MONEY Investing

The Low-Risk, High-Reward Way to Buy Your First Investment Property

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Fuse—Getty Images

These four questions will help you be a more successful real estate investor.

When I first read Brandon Turner’s article, “How to ‘Hack’ Your Housing and Get Paid to Live for Free,” it was like a light switch flipped in my head. That was the first article that truly made sense to me as a wannabe investor. It seemed so clear, so right, so obvious that everyone’s first real estate investment should be in a small multi-family property.

I immediately set out to implement this strategy — to buy a property, to move into it, rent out the accompanying units, and to start living for free. Unfortunately, I quickly ran into a little problem: I had set myself up to attempt to meet four seemingly impossible criteria:

  1. The property needed to be affordable with conventional financing.
  2. The property needed to be in a location that I wanted to live in.
  3. The property needed to generate positive cash-flow.
  4. The property needed to offer a reasonable chance at appreciation.

After spending six months looking for an investment property to acquire house-hacking style, I’m not convinced that the truly difficult thing for a first time investor is in getting financing, or even in finding properties that cash-flow sufficiently. The truly difficult problem for me was deciding on where I wanted to make that commitment. Buying a rental property that you intend to live in and actively manage is more than just a financial commitment. You are likely going to live, work, and invest in that area for at least the next few years.

I actually feel that I had plenty of opportunities to purchase duplexes and fourplexes that would have been decent from a cash-flow and appreciation standpoint within 20-50 miles of Denver. Those opportunities seemed almost too easy. The real trick in my opinion is buying those types of properties right downtown. I’m talking inside the city limits.

I’ll admit it, I’m a spoiled, immature 24-year-old, and I refuse to live in an area that isn’t near the heart of my city (Denver, CO). I want to be close to where my 20-something friends live — by Coor’s Field, downtown restaurants and nightlife, convenient to I-70 (the highway that grants easy access to the awesome Rocky Mountains), and, of course, right by my workplace.

In this article, I want to walk through why I believe that all four of those previously mentioned criteria are so important to first time investors and explain some of the basic things that I did to buy a property that I believe meets each of them. I think that this approach is possible for many people who live in urban environments and are willing to be patient and methodical.

Here are four questions that I believe every first time house-hacker should ask themselves, and how I personally answered them.

Question #1: Can I afford the property with conventional financing?

There are two obvious followup questions to the “can I afford this?” question:

  • How much money do I have?
  • How much money does property in the area I want to buy in cost?

If you want to house-hack and still live in a reasonable place in an urban area, you need some cash. Even with great owner-occupier financing terms, you’ll need a substantial amount for the downpayment if you want to live in a somewhat desirable spot near a happening city. I’m not interested in living in Detroit and putting down $500 for that $10,000 home. I want to live and invest in Denver, CO, where a comparable structure might cost 10, 20, or even 50 times more than that.

I spent a full year working hard and living frugally to save up an amount that would comfortably cover a 5% down payment on properties in the area that I wanted to live in. If you don’t like this strategy for gathering funds for your first downpayment (the “save more money” strategy), then I’d suggest that you seriously question whether you want to get into real estate investing in the first place.

Another critical thing to keep in mind is that if you are purchasing a property that needs repairs, minor or major, you will need cash to pay for them. Among other expenses, I’ve shelled out thousands in plumbing and electrical work, appliances, and DIY tools and materials. If you are transitioning from renting to an owning property, then there might be a chance that, like me, you don’t own a robust set of tools and don’t have familiarity with the materials needed to work on even relatively simple projects like painting and drywall repair. By ensuring that I bought the property with a good $10,000 cash cushion, I was able to easily cover all the little repairs and contractor costs that came up, and I now have a pretty solid little toolset that has proved to be much more enjoyable to work with than I previously would have thought.

Related: A New Way to Look at the Concept of “House Hacking”

Question #2: Will I be happy living there?

