Should You Get an LLC For Your Real Estate Business?


Perhaps the most common question I receive from BiggerPockets members is, “Should I set up an LLC for my real estate business?

It’s a good question because I’m sure you’ve heard the horror stories of landlords getting sued by tenants and losing everything. You didn’t spend years learning about real estate, growing your portfolio, and figuring out how to be an effective landlord only to lose it all to some deadbeat looking to game the legal system.

However, LLCs are also highly misunderstood in the real estate space because they are just so darn complicated. What works for one person may not work for you, and what works for you might not work for me. While I could give you the simple answer of “talk to an attorney,” I want to dive a little deeper.

Of course, I am neither an attorney nor a CPA, so please take what I’m saying as my own personal opinion and get a qualified person to help you out with these legal discussions.

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What is an LLC?

First, let’s talk about what an LLC is and what it isn’t. An LLC is NOT a get-out-of-jail-free card. You can be sued with an LLC, and you can lose everything. An LLC is not designed to prevent you from ever being sued. An LLC is designed to help you manage and contain the fallout from that lawsuit.

Related: #AskBP 013: Should I Have Several LLCS For My Real Estate Business?

According to the United States Small Business Administration (SBA), a limited liability company is “a hybrid type of legal structure that provides the limited liability features of a corporation and the tax efficiencies and operational flexibility of a partnership.” According to this definition, an LLC’s benefits are three-fold:

  1. Limited Liability: IF you were to get sued, your liability (the damage to your wallet) can be contained to the assets within the LLC, not everything else you own. In other words, if the LLC is set up right and you get sued (and lose), the creditors probably won’t be able to take your personal house or your car, or garnish your W-2 job wages. Or course, there are ways a judge might “pierce” the protection of an LLC and go after these things IF every “i” was not dotted and every “t” not crossed.
  2. Tax Efficient: The LLC is fairly easy to handle during tax time, especially if it is a “single-member LLC,” which means an LLC owned by just you or you and your spouse. LLCs are known as “pass through entities,” which means the income and expenses flow magically through the LLC and are reported (and paid) by each individual member on their personal income statement. There is no “corporate tax” like a corporation might pay. This can definitely make taxes easier and less expensive than, let’s say, a corporation. That said, while a “single-member LLC” does not require its own business tax return, a multi-member LLC does. Don’t make this mistake.
  3. Operationally Flexible: Finally, an LLC is fairly flexible in terms of running it. You don’t need thousands of documents, and there is no need to issue stock. An LLC can be set up fairly easily and inexpensively and requires just a few documents.

It’s easy to see why an LLC might be advantageous to a real estate investor. Let’s say a tenant slipped on the stairs and broke their hip. The tenant decides to sue the landlord for “neglect” and the court sides with the tenant. For whatever reason, let’s say your insurance doesn’t cover all of the legal penalties and you as the owner are required to pay $500,000 out of pocket to the tenant.


If you own the property without an LLC, the tenant could have your wages garnished, force you to sell all your properties, and drive you to bankruptcy. You’ll probably end up eating cold beans out of a can under a bridge while pigeons sit on your shoulder.

It’s not a fun place to be.

On the other hand, if the owner of that property was “Main Street Investments LLC,” then the LLC is the owner getting sued. The courts could make you sell that property, but they likely won’t be able to make you sell other properties owned by other LLCs. They won’t take your primary residence. You won’t be eating cold beans.

Of course, this example is a bit over-dramatized and unlikely to happen. And I don’t actually mind eating cold beans. But it illustrates the fear that drives most investors to want an LLC. However, even though it sounds like I might be encouraging you to go get an LLC, hold your horses. There are some other important factors to consider:

The Problems with an LLC and Real Estate

LLCs are great, I won’t deny. However, they might not be great for you. There are some fairly important considerations to make before you jump onto the LLC bandwagon that could affect your decisions.

