11 Questions You Need to Ask Before Investing in Your First Rental Property

More and more Canadians are realizing the value of investing in real estate. Unlike the volatility of stocks and bonds, real estate provides a much more stable market. Not only does an investment property provide ongoing income, it also has the potential to increase in value. The regular income you earn from your renters should cover most, if not all, of the expenses associated with your property, while the appreciation in the value of the property will often exceed that of stocks and bonds, considered over the same period of time.

Investing in property can be an exciting and scary time — especially if you dive into it without doing your research first. Read through the questions below and make sure you can confidently answer all of them before investing in your first rental property.

1. Why are you investing in property?
Determine your goal. Are you looking for ongoing cash flow, or to build equity and periodically collect big lump sum payouts? Determine how much you need to make in order to live your ideal lifestyle.

2. How much of your own money can you invest, and how much do you need to borrow?
Speak to a mortgage broker or your bank to help you determine how much you can afford to safely borrow for your property investment.

3. Who should you trust to help buy/sell your properties?
Use a real estate agent that has experience investing in properties themselves. They will be able to advise you better, and find a property that is more suited to your unique needs.

4. Is the home ready to be lived in?
Find yourself a professional home inspector and a reliable contractor. Have the property fully inspected before any repairs or renovations commence to ensure you’re maximizing the value of your investment.

5. How much should you charge your renters?
Look for properties where you will be able to charge a reasonable rent fee while still covering your monthly mortgage payment, property taxes, utilities, and insurance bills. Make sure you allow yourself an extra monthly margin to cover the cost of any repairs that will eventually need to be done. Research the average rent cost in your area and pick a place that will fall within your budget before you lock in a deal.

6. What happens when you bring on a partner and things don’t go as planned?
If you are bringing in a partner to contribute to the investment, make sure you have documentation of the joint venture agreements, as well as contingency plans and contracts in place to protect yourself if things do not go as planned. For example, if you or your partner wants to sell and the other doesn’t, if one of you stops contributing to the upkeep or expense payments, or if one of you (knock on wood) dies.

7. Will you be available for middle-of-the-night phone calls and home visits?
If you’re not okay with being woken up in the middle of the night to deal with maintenance and repair issues or tenant complaints, then get yourself a reliable and experienced property manager. Your property manager can assist you in finding suitable tenants and handling any minor issues that may arise on a day-to-day basis. Make sure you create detailed guidelines of your ideal tenant for your property manager to follow, to ensure you’re on the same page. Don’t forget to include this expense in your monthly budget when determining your rent fee.

8. Is it a bad deal?
Don’t let your time investment influence your financial investment. Walk away from the deal if it is not the right fit for you, regardless of how much time you have already devoted to the property.

9. Is there something better out there?
Compare before you invest. Run the numbers on your investment opportunities to determine an estimate for your profit potential. Ensure that the properties you are examining are (for the most part) of equal value. Be conservative when considering costs and expected ROI. Review the property with logic and facts, not emotion — it is easy to get attached to a property for reasons that will not make you money.

10. Do you know where your money is coming in and going out?
Keep record of everything. Don’t mix your investment property’s income and expenses with your personal to avoid extra headaches when it comes time to file your year-end tax return.

11. Are you in it for the long-run?
Don’t hop from property to property too quickly. The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) might view the purchase and sale of properties as income, and tax you on any profit you make on your investment. It is most beneficial for you to buy properties with the intention of owning them for the long term. Use the revenue gained from your renters to pay off your mortgage, and sell it when there is little-to-no balance remaining on your loan so that the revenue gained from the sale is almost entirely profit. It will most likely be classified as capital gain, meaning only half of the profit earned will be taxed.

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