Buying Rental Property: Getting Started With the Buy and Hold Strategy

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When you’re getting started in real estate, the scope of possible investments can feel daunting. Do you want to focus on rental properties? Or do you dream of fix-and-flipping? Perhaps you’re a wholesaler in the making, or eager to invest in notes. 

But of all the investment options, there’s one first-time investors turn to time and time again: Rental properties. This method—also called “buy and hold”—involves (as you might guess from the name) buying property and holding it as a long-term investment. Instead of immediately “flipping” the property by selling it to a new buyer, buy and hold investors rent it out. 

What is buy and hold?

Buy and hold is a residential real estate investment strategy in which an investor buys a property they plan to own over a long period—anywhere from five to 30 years. The value increases over time, and the investor enjoys a stable monthly cash flow from the rental income. These properties can be single family homes, apartment buildings, or other multifamily options, like duplexes and triplexes.

Once the property’s value exceeds the money the investor put into the property, they can sell for a profit. (Or, alternatively, keep receiving rental income.)

Skipping the “rental” portion of buy and hold isn’t typically an option. In most cases, investors can’t leave rental properties vacant over time and make money. If they do, it can fall into disrepair and reduce or eliminate the investor’s profit when they decide to sell. 

Buy and hold cash flow should cover, at a minimum, the cost of owning and maintaining the property—including the monthly mortgage payment. Essentially, the monthly rent income exceeds the property’s monthly ownership cost. If so, the investment property provides the investor with monthly positive cash flow.

That’s why, in a buy and hold strategy, an investor makes money in both the short- and long-terms:

  • In the short-term, the investor earns money by renting the property to a tenant.
  • In the long-term, the property’s value appreciates. The investor makes money when they sell the property.


IN THIS GUIDE...
  • What makes buy and hold different from other investment strategies? We outline the difference between buy and hold and fix and flip, real estate investment trusts, and other common investment approaches.
  • It's not all sun and roses: Learn the pros and cons of buy and hold—and how to deal with the challenges when they occur.
  • How can you find, analyze, and finance properties? We walk you through the major steps in the process, so you never feel lost.


Let's get started.


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Buy and Hold vs. Other Investment Strategies

Buy and hold is one investment strategy. Real estate investors have a few other options.

Fix and flip vs. buy and hold

A “fix and flip” is when an investor buys property with the intent of selling it for profit as soon as possible. Often, investors following this approach purchase single family real estate that needs rehabbing to be livable or more desirable to buyers. The idea is that the investor buys a property that, with some work, they can sell for more than the cost of the house and its rehabilitation.

Getting the property fixed-up and sold quickly is crucial. Investors don’t want their equity—or the value of their investment—tied up in a property for longer than necessary. Plus, if they financed the purchase, they’re accumulating interest on that loan. The longer the investor owns a fix-and-flip property, the more they pay. 

And fix-and-flip investors don’t usually rent out their properties, which means they don't have monthly cash flow. Instead, they want to make a profit by selling it.

Many investors use both fix and flip and buy and hold strategies to grow and diversify their portfolio. 

Value-add strategy vs. buy and hold

Purchasing and renovating an underperforming property is another common investment strategy. It typically requires a few years to turn the property around, but the increase in the property’s cash flow and value is very rewarding.

Relative to buy and hold, a value-add deal requires more experience and is riskier. Renovating units is not as simple as it sounds—you need a good understanding of the market to know exactly what the local renters want in terms of finishes and needs. Adding a new swimming pool or washer/dryer in the units, for example, is even more difficult.

Real estate investment trusts vs. buy and hold

Investing in a real estate investment trust (REIT) is often the easiest and least risky way to invest in real estate. An REIT makes money by building, owning, managing, or financing real estate. 

Just like with other companies, you can buy ownership shares—or stock—in a REIT. The value of your REIT shares goes up if the REIT does well. Most REITs pay a regular dividend, so you can earn some money while owning a REIT stock. 

But shares in a REIT usually generate less return on investment (ROI) than owning real estate. And any dividend you earn through a REIT will be less than rent you can collect from a buy and hold property. 

Wholesaling vs. buy and hold

Wholesaling is when an investor finds a property for sale for less-than-market value. The wholesaler contracts with the home’s seller, then finds a buyer for the property. 

With wholesaling, an investor can make money in a short amount of time—and they don’t have to deal with rehabbing a property or being a landlord. But wholesaling requires strong sales tactics. The wholesaler has to convince a property owner to sign a contract with them and then find a buyer. 

Real estate wholesaling also comes with a lot of pressure. A wholesaler may get stuck with a property if they fail to find a buyer, or lose money if they’re unable to find a buyer willing to pay their asking price.



