The Ultimate Guide to Analyzing Rental Properties (+ Free PDF!)


Let me ask you a question: how long does it take you to pick out your clothes in the morning?

I bet it takes longer than most people will spend doing the math on their next real estate investments.  I just don’t get it. People think the best deals are done on “intuition” and just buy something because it feels right.  

Ugh. Please people! 

I’ve said it before numerous times: If you don’t have the right math going into a deal, you’ll never get the right profit coming out of it. (Tweet This!)  That deal you thought was incredible will turn out to be a thorn in your side for years to come and you’ll join the ranks of the millions who have “tried” real estate only to fail.

This is why I harp so often on getting a firm understanding of the math when buying an investment property.

I don’t care if you are buying your first or 100th property –  you need to understand and do the math.

That is my ultimate goal with this post: to help you learn to analyze a real estate deal so you can make the best investment possible.

Below I’m going to walk you through the math I use to analyze a rental property, step by step. Please, if there is one post this year you read carefully and don’t skim: let it be this post!

Image(Oh yeah – hey you! To accompany this blog post, I created a free PDF poster you can download right now and print out. It’s called “The 10 Biggest Mistakes Investors Make When Analyzing Rental Properties” and will help you avoid the mistakes that so many investors make when analyzing deals. Don’t buy a bad deal! Avoid these 10 mistakes and get a great investment property! To get the PDF, just click the button below:)

Click Here to Get the Free PDF Poster!

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How to Analyze a Rental Property

There are several primary factors I look at when analyzing a rental property, but the two most important are:

  • Cash flow and
  • Appreciation.

Cash flow is simply the money left after all the bills have been paid.

Appreciation is the equity gained as the property value increases.

There are not a lot of great ways to estimate future appreciation without a crystal ball, so I generally choose to focus on the cash flow. After all, I am a buy and hold investor and I assume any appreciation is “icing on the cake” and not the goal.

So I’m going to focus this section on analyzing cash flow. Let’s get started.

What is Cash Flow? 

So, as I mentioned earlier, cash flow is the money left over after all the bills have been paid. This is a simple enough definition, but it gets a lot of people in trouble. You see, technically, cash flow is:

Income – Expenses = Cash Flow.

Okay, great. HOWEVER… where people tend to screw things up is the definitions. You see, income may include more than just the rent, and expenses will include more than just the mortgage.

Let me give you a BAD example of calculating cash flow. You might say, “The mortgage is $800 per month and the property will rent for $1,000 per month – so my cash flow would be $200 per month.”


You see – you forgot about a lot of other expenses, including:

  • Taxes
  • Insurance
  • Flood Insurance (if needed)
  • Vacancy
  • Repairs
  • Capital Expenditures
  • Water
  • Sewer
  • Garbage
  • Gas
  • Electricity
  • HOA Fees (if needed)
  • Snow Removal
  • Lawn Care
  • Property Management
  • and more.

Now, some of these items are easy to calculate because you can simply call up someone important to find out about the cost. For example:

Taxes – Call your local county or look online at the county assessors page.
Insurance – Call your insurance salesman and ask for a quote.
Flood Insurance (if needed) – Same as above.
Water – Call your local water department.
Sewer – Call your local water or sewer department.
Garbage – Call your local trash provider.
Gas – Call your local gas company.
Electricity – Call your local electric company.
HOA Fees – Call the HOA president or hotline.
Snow Removal – Ask local landlords what they pay or call a snow removal company.
Lawn Care – Ask local landlords what they pay or call a lawn care company for a quote.

Keep in mind, not all of these will apply to every property (or tenants may pay their own expenses) and some properties will contain more expenses than I’ve listed here. Don’t get overwhelmed though – the more properties you look at in your local area the more you will understand what the “normal” expenses are.