Lending on an LLC is Almost Impossible

That’s right, if you plan on using a loan to acquire an investment property, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to have an LLC own the property. Most residential lenders simply will not lend on a property that is inside of an LLC, forcing you to turn to a commercial lender that has higher fees, higher rates, and shorter terms… something you probably don’t want to do.

Now, many investors simply transfer the ownership of the property into an LLC after purchasing the property in their primary name, but that presents some big risks as well. If the bank finds out (and they probably will due to insurance stuff), they might call your note “due” because of the “due on sale” clause.

Of course, you didn’t sell the property, but you did transfer the title from one entity (your name) to another (your LLC). In the past, this has never really been a problem, as banks have generally turned a blind eye.

However, this seems to be changing lately and is expected to only get worse as interest rates begin to rise. If you plan to go this route, I would recommend speaking with your bank and getting permission in writing to transfer the properties into an LLC.

This is the only way you’ll be truly protected from that dreaded “due on sale” clause.

What Are You Protecting?

New investors automatically think they need an LLC to protect themselves, but when you are first starting out, how much wealth do you really need to protect? Think about it. You have a property or two with very little equity. You have car payments.

You don’t have six figures in the bank, yet you want to go through all this trouble to protect your “wealth?”

Additional Paperwork and Hassle Furthermore

While LLCs are definitely easier than corporations when it comes to paperwork and taxes, they still add a lot of complications to the mix. This is especially true if that LLC contains multiple members who are not married, as an individual business tax return will be required. Setting up the LLC takes money, maintaining it takes money, and filing taxes takes money… on a property that you probably are not making much on in the first place. Imagine spending $2,000 per year on asset protection on a house that only cash flows $1,200 per year. Yes, an LLC can turn a good investment into a bad one.

The Truth About New Investors and LLCs

Here’s the thing I’ve noticed: people like to set up LLCs because it makes them feel like they are taking action.

They aren’t.

In fact, the idea of an LLC is probably the number one excuse people have for NOT taking action.

I see it almost every day on BiggerPockets. “I want to invest in real estate, but I don’t know what to do about an LLC.” How absurd! The truth is: people use the concept of an LLC as an excuse so they don’t have to get out there and take action.

It’s easier to say, “I don’t have an LLC yet, so I can’t buy a property” than it is to say, “I’m scared.”

But this is often the truth.

Yes, LLCs are valuable.

Yes, I have them.

Yes, I recommend talking with someone about setting one up, sometime.

However, LLCs are no substitution for taking action. If you don’t have any wealth to protect, maybe you don’t need an LLC. When you find yourself building wealth and creating a sizable business, that’s when an LLC will come in most handy for you. By that time, you’ll be able to afford the proper attorneys and CPAs who can handle setting the LLC up right.

Related: Is Filing Your Real Estate Business As An LLC Your Best Option?

And maybe at that time they’ll tell you that you really don’t need an LLC. Maybe they’ll set you up with something different. You won’t know unless you ask.

What Should You Use Instead of an LLC?

Let’s look back at the three benefits of an LLC:

  1. Limited Liability
  2. Tax Efficient
  3. Operationally Flexible

What other legal structure can help you protect yourself from losing personal money if you get sued and is easy to manage and pay taxes?

I’ll suggest two things: insurance and leverage. Let’s talk about both, briefly.

1. Insurance

That’s right, good insurance can help you avoid eating beans under a bridge. Get the right insurance, and get enough of it. Talk to a good insurance agent about your options and let them know your fears. They’ll be more than happy to sell you the best policy possible.

2. Leverage

When someone is going to sue you, what is their goal?

To get as much money from you as possible, of course. This is why leverage can actually be a large help in protecting your assets.

By “leverage,” I mean the low down payment you use on your purchase. For example, if you owe $100,000 on a property and the property was worth $110,000… you are highly leveraged.

People often look at this like it’s a bad thing, but in asset protection, it’s a huge benefit.

What kind of lawyer is going to go after someone, spend hundreds of hours litigating, and force them to sell their rental — only to find there is NO blood to be squeezed from that turnip?