I think that many of us as investors, new and experienced alike, have to acknowledge that we are investing to improve our financial position and in doing so, to improve our lives. I believe that house-hacking does not work if it means that you have to live in an area that you don’t want to be in! For me to be happy with my living situation, I needed to live in the city. It was not acceptable to purchase property in the boonies and move far away from the places I enjoy going to on a regular basis just to get a good return on my first investment. For me, that meant I had to limit my purchasing area to properties close to the heart of downtown Denver, CO.

Buying property actually downtown (less than 5-10 blocks away from Coor’s Field in my mind) was simply not a reasonable option — the only properties that most newbies can reasonably purchase might be condos, which are not a traditional type of investment from which one can generally expect great rental cash-flow. It’s just too expensive in the true heart of the city, and the only properties that are being purchased there are multi-million dollar homes and swanky apartment complexes. There’s a reason why buildings go straight up in big cities.

Fortunately, Denver has several surrounding neighborhoods with properties at price points affordable to folks making less than $50K per year. These neighborhoods are convenient to downtown with good bike routes and cab/Uber rides that are less than $10 a pop. I ended up picking two areas to search for property. Both areas were roughly equidistant from downtown Denver and my workplace (BiggerPockets HQ happens to be about 5 miles directly Southeast of Lower Downtown Denver).

Question #3: Will the property cash-flow?

Here in Denver, CO, we’ve got a little bit of a tough housing situation. Houses and investment properties are being listed for less than one day and then selling for ten, fifteen, or even $20,000 more than asking price. I’ve heard from some readers that cities with similar characteristics, like Austin, TX, have similarly tough markets for investors.

Luckily, as an owner-occupier looking to buy multifamily property, I had a couple of serious advantages over the competition. First, I was looking at properties that most other would-be homeowners weren’t interested in; first-time buyers usually aren’t looking to purchase a duplex, triplex, or fourplex. Second, I had the opportunity to bid on properties before investors that did not intend to inhabit the property because of a special government program — the First Look program from Fannie Mae.

In my opinion, these two advantages that I had as an owner-occupier house-hacker are the trump cards that gave me an edge in looking for great multi-family deals in an urban environment. After months of searching, my agent suggested a duplex to me. This property was listed on the MLS and was like a lot of other opportunities out there that I had looked at, but with one small difference: this property was part of that “First Look” program.

Because investors couldn’t make offers on the property for several weeks, and because the demand for duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes among first-time homeowners is very small, I had little competition. I was able to run the deal by my friends, family, mastermind group, and by investor friends I’d met through BiggerPockets. That window gave me the confidence I needed to pull the trigger and make the largest financial commitment of my life to that point — while competing investors never even had a chance to offer.

Question #4: Is there a reasonable chance at appreciation?

If you read around on BiggerPockets, you are going to learn that experienced investors refer to appreciation as the “icing on the cake” — it’s usually not even considered in the purchase of investment property. While it’s still a good idea to look at cash-flow first as an owner-occupier, putting in the extra time to look for investment properties that offer a good chance at appreciation as well can reward you handsomely in the long run.

As a house-hacker, appreciation can produce a more powerful financial impact for you than it can for a traditional investor, because of a special tax-law that benefits owner-occupiers:

Assuming that you live in the property for more than two years, when you sell property, much of the capital gains are tax-free.

This tax break is incredibly powerful for those looking to house-hack with small multifamily properties because we have the opportunity to take advantage of appreciation as it relates to both income properties AND smaller residential properties:

As multi-family properties, increasing the income of the property can force appreciation.

As hybrid properties, duplexes – fourplexes can also benefit from appreciation caused by an improving local market.