Now, the numbers we just looked at are fairly easy to determine, but other numbers are more difficult to determine, like the vacancy, repairs, capital expenditures, and property management. But just because these numbers are difficult to nail down doesn’t mean we shouldn’t include them. Instead, we just need to use “averages.” And for that, we look at those numbers as a percentage and translate those percentages into dollar amounts.   Let’s look at a few of the most common:

Vacancy:  Properties are usually not rented 100% of the time; tenants move on and your property will likely sit vacant for extended periods of time.  The length of time will depend on your local area and how good you are at filling those vacancies so I can’t give you an absolute number. If you are unsure, try talking with some local property management companies to see what their typical vacancy rate is.

Once you know the vacancy rate, as a percentage, you can break down the percentage into a monetary amount. For example, if a property rents for $1000 per month, and you believe the property will have a 5% vacancy rate, you simply take $1,000 x .05 to get $50. This is the amount you will want to include for your vacancy expense each month.

Repairs: Repairs are difficult to estimate because there are a lot of variables that come into play. A house that is 90 years old will likely have significantly more repair costs than a house built last year. A recently rehabbed house will also likely have fewer repairs needed than a home untouched for decades. Therefore, when looking at the cost of repairs, you will need to look at the property itself to determine how much you should allocate for repairs. Personally, I like to assume between 5% – 15%, depending on the condition and age of the property.

Keep in mind, these is a percentage averaged out over a long period of time, so it doesn’t mean that every month you can expect 5%-15% of the rent to be spent in repairs. You may go 6 months without a single repair and then get hit with a $1,500 water leak. You just never know.

Capital Expenditures: Also known as “CapEx” are those expensive “big ticket” items that need to be replaced every so often, but not every month or year. This could include roofs, appliances, driveways, plumbing systems, or any other large item you should be budgeting for. Many people ignore the CapEx in their analysis- which I feel is a mistake. After all, if you were to earn $100 per month in cash flow for 10 years ($12,000) and then needed to put on a new roof for $12,000… what did you really accomplish in those 10 years?

Like repairs, CapEx is difficult to estimate because it depends on the condition and age of your property. However, you can sit down and estimate how many years a roof will last, how many years an appliance will last, what the condition of your plumbing is, what a new driveway will cost, etc – and divide it out by the number of years. I generally like to assume the same number, between 5% – 15%, for my CapEx.

Property Management: Property management companies typically charge a percentage of the rent, along with a fee to rent out a unit. These numbers can change based on your local area, but in my area, property managers charge 10% of the rent and 50% of the 1st month rent when a unit is turned over.  Rather than spending the time to get the EXACT cost of the property management based on vacancy rate, I will generally will just add 1% to whatever the monthly percentage is. In this case, the property manager charges 10%, so I’ll call it “11%,” assuming that extra 1% will cover the cost of their fee upon tenant turnover.

Now – what if you are going to manage yourself?  STILL BUDGET FOR MANAGEMENT. Heres’ why: if you are successful (and you will be!) you cannot manage forever. There will come a day when you will have too many and you’ll need to start using property management. What happens if you never budgeted for it? That’s right: you lose all your cash flow.  So whether you plan to manage yourself or not- budget for a property manager either way.

Related: How to Make a Million Dollars from Real Estate: A Step By Step Path

Putting All The Numbers Together

Okay, at this point you should have a list of all the expenses and income sources for your property. Let’s look at a hypothetical scenario:

123 Main Street is for sale for $100,000. It is a 3-bedroom home that would rent for $1,200 per month. Breaking down the numbers, we’ve determined the following monthly expenses:

Taxes – $120
Insurance – $55
Flood Insurance (if needed) – None needed
Vacancy – 5% or $50
Repairs – 5% or $50
Capital Expenditures – 5% or $50
Water – Tenant pays
Sewer – Tenant pays
Garbage – Tenant pays
Gas – Tenant pays
Electricity – Tenant pays
HOA Fees (if needed) – None
Snow Removal – Tenant pays
Lawn Care – Tenant pays
Property Management– 11% or $110.

Let’s clean that up a little bit:

Taxes –            $120
Insurance –      $55
Vacancy –        $50
Repairs –         $50
CapEx –           $50
PM –                 $110. 

We now know that our monthly expenses will average $435 per month. This number is known as our “Operating Expenditure.”  Keep this in mind – it will come in handy in just a moment.