On the other hand, if you own a rental property free and clear and it’s worth $110,000, suddenly the idea of suing you becomes much more exciting for an attorney because they know there is a ton of money for them to take.

I’m not saying you should go increase the leverage on every property you own. But what I am saying is: when you are first starting out, you’ll likely be very highly leveraged, thus not a big target for lawyers to come after.

So, Should You Get an LLC?

Finally, I need to end this section with the dreaded answer everyone hates: I don’t know. Talk to an attorney and CPA.

Only they’ll be able to truly help you know if you are ready for an LLC. An LLC is a powerful legal entity, but only if it’s set up correctly and actually beneficial to you.

And there is no easy way for me to tell you if that’s the case in your life.

However, I would encourage you NOT to let the LLC question stop you from moving forward with your real estate ambitions.

Don’t let it be an excuse, and don’t let the fear of a lawsuit stop you from achieving your dreams.

Investors: Have you set up an LLC for your real estate business? What has your experience been?

Leave your comments below!

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. Kevin Degnan

    Great article Brandon! I’ve been struggling with this as well. I actually prefer not to setup an LLC because I’m not quitting my full-time job and I only plan to rehab one house at a time. I don’t plan on buying any rental properties anytime soon. Also, in Massachusetts, the LLC fees are pretty steep ($520 setup, and $500 yearly, I think). However, it seems like hard money lenders prefer or even require an LLC, so I might not have a choice.

  2. Randy E.

    Thanks for the sound logic, Brandon. After reading the myriad posts on BP about the utter necessity of LLCs, I began to kind of sort of wonder if I needed to start using them. I think I’m sticking with my opinion of “eventually, but not now.”


  3. Jeffrey Hare

    Brandon’s advice is sound, and getting bogged down in the mechanics of setting up an entity can be a distraction for a new investor. In addition, you need to make sure you register your LLC or other entity in the state where you own the property, which can further complicate your plans AND cost additional money you might have not planned on spending. But a proper entity – a Corporation or LLC – can be a valuable tool at the right point in your overall investment strategy. As Brandon says, it’s critical to discuss this with your CPA and attorney before you start pushing the online buttons.

  4. Bryan Otteson

    Great article Brandon.
    If you are not partnering up outside of yourself and spouse, the only real benefit of an LLC is asset protection. Asset protection should be thought of as a layered defense, similar to a house of computer system. For your house you may put a lock on your door handle (renter’s insurance) and a deadbolt (rental insurance). Next you might look at putting in your security system (umbrella policy). Of course you can also hire a guard (high leverage) or gate your property (LLC). It’s all about defining what it is that you are protecting and how much it is worth to protect.
    To bust out in computer nerdery, you wouldn’t buy anti-virus, a host-based firewall, host-based IDS, network IDS, and a perimeter firewall to protect a home computer. Tailor your strategy to do what you need, but just ensure you are scalable for when you need to add that next layer.

  5. Thank you for the article-very helpful. What kind of insurance you were talking-landlord insurance? What if I buy house for flip-is there any way to protect my primary residence in case of bankruptcy?

  6. Wesley Emison

    Brandon, Can you direct me to or elaborate on the advantages of starting off without an LLC and forming one later? I am thinking that when forming the LLC if you are several years or properties in and you transfer the assets to the LLC then that is your capital contribution. With my plan, at about year 4 I plan on having 4 four-plexs and at about the end of year seven to ten have each or most of the properties clear of a mortgage. From there I want to expand either by leveraging the existing properties, trading up or finding another source of financing. Once these assets are in the LLC, I believe a commercial lender would be more willing to lend to an LLC that has assets (I am inferring that in your post that a lender would not want to lend to a NEW LLC because of the highly leveraged point you made). Do you think that a more capital rich LLC would have a better chance of obtaining a commercial loan (with the four properties being owned by the LLC in my scenario)?

