How do you determine rents for properties you’re thinking about buying? As an investor, are you going to get a return on your investment? If you don’t, then you could get behind every month.
Clint Coons of Anderson Business Advisors talks to Scott Abbey of RentFax, who will tell you how to determine rents for your properties. So, when you make investment decisions, you’ll have a range to use to budget wisely.
- Scott pulls data on properties from the Census Bureau to track indicators of positive vs. negative experiences and determine if he could sustain an income stream
- Scott makes sure to understand the risks involved when taking on a property to establish a reasonable expectation from a client’s perspective
- Quality of the location has a direct outcome regarding your income stream and understanding what rents need to be
- Scott looks at a certain area to determine the rent range; 77,000 census tracts are available to identify the neighborhood’s risk and rent range
- If your subject and comps are in the same demographic area, it’s likely that those comps will be more powerful, desirable, and accurate than those outside the demographic area
- Process involves including the square footage and number of bathrooms of subject and comparing them to comps; RentFax adjusts rents to compensate for differences
- Start at the high end of the predictable range, and then market through it over a few weeks by lowering rent, until you get worthwhile applications
- Condition of Subject: Some investors barely make changes/fixes, but others modernