I will show you exactly how to accurately estimate rental expenses.
Don’t be the investor who believes the rental expenses he’s given from the property seller!
Intro to Estimating Rental Expenses
I will give you formulas and methods to make accurate estimates even if you don’t have someone local in the area you can compare notes with.
There are several different methods for doing this. I’ll let you know which work best.
The ideal situation for accurately estimating expenses is to get the information directly from another investor that has rentals in the same area as you.
You can find these people through local clubs like a real estate investing association (REIA) or other investing group. Often these groups are on Facebook. You can find by searching key terms such as REIA or real estate investing and the name of your city.
If you can’t find investors that will help, talking to property managers is the next best thing.
Whether you get information from these people or not, it is still a good idea to use the tools here to make sure their rental estimates make sense.
Maintenance and Repairs
Maintenance and repairs are variable costs. These are difficult to predict and change often.
There are several “rules of thumb” that can help you estimate what repairs will be. I’m gonna break them all down for you, and tell you my favorite:
- The 1% Rule for Expenses
- The Square Footage Formula
- The 5X Rule
- The 5% Rule
- The 50% Rule
Repairs are the most underestimated and neglected rental expenses in real estate investing.
Here are the rules to help estimate them:
1% Rule for Expenses
Don’t confuse this 1% rule with the more common 1% rule for rent. (Rents should be at least 1% of purchase price)
1% Rule for Expenses Definition: Maintenance and repairs will cost about 1% of the property value per year.
A property valued at $100,000 should cost $1,000 a year for repairs on average.
Pros: Easy to do in your head. Accounts for higher prices in high cost of living areas. Labor and supplies cost more in these area.
Cons: Not accurate on older properties under $100,000
I can tell you from personal experience owning 30 properties with an average cost of $75,000 each, this isn’t accurate at the low end of home prices.
Often when you find a property that cash flows well under $100,000, it is going to be a bit older and comparatively in worse condition. These two traits make repair prices higher.
From my experience, a 1.5% calculation off purchase price would be more accurate for run down properties purchased under $100,000.
Square Footage Formula
Plan on $1 per square foot for yearly maintenance costs.
A 1,000 sq ft home should cost about $1,000 in maintenance per year
Pros: More conservative than 1% rule above. Makes sense that larger homes have more costs due to increased area.
Cons: Does not accurately account for cost of living differences.
My average costs for repairs in Montgomery, AL are a lot lower than those in high cost of living areas (HCOL) like San Diego or Honolulu. This rule doesn’t account for those differences on the same size house.
Labor and supplies will cost more in high cost of living areas. To estimate rental expenses, adjust as needed.
Yearly maintenance costs will be approximately 1.5 times the monthly rental rate.
If your home rents for $1,000 a month, the estimate should be about $1,500 a year.
I’m not sure why it’s called the 5x Rule, but that’s how its described in several different places.
Pros: Rent prices tend to correlate with age, condition, and desirability of neighborhood
This rule is actually not widely used compared to the rest, but I find it the most useful because of its flexibility.
Cons: No rule is perfect, but this one is pretty good.
You should expect to spend 5% of your total income (total rents) on repairs and property maintenance.
$100,000 property rents for $1,000/mo X 12 months
$12,000 a year x 5% = $600 a year budget for repair expenses
Pros: Easy to calculate. Half of ten percent. You can do it in your head.
Cons: Estimates come out too low.
While this a fairly well-known rule, I find it to be an unusually low estimate.
First, this is out of line with the 5x Rule, which states expenses will be 1.5 times monthly rent. I felt the 5x rule was the best estimate so far. If you do the math, that rule works out to 12.5% of total income on repairs.
The 5% rule here is way too low.
Not even half the estimate of the 5x rule.
Unless your property is close to new and in excellent repair, 5% expenses would be unlikely in reality.
That being said, I often see pro formas (estimate of expenses) on turnkey real estate or on other promotional literature about real estate investing that claim a 5% maintenance estimate.
To add insult to injury, they often don’t include an estimated expense for capital expenditures, which means the 5% is meant to cover both.
This it why uniformed investors lose money on rental properties they buy.
Total operating costs will equal approximately 50% – or half – of your yearly rental property income.
This is probably the most popular formula for expenses, but it applies to all rental expenses, not just repairs and maintenance.
The 50% rule also applies to capital expenditures, property management, taxes, insurance, vacancy, and all other operating expenses.
Since property management is included, if you self-manage, you could probably use 40% as your rule, although the value of using your own time for management is worth something.
See a more in-depth explanation of the 50% Rule.
The estimates you get from these rules may need to be adjusted based on the following criteria:
- age of the property
- condition of the property
- amount of turnover/crime in the area
- cost of living
You should consider how much your prospective property differs from the average property. If yours is much older or in a much higher crime area, you should consider raising the estimates for your rental expenses to make up for the increased likelihood of higher expenses.
I believe the best formula is the 5x rule (1.5 x monthly rent). It can account for these variables better than the rest, and it’s conservative enough to keep you out of trouble.
To accurately estimate your expenses, you need to know the difference between maintenance/repairs and capital expenditures.
Capital expenditures are a separate category from maintenance/repairs. You need estimates for both.