How Much Money Will I Make From My Rental Property?

This is a short, simple, down-and-dirty tutorial to so you’ll know how much money your rental property will make before you buy it.

Going from simple to complicated, the first thing to understand is the 1% rule, which is easy to do in your head, and can save you the trouble of breaking out the calculator for properties that are overpriced.

1% Rule

The 1% rule is quick and easy. Monthly rent should be at least 1% of the acquisition price. The acquisition price may be a higher number than the purchase price. It’s purchase price plus the money to get the house ready to rent.

Example.

$80,000          to purchase house                plus

$20,000          remodeling                            equals

$100,000        acquisition cost.

$100,000 home should rent out for at least $1,000 a month, or it would not be a good investment.

          What is the logic behind the 1% rule?

If a house will give you 1% of the purchase price each month in rent, then it gives you 12% of the purchase price each year.   That apparently means the investment makes 12% a year!!!!

          WOW, THAT’S AWESOME! I’M RICH (ON MONEY!!)

 Not so fast!!! It’s not 12%.

Here’s where things can get tricky. We haven’t deducted our expenses from the rent yet!

We’ll use another shortcut to simplify it.

The 50% Rule

According to this rule, approximately 50% of your rent will go to expenses:

Generically, these expenses are: maintenance, taxes, insurance, property manager, and vacancy losses

This means that in our now fictional example of a house that should rent for $1,000 a month, approximately $6,000 of the $12,000 you collect in rent annually is actually profit. The other $6,000 is expenses.

Which means that if a house meets the 1% rule, it doesn’t actually make 12%. Half of that (50% rule) is eaten up in costs and the house is actually making you 6%.

Rental property that meet the 1% rule will give you a return on investment of 6%.

Houses also appreciate in value, typically at the rate of inflation. It is generally agreed that inflation averages at 3% a year.

You can add another 3% a year (appreciation) to the 6% (cash flow).

So, all said and done, a rental property that meets the 1% rule will make roughly 6% cash flow and 3% appreciation, for a total of 9%. This puts it on par with what the S&P 500 will supposedly earn you historically.

So up until now, we’ve used the 1% and 50% rule, which are so easy, you can do it in your head.

But when you are about to actually buy an investment property, it is worth it to break out and dust off that calculator, do the more complicated math, and calculate your estimated capitalization rate or cap rate.

roi rental property

Cap rate

The cap rate is your return on investment on a cash real estate deal. I know many of you will not be able to do a cash deal, but I recommend you calculate your investment this way first.

Evaluate each rental property as if it were a cash deal.   That way you can separate the quality of the house investment from the quality of the loan you are getting.

Two VERY different things.

If the deal makes sense to do in cash, it’ll also make sense to do with a mortgage. You’ll just have some added costs.

Sometimes there is confusion about the difference between cap rate and return on investment (ROI) on a real estate deal.  Cap rate calculates your return on investment assuming a cash deal (no mortgage).

ROI calculates your return on investment including mortgage related expenses.

Both are useful numbers. My advice, if the house has a good cap rate and is a good purchase as a cash deal, then it’s worth buying.

At this point, you find the best way to finance the property you can.

That way you consider the rental property and the loan separately.

Here is how you figure the cap rate.

  1. Gross income from the rental property (add up how much rent you get in a year)
  1. Subtract operating expenses (this is tricky, but worth the time. Taxes, insurance, maintenance, property manager, vacancy losses)
  1. Divide the net income (after subtracting expenses) by the property’s acquisition price (ready to rent condition).

The number you get is a percentage. 2-3% would be low. 15% or higher would be awesome!

Rich on Money’s Real Numbers

Let’s use the 1% and 50% rule, and calculate the cap rate from my second rental property in Alabama.

rental property investment

I bought this property for $45,000 cash.

It was a 4 bedroom, 2 bath home that was move-in ready. This was a huge reversal from the fixer-upper/money pit that was my first property!

 

1% Rule on my property

According to the 1% rule, this house should rent out for $450 a month to be “worth it”. That would mean it would be an investment that cash flows about 6% a year.

Supposedly, my rental property was going to rent for about $900. Double.

SCORE!

50% Rule on my property

If this house rents for $900 a month, I’ll get $10,800 a year (not bad, if you consider the purchase price of the house!)

With the 50% rule, half of that gets eaten up in expenses of one kind or another. I am left with $5,400 cash flow a year.