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Buy and Hold: Pros

Not sure if you’re ready to dive into residential investments? Learn the advantages of this strategy before you get started.

Appreciation

Over the long term, real estate usually appreciates—or grows in value. This appreciation is the main reason an investor pursues buy and hold rental properties. The longer they own the real estate, the more its worth increases.

Rental income

Investors can make money from their buy and hold properties by renting them out. Plus, this means they don’t have to wait to sell the real estate to generate revenue. 

Many buy and hold properties produce four to 10 percent return from rental income alone, depending on the market location.

Financing

Owning real estate can help fund other investments. An investor can leverage the equity in their buy and hold rental properties to finance other real estate investments.

Principal pay down

Principal is the amount of money owed on a loan. An investor can use rental money generated by their buy and hold investment property to pay down the principal on that property’s mortgage. Their loan earns interest based on the amount of principal remaining—so the faster you pay down the principal, the less interest you’re charged over the loan’s lifetime. (Plus, you’ll have more equity!)

Tax benefits

Owning real estate, including investment rental properties and personal single family homes, provides tax benefits. Tax deductions you’re eligible to take on an investment property include: 

  • Mortgage insurance premium
  • Mortgage interest
  • Property depreciation
  • Repair and maintenance costs
  • Property taxes. 

Hedge against inflation

Properties appreciate over time, especially if inflation goes up. That’s why the buy and hold strategy can protect your investment portfolio if inflation rises.

Increasing profits over time

Rent increases alongside the cost of living. However, the cost for expenses, such as administration, maintenance and repair, and property management fees also goes up over time. Luckily, debt service and property tax stay relatively the same—so in the long-term, your profit margin widens.

Passive income

If you hire a great rental property management company, buy and hold investments are reliable sources of passive income through consistent cash flow. Your investment portfolio can provide money during retirement or for medical or family emergencies. 

Flexible exits

The idea of a buy and hold strategy is that you own an investment property for an extended period. But in most cases, you can sell whenever you want. No contract or agreement forces you to own a buy and hold property for a specified length of time. Of course, if you used a loan to buy the land, you’re obligated to pay off that mortgage.


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Buy and Hold: Cons

While there are many benefits to buying rental properties, the strategy does have some drawbacks.

Costs

If you financed your buy and hold purchase, you’ll owe monthly mortgage payments on the purchase price and interest. You’ll also need to pay to maintain the rental property for your tenant. And while renting does generate income, you must plan for tenant turnover. 

A best practice is to keep one to three months worth of expenses for emergency use. Doing so ensures you can pay your bills even if you’re unable to find a tenant.

Lack of appreciation

The underlying principle of buy and hold is that real estate appreciates over time. That’s not always the case in every location, though. Buying a property doesn’t mean it will produce a profit for you down the road. Likewise, there’s no guarantee of a property’s value when you need to sell it. Let’s say you encounter a financial emergency and need to divest yourself of your buy and hold properties. You may not make a profit, and you can even lose money if you sell your real estate before it appreciates. 

Property management

Buy and hold isn’t always a hands-off investment strategy. If your property needs any rehabilitation work, you’ll need to manage that project. If you’re renting your property, you need to find a tenant, collect rent, and address maintenance issues. Handling these items can be stressful and take a lot of your time. You can hire a property management company to take care of them. But doing so can eat into your profit margins.



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Buying Rental Property

There are a few crucial factors to focus on for buy and hold. Here's what to look for when buying a rental property.

Pick the right location

First, you need to think about location. For a buy and hold approach, you want to own for the long term. That means you’re not necessarily looking to acquire a property in the hottest market—because then you’ll likely pay a premium for the property. The more money you spend acquiring an investment, the higher your mortgage payment will be. And the costlier your loan, the more you need to charge for rent to cover your expenses. 

Plus, real estate in more-expensive areas may appreciate less than property in more affordable locations. If you’re buying a fix and flip property, getting something in a trendy city or neighborhood might make sense. In a buy and hold strategy, though, you’re playing the long game.

Look for markets where people want to live, but at a price that has room for appreciation. Some questions to ask when analyzing location:

  • Are people moving in or out of a market or neighborhood?
  • How’s the local economy? Are there jobs available? How’s the job diversity?
  • What’s the average home appreciation for the location over the past 20 years?
  • What’s the cost of living for the market? How does that cost compare to comparable cities in that region and the country?
  • What’s the market’s average rent for what you’re considering buying, such as a condo or a two-bedroom house? 
  • Is the neighborhood safe? What are the crime rates?

Picking the right location is a significant part of a buy and hold investment strategy. After you’ve chosen where to buy, you need to know what you can spend.

Budgeting for your investment

How much you spend buying rental property determines how much you’ll make. Set a budget, and make sure to stick to it—including estimating rental income, cash flow, and expenses and deciding on a maximum purchase price.

