, can be a bit harder on the property. But that is not always the case, especially if the parents train them appropriately.

Either way, with five-, 10-, 15-, 20-year tenants, a little extra wear and tear doesn’t necessarily hurt my bottom line because I deal with so little turnover.

Related: 8 Myths About Section 8, Corrected: Here’s the Profitable Truth

  1. They’re unstable and won’t pay their rent.

It’s tempting to think someone on government assistance is likely to move around a lot. From what I’ve found, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

As mentioned previously, I buy properties in relatively safe, quiet, and peaceful neighborhoods. Most of my Section 8 tenants are escaping neighborhoods that are quite the opposite.

Therefore, a housing voucher is their golden ticket to a neighborhood free of drugs, gangs, and other negative influences. Their voucher is a gateway to a better quality of life for the entire family. So when they move into one of my houses, they usually stay for many, many years.

Consider this fact. If I rent one of my houses to a couple and/or family making a combined $200,000/year income (which is very common in Washington, D.C.), here’s what’s likely to happen: they’ll stay for one, maybe two, or possibly three years, then leave to buy their own house.

But because my tenants do not earn high incomes, they are priced out of the market. The only way they can live in D.C.’s nicer neighborhoods is by renting through the city’s voucher program.

At this time, my longest tenant has rented their home for 22 years. I have many 10-, 12-, 15-year tenants!

question mark on a sticky note against grained wood

As a buy and hold investor, turnover and vacancy is by far the biggest expense—especially if not carefully managed and controlled. Since my tenants tend to stay in my homes for a very long time, my turnover and vacancy costs are minimal. What this means is the cash flow goes directly to my bottom line.

Now, regarding rent. In Washington D.C., the portion paid by the tenant is a tiny fraction of the overall rent I collect. For example, take a five-bedroom house I recently rented to a family in a B+ area. The total rent I receive is $5,462. Of that, only $200 is being paid by my tenant.

Even if my tenant were to fall behind on their portion, I’d still be collecting 96 percent of the total rent amount. If this were a non-Section 8 tenant? I’d be collecting a big fat zero.

Finally, my tenants are highly motivated to stay on top of their payments. As mentioned, their housing voucher is their golden ticket. Not paying rent is a great way to get that voucher taken away and spoil their chance at keeping their family in a safer and more prosperous neighborhood.

  1. They’ll attract drama and crime.

Here’s what I’ve found. Many people—especially parents—living in underserved, low-income neighborhoods are no different than you or me. They don’t want to be shot at any more than anyone else. They want to put their kids in good schools and live near desirable amenities (e.g., shops, buses/subways, parks, rec centers, etc.)—just as you and I do.

During the screening process, I find that a large number of Section 8 tenants have no criminal history or onerous red flags (evictions, complaints, housing violations, etc.). They just want their family to live in a quality house in a nice area and to rent from a good landlord—just like you would if the tables were reversed. This is not rocket science.

With that said, I am by no means a charity. Believe it not, I really enjoy working with this tenant group because it allows me to “do good” and “do well” at the same time.

Related: The Tenant Screening Process: The Application

Before and After BRRRR Section 8 Photos

Before I go, I’ll leave you with these photos from one of my recent deals:

Exterior

Before staging: Exterior Front

After renovation and Staging: Exterior Front

Living Room

Before staging: Living Room

After renovation and Staging: Living Room

Dining Room

Before staging: Dining Room

After renovation and Staging: Dining Room

Kitchen

Before staging: Kitchen

After renovation and Staging: Kitchen

Bedroom

Before staging: Bedroom

After renovation and Staging: Bedroom

Bathroom

Before staging: Bathroom

After renovation and Staging: Bathroom

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Need a way to up your real estate investment game? Author and investor David Greene shares how he expanded his real estate business from two houses per year to two houses per month with the BRRRR strategy. Pick up your copy from the BiggerPockets bookstore today!

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Have you had any good or bad experiences with Section 8 tenants? What do you think of this strategy?

Let’s talk in the comment section below!

 

Joe Asamoah, MBA, PhD, is a seasoned real estate investor. He owns an impressive portfolio of superior homes in the Washington DC area. With over 30 years' experience acquiring, renovating, and managing single family homes, "Dr. Joe" transformed what was once a hobby into a highly successful business. In 2003, his real estate investments enabled him to realize a personal goal of financial independence via passive and residual real estate cash flow. A major objective of Dr. Joe's business is to invest in people and properties. Many of his tenants are low-income families that participate in voucher programs. Because of his dedication to the industry, Dr. Joe is a recipient of numerous professional and real estate awards. Find out more on his website JoeAsamoah.com or on his Facebook page. or on Instagram.