If you divides cash flow / purchase price, you will get my approximate cap rate or ROI without doing all the heavy math.

$5,400 / $45,000 = 12%

It’s an investment that returns 12% from cash flow.

This 12% is an estimate of what the cap rate would be. You’ll get the actual cap rate by calculating more accurately your operating expenses instead of just assuming it’s half of rent.

Remember, the rental property should also appreciate at approximately 3% per year, just keeping up with inflation.

That makes it an estimated 15% investment. That’s quite a bit better than the typical S&P 500 rate that people love to compare investments to, and with much less volatility.

Capitalization Rate on my property

Even though this house was bought move-in ready (I didn’t even have to vacuum!), there are expenses that go into the acquisition cost.

Purchase price                                             $45,000

Closing costs                                                 $488

Repairs                                                            $1,060

Inspection                                                      $250

Acquisition cost                                            $46,798

We need to calculate gross income. The property rents for $925 a month.   A little bit better than I originally estimated.

$925 X 12                                                        $11,000

Next we subtract operational expenses from the gross rent.

Taxes                                                                $301

Insurance                                                       $644

Maintenance (10% of rent)                      $1100

Property manager (10% of rent)            $1100

Vacancy losses (estimate 10%)               $1100

 

Total operating expenses                          $4,245

 

Gross rents minus                                       $11,000

operating expenses                                     $4,245

Net yearly income                                        $6,755

Now divide this number by the acquisition cost for Cap rate

$6,755 / $46,798                                          14.4% Cap rate

Add 3% for appreciation (only realized when you sell the house)

17.4%

Not bad at all!

Let’s see how accurate the 50% rule was in calculating what my expenses would be

I’ll divide my operational expenses by the yearly gross rents and get a percentage (hopefully close to 50%)

Operating expenses                                         $4,245

Yearly gross rents                                            $11,000

Percentage of rent going to expenses        38.6%

In this particular case, using the 50% rule is an overestimate.

Nothing wrong with overestimating expenses when deciding to buy real estate!

I could calculate this value on a few more rental properties, and then come up with a percentage more suitable for my market and situation. Maybe it’ll be closer to 40%.

Yay.

As you can see, I used 10% of rents for vacancy costs. You will be able to get a good idea of what the vacancy rates are from talking to a management company or other investors in the area you are buying.

I used 10% of rents for maintenance costs. It’s probably in the 10-15% range. If the house is newer and/or newly renovated, it could be lower.

Conversely, if the house is old, or in need up much remodeling, it could be higher.

How’d you like this posts?   Your thought on evaluating rental property?  Leave a comment.

Rich on Money

So know you calculate how much you will make.  How about the actual steps to buying a house?

Check out my Complete Guide to Real Estate Investing

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18 Comments

  1. Paul

    This post is really helpful for beginning RE investors like myself. I have always been confused by the definition of a cap rate, but your explanation about it being the ROI for an all-cash deal is very helpful.

  2. Excellent post Rich! I love how you tied the 1% Rule, 50% Rule, ROI, and inflation concept all together. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone describe these concepts so clearly. Great work!

  3. Paul

    Rich, would you still have considered the acquisition a success if you had only been able to rent for 1% of the house’s acquisition cost (say $450 for ease of calculation)? That would have provided you with $5,400 of gross income. After subtracting expenses of $2,835 ($301 for taxes, $644 for insurance and $540 each for prop mgt, vacancy and maintenance), your net yearly income would be $2,565. This would equate to a pre-appreciation cap rate of 5.5%, and a post-appreciation cap rate of 8.5%.

    • Personally, I’m shooting for at least 1.5% to be happy. 5.5% post appreciation, i feel like I should leave my money in the s&p500 and take my chances. Real estate is more work (but not a lot more) than leaving your money in index funds, so I want a higher rate of return.

  4. Terry

    Hey there, love the formula, been years since deaed in real estate but it all came back and I must say your way is a lot easier than the old way! My wife is much more settled on going into the rental business, of course she is leaving everything up to me! But your articles have put her at ease!! Thanks for the refresher course!!

    • Jump back into it. There is money to be made in any point in the cycle. I don’t wait for dips or crashes, you might wait forever.

  5. dimensionlessindex

    Rich, great blog! I came here via WCI.

    I’m wondering if you can comment on the calculus for converting your current home into a rental. If there is no acquisition cost, can you calculate a cap rate, and if so would you use purchase price or current mortgage balance?

