Rock bottom real estate prices can be enticing to some novice real estate investors looking to break into the market. But, before you join the ranks of the landlords, be sure you have a strong grasp of the financial information that can make the difference between a successful endeavor or else finding yourself in bankruptcy court.

Here are eight real estate investing numbers you need to know how to calculate and use when evaluating a potential investment property. 

Key Takeaways

  • Investing in real estate can generate capital gains as well as rental income.
  • Each property is going to be evaluated based on its unique properties, such as layout, location, and amenities.
  • However, several other key pieces of data can be calculated for any property and allow potential investors to make projections and apples-to-apples comparisons.
  • Here, we go over eight critical metrics that every real estate investor should be able to use to evaluate a property.
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8 Numbers For Evaluating A Real Estate Investment

1. Your Mortgage Payment

For a standard owner-occupied home, lenders typically prefer a total debt-to-income ratio of 36%, but some will go up to 45% depending on other qualifying factors, such as your credit score and cash reserves. This ratio compares your total gross monthly income with your monthly debt payment obligations. For the housing payment, lenders prefer a gross income-to-total housing payment of 28% to 33%, depending on other factors. For an investment property, Freddie Mac guidelines say that the maximum debt-to-income ratio is 45%. 

2. Down Payment Requirements

While owner-occupied properties can be financed with a mortgage and as little as 3.5% down for an FHA loan, investor mortgages typically require a down payment of 20% to 25% or sometimes as much as 40%. None of the down payment or closing costs for an investment property may be from gift funds. Individual lenders will determine how much you need to put down to qualify for a loan depending on your debt-to-income ratios, credit score, the property price, and likely rent. 

3. Rental Income to Qualify

While you may assume that, since your tenant's rent payments will (hopefully) cover your mortgage, you should not need extra income to qualify for the home loan. However, in order for the rent to be considered income, you must have a two-year history of managing investment properties, purchase rent loss insurance coverage for at least six months of gross monthly rent, and any negative rental income from any rental properties must be considered as debt in the debt-to-income ratio.

4. Price to Income Ratio

This ratio compares the median household price in an area to the median household income. In 2011, after the housing bubble, it was 3.3, in 1988, it was 3.2, and in October 2020, it was about 4.0. Before the housing bubble crashed it was at a peak of 4.66. 

5. Price to Rent Ratio

The price-to-rent ratio is a calculation that compares median home prices and median rents in a particular market. Simply divide the median house price by the median annual rent to generate a ratio. As a general rule of thumb, consumers should consider buying when the ratio is under 15 and rent when it is above 20. Markets with a high price/rent ratio usually do not offer as good an investment opportunity. 

6. Gross Rental Yield

The gross rental yield for an individual property can be found by dividing the annual rent collected by the total property cost, then multiplying that number by 100 to get the percentage. The total property cost includes the purchase price, all closing costs, and renovation costs.

7. Capitalization Rate

A more valuable number than the gross rental yield is the capitalization rate, also known as the cap rate or net rental yield because this figure includes operating expenses for the property. This can be calculated by starting with the annual rent and subtracting annual expenses, then dividing that number by the total property cost and multiplying the resulting number by 100 for the percentage. Total rental property expenses include repair costs, taxes, landlord insurance, vacancy costs, and agent fees.

8. Cash Flow

If you can cover the mortgage principal, interest, taxes, and insurance with the monthly rent, you are in good shape as a landlord. Just make sure you have cash reserves in hand to cover that payment in case you have a vacancy or need to cover unexpected maintenance costs. Negative cash flow, which occurs most often when an investor has borrowed too much to buy the property, can result in a default on the loan unless you are able to sell the property for a profit.

The Bottom Line

Once you have made all of these calculations, you can make an informed decision about whether a particular property will be a valuable investment or a lemon.