I carefully selected properties that I felt offered me the opportunity to get both types of appreciation:

  • Forced Income Appreciation: I chose a property that needed what I considered to be a reasonable amount of cosmetic work and that had multiple opportunities for improvement. Since moving in, I’ve had the entire plumbing system overhauled, I’ve added appliances like washer/dryer units and refrigerators, and I’ve put in substantial cosmetic work, Do-It-Yourself style. These improvements should reduce the operating expenses of the property over the long run and give me an advantage in attracting and retaining tenants, hopefully improving the property’s long-term income potential.
  • Market Appreciation: One of the benefits to purchasing properties in an area that you yourself want to live in is that, generally speaking, other folks want to live there, too. This presents a decent opportunity for appreciation in itself if you have personal reasons for desiring to live in a certain area that are applicable to large demographics. However, I didn’t stop there, as I looked for properties within these neighborhoods that were also in the path of government sponsored infrastructure projects.

In my case, a light-rail project is currently under construction and will offer convenient and low-cost transportation options to my neighborhood. It is my hope that infrastructure projects like this one, coupled with the overall tremendous growth of the Denver local economy, will allow me to benefit from market appreciation, though I understand that having purchased the property, this is now out of my control.

The hope here is that I can leverage both types of appreciation to create substantial value from this property over the next few years. I then hope to cash out on that increase in equity, tax-free, and reinvest it in a larger income producing real estate asset.

Related: BP Podcast 086 – House Hacking Your Way to 97 Units (While Holding a Full Time Job!) with Cory Binsfield

Conclusion

This is my first investment property. There is every possibility that I’ve made a huge mistake somewhere along the line. I could be way off in my estimation of expenses, long-term rents, desirability of the neighborhood, or I might have simply gotten ripped off on the purchase in general. I hope that none of those things are true, and I certainly feel that I did my due diligence at each stage of this investment — but only time will tell if I correctly analyzed each critical input.

Maybe I’m slower than other investors, and maybe I suffered from a great deal of “analysis paralysis.” It took me a long time to pull the trigger and finally make a serious offer on my first investment property. I had been researching my market and defining my criteria for at least 6 months — not to mention the full year that I had been saving up for such a purchase!

That said, I believe that my first investment is by far my most important. A bad choice could cripple me financially, discourage me from investing again, or at the very least, significantly slow me down in accumulating the funds to make a second investment. But, in spite of all the potential negative outcomes, because I did just one thing right, I can sleep well at night:

That one thing was buying in an area that I am happy to live in.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t truly matter whether I’m able to keep my unit rented out, or if the market tanks. Worst case scenario, I get an expensive education in real estate investing and live in a place that is slightly smaller than I could have otherwise afforded.

I’ve got the ultimate exit strategy.

This article originally appeared on BiggerPockets, the real estate investing social network. © 2015 BiggerPockets Inc.

More from BiggerPockets:
I Quit My Day Job, Retired Early & Started a New Venture Using Real Estate: Here’s How
3 Smart Ways to Make an Extra $1,000 a Month Through Real Estate Investing
5 Habits of Highly Miserable Real Estate Investors (and How to Kick Them)

MONEY winter

Sick of Clearing the Snow? Failure to Do So Could Cost Even More

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Steven Senne/ASSOCIATED PRESS

It's been a stormy winter for much of the country, so it's understandable if you're tired of clearing snow off your car and sidewalk. But there's more reason than ever to handle these chores like a good citizen.

Earlier this winter—before we knew just how bad of a winter it would be—we ran a post about why it is so essential to shovel your walkway after it snows. The reasons start with getting hit with local fines for failing to clear snow and ice, and they end with the possibility of being sued for hundreds of thousands of dollars if someone falls and gets injured on your property.

In Boston, which is on the verge of crossing the mark for having snowiest winter on record, Mayor Martin Walsh plans on increasing the fine fivefold for property owners who don’t clear their sidewalks or snow and ice, or who push snow into the streets. The highest possible fine could be $1,500, up from the current maximum of $300, if Walsh can convince the city council to get on board with the idea at a meeting on Wednesday, the Boston Globe reported. If property owners don’t pay the fines, they would simply be added to the owner’s property tax bills.