  7. James Miller

    While I agree that due on sale clauses can cause issues (these fears are usually over exaggerated, at least in TX), I would never recommend any Texan to hold title to rental real estate (a risky asset) in their personal names, even with the extra commercial lending rates. Commercial lending is not something to be scared of if you are making a reasonable down payment. I understand that it limits you from no money down or low money down; but, if you do the math, your FHA premium (it’s for the life of the loan now!) will cost you more than the extra interest on the commercial loan. So what you’re left is needing some capital.

    In my state of practice (TX), due on sale clauses are rarely called on performing (read: current) loans. I.e., it’s common to purchase property under residential financing and then to deed it into an entity. Is that a guarantee that it won’t be called? No. But, why would your lender convert a performing asset (the interest earned from your loan) into a non-income producing asset (cash) or a possible liability, when they have a bunch of loans in default to deal with?

    An LLC (or multiple company structure) is well worth their price if you do actually get sued. For you established investors, you can even be the bank yourself and ‘asset strip’ your properties through a financing entity owned by you (i.e., take a lien/mortgage on your own properties through another company you own). There may also be significant tax advantages. A properly set up structure can limit the liability to a single property (or even ZERO properties) instead of ALL your real estate and personal assets. Do you really want a single slip and fall or a single electric shock to bankrupt you? Or would you rather it take out 0-1 rental properties instead of all?

    Each state is going to be different on their liability protections offered and their initial costs and annual costs; but, in my state (TX), it’s a no brainer for a REI to use an LLC or other liability shield even when first starting out. So, speak to a lawyer and a CPA in your jurisdiction and remember not all LLCs are created equal (your DIY or internet non-lawyer service minimal LLC filing is almost certainly not as effective as a competent lawyer’s filing in your jurisdiction).

    • Bryan Otteson

      Hi James,
      It seems as though many banks are starting to utilize the due on sale clauses. They see the markets coming up in many areas and are happy to reclaim a property they can sell for a higher profit. I just met someone a few weeks ago in Denver that deeded their property to an LLC 3 YEARS ago. Their lender sent them a letter a month ago and gave them 30 days to deed it back or pay the loan. My lender said they wouldn’t even give me the chance to deed it back, they would simply accelerate the note. As property becomes more attractive, banks have a source of easy money from people who deeded their asset over and do not have an appropriate exit strategy in place.
      Additionally, in my market, an LLC cannot get a 30-year fixed mortgage. It’s hard to grow your cash flow on 15-year fixed unless you are willing to get into ARMs, which is highly discouraged for a non-seasoned investor.
      In any state, I would advise anyone who is highly leveraged on a property to get all their other ducks in a row without deeding their asset to an LLC unless they have plenty of ways out.
      As ever, consult your attorney, CPA, or whoever you trust that isn’t me to find out what your exact situation looks like.

      • James Miller

        Sorry to hear about your due-on-sale experience. I have yet to see a bank actually call a note in TX for simply transferring a residential deed into an LLC. Do you know which lenders were calling the notes in your situations? I’d be curious to know if they were local, regional, or national banks. Were they also complex transactions such as wraps or a subject-to?

        Yes, you’re absolutely right about not being able to get a 30-yr fixed. You might be able to get 20 year amortizations (with a good personal guarantor) with a 7-10 year call though which takes care of the cash flow. Most commercial lenders want 15 year amortizations in TX.

        100,000 borrowed at 30 year fixed at 4.5% is 506.69 a month and $82,406.71 in interest paid.

        100,000 borrowed at 20 year fixed at 5.1% is $665.49 a month and $59,718.19 in interest paid.

        If your deal only has $160 a month per 100k borrowed in wiggle room, you’re playing with fire or didn’t put enough money down.

        Sure, more refinances over the years will happen, and you’re giving up a small amount of cash flow. In return you’re getting assets and operations out of your personal name AND you’re separating the liability generated from one property from the rest of your properties (if properly structured). Do you really want a single slip and fall or electrocution to take out your whole stable of properties instead of just one? Or to take out your life savings?