    Brianna Ware from Washington D.C.
    Replied 4 months ago
    Wow, great read, especially since I’m considering moving to DC but wondering how I’ll afford to.
    Joseph Asamoah Rental Property Investor from Washington, DC
    Replied 4 months ago
    DC is and expensive housing market. But I do believe its still possible to invest and do well if you know how to navigate the choppy waters. In fact, I regularly host rehab workshops where I show people how I do it.
    Brandon Moore from Central Arkanas
    Replied 4 months ago
    Great Read! I’ve been considering investing in homes for section 8 tenants.
    Joseph Asamoah Rental Property Investor from Washington, DC
    Replied 4 months ago
    Thanks for the kind words Brandon. I definitely encourage you to learn the do’s and don’ts of renting to section 8 tenants. With care and understanding its a great niche. Best of luck.
    Nathan Richmond Rental Property Investor from Visalia, CA
    Replied 4 months ago
    Love the renovation!
    Joseph Asamoah Rental Property Investor from Washington, DC
    Replied 4 months ago
    Thanks for the kind words Nathan. I try to provide quality houses in quality neighborhoods. With this strategy, I tend to attract quality tenants.
    Eric Mcginn Real Estate Investor from San Bernardino, CA
    Replied 4 months ago
    its great until you get a prositution-drugs operation out of your apartment and have to go through the eviction notice. it happened to me. I no longer take section 8 tenants.
    Maya Clark Real Estate Broker from Oakland, CA
    Replied 4 months ago
    That same issue can occur with a market rate/non section 8 tenant. I’ve actually had more issues with criminal activity from my market rate tenants because they don’t have to be worried about annual inspections. I helped a friend-owner with a problem he was having with a meth property that was a well-do, professional couple…screen screen screen and screen again!! Don’t call the current landlord expecting to hear the good, bad, & ugly. Call the previous 1 or 2 landlords who have nothing to gain or lose.
    Joseph Asamoah Rental Property Investor from Washington, DC
    Replied 4 months ago
    I agree with Maya, just because a person/family has a voucher doesn’t necessarily they are a train wreck waiting to happen!! I would dare to say that most prostitutes and drug operators don’t have section 8 vouchers – but are more likely to be market renters. The key is your screening policy and how thorough you are. I respectfully disagree with your non-section 8 policy (which is illegal in this area). I think you are overlooking many good families that will take care of your place and stay there many, many years.
    Adrian Ayub
    Replied 4 months ago
    Hi there, thanks for continuing to dispell pre-conceived notions on section eight tenants for me, I currently own a lower end portfolio in Memphis, Cleveland and Toledo, I am very much considering perhaps allowing section eight tenants in the very near future after reading your last few posts, Thank you
    Joseph Asamoah Rental Property Investor from Washington, DC
    Replied 4 months ago
    Thanks for the kind words Adrian. I have found that many section 8 tenants don’t necessarily want to live in “Section 8 neighborhoods”. If given the opportunity to live in better areas, they will reward you by taking care of your property and staying longer.
    Shawn C. Investor from Cedar Park, TX
    Replied 4 months ago
    How do you find out about section 8 programs in a persons area they invest in?
    Randy E. Rental Property Investor from Durham, NC
    Replied 4 months ago
    Go to http://www.gosection8.com. Enter the name of the city you are interested in. If that city pops up, you’ll have an idea of what Sec8 pays for rentals. If you’re happy with the amounts, contact the local Housing Authority in that city ask about Sec8. Or visit their website.
    Joseph Asamoah Rental Property Investor from Washington, DC
    Replied 4 months ago
    Great response Randy. In some areas (Washington DC being one), go section 8 is not the best place. I suggest you contact the housing authority where your property is located and ask them where do they recommend you place your listing(s). I also have good luck with Zillow and Craigslist.
    David Shives from Cincinnati, Ohio
    Replied 4 months ago
    WOW nice article I will think about renting to Section 8 tenants Once they are screened
    Joseph Asamoah Rental Property Investor from Washington, DC
    Replied 4 months ago
    Thanks for the kind words David. I agree, the key is screening. This applies to section 8 and non-section 8 tenants.
    Bob Hines Real Estate Investor from StL, Missouri
    Replied 4 months ago
    The nagging thing in the back of my mind about Section 8 has been that it seems like every time a Section 8 renter comes to view one of my properties, they don’t care about the property. They only care about if I will accept them. I understand that if a landlord would not rent to Section 8 it would be a waste of everybody’s time, but there’s just something that doesn’t sit well when, after telling them I would rent to Section 8, they don’t go around to actually view the house they would be living in. They only want the application and leave. It’s not even a one off thing. This has happened many times to several different properties. It really is nearly every Section 8 prospect I’ve encountered.
    Joseph Asamoah Rental Property Investor from Washington, DC
    Replied 4 months ago
    Thanks for the insight Bob. I suggest during your initial conversation you explain (if its not already in your listing) that you accept section 8 tenants, your property(s) features and your screen process if they were to apply for your unit. With this info, you will save a lot of time and energy and avoid tire kickers. I always try and convey a pleasant and welcoming demeanor and invite them to visit and check out the property. For some reason, I’m not having the same experiences as you with regards to tenants not caring or interested to know where my properties are located. The quality families (just like you) are VERY interested to know where the property is located. For these families location, location, location trumps most other considerations.
    Randy E. Rental Property Investor from Durham, NC
    Replied 4 months ago
    Maybe the infer from your demeanor that you don’t trust them or that you don’t really want to rent to them.
    John Lamb Rental Property Investor from Phoenix, AZ
    Replied 4 months ago
    Joseph, how do you market your rentals to just the section 8 population? I actually inherited a section 8 tenant and love it for all the reasons you mentioned. The tenant takes good care of the property and even wants to get to a position to where she can purchase the property from me.
    Maya Clark Real Estate Broker from Oakland, CA
    Replied 4 months ago
    Try GoSection8.com to see if they are in your area. You can market there to Section 8, non-Section 8, or both.
    Joseph Asamoah Rental Property Investor from Washington, DC
    Replied 4 months ago
    Hi John, I addressed your question earlier. In short I suggest contacting your local housing authority and ask them where do they direct landlords to list their properties. Also,I’ve had good luck with Zillow and Craigslist. Make sure you post lots of photos and a virtual video tour if possible.
    Terrence Jones
    Replied 4 months ago
    Dr. joe great story!! My partners and I actually have the same concept of “doing good while doing well”. We have 14 doors and we rent to sec. 8 tenants as well and it has been great! Would love to have some dialogue with you about it.
    Joseph Asamoah Rental Property Investor from Washington, DC
    Replied 4 months ago
    Thanks for the encouragement. Great that we share the same mindset of doing well by doing good”. Feel free to reach out to me via my website and/or bigger pockets message board.
    Hazen Mcvicar Investor from Olathe, Kansas
    Replied 4 months ago
    Very nice renovations…looks better than my house!!
    Joseph Asamoah Rental Property Investor from Washington, DC
    Replied 4 months ago
    Wow!! With nice houses I tend to attract the best tenants who will take care of “their homes.”
    Cynthia DeLuca
    Replied 4 months ago
    Dr Joe, I have worked with thousands of Section 8 tenants over the past 20 plus years and could not agree with you more! You have it figured out. We love Section 8. I would recommend to any considering landlord to study the HUD guidelines and learn the “rules” of Section 8. There is a lot to know but if you understand what you’re getting into, life is great! Good luck with finding more Section 8 rentals! L
    Joseph Asamoah Rental Property Investor from Washington, DC
    Replied 4 months ago
    Couldn’t agree with you more Cynthia. We just need to spread the good word to the BP community about section 8 tenants. Keep up the good work Cynthia!!!
    Adam Lowry Rental Property Investor from Houston, TX
    Replied 4 months ago
    Great article, thanks!
    Joseph Asamoah Rental Property Investor from Washington, DC
    Replied 4 months ago
    Thanks for the kind words Adam. I will be providing more quality BP articles in the near future.
    Johnson Mathew from North Brunswick, New Jersey
    Replied 4 months ago
    Yes I have experience with section 8 tenants for the last 15 years. They are OK.
    Joseph Asamoah Rental Property Investor from Washington, DC
    Replied 4 months ago
    As we all know, tenants come in all shapes and sizes – there are good, bad and ugly. Your screening policy and rigor will determine if you end with the good, the bad or the ugly.Just my two cents.
    Kenneth Janes from Knoxville, Tennessee
    Replied 4 months ago
    It would seem that a key to successfully engaging in Section 8 rentals lies in volume as well as proper screening. But what are lenders’ sentiments concerning Section 8, and is it necessary to even mention that you intend to make the property available to subsidized tenants? I don’t know, but it seems to me that a guaranteed income stream to the borrower would be an attractive situation for a lender.
    Joseph Asamoah Rental Property Investor from Washington, DC
    Replied 4 months ago
    I’ve never had a problem letting lenders know I am renting to section 8 tenants. Once I explain my systems, policy and procedures and how that improves my bottom line, most are impressed.
    Michael Casile
    Replied 4 months ago
    Guilty as charged (of believing the myths). I looked at some homes in major Section 8 areas … and they were horrendous. Likely from the landlord and tenant. Frankly, I’d not have wanted my dog to live there. Your article shows that many of the folks there don’t want to live there either. I’ve not taken Section 8 before … but I love your idea of visiting their existing home … great idea.
    Joseph Asamoah Rental Property Investor from Washington, DC
    Replied 4 months ago
    I’ve given you a free ticket out of “section 8 myth” jail. As I and others explain, the key is your screening. I NEVER rent to someone before I personally visit their home. This one step will tell you how your house will be in 3-6 months.
    Becky Zienkowicz from Madisonville, KY
    Replied 4 months ago
    Thank You for posting this. I have been a low-income renter (didn’t get on section 8, the list was a 3-year wait then) in the past and all you’ve said is true. When my kids were small all we wanted was a safe, quiet place to live. I’m in saver phase now and I intend to invest in section 8 renters to give back to those that were like me.
    Joseph Asamoah Rental Property Investor from Washington, DC
    Replied 4 months ago
    Thanks for the kind words Becky. I’m glad you are interested in becoming a landlord and renting to section families. Good luck with your savings.