“Failing to remove snow from a sidewalk puts lives at danger. It’s a problem for every pedestrian, but it is especially difficult for our children, for the disabled, and for the elderly to face deep, unshoveled sidewalks, and be forced to walk in the road,” Walsh said in a press release. “I urge the City Council and state officials to move this legislation which grants us the authority to deter these violations, hold accountable those who are guilty, and recoup some of the added costs that these violations create.”

Getting sidewalks cleared of snow and ice has also proven to be a problem in many parts of New York City, especially in neighborhoods overrun with foreclosed properties and vacant buildings, where it’s sometimes impossible to track down who, if anyone, is the owner. According to a New York Times analysis, 331 tickets for failure to clear snow off sidewalks have been issued to just 10 notorious properties in the Bronx. The Bronx has been hit with the most fines per capita (more than 10,000 violations), though Brooklyn and Queens properties have received more tickets overall, with 14,000 and 13,000, respectively.

Meanwhile, in places like northeast Ohio, unshoveled sidewalks and walkways are causing a host of problems, including disputes among neighbors and gripes from elderly residents about the unfairness of fines. In some cases, the United States Postal Service has even stopped delivering the mail to residences where sidewalks, walkways, or streets are clogged with snow and ice.

Your obligation to clear snow doesn’t stop at the edge of your property, however. Laws have been passed in New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Connecticut, among other places, requiring drivers to clear snow from cars before heading out onto roads. In the latter, drivers face fines up to $1,000 if snow or ice flies off your vehicle and causes damage to another car or motorist, but in most cases, the fine would be a flat $75.

There’s also a bill currently under consideration in Pennsylvania that would allow police to pull over cars and trucks if the vehicle is covered in ice or snow that “may pose a threat to persons or property,” regardless of whether or not any damage has been caused. If the bill becomes law, drivers would face fines of $25 to $75 for not clearing snow and ice from vehicles. That’s cheap compared to Europe, where failure to clear snow from cars in the Alps could result in a fine of €450, or around $500.

MONEY home maintenance

Here’s How to Avoid 5 Hidden Costs of Winter

frozen pipe
Mike Kemp—Getty Images

All that winter snow can take a big chunk out of your budget. Here's how to avoid the worst home problems the chill can bring.

As I type this article, the temperature outside is negative 17 degrees Fahrenheit. The wind chill? Negative 32. And this is, like, our fifth round of this frigid nonsense this year. We’ve gotten used to the cold, so I complain mostly to establish my clout as a northern girl who knows her winter weather and storms. As you might not know, there are costs hidden in the feet of snow dumped on our streets, the ice coating the trees overhanging our homes, and the plunging temperatures that seem unrelenting. (See also: 9 Things You Need to Do Now to Prepare for Winter)

Here’s how to avoid paying them.

1. Frozen Pipes

We had a plumber over the other day, and he was telling us about all the frozen pipes his team has been dealing with this winter. When pipes burst, they don’t only dump water into your home. They run a path of destruction, ruining flooring, flooding furnaces, and more. The costs can be staggering. To avoid this unfortunate situation, make sure your pipes stay warm. The plumber explained to us that problems often arise when people go away and turn their heat down low, so keep your thermostat on a toasty 65 or higher. And learn where your main water shutoff valve is so you can stop the worst damage before it starts.

2. Fire Hazards

When the weather gets frightful, people often turn to secondary heating source to supplement the furnace. They switch on things like electric or gas heaters, gas or wood stoves, and light up fireplaces. Whenever you’re using a flame inside your home, make sure you’re watching it carefully. Fire is one of the most costly tragedies because you could lose absolutely everything you own, including your home. Get your chimney cleaned annually to eliminate the risk of fire. And always open your flue the whole way, which will keep the airflow in proper order.