        • Bryan Otteson

          I am not sure of which bank had called the note due. I was at a small meeting and mentioned deeding the property over to someone and one of the people shared their story.
          You make a good point with the 30 year vs. 20 year. I’ll need to check a few more lenders here and see if they offer a 20 year product. When building your portfolio is the #1 drive that extra cash flow is very important and may be necessary.
          There are more ways than an LLC to mitigate risk. If the slipped or electrocuted person are your renter’s acquaintance, it goes to their insurance. If not, then it goes to my insurance. If it’s too high of a cost, it goes into my umbrella coverage. If you have a property management company, it should go against their insurance. Every layer, including an LLC, is one more step in the right direction. Using an LLC does not prevent someone taking all your properties, it just leaves your personal one. All your properties (in that LLC) are still up for grabs in one suit. Sometimes the complexity or cost is not worth that step.

        • James Miller


          Again, I’m not necessarily referring to using only a single LLC. In TX, we have a special kind of LLC called a series LLC that is wonderful for holding title to property as each series is insulated from the other if the law is fully complied with. In jurisdictions without proper series protection, there are strategies to insulate every property from the other. This is where having a great lawyer plays into the picture.

          If you kill a kid, or a twenty-something with a high earning potential, your insurance policies likely won’t be enough, and if you’re not asset protected, the Plaintiff’s lawyer will likely refuse the insurance policy limits and go after everything. I know because I have been the Plaintiff’s lawyer and refused to negotiate with an insurance policy because I would make more money for my client by filing suit, getting a judgment, and then collecting it. I ended up eventually settling the case for my client for more than policy limits, with a substantial cash payment from Defendant on top of the policy.

          Having an insurance policy for more than you’re worth actually increases the chances of a long drawn-out trial (the lawyer thinks he can win more and collect on the policy), and having it for less than you’re worth leads to lawyers declining to accept a settlement (the lawyer thinks he can win more and collect on your assets). So insurance is a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t necessary evil. It’s not a solution on its own. People lose their fortunes every year thinking they were adequately insured. They also forget that the insurance company will actively try to find a reason to not pay the claim in a big-claim situation. So you’re fighting a war on two fronts, one against the plaintiff, and one against your own insurer. Insurance companies are in the business of selling premiums and paying the minimum required amount to settle claims. If that minimum amount is $0.00, that’s good for them. That’s their business model period.

          If you’re properly asset protected, you discourage contingency lawyers from taking the case. Any lawyer worth his salt does an asset and “collectability” investigation of the Defendant. If things are locked down tight they decline to take the case or only offer to take it on an hourly basis.

          In TX, the complexity and cost of setting up a proper structure for someone in the less than 20 properties range is typically less than a few years of insurance premiums on those properties.

          Further, if you want to get more serious, you move to a Holding company, with multiple subsidiaries to handle operations, leasing, financing etc.. In TX, such a setup may prevent you from losing even a single property in that “kill a kid” situation. While no structure is perfect, this structure makes you look like a steel-clad porcupine to a plaintiff’s lawyer.

        • Bryan Otteson

          I believe the integrity of series LLC was just challenged wasn’t it? I didn’t follow the story because CO doesn’t offer series LLC and I have no need… yet
          The point really is that asset protection is necessary. The degree of that protection is what must be calculated. A new investor with 1 or 2 properties that desperately needs cash flow to grow their portfolio will now spend (complete guestimations) $1,000 attorney, $500 LLC fees, over $160/month on a 20-year loan to protect what? Nothing that a $15/month umbrella policy won’t cover. That investor is now cash flowing poorly because of one layer out of many layers of protection. Your strategy is sound and I would recommend people use it, but not until it makes sense.

        • James Miller

          TX and Nevada have rock-solid series LLC statutes from an asset protection standpoint. I can’t speak to other jurisdictions. You could still hub and spoke several traditional LLC in a jurisdiction without them, or you could use a TX or Nevada series LLC as your parent company.