By now, you’ll have an idea of what average home prices are in your market. You’ll also know how properties tend to appreciate and the average rents. You’re ready to set your budget. 

You need to allocate money toward buying the rental properties and getting them ready to rent. Account for property taxes, loan interest, insurance premiums, and any costs for finding a tenant. Plus, you want to keep one to three months of the property’s expenses saved. 

Some items to consider when deciding how much you spend on acquiring a buy and hold property:

  • How much monthly rent can you charge?
  • If you’re financing, what’s your likely interest rate?
  • How much do you have toward a down payment on that loan?
  • What do you expect your insurance premiums and annual property taxes to be?

It’s okay if you don’t know all the exact numbers at this stage. But be as realistic as possible in answering these questions. 

When it comes to determining your budget, the BiggerPockets Mortgage Calculator can help. Enter your numbers and see what your monthly mortgage payment might be. And feel free to experiment. For example, what would a loan look like if you put less money down?

With a buy and hold strategy, your monthly loan payment must be less than you can charge for rent. Knowing what you can spend is a big part of analyzing potential real estate deals.

Analyzing a deal

With a buy and hold strategy, your primary goal is owning a property you can make a profit from via rent. You don’t want to spend more on a property than it brings in during a typical month.

Yes, appreciation is important—after all, that’s the ultimate benefit of a buy and hold approach. But if you’ve done your homework on choosing a location, your property’s likely to appreciate. Any extra expenses, however, eat into what you’ll make when you sell. So, you only want a property with strong cash flow, so that you can earn a profit during ownership.

As you review a property, think about any work required before you can rent it to tenants. A home inspection or a contractor walking through the property can help determine its maintenance needs. Use the BiggerPockets Rehab Estimator Calculator to get an idea of how much that work may cost. Keep in mind that costs vary from cities to cities.

When analyzing a deal, you’ll have better numbers than you did at the budgeting phase. You’ll likely know the interest rate a lender’s giving you and what your insurance premiums will be. Go back to the Mortgage Calculator and enter these numbers.

What will your monthly mortgage payment be? Can you still make a profit after paying to rehab the property? 

That’s how you prepare to acquire a buy and hold rental property. Now let’s go over financing the purchase.



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Financing Your Buy and Hold Purchase

Few real estate investors, especially when they’re starting, can afford to buy a rental property outright. Most instead finance at least part of their acquisition. Fortunately, there are many financing options available.

Equity

Many people lack the funds to buy an investment property outright. Instead, they need to finance the purchase by borrowing money via a mortgage or other type of loan.

Equity refers to ownership of a property. The more you own a house, the more equity you have. Let’s say you make a 20 percent down payment on a home and finance the remaining 80 percent with a mortgage. At the time you take ownership of the property, you have 20 percent equity.

You can use equity to help finance another rental property. For instance, let’s say the next property you plan to purchase requires a 20 percent down payment. You can take the equity in a current property and use it to cover that down payment.

The same approach works with a buy and hold real estate strategy. You can apply the equity you have in one property to help finance the purchase of another. In this way, you’re able to buy another investment property without having to sell your existing real estate.

And that’s partly why many investors deploy a mix of buy and hold and fix-and-flip real estate investment strategies. An investor can own a buy and hold property, for example, and use that real estate’s equity to help fund buying another property.

After they’ve flipped, or sold, the second property, the investor can use that money to get another investment property. Maybe they decide to buy another fix and flip or buy and hold property. Or, they can use their funds to pursue another real estate investment strategy.

Hard money lenders

A hard money lender is a private individual or company that lends on high-risk loans. They charge high fees and interest on these loans, and their loan terms are short, from one to five years. For these reasons, hard money loans are often a better fit for fix-and-flip investments. 

Still, if you’re interested in a hard money loan, the BiggerPockets Hard Money Lender Directory can help.

Traditional mortgages

You can often get a mortgage to buy an investment property. You may need to make as much as a 20 percent down payment. But longer loan terms, such as 30 years, make mortgages an ideal financing option for buy and hold investors. (Some mortgages, such as FHA loans, are challenging to get if the property’s not your primary residence.)

Partnerships

If you don’t have the cash to buy a property outright, you can partner with someone to come up with the remaining funds. 

Flip and hold

This approach is when an investor pursues both buy and hold rental properties and fix and flip homes. For example, you fix and flip your first two real estate investment properties. Then you take the profit you earned from those two deals and get your first buy and hold property.

Creative financing

There are other options for financing a real estate purchase. Each depends on the circumstances, including the seller’s motivations. For example, a seller may tap their equity to loan you money because he/she wants consistent income from the loans. Or, the seller can transfer their existing mortgage and the property’s deed to you.