3. Fallen Trees

With all that ice and snow and wind, there’s a risk that trees around your home might fall without notice. We’ve never experienced this one ourselves, but we did almost buy a home where several sick-looking trees were overhanging the property. I still walk by that place and wonder when the damage is going to happen. Although there’s not a lot you can do to ensure those trees won’t come crashing down onto your roof or worse, you can be proactive — especially since costs aren’t always covered by insurance. If you have trees hanging close to your house, consider trimming them back. Remove rotting or sick trees entirely. You can often get a free quote for the work (get several), and though it might cost a lot upfront, you’ll save costs later on.

4. Ice Dams

We’ve had some impressively long icicles this year. They’re both beautiful and slightly terrifying at the same time. Not only do ice dams pose dangers to people hanging below, but they can also cause some major roof problems by blocking water from flowing freely. Try removing as much snow as possible from your roof. If that’s not a viable option, try removing icicles or hire a professional to come out and do it for you. It will cost less to take care of an issue before it gets downright nasty. To prevent the dams next year, add more insulation to your attic and check out heated wires you can install on gutters that melt ice away.

5. Utility Costs

Now, with the electric components, especially heaters, utility costs can climb. Your heater could be costing you between $50 and $120 per month to run — and when you consider that winter lasts forever some places, that adds up fast. Try running your heater at minimum and — instead — layering up with warm clothes for free. Otherwise, some general home maintenance can take care of a lot of the dollars that are literally flying out your windows. Check around for drafts and cover them up. Get your furnace serviced to ensure it’s running properly. Use thermal curtains to block cold air out on the worst days. (See also: 7 Easy Ways to Lower Winter Utility Costs)

Read more great articles from Wise Bread:

MONEY housing

Boomers’ Homes Are Once Again Their Castles

House in Colorado
Getty Images

A new study looks at the relationship older Americans have with their homes and finds some surprises.

Aging Baby Boomers apparently missed the memo about how badly they’ve prepared for retirement. While study after study highlights inadequate retirement savings and planning, a new survey and report sponsored by Merrill Lynch finds that a broad cross-section of older Americans are eagerly looking forward to new adventures and, especially, freedoms, in their later years.

“Home in Retirement: More Freedom, New Choices,” prepared for Merrill Lynch by the Age Wave consulting firm, focuses on the age-related transitions that people are making in the way they live and how they regard their homes. According to the study, nearly two-thirds of retirees say they are now living in the “best home of their lives” and making active efforts to create living spaces that match their new retirement lifestyles. Nearly as many say they are likely to move during their retirement years, and most of this group has already relocated once.

“When I look out at the future of our aging population, I have concerns, too,” said Ken Dychtwald, head of Age Wave and a longtime leader in aging research. “I am not a beginner at this. But I think a lot of our worries are not a fait accompli,” he said. “I think we have, to a fair extent, overemphasized the misery of aging.”

After lives largely determined by work and family responsibilities, boomer retirees find they are experiencing a new sense of freedom about where and how they live. An estimated 4.2 million retirees moved into new homes last year alone, the report found. And while downsizing is often recommended as a new lifestyle for retirees, nearly a third of retirees who relocated actually moved into larger homes. (One reason: One out of every six retirees has a “boomerang” child who moved back in with them.)

Only one in six retirees who moved last year wound up in a different state, emphasizing the strong attachments that boomers have to their existing communities. Among future retirees, 60% say they expect to stay in their current state while 40% want to explore other parts of the country.

From their 60s to their late 70’s, people “think of this as a great time and a time of great freedom,” Dychtwald said. “That word—freedom—came up over and over again.”

Reaching age 60 seems to represent a “threshold event” for people, added Cyndi Hutchins, director of financial gerontology for Bank of America Merrill Lynch. With careers winding down and children out of the house, people take a new look at their futures. Another transition occurs in the early to middle 70s, when many begin to slow down and become less active. “We see a spike in that freedom threshold again at that age,” she said. “We see retirement as a succession of different time periods.”