Now, we are not yet done in determining our cash flow. There is still one major expense we have not included: the mortgage!

To determine the mortgage amount, simply use an online calculator like The BiggerPockets Mortgage Calculator to determine your monthly payment.

In the example above, we know the total cost of the property is $100,000, so our loan amount will depend on how much of a down payment we put.

Let’s assume we put 20% down.

$100,000 x .20 = $20,000.

Therefore, our loan amount would be $80,000 (because $100,000 minus $20,000 is $80,000.)

Now we simply pump in $80,000 into the mortgage calculator to determine our mortgage payment. The calculator will also ask for an interest rate and loan period. To determine the interest rate, ask a local mortgage lender what current rates are for the kind of property you are attempting to buy. Most residential loans (1-4 units) will allow you to go for 30 years, where most commercial will be 20-25 years.

Plug those numbers into the calculator to determine your mortgage payment. In this case, we’ll use an interest rate of 5.5% and a loan period of 30 years to discover our payment will be $454.23.

Rental Property Mortgage Calculator

Finally, we have all the pieces of the puzzle to put together our cash flow analysis puzzle:

We learned earlier that our total operating expense was $435.00 per month, and now we know our mortgage will be $454.23. Let’s add them together:

$435.00 + $454.23 = $889.23.

Now, we can determine our true cash flow by subtracting that number from the total income. In this case, our property will rent for $1,200 per month. Therefore:

$1,200.00 – $889.23 = $310.77

On this sample property, our estimated cash flow will be $310.77 per month or $3729.24 per year.

But… is this a good deal?  Let’s find out…

Related: The 50% Rule: How to Quickly Analyze a Multifamily Investment Property [Video]

Let’s Look at Cash on Cash Return on Investment

At this point, we know that the example property will be giving us, on average, about $310.77 per month in positive cash flow. This seems to be a good thing, but is it really?

The best way to determine if this is actually a good deal is by comparing it with something else. After all, this investment DID cost you money to buy it, right?  You spent $20,000 on the down payment, plus (let’s say) another $5,000 on the closing costs and yet another $3,000 on the rehab to get the property 100% rent-ready.

So at this point, you have paid $28,000.  So, is $310.77 per month a good deal on a $28,000 investment?

This is when “Cash on Cash Return on Investment” comes in really handy.  Cash on Cash ROI is a simple metric that tells us what kind of yield our money is making us based only on the cash flow (ignoring appreciation because, remember, that’s just the icing on the cake.)

The Cash on Cash ROI is nice because it allows us to compare this investment to other investments, like the stock market or mutual funds. So let’s do that.

Cash on Cash Return on Investment is simply the ratio between how much cash flow we received over a 1 year period and how much money we invested. In other words:

CoCRoI = Total Annual Cash Flow / Total Investment.

So using the example above:

CoCRoI = $3,729.24 / 28,000

= 13.32%

We have determined that this property should produce a cash on cash return on investment of 13.32%.

Is this good?

That’s up for you to decide. Over the past few decades, the stock market has averaged around 8%, so I like to think 13.32% is a pretty darn good return. Additionally, this doesn’t take into account the appreciation that will take place, the tax benefits you might receive, or the loan pay-down that IS taking place (after all, every month the loan gets paid down a little more!)  So JUST looking at cash flow, you are achieving a better-than-average return.

However, only you can determine what a “good” return on investment is.

An Easier Way to Analyze Real Estate Deals

This post has shown you how to analyze deals by hand, which I believe is a vitally important skill for an investor to have. However, if you would like to simplify this process, you should definitely use the BiggerPockets Rental Property Calculator (or House Flipping Calculator if that is your thang!)

These calculators can help you run ALL the numbers on your next deal in a fraction of the time it takes to run them by hand. Additionally, you can dive into deeper math, such as:

  • Net Operating Income
  • Cap Rate
  • Gross Rent Multiplier
  • Debt Coverage Ratio
  • Income-Expense Ratio
  • 1,2,3,4,5,10,20 your year outlook
  • and more.