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Rehabbing Before Renting

Most buy and hold rental properties need some work for them to be ready for tenants. Rehabbing as quickly as possible allows you to immediately start recouping your investment via rent.

Get ready for your contractor

First, identify what work you need to do. Create a list of these items—this is called a “scope of work.” Some things buy and hold investors often address are painting walls and refinishing floors, and some of these issues you may be able to fix yourself. However, you may need to hire a contractor. 

Remember, you’re getting the property ready to rent, not to sell. The best updates for buy and hold properties are different than for fix and flip properties. If this were a fix and flip, you might opt to replace the kitchen counter with granite. Since it’s a buy and hold investment, though, the existing countertop is fine.

Set yourself a budget and do what you can to stay within it. The BiggerPockets Rehab Estimator Calculator can help. If you hire a contractor, they’ll provide an estimate for their work.

Tips for hiring a contractor

Want to find a contractor? Here are some tips.

  • Get referrals for contractors from other investors or residential property managers.
  • Ask for written bids and a list of references from at least three contractors.
  • Review each bid. Ask questions and seek more information if a proposal lacks details. Make sure the bids are apple-to-apple.
  • Remember that the cheapest or highest bids aren’t always the best. Lower bids sometimes come from contractors who aren’t licensed, bonded, and insured, causing you problems if something goes wrong. And the most-expensive bids may be more than what you need.
  • Note the schedule. During the bidding process, make sure each contractor provides you with a schedule of when they expect to complete work.

After picking a contractor, you need to manage the rehab. Make sure the contractor does what they agreed to on schedule. As they near completion, review their work. Create a punch list for anything you want the contractor to address before they’re finished to ensure your rental property is ready for tenants. 




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Managing Your Rental Properties

When it comes to managing your rental property, you can do it yourself, hire someone, or outsource it to a property management company. 

Hiring someone to manage your properties can be costly. You may need to provide insurance and other benefits—and there are legal and tax implications of hiring an employee. For most investors, it doesn’t make sense to hire a property manager until they own many properties.

Another option is hiring a property management company. These companies market your rental, review and select tenants, collect rent, and deal with maintenance issues. Property management companies cost money, though, and can eat into your rental income.

Do you need a property management company?

Here are some things to consider when deciding whether to hire a property management company:

  • Can you make a profit off your monthly rent after paying a property management company? These charges can affect your cash flow.
  • Do you have time to manage your property? Is your time better spent on other aspects of your business, such as finding more investment properties?
  • How far away are you from your rental property? If your property’s in a different city or state than you, you may have to hire a property management company.
If you decide to manage your rental property yourself, you’ll be responsible for:

  • Finding and screening tenants
  • Collecting rent
  • Research the market rent
  • Taking action if a tenant fails to pay rent
  • Addressing maintenance issues
  • Bookkeeping (expenses, income, etc.).
Developing systems for each aspect of landlording is the best approach to managing your rental property. Have a process for marketing your rental and screening tenants. Create a method for collecting rent and for your renter to let you know if there’s a maintenance problem. The more organized you are, the more efficient you’ll be.



LEARN MORE:
How to Become a Landlord: Managing Rental Properties for Real Estate Investors

Understanding the Tax Benefits

As mentioned before, there’s a tax benefit to the buy and hold strategy. You can deduct many of your rental property costs from your taxes, including:

  • Interest: You can deduct interest accumulating on the loan used to buy or rehab your property. (If you’ve accrued interest on a credit card expense used for your property, you can deduct that, too.)
  • Repairs and maintenance: You can deduct any repair, rehab, or maintenance work. 
  • Property taxes: You can deduct the taxes you pay your local government.
  • Utilities: If you cover any utilities for your tenant, you can deduct that from your taxes.
  • Advertising: You can deduct expenses you incur by marketing your rental.
  • Insurance: Your homeowner’s and, if applicable, mortgage insurance premiums are tax-deductible.
  • Travel: You can deduct expenses you incurred traveling to and from your rental property. 
  • Professional services: You can deduct the cost of hiring a professional, such as a property management company, an accountant, or a lawyer.
  • Income: You may be able to deduct part of your rental income from your taxes. You’ll need to collect rent through a legal entity, such as a limited liability corporation, though. 
  • Depreciation: The year you buy a rental property, you can’t deduct the full cost of the purchase. But you can deduct the cost of owning the property over time.

There are many tax benefits to owning buy and hold rental properties. If you have questions, it’s always best to seek advice from a certified accountant.


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Jay Chang, a civil engineering graduate from UCLA, is an active investor, developer, writer, and Founder of Hestia Capital. He moved to Phnom Penh, Cam...
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