Whether people move or not, or downsize or not, their homes assume added significance, the study found. “Prior to age 55, more homeowners say the financial value of their home outweighs its emotional value,” the report said. “As people age, however, they are far more likely to say their home’s emotional value is more important than its financial value.” More than 80% of people aged 65 and older own their own homes, and more than 70% of them have paid off their mortgages.

If boomers do reinvest in their homes, it would provide a major boost to the housing and home furnishings business. In the next decade, the study notes, the number of U.S. households will increase by nearly 13 million, with nearly all of this growth—nearly 11 million—occurring among people aged 65 and older.

“Age 55+ households account for nearly half (47%) of all spending on home renovations—about $90 billion annually,” the report noted. “While younger households slowed or reduced spending on home renovations between 2003 and 2013, spending among those age 65+ increased by 26%.”

Common renovations among retired homeowners include: home office (35%), improved curb appeal (34%), a kitchen upgrade (32%), improved bathroom (29%), adding age-friendly safety features in a bathroom (28%), and modifying their home so they can live on a single level if needed (15%).

The report found the South Atlantic states were the favorite place for people to live and to relocate, followed by Mountain and Pacific states.

It also echoed other research that finds people overwhelmingly prefer to “age in place” in their own homes, with 85% of people preferring this option as opposed to moving to a senior or assisted living community.

Leading age-ready home features include a no-step entry; single-floor living; extra-wide hallways and doors; accessible electrical controls; lever-style handles on doors and faucets; bathroom safety features, and, accessible countertops and cabinets.

The Merrill Lynch study is the fifth in its series of seven planned reports dealing with people’s life priorities for their health, home, family, finance, giving, work, and leisure. Its findings are based on a survey of more than 3,600 adults representative of the broader U.S. population in terms of age, income, gender and place of residence.

Philip Moeller is an expert on retirement, aging, and health, and co-author of “Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security,” Reach him at moeller.philip@gmail.com or @PhilMoeller on Twitter.

MONEY Ask the Expert

How to Evaluate Contractor Bids

Q: I’ve followed your advice and gotten three bids from different contractors who want to do my project. Now what? Do I just hire the one with the best price?

A: Those bids can tell you a lot about the contractors who wrote them—but they may not be very accurate measures of the total price each one would wind up charging for your project. Here’s why.

Unless you’ve given the bidders the exact specifications for your job—in other words, drawings, materials lists, and product names put together by an architect or designer—the bids are at best educated guesses, says Cambridge, Mass., Realtor and renovation consultant Bruce Irving.

The contractor is making assumptions about what you’ll pick as the project unfolds and pricing each component of the job based on those assumptions. So the differences in their bids could very well boil down to differences in their assumptions. And your costs are bound to escalate as the project proceeds, because you can be sure that the contractors will hit you with up-charges for any product or option you select that’s more expensive than his estimate.

If you have hired a professional designer (which Irving recommends for any significant project, because for the added 10% or 20% you’ll pay, he says, you will get you a far better result, professional oversight of the contractor, and a whole lot less stress along the way), the bids are likely much more accurate measures of what each contractor will charge, especially if their bottom lines are just a few percentage points apart. Always throw away outliers. Extreme low bidders are probably desperate for work and planning to cut corners on your job, and super high bidders are probably too busy to take on your project unless you’re willing to overpay.

Whether or not you’re not using a designer, however, bids can be quite useful as character studies about the contractors.

“Look not only at the numbers but at how they’re presented,” says Irving. “Are they clear, organized, detail-oriented, and delivered when they were promised? Do they accurately reflect the nuances of what you told him you’re looking to do?” There’s no guarantee that a quality bid equates to a quality contractor—or that a sloppy one means you’ll get sloppy work—but it increases the odds.