Perhaps best of all, you can use this software to prepare and print gorgeous PDF reports with all your numbers organized. This document will help you secure better financing through organization, demonstrate the numbers to a partner or spouse, and give you something tangible to give you the confidence needed to “pull the trigger.”

If you want to learn a little more about this software, check out the following quick video:

To test out the calculators, head over to


Hopefully this post has given you all the tools needed to start analyzing your own rental properties. After all, buying a bad deal is like getting into a bad marriage. Separation is difficult, expensive, and stressful. Don’t buy a bad deal, but instead be sure to calculate ALL the numbers on your next investment property and shop smart!
If you’ve enjoyed this post, I hope you’ll take a moment and download our special PDF I put together just for this article, titled “The 10 Bigger Mistakes Investors Make When Analyzing Rental Properties.” This PDF is 100% free and you can start using it today to make sure you don’t make the same mistakes that I have!

If you want to download this PDF, just click the button below:

Click Here to Get the Free PDF Poster!

Finally, I want to encourage you to take a few moments to analyze properties each day. Run the numbers and see how they pencil out. Your skills in analyzing properties will only increase with practice, so practice every day! I’d recommend running the numbers through the BiggerPockets Rental Property Calculator to make sure your deals are solid!

With that, I’m off to have a garage sale and engage in another kind of analysis… what do I price all this junk at!?

(Oh… and leave me a comment below. You know you want to!)

About Author

Brandon Turner

Brandon Turner (G+ | Twitter) spends a lot of time on Like... seriously... a lot. Oh, and he is also an active real estate investor, entrepreneur, traveler, third-person speaker, husband, and author of "The Book on Investing in Real Estate with No (and Low) Money Down", and "The Book on Rental Property Investing" which you should probably read if you want to do more deals.


  1. Great article Brandon! I always find it difficult to explain to my family/friends how to REALLY calculate cash flow, but it never seems to really stick. I think you really nailed it in this post. Forwarding on for them to see how it’s supposed to be done!

    • Brandon Turner

      Thanks Frankie! Yeah, I see so many people buy on “gut” or “intuition” and it seldom works out right. I wanted to put all my “analysis” thoughts down in one place so I can send people here in the future! 🙂 Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

    • Brandon Turner

      Hey Mark, nice! Yeah, looks you and I are are pretty similar on those numbers. I also estimate a fairly high vacancy, even though we are around 1%. I figure: I won’t always hustle so hard to get units rented, especially if I hand things over to a PM, so I better plan for that day!

      Thanks for the comment bud!

  2. Awesome post Brandon. Your explanation of cash on cash return really made sense. I currently don’t figure pm because I self manage but I don’t plan on doing that forever so I will be includkng that as well

  3. Thank you Brandon for this article. The analysis part of purchasing a rental property can be so overwhelming but with this type of info readily available, along with the rental property calculator, it takes so much of the stress out of the equation. If it doesn’t make dollars it doesn’t make sense!

  4. Brandon, great post as usual. Thorough explanation of calculating cash flow properly. You started with a mistake though. You wrote:
    “Income – Expenses = Cash Flow”
    And then you lump the mortgage into the expenses. That’s not right. The mortgage payment is NOT an expense.
    It should read like this:
    Income – Expenses – Amortization – Taxes + Depreciation = Cash Flow
    Where expenses include depreciation and interest.
    It’s a little more complicated to look at it that way, but the distinction is important and definitions are important.

    Another important equation similar to your original is
    Gross Income – Expenses (not including interest) = Net Operating Income
    This is an important metric for evaluating property as well, and is independent of the amount of debt you use.

    • Brandon Turner

      Hey Michael,

      Thanks for the comment! Yes, I agree I made it a little simpler than the technical definition would dictate, but I wanted to make this post as simple as possible for the newbies 🙂 That’s also why I decided to forgo the NOI talk, cause that would just lead to Cap Rates and then we’d really lose everyone!

      Thanks again!

    • Andy Krzanowsky

      Could you break that down in an example for me?