    Here is an example: purchase price 400k. Current balance 280k on a 15-yr fixed. Could probably get 3k in monthly rent, and the place is turnkey. Would manage independently in the same town.

    Arguably, cap rate could be near zero and 1% rule doesn’t check out based on purchase price. But it is in a desireable location (high demand for both onwerhship and renting), where appreciation is solid and vacancies low.

    Curious to know whether you think it could still be worthwhile as an income property, even if cash flow is marginal. Thanks

    • You didn’t tell me what the house is worth now. I think it’s important to know how much equity you have in the property and then find out what your return on equity will be if you rent it out. If it’s too low, you are better off selling the property, pulling the equity out, and finding a better way to put that equity to work. If you’ve lived in the property 2 of the last 5 years, this will likely be a capital gains free sale.

      How do you know if the return on equity is too low? Compare it to other options you have to make money. I have to do better than 8% personally, because I feel like I can beat 8% on average by just leaving money in index funds.

      Anyway, if you are telling me cap rate is near 0 and 1% rule doesn’t check out, doubt it’ll be a good rental. You’re better off selling and doing something else with your money. Your equity is being wasted sitting there doing nothing, and your cash flow sucks!

  6. Sam

    Incredibly informative post Rich! I just listened to the Bigger Pockets podcast where you were introduced. It’s great to learn from someone who is willing to be real and breakdown the reality of the situation and actual costs. What would you say is the lifetime of a home in its prime state before it starts to deteriorate so much that it wouldn’t make sense to keep it anymore?

    • Homes can last a long time. I’m not so concerned about age. You can always remodel if it’s in a good location making good rents. I’m concerned about cash flow first, expenses, and maybe potential for appreciation. If you have several properties, you sell your worst performing ones.

    • Preston

      I, too, just listened to your Bigger Pockets podcast. I love your story–I hope to get there. We have a couple rentals and own our own home. We hope to get more going forward. We finance ours. In reply to Sam: While I agree with Rich that a home can last a long time, one of our 2 rentals is a 1950s home, and when the last renter moved out, there was a LOT of repair to do. Our newer one (2000s) has much lower maintenance/repairs. That being said, we’re still cashflowing positive, when you take the whole year in review.

  7. Derek

    As I emailed, I am analyzing a coupe of properties. One meets the 1% rue and one does not but they are two completely different products.

    1. 2/1 1950’s build in a mmm, C- neighborhood in South Augusta, GA. Weird old set up with washing machine in kitchen and dryer out back. Was rehabbed by m cousin in 2014 after buying at auction. Will need an new roof in 5 years (approx 3k). Will rent for $650 easy.

    2. A brand new townhouse in an are south of Nashville, TN. Nashville is exploding and has a very diversified housing market. PITI + management would be $1200 and rent around $1400. Barely cash flowing but a managed town home with little to no cap ex outside of appliances, especially being new. Nashville has a lot more appreciation potential and the it strategy here is more promising. I can also have family manage this one giving me another $100+ a month in my pocket.

    I have been looking for over a year (sometimes actively and sometimes I retreat and focus on other things). It is hard to find a deal right now if you’re trying to break into the market.

    • On the brand new townhouse, you do understand that if your rent barely covers your mortgage, then you are losing LOTS of money. Half of rent goes to expenses. So take that half out, then subtract your mortgage, and you are upside down in a big way. Bad investment. Do NOT invest in an upside down cashflowing property telling yourself you are doing it because you think it will appreciate. That’s a losing strategy. On the first property, you didn’t say what you bought it for, so I don’t have an idea if it’s a good deal or not.

  8. Clarissa

    How would you calculate this on a home that WAS your primary residence. We own several rental properties but they were all our primary residence at one time. For example I bought a home 13 years ago for $229,000. I lived there for 9 years then moved into a new home and started renting the old one out. I owed $150,000 on the property when we moved out. Would I run numbers on it from what was owed when I moved out to calculate my return on investment?

    • No, you run the numbers based on your initial investment. What did you buy it for? That way you know if it was a good use of your money at the initial investment. You also might have a lot of equity in this property, in which case if you sold, you could get the equity tax free as long as you’ve lived in the property 2 of the last 5 years, because there would be no taxes on the capital gains. You have to consider that. Some people want to make sure there equity is working for them. That’s not so important for me, I like having paid off properties.

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