          That extra money protects their existing properties; why lose even a single property when you can implement fairly solid protection for a few thousand dollars? Umbrellas aren’t magic and if you go read your policy, you’ll likely be amazed at what they don’t cover.

    • Jason Moore

      I know this thread is a few months old but your comment is exactly spot on! This is exactly what we do with our commercial & residential properties. Having several companies & structures allows you to keep your properties “leveraged” but to entities that you control. We actually started out in commercial development office warehouse buildings & are mixing in SFR & multi-family. I just renegotiated with one of my banks a commercial loan that I was paying 2% over Prime (5.25% currently) with a 20 year amortization & 5yr balloon to a 4.5% FIXED rate for 5yr/20 amort. & 1.5% over Prime after that…by then I’ll have this current property paid off!
      Always talk to both your attorney & CPA & have them talk to each other as well!

  8. Ayodeji Kuponiyi

    An LLC does not provide assets protection to a hands-on landlord. An investor should take out an umbrella coverage up to your net worth or a higher.

    For the passive investors/owners, who have a management company to manage their properties and do all the work, an LLC would work well if an accident like the example above occurs.

    • James Miller

      I disagree, a proper entity structure (notice I said structure, not just LLC) can provide asset protection to a hands-on landlord. Insurance is important, but having large umbrellas might actually encourage a lawsuit (the Plaintiff’s lawyer knows someone will be paying). (Add “in TX” to all my comments)

  9. Terri Bedore

    Thanks Brandon!

    We decided a while back that we aren’t quite ready for an LLC. HOWEVER. We know we will be going that route someday and further, we know ourselves. It is difficult for most of us to change routines once they are started and we are no exception. So, we have decided to run the entity as if it already were an LLC (paperwork filing, banking account structure, decisions voted & documented, etc) so we can make our mistakes now and have a fairly seamless transition.

    Plus, I think this way of operating our business is making us safer in terms of liability because it really makes us think about each step – is this tenant really right for us, what kind of landlords do we want to be, what flooring is going to last longer, is this property really going to be making us the cash flow that our members (my spouse & I) lined out in our financial/strategic plan?

    Again, great article!

  10. Thank you for all the excellent comments.

    How would a “hands-on”/ self-managing landlord protect themselves? My understanding is they could potentially face liability as 1) the property owner; or 2) the property manager (e.g. negligence). An LLC may protect from the first source; how would the landlord protect from the second source?

  11. Baron Hicklin

    Great article Brandon! I have been tossing this question up and down and it seems the more I ponder it the more I switch from one to the other. A few things I have personally gleamed from this article and the comments are:
    1. I am concerned about asset protection
    2. I am not far enough in my business to really require a LLC. but I have to be prudent with insurance.
    3. A LLC not properly structured can be a heart-breaker when the “rubber meets the road.”
    4. The impact a LLC can have on cash flow
    5. And probably for me the biggest eye opener, it has been stopping me from taking action. Thanks for the wake up!
    I know I will need an LLC at sometime, but now its time to go take care of business : )

  12. Brenda Whittaker

    NOW HOLD ON!!! I’ve been studying here for a while, and made some contacts in regard to the rehab business. All over the place it says to look into using private lending, and everyone I have spoken to and all the private lenders I have been in contact with say they can only lend to an LLC! Now you’re telling me the opposite? Really>? Everywhere I go, they cannot lend to me personally. They only lend B2B. What is up with this article then? WHAT AM I NOT UNDERSTANDING HERE?

    • Kimberly H.

      Brenda- Based on my experience in what I have seen (I am not a lender, lawyer or accountant so this is not legal or financial advice) *residential* lenders WILL NOT lend to an LLC. That is what this article is talking about. That is the kind of loan most people start out getting. Once you get a certain amount of residential loans, they won’t let you get any more….then you gotta go private or commercial lender. A residential lender is not a private lender, or commerical lender. Typically, commercial lenders loan regardless of how the property is held (your name personally, LLC, S-Corp, ect), but ALL types of lenders have their own rules. One commercial lender won’t lend to a series LLC, another will.

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