Editors' pick: Originally published Oct. 17.
Denise Supplee wears a lot of hats these days.
Supplee is the co-founder of SparkRental.com, a Philadelphia-based real estate firm, and she's also a been real estate investor and landlord in the Philly area for the past 15 years.
"As a landlord, I've seen it all," says Supplee. "We all have stories after stories about the downfalls and difficulties of being a landlord from the unpaying tenant to the large, unexpected repair."
Supplee says she's had to make many repairs, deal with bad renters, and spend money on necessities like new water heaters. But even after all that, the landlord life is the way to go, she feels.
"I have had tenants pay the mortgage including the taxes, interest and insurance costs," she says. "I have had a surplus to boot and was able to sock away cash for those unexpected costs. I now have over $100k in equity in one particular property. There is strife, but I have a pretty sizable and growing retirement account in that home - most of which has been paid for by my tenants."
Supplee's story may well resonate with U.S. adults looking at rising rental rates and wondering if they could make it as a real estate property investor.
Certainly, the market is strong. A recent study from Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University shows that, since 2005, U.S. rental households have jumped 37%, or nine million more renters
Depending on which study you use, U.S. home and apartment rental prices are rising by 3.5% to 8% in 2016, and RealtyTrac also reports "that the rise in rents is outpacing weekly wage growth in 57% of markets."
With rental prices rising that fast on an annual basis, is now a good time to invest in real estate properties. In a word, "yes" - but you really have to know what you're doing.
"If you're looking to get into the rental property ownership, it's important to understand all the pros and cons," notes Brett Ringelheim, a real estate agent for Nest Seekers International, in New York City. "Also, you'll need to have the funds available to take investment risks, and have a back-up plan if the investment fails."
Before you cut a check for any properties, Ringelheim suggests speaking to your accountant and to your family first. "The accountant will let you know how much you could spend on a property to invest in, and your family needs to be able to support you and take the risk with you," he says. "You should also interview various real estate agents to get some industry insider opinions."
If you've done things correctly, you can build wealth by acquiring rental properties at discounts, have cash flow, hire a good property manager and enjoy financial freedom, says Nicholas Baur, founder of the South Side Investment Club, a real estate group in St. Louis.
"Life as a landlord isn't all handling phone calls at 2 a.m., like people think," Baur says. "Sure there are some headaches from time to time, but if you buy good buildings in good areas where people want to live then life is easier."
It really boils down to your overall strategy, he adds. "If you're buying purely for cash flow, then you'll more than likely be priced at lower end rentals," Baur explains. "These come with lower appreciation, lower quality buildings, and not the top end of the typical renter. But, even so, you can make serious cash flow from those properties, and a lot of people have these types of properties in their portfolio."
Bauer advises getting a mentor and learn all you can about real estate investing. "Join your local realtors' association or a real estate investors club," he advises. "Study how other people invest in properties, and create a business plan on how you want to run your landlord business that includes your area and home metrics, your funding strategy, your marketing strategy, your cash flow strategy, and your power team."
If and when you decide to pull the trigger, aim lower, and don't go whole hog for a huge property with myriad issues.
"In my experience condos are easier than homes, as much of the property in a condo is handled by the property manager and/or condo association," says Timothy Shanahan, owner of Compass Capital Corporation, in Braintree, Mass. "You really want to buy a property that is up to snuff and doesn't require a lot of fixing."
Shanahan also advises watching out for tenants who often need to be chased for rent. "They will lie about the reasons for being late and will pay almost any other bill before their rent," he says. "Diligent credit and employment checks can help on that issue up front. Plus, if you're not personally handy at fixing toilets and other things you'll need to have a handyman or the right tradesmen on call for the issues that do arise."
Location is an issue, too, Shanahan says. "I'd apply the 45-minute rule - don't buy anything you can't drive to in under 45-minutes, mostly for convenience reasons."
Being a landlord certainly isn't for everyone. But if you have the cash, and now what you're doing, it's a proven path to portfolio profits, one rent check at a time.