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Travis Kumar
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Travis Kumar's profile image
Travis Kumar
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Buying a 4 unit, and adding a unit. First time house hacker.

Travis Kumar
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Posted Nov 1 2023, 15:12

I am currently looking to house hack a multi-unit property in MD, VA, PA. I just submitted to a few lenders recommended here, and have begun speaking with realtors. My question is, some properties I see have 4 units that are currently rented. They then also have space I can convert. Cash flow is very hard to find, but they look like opportunities to force equity and cash flow. Assuming i can get the permits, can i buy a 4 unit, rent all 4 units, and convert the basement to a live-able space for me? Does this then turn it into a 5 unit, or once i purchase, I am free to do this. If I should be thinking about this problem differently, I am open to all insight. I know there are other ways to make money, and cash flow isnt everything, but I think if I can convert an area and rent current units, I will be further ahead. Thanks in advance for any feedback.

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  • #3 House Hacking Contributor
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Benjamin Sulka#3 House Hacking Contributor
  • Cleveland, OH
Replied Nov 1 2023, 17:42

Travis, 

I'm honestly not sure. This is a great question. 

I know that residential financing is technically for 4 units or less so I would imagine that adding a 5th unit would make it commercial? Obviously to house hack you have to owner occupy so you would need to disclose how you plan on living in the property so you can qualify for owner occ financing. 

In Ohio, if I were to buy a similar property, by law I would have to wait until a tenant's lease is up to be able to have them vacate so I could move in and house hack. If you can't get financing by turning it into a 5 unit, see if you can move in once one of the tenant's lease is up. Hoping somebody more experienced comments for you. 

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Bill Brandt#3 1031 Exchanges Contributor
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Replied Nov 1 2023, 17:54

You’re probably going to marginally decrease the value of the property? (Assuming you do it all legally, otherwise definitely.). You’re really going to hurt your of if you ever need to refinance or sell. You’re turning the property in to a commercial property. So, higher down payments, higher interest rates, and shorter terms. 

I’ve only seen it done the other way. I purchased a 4 unit + “owner’s closet/storage area”. The owner’s area had everything but a kitchen, just a fridge and a microwave. This made the lender comfortable calling it a fourplex. 

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Replied Nov 2 2023, 09:30

@Travis Kumar thanks so much for posting this.  This is a really important question.  3 layers here. Let's take it one section at a time:

- If you get permits can you add a unit? - of course!  You want to buy this property with a traditional loan, then come out of pocket with your own money and get all the necessary approvals then you can absolutely execute.  

- SHOULD you add a unit? - Absolutely not.  If you formally add 1 unit to a 4 unit you will officially be converting your property into a commercial building.  This means, no refinancing, no selling, nothing.  You would be forcing yourself to keep the property forever or reducing your buying pool to a fraction when you go to sell.  You would be completing crushing any future resale engagement by doing this.

Now, having said this...I would imagine that local building codes would prevent you from changing the property from a 4 unit to a 5 unit.  I'm not sure about your jurisdiction but most cities have zoning laws against this (most, but not all).  So, once you started the process you would see that this may not even be possible.  Even if it is...I would high recommend against it.  Like the HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION against it.  

And the final layer here....then how do I find properties that cashflow? - and the answer is...you don't.  Nothing cashflows now.  And to be frank...cashflow has really only existed in recent years.  That doesn't mean you shouldn't buy real estate...that just means that you need to analyze deals differently.  I wrote an entire post on this a few months back that you can read HERE.  I think that might help some with the perspective. 

Hope all of that makes sense.

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Justin Hammerle
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Replied Nov 2 2023, 10:52

@Travis Kumar - Whether or not you can convert a basement to a separate livable space is very specific to the municipalities by-laws.  I would get in touch with a local agent with MF listing experience, they may be able to give you the quick and easy answer.

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Benjamin Sulka#3 House Hacking Contributor
  • Cleveland, OH
Replied Nov 2 2023, 13:33
Quote from @Andrew Postell:

@Travis Kumar thanks so much for posting this.  This is a really important question.  3 layers here. Let's take it one section at a time:

- If you get permits can you add a unit? - of course!  You want to buy this property with a traditional loan, then come out of pocket with your own money and get all the necessary approvals then you can absolutely execute.  

- SHOULD you add a unit? - Absolutely not.  If you formally add 1 unit to a 4 unit you will officially be converting your property into a commercial building.  This means, no refinancing, no selling, nothing.  You would be forcing yourself to keep the property forever or reducing your buying pool to a fraction when you go to sell.  You would be completing crushing any future resale engagement by doing this.

Now, having said this...I would imagine that local building codes would prevent you from changing the property from a 4 unit to a 5 unit.  I'm not sure about your jurisdiction but most cities have zoning laws against this (most, but not all).  So, once you started the process you would see that this may not even be possible.  Even if it is...I would high recommend against it.  Like the HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION against it.  

And the final layer here....then how do I find properties that cashflow? - and the answer is...you don't.  Nothing cashflows now.  And to be frank...cashflow has really only existed in recent years.  That doesn't mean you shouldn't buy real estate...that just means that you need to analyze deals differently.  I wrote an entire post on this a few months back that you can read HERE.  I think that might help some with the perspective. 

Hope all of that makes sense.


 You're one of the best on BP, I swear. Always great info. 

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Travis Kumar
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Travis Kumar's profile image
Travis Kumar
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Travis Kumar
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8
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Travis Kumar
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Replied Nov 2 2023, 16:52
Quote from @Andrew Postell:

@Travis Kumar thanks so much for posting this.  This is a really important question.  3 layers here. Let's take it one section at a time:

- If you get permits can you add a unit? - of course!  You want to buy this property with a traditional loan, then come out of pocket with your own money and get all the necessary approvals then you can absolutely execute.  

- SHOULD you add a unit? - Absolutely not.  If you formally add 1 unit to a 4 unit you will officially be converting your property into a commercial building.  This means, no refinancing, no selling, nothing.  You would be forcing yourself to keep the property forever or reducing your buying pool to a fraction when you go to sell.  You would be completing crushing any future resale engagement by doing this.

Now, having said this...I would imagine that local building codes would prevent you from changing the property from a 4 unit to a 5 unit.  I'm not sure about your jurisdiction but most cities have zoning laws against this (most, but not all).  So, once you started the process you would see that this may not even be possible.  Even if it is...I would high recommend against it.  Like the HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION against it.  

And the final layer here....then how do I find properties that cashflow? - and the answer is...you don't.  Nothing cashflows now.  And to be frank...cashflow has really only existed in recent years.  That doesn't mean you shouldn't buy real estate...that just means that you need to analyze deals differently.  I wrote an entire post on this a few months back that you can read HERE.  I think that might help some with the perspective. 

Hope all of that makes sense.


 This is very helpful, thank you. Even though I wont be able to find cash flow, I assume part of my house hack strategy should be to use rents to eat into as much of the monthly payment as possible. I appreciate the insight.