Look for a bid that thoroughly outlines every aspect of the job, from the cost of the porta-potty for the crew to the fee for the town building permits—and of course the contractor’s price for each and every element of the project, with a bit of detail about the options that he’s priced (not just “under-cabinet lights,” for example, but “eight under-cabinet LED light fixtures”).

That way, even without architect specs, you can see, in writing, exactly what he’s proposing to deliver—and charge you—for each part of the job. Once you sign the bid and it becomes your contract, if a question arises later about whether the price includes, say, installing stone or ceramic tiles, you’ll have his description to refer back to.

In any case, the bids should only play a supporting role in your decision about who to hire. “It’s just as important to visit a current project, see the way the jobsite is kept, and meet the crew,” says Irving. “And it’s vital that you talk to his three most recent customers to ask whether they’d use him again—and how close the final price came to his original bid.”

MONEY Investing

5 Things No One Tells You About Owning Vacation Home Rentals

Beach homes
Rich Reid—Getty Images/National Geographic

Owning a vacation rental can be a good investment, but a lot can go wrong if you're not prepared. Here's what to know before you buy.

Owning a vacation home can be a great investment opportunity, but it is one that does have some risk associated with it. Before you ever purchase a vacation home, you should do your homework and plan accordingly. Here are 5 things that can go wrong when owning a vacation home.

1. Annual Returns Can Go Negative

Oftentimes vacation homeowners are faced with a negative annual return especially if they had a down year for bookings or if they had a major repair. Before you ever purchase a vacation home, you should look at all the monthly bills associated with the property and be comfortable enough with the total amount that you could pay on these bills even if the vacation home did not bring in any money.

Just in a few recent years, we have had a terrorist attack on American soil and the second worst financial disaster in the history of our country. These two events had a major impact on people traveling and the amount of disposable income they have to spend on vacations.

The second thing you must research before you buy a vacation home is to figure out the average nightly rate guests are willing to pay for a similar property and how many nights a year the property should be occupied. Once you have these two figures, you can easily find out how much income the property will bring in on an annual basis. When you compare the income to the monthly expenses, you should have a positive cash flow. If not, I would think twice about purchasing the property.

Related: 5 Expert Tips for Managing Your Own Vacation Home Rental

You can find most of the information you are looking for by asking your realtor, property managers who manage properties in the area, and by calling homeowners who list their properties on VRBO.com.

2. You May Not Be Able to Visit as Often as You’d Like

Life has a funny way of jumping in and keeping us from doing things we really want to do. I can’t count on my hand how many times homeowners have told me that before they purchased a property in Orlando, they visited 3 or 4 times a year. Then after they purchased their vacation home, they never seem to be able to break away and visit. You oftentimes find this as kids get older and get into sports or other activities that seem to eat up your weekends.

3. Repairs Can Come Up

You will need to put money back into your property every year to keep it up and maintained. The National Realtors Association estimates that you should budget for 1.5% of the cost of your home to be spent on repairs and general upkeep every year.

So if you purchase a $200,000 vacation home, you should budget to put $3,000 back into the property every year. Now, if you are renting your vacation home out to short term renters, you might need to budget a little more. Guests may not treat a vacation home as nicely as they would their own house.

4. HOA Dues Always Go Up

If you purchase a vacation home in a community that has an HOA, the dues will always go up. In all the years that I have been managing vacation homes, I have never seen an HOA reduce their monthly or quarterly dues.

Related: 8 Clever Ways to Save BIG on the Monthly Bills for Your Vacation Rental

5. Vacation Homes Do Not Always Increase in Value

Just as we talked about before, when we have a huge natural, manmade, or financial disaster, investors get scared and sell their investments. This is what happened in 2008 and 2009. Too many vacation homes flooded the market, and the price on the houses plummeted. Many people were not able to sell their vacation home for anywhere near the price that they purchased it, and this caused many houses to go into foreclosure and some houses to be sold as short sales. The longer you hold onto a vacation home, the better chance you have of making money on the property, but buying a vacation home is not a surefire money maker.