      Im having difficulty figuring what to use for amortization… Are you saying use interest only and not principal since the tenant is paying down the principal? That payment of pricipal would be equivalent to cash in my pocket

      I also dont know how to figure depreciation.

  5. Good article Brandon.

    I like your section on cash-on-cash return because far too many investors focus too much on the Cap Rate. The COC return is the REAL return you receive from your investment today (or in the first year). We have been shifting our investor’s focus to this metric more and more. One of the great advantages of real estate investing is the ability to leverage (borrow) up to 80% of the purchase price. That is rather unique to real estate compared to other asset classes. And it’s that leverage that provides investors with those higher cash-on-cash returns.

    [Note: the cap rate and cash-on-cash return will be the same on an “all cash” purchase.]

  6. Great article capturing the necessary pieces to do a proper analysis. Anyone starting in or thinking about property investments should read this.
    I too don’t include appreciation in my ROI calculations since I have no control over the market. Any appreciation is icing on the cake as you say.

    Regarding the mortgage payment (P&I), you could add the principal (equity) to your overall return which would be realized when selling or refinancing the property. Of course you’d then have to subtract out the transaction costs too. I use this when doing deals with investors that are a minimum hold for X years then a yearly reevaluation.


  7. Brandon great post! I really enjoyed the hand holding aspect of it lol You broke it down to the simplest form. With that being said, how does the formula differ for commercial 5+ units, if at all?

  8. Great article. In addition to the comment that Michael made about interest, taxes and depreciation (what accountants call EBITDA: Earnings before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization), I would also state the vacancy rate is not an expense, but rather a reduction to income. It’s like how the cost of sales reduces sales, rather than being accounted for as an expense.

    The concepts you stated are important, but most “real estate investors” don’t take the time to setup their investments a like businesses. Good information.

  9. Hey Brandon

    Quick question from Australia. A $100,000 property that rents for $1,200 a month? Is that a typical example in the US?

    Why would a family rent a house for $1,200/month when they could own it with a mortgage + expenses of around $730/month (taking out PM & vacancy expenses)?

    If they can afford that sort of rent then surely they could save up a deposit in no time.


    • Adam,

      Brandon can reply on this as well but I thought I’d quickly comment:

      Yes, you can find properties in the $100k range that rent between $900 to $1200 per month. This is about a 1.0% rent-to-value ratio. That would be a good market to consider from a numbers perspective, but you need to dig deeper. I see those properties daily, and they always exist, but the markets will change from year to year.

      There are MANY reasons why a family won’t or can’t buy a property, even when the rent is higher than the total cost of ownership. It may be credit related, lack of a down-payment (common), a recent bankruptcy or loss of job, frequent job transfers, uncertainty, fear, or simply doesn’t want to be an owner. At the end of the day, these are the people you want to have in your rental pool.

      Continued success!

  10. Ok so am I wrong or was the math based on a rent of $1,000 and not the $1,200?
    Taxes – $120
    Insurance – $55
    Flood Insurance (if needed) – None needed
    Vacancy – 5% or $50 based on $1200 rent actually $60
    Repairs – 5% or $50 based on $1200 rent actually $60
    Capital Expenditures – 5% or $50 based on $1200 rent actually $60
    Water – Tenant pays
    Sewer – Tenant pays
    Garbage – Tenant pays
    Gas – Tenant pays
    Electricity – Tenant pays
    HOA Fees (if needed) – None
    Snow Removal – Tenant pays
    Lawn Care – Tenant pays
    Property Management- 11% or $110 based on $1200 rent actually $132

    New Total $487
    $454.23+$487= $941.23
    $1200-$941.23=$258.77 $258.77/per month or $3105.24/per year
    CoCRoI is 11.1% but still not too shabby.

    So would it be smart to add in that you should have a friend/partner apply a second set of eyes to your numbers or am I a complete moron?

  11. Finally!! I get it! I’ve been running numbers a hundred different ways because I don’t really know what I’m looking for and now I do!! I’m so excited to actually have something to use. I’m getting ready to buy some rentals but I wanted to make sure they had cash flow. THANK YOU for this. And I definitely will be using the calculator. I especially like that you say run the numbers every day. Every day I find a property and run numbers now so I am definitely going to go back and see how I did. Thanks Brandon.

