You've decided to move, but you have a home to consider. Do you sell or rent? While an investment property can generate a nice income over time, you have to figure out if keeping this home is part of your long-term financial plan and if you want that added responsibility.
“There are so many considerations if you’re looking at renting or selling your home,” says Allison Turk, realtor associate at EWM in Miami Beach, “and it comes back to the data.”
Having a tenant pay your mortgage is a great way to build equity, but home prices may not increase in years to come, which can be a problem once you do sell. Sometimes, depending on your financial goals and how long you plan to live in a new area, selling the home is a better choice.
What's important here is to take your emotions out of the decision. Instead, here’s what to think about as you go through the process:
1. What are your goals?
Owning an investment property isn’t just about collecting an income -- you have to budget for maintenance, repair and carry costs. No matter how easy the home is to manage or how much income it generates, consider how this fits into your financial plan and whether you have the time to manage the property.
“You have to weigh the cost of future appreciation and the [rental] income you’re getting now, or if it’s better to get the money from your house [by selling] and put it in your bank account,” says Cara Ameer, broker associate and Realtor at Coldwell Banker Vanguard Realty, based in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. “In most cases, the money you’d get from a rental is more than [you'd get] if you put that money in a CD.”
2. How’s the real estate market?
Your home’s location is key, since this is what will attract buyers or renters, depending on what you decide, and how much people will pay for your home. Homes in areas with good schools, shopping and other amenities will likely attract strong tenants who will pay enough to cover your costs.
Research your market and how fast homes sell -- if you can break even or make a profit, you may want to sell. On the other hand, “If the selling conditions aren’t great, renting could offset your expenses,” says Turk.
3. Do you want to buy a new home?
A mortgage on your old home is considered debt as part of a lender’s debt-to-income (DTI) calculation, but any rental income that you currently receive can offset this debt. Unless your income is high enough to afford both mortgages, selling your old home will wipe the slate clean when it comes to your mortgage debt.
Owning a rental property also means other expenses, and your budget needs to be prepared for them. “Add into your emergency fund six months of mortgage payments for your second home in case the home is empty [because you can’t find a renter] or someone trashes your home and you have repairs,” says Kelley Long, certified public accountant in Chicago.
4. Will you recoup your costs if you sell?
Depending on how long you’ve lived in your home, if home prices haven’t appreciated enough, turning your home into an investment property may be a good idea for the short term. “How long you have to hold a home to [get to] break-even depends on how much you’ve put down and your purchase price,” says Ameer. In most markets, the break-even time period is seven to 10 years, but this time period could be shorter or longer, depending on how fast or slow prices appreciate in your market.
Even so, there’s risk that you may not break even no matter how long you wait to sell an investment property. “You can’t predict what the market will look like when you need to sell,” says Turk, “and you can’t think about money you may lose because the home hasn’t appreciated.”
5. What do the numbers look like?
If you decide not to sell your old home, you want to make sure that the rent you collect is sufficient to cover your expenses, which will include your mortgage, property taxes, any home ownership association (HOA) fees, certain utilities and maintenance.
Investment property has different tax considerations from a primary residence too, and the accounting can be complicated. Your mortgage payment, property expenses and rent play into your cash flow and whether you have taxable income or a loss. “The math isn’t always that simple when you want to figure out how much income you’ll have to report for taxes with rental income,” says Long.
Keeping accurate records, then, is key to making sure you know what deductions you can take. Deductions include the depreciation, since you can write off a portion of what you paid for the home every year; mortgage interest; property taxes; any HOA fees; and other costs associated with maintaining the home.
6. Who will rent your home?
“You are taking a risk on somebody [when you rent your home],” says Ameer. “You have to worry about the financial stability of someone else. Just because they signed the lease doesn’t mean they’ll make good on their rent.”
Consider the profile of potential tenants -- you'll want to find someone who earns enough to afford the rent you’re planning to charge. You can enlist the help of a real estate agent to find and vet potential tenants and check their credit, verify their income and employment, conduct background checks for any criminal or civil arrest and check references. Or you can do this work yourself.
7. Will you be able to sleep at night?
Investment properties are great ways to build long-term wealth, but only if owning a home in another city won’t cause you stress because of the maintenance and repairs involved. It’s also a commitment, and you have to stick it out until the mortgage on the property is paid off and the home makes you money every month.
“Before you do anything, do a gut check,” says Long. “What price would make you happy if you sold your home today? See if you can get it. You may still decide to sell it at a lower price, too.”