Sunday, October 19, 2008

Investing In Real Estate Six Specific Tips

Investing in real estate should be a pleasurable and profitable activity. Listen carefully to investors, though, and you hear not just success stories, but sad tales of stress and losing money. Here are some tips for keeping your real estate stories happy ones.

- Have a top price. Properties have a market value, and then they have their value to you. Many investors pay too much just because everyone else is doing so, and then they have negative cash flow month after month. Just because others are paying too much for duplexes, doesn't mean you have to. Once you decide on a top price that works for your plan (which hopefully involves cash flow), start below that and don't go a penny higher. The time to set your limit is before the negotiations start, not during them.

- Choose partners carefully. Investing in real estate can be an uncertain process. Too many decision-makers just make it more so. If you must have a partner, clearly define your roles before you start a project. Group decisions tend not to work well, and will cause you much stress. It is often best if one partner puts up the bulk of the money, and the other runs the show. Agree to a plan, then step back if you are investing the capital, and let your partner do his thing. Of course, step up and take control if you are managing the project.

- Listen to what the market is saying. When the cabinet guy asked me for a decision I realized that I knew nothing at all about which cabinets people like. I asked him which ones home owners were most often choosing, and he pointed to one that three quarters of his last forty customers had chosen. Then that's the one I want, I told him. Why would I argue with the market I am trying to sell to? I have seen sellers paint a home a certain color because they like it. That's a quick way to reduce the market value of a home. What colors do the potential buyers like? That's what is important.

- Understand the numbers. Investing in real estate is all about the numbers. If it is an income property investment, it's about one number in particular: cash flow. Be aware of whatever the local formulas are, whether gross rent multipliers or capitalization rates or whatever. Ultimately, though just be sure that after every last expense you'll have cash flow from the very first month. If it is a residential fixer-upper, know what it will sell for and what it will cost to fix it up - before you even make an offer.

- Don't confuse investing with gambling. Investing in real estate isn't gambling, or at least it shouldn't be. There is risk, but unlike true gambling, the odds are in your favor. At least they should be, and you should be able to clearly see the outcome. This why you shouldn't invest based on the assumption of continued fast appreciation. Over time, real estate values do trend upwards, but there is no guarantee that prices will continue up at any particular rate during a given time. Do deals in such a way that they'll be profitable even if prices go nowhere. If values go up, you're that much better off.

- Do the research. Understand the statistics and information you are looking at. It is possible that the real estate agent will show you only the comparable sales that make the property look more valuable. With a bit of your own research, and an understanding of how the various numbers are arrived at, you can avoid overpaying. Many counties have made researching prices easy, with sales prices online. Other web sites, such as the U.S. Census site, have information on population and jobs. Understanding these figures can mean not investing in real estate just before the town declines.

These tips, like all others, are just guidelines of course. You can gamble on rising values, for example, if you really did your homework and know the demand for housing in a town is about to explode. You might pass up a great opportunity too, because you refuse to go $500 over the top price you set. While having a few rules and guidelines is a good place to start, don't let them take the place of thinking when investing in real estate.

Copyright Steve Gillman. For a Free Real Estate Investing Course, visit:

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