    • Sean — That depends on you and your strategy.

      If you want better monthly cash-flow, then you might choose the 30-year amortization. The 15-year amortization will reduce your cash-flow, but shorten the life of your mortgage with less overall interest over the life of the loan.

      So, it does matter based on your particular cash-flow needs and investment goals.

  12. James M. Schroeder on

    Thank you Brandon. This was great for me as I was missing a few things when I was running some numbers trying to get my first deal going. I can not express how much you and the community has been such a help and a blessing!

    **I created a gravatar so lets see if this works.**

  13. Excellent coverage of the topic, as always. Thanks Brandon.

    While I would absolutely concur that this type of analysis is critical, I have a shortcut I use that helps me quickly determine if it is worth doing all this math on a property in the first place. After you have done the numbers on several properties in a certain market, you will be able to determine an average expense ratio – likely in the neighborhood of 25 – 40% depending on many factors such as the age of properties, property taxes & insurance, property management, etc. I generally would not include financing costs in the expense ratio as I want to have the flexibility to calculate that separately.

    Once you have that average expense ratio, you can quickly look at the income a property will produce, apply the expense ratio, add in the cost of financing and you have a quick estimate of the cash flow and ROI you can expect from the property. This should only be used for an initial filtering of properties, and then if something looks to be positive, you should definitely do a more detailed analysis specific to the property at hand.

    One of the best ways to be successful as a real estate investor is to look at as many deals as possible so that you can jump on the cream of the crop deals when they occur. This tip can help you to focus your energies on just those best deals. I’ve seen a lot of investors get so caught up in analyzing every deal in detail they sometimes watch the best deals pass them by.

  14. What a great list. My brother-in-law wants us to join him in his investment property which we found odd because they were bragging about how well it did and now they are looking for help because the initial numbers did not come out as expected. This is your property and you would want to treat it like your home and do due diligence before taking on the risk.

  15. Nice article Brandon. I do all of the calculations except the cash on cash return. I should do that, but it does not matter to me. You cannot put 20% down and get a loan to buy stock that will pay itself off in the next 15 years. Since I have been doing this awhile I use the equity in my rentals as the 20% down to purchase I would never refinance a rental and use that money to buy stock.

  16. Ayodeji Kuponiyi

    Is the mortgage included in the cap rate? For instance, when I’m calculating my expenses with the mortgage included and I subtract the expense from the rental income, I’m left with the cash flow. Do I mutiply the cash flow by 12 OR do I add the cash flow plus mortgage and then multiple by 12 to get the Cap Rate?
    Monthly Rent $1860
    Expenses: Prop Tax $400, Insurance $85, Vacancy(10%) $186, Repairs(10%) $186, Mortgage $575, PM(11%) $260 Total: $1,632
    Cash flow: $1860-$1057= $228

    Cap Rate 8.03%
    Is this correct?

  17. Matthew Jones

    This is a stupendous reference and an outstanding tool for anyone beginning or struggling in the world of REI. Investing without doing the numbers is like trying to hit a baseball with without looking in the direction of the pitcher, and this article really teaches the importance of implicit focus. Thanks Brandon for this and all of your numerous contributions to my education.


  18. Awesome article Brandon! Thanks! What is the best way to determine what rent will be when trying to calculate cash flow? What’s the best way to determine rehab and repair costs prior to purchase? After all, that will have an effect on cash flow as the note will be higher. Thanks so much!

  19. Quick question Brandon, how do you deal in losses caused by potential market slump. It happened once could happen again,don’t want to be sitting on a property that is valued at peanuts when that happens while paying high mortgage. Can you hedge the property?

  20. Scott B.

    Great article Brandon! I’m new at this so forgive a silly question, but why were the numbers calculated on a $1000 rent (i.e. 5% = $50) when the example was for a $1200 per month rental? Did I miss something? Still trying to figure out how to analyze rental properties so if there are any resources you can recommend I would love to hear them!

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