Owning a vacation home is a good investment if you do your homework and research. Many people rush to buy a vacation home for the simple pleasure of just saying they own one. Take your time; buying any good investment is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t be afraid to walk away from the property if you are not totally comfortable.

This article originally appeared on BiggerPockets, the real estate investing social network. © 2015 BiggerPockets Inc.

More from BiggerPockets:

MONEY Ask the Expert

When It Makes Sense to Refinance Your Mortgage

For Sale sign illustration
Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: Should I refinance my mortgage? I can drop my current rate by half a point.

A: Mortgage rates, though still close to the 19-month low set in mid-January, have recently started inching up. The national average for a 30-year fixed mortgage was 3.9% as of Feb. 11, according to Bankrate. That’s up from 3.8% the week before, but well below the 5%-plus rates of 2011.

So if you’re a homeowner with good credit and a solid income, now might be an opportune time to refinance.

As a general rule, refinancing—that is, paying off your current mortgage and taking out a new loan at a lower interest rate—may be worthwhile if you can drop your rate by at least half a percent, says Marilyn Capelli Dimitroff, a certified financial planner in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and former chair of the CFP board of directors. For example, if you have $390,000 remaining on an original $400,000 loan at 4.25%, refinancing the balance into a new loan at 3.75% would save you $162 a month.

There are costs to refinancing, of course. You’ll have to pay bank fees, attorney fees, appraisal fees, and title insurance fees that typically total about $3,000 to $5,000. Use a refinance calculator, such as this one from Bankrate, to plug in your current mortgage details, the new loan rate, and the refinancing fees, and you’ll see how many months it would take for the savings to repay the cost. Bear in mind, though, that refinance calculators tend to underestimate the payback time. They typically don’t factor in the mortgage tax deduction, which effectively lowers the net savings from reducing your monthly interest payment, and you may not anticipate every fee you’ll have to pay, so don’t refinance unless you’re planning to stay in your house for at least five years.

Even if all the numbers look good, there’s another factor to consider, says Dimitroff. By refinancing, you’re extending the loan period to 30 years from now. If you’re in year two of the original loan and you’re 34 years old, that’s probably no big deal. But if you’re in year seven and you’re in your late 40s, you may not want to start over with a 30-year loan.

If you’re concerned about extending your loan too far into the future—or if by doing so you will wind up paying additional total interest over the life of the loan, something you can check on any good refinance calculator—consider these two options:

  • Take a 15- or 20-year loan instead of a 30. This will generally earn you a still-lower interest rate, though the shortened loan period will probably result in a higher monthly payment. With the example above, refinancing for 15 years at 3% (the national average in early February was 3.06%) would increase the monthly payment by $725. If you can afford that cost, this can be an extremely beneficial move because it means you’ll be done paying off your mortgage in just 15 years and will save more than $100,000 in total interest over the course of the loan.
  • If you can’t afford to do that, see whether you could take a new 30-year loan, but use some of your monthly savings to pay a bit extra each month and shorten the term of the new mortgage to match the years remaining on your old one. For example, refinancing in year five of a $400,000 mortgage at 5% into a new loan at 3.75% could save around $450 a month. Put $200 of that toward paying down the principal each month, and you can shorten the new loan to 25 years and still pocket close to $250 a month. Or just keep paying the full amount you’re already accustomed to paying each month, and shorten the new loan to just over 20 years, with the freedom to pay only the regular loan payment anytime finances get tight.

Always shop around for your mortgage because rates—and fees—vary significantly from one lender to the next. If you have excellent credit, you may find the best rates from a local savings bank rather than a national bank or a mortgage broker.

More on mortgages from Money 101:
What Mortgage is Right for Me?
Should I Try to Pay Off My Mortgage More Quickly?
How Do I Get the Best Rate on a Mortgage?

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