Evaluating a property is one of the most important aspects of real estate investing. However, many new investors don’t have a lot of money to spend on fancy analytical tools.
Luckily, most of what you’ll need is available for free if you know the right places to look. Here are some of the best free resources to evaluate real estate investments.
Tools for Running Numbers
There’s no better place to start than the tools that BiggerPockets offers. Right now, BiggerPockets offers calculators for the following types of transactions:
All of these tools allow you to input all of your assumptions and determine a strike price—the highest you should be willing to pay for a property. This is a critical number to come up with up front, as there is a tendency to want to “win” a negotiation and buy a property no matter what. This is why auctioneers talk so fast. They want to get people hyped up to “win.” But buying something is not winning. You only win if you get a good deal.
All of these calculators allow you to create reports such as this:
Of course, the accuracy of such reports depends on your numbers. We’ll start with rehab.
Tools for Estimating Rehabs
Unfortunately, this is the area for which online resources are the weakest. Costs vary wildly depending on the quality of materials, the contractor, and the state and city you live in.
That being said, as you can see on the right of the above report, there are 25 repair items. These are the same 25 that are discussed in detail in J. Scott’s great book The Book on Estimating Rehab Costs.
Using that list of 25 items as a guide to putting together a rehab budget has been very helpful for me. It’s a thorough step-by-step process that makes sure nothing gets overlooked—although I always add a contingency (usually 20 percent) on top as there are always add-ons and unforeseen items that come up during a rehab.
There are some free websites that offer estimates for types of rehab costs, such as HomeAdvisor.com, RemodelingCalculator.org, and Homewyse.com. And you can always find material costs on the websites for Home Depot, Lowe’s, or HD Supply.
But given the issues I noted above, I really believe rehab costs are something you just have to learn. Getting advice from a seasoned investor or contractor before a purchase is a wise thing to do. In addition, this is also one of the reasons you should always get more than one rehab quote before starting a project.
Tools for Estimating ARV
This is probably the most important part of analysis. You need to be able to figure out what a property will sell for. It’s also probably the best reason for an investor to get a real estate agent license, as that will give you access to the MLS. If you don’t go this route, you should develop a good relationship with an investment-minded real estate agent so they can pull comps and run CMAs (comparative market analyses) for you, because there really isn’t anything that beats the MLS for comps.
There are some other tools, though, which include:
- Just don’t trust the Zestimate; it is by no means precise. In addition, many of the comps listed are too old or much bigger or smaller. Be careful to compare like to like.
- Same as above.
Tools for Rent Evaluation
The easiest place to start for evaluating rents is Rentometer.com. You just type in the number of bedrooms and location and your expected rent, and it will tell you whether you’re in the ballpark. But you’re only comparing your property to others on Rentometer and only across bedrooms and location. It’s a very rough estimate indeed—but it’s a good place to start.
For a much more thorough report, you can use RentRange.com, but it costs some money.
The best free tools to come to a rent price are simply sites that have other rentals on them that you can compare yours to. Basically, you comp the rents in the same way you comp prices. Most of these sites have map functions, so just go to the map, see what’s close, click on the other ads, and view the pictures to make sure they are comparable. Such sites include:
One little note to remember with rent comparables is that there are no “sold” comps on these sites. They only have active listings. So if you see outliers, it usually means the landlord is just out to lunch. Try to find the trend amongst the comps and price your property accordingly.
Tools for Demographics
The best free source for demographic information is easily City-Data.com. There you will find everything from crime rates, per capita income, whether a city is growing or shrinking, and the city’s breakdown of employment by sector.
You also break this data down by zip code. Furthermore, there is a map feature that you can actually zoom in and get demographic information on individual zip codes. Unfortunately, for some reason, they don’t include crime stats.
For a less cluttered breakdown on various demographic info (including crime stats by zip codes), I would recommend CLRSearch.com. HomeFair.com is also helpful.
And, of course, there are much more thorough demographic reports you can pay for through services such as LoopNet, CoStar, or Marcus and Millchap.
Here are other more specific websites that can be helpful for demographic information:
- School Rankings: GreatSchools.org
- Walkability: Walkscore.com
- Crime Mapping (although I don’t fully trust these sites): CrimeMapping.com
I should also mention that I’ve found the website ZipMap.net helpful; it breaks down exactly where zip codes begin and end.
Finally, I should note that many cities have websites with additional useful information. Many also have economic development plans that are worth checking out to figure out the path of progress and what parts of town are most likely to appreciate.
General Real Estate Investing Information
Lastly, as far as general advice on real estate investing, well, there’s this website you may have heard of. It’s called BiggerSomethingOrOther. I can’t remember. Anyways, it’s got a lot of helpful tips, so you should it check out.
What tools do you use when evaluating deals?
Let me know in a comment!