Real Estate Investing: Why Cash Flow Is King

By ProfessorBaron.com

SEATTLE (Zillow) —As real estate values rise nationwide and many properties listed for sale are being fought over by investors and home buyers, it seems that, once again, investment property buyers are paying outrageous prices for properties. Anyone recall this phenomenon in 2004, 2005 and 2006?

An "outrageous price" is one that is way too high considering the cash flows the rental property can generate. These negative cash flow properties are rarely profitable investments, compared with other investment options a buyer could have chosen.

Experienced real estate investors only buy properties that are cash-flow positive — based on conservative estimates — and skip those pesky negative cash flow deals. Note that those negative cash flow properties are typically the fancy prize properties in town; you know, the location, location, location properties.

Penciling out a deal

The main reason investors keep paying these high prices is because 95 percent of them acquire properties without doing any financial analysis to determine whether the property will actually produce decent investment returns. Instead, they hope that a property will go up in value, they'll sell it and make a bundle. Unfortunately, that scenario rarely happens.

As an example, let's say an investor buys a $125,000 house by investing cash equity of $40,000 (25 percent down payment plus closing costs and rehabilitation costs) that generates rental income of $1,200 per month. The mortgage plus other operating expenses total $1,015 per month. So the rent less all the expenses leaves $185 of positive monthly income, or $2,220 per year. If we divide this $2,220 annual cash flow by the $40,000 initial cash investment, it calculates to a cash-on-cash return of 5.55 percent — a pretty fair deal on a decent real estate investment.

Additional perks

Only about half of the properties in a general marketplace would generate positive cash flows and a decent, actual return such as 5.55 percent. In actuality, real estate investing is much more complicated than just penciling out your cash-on-cash return, but that analysis is a good start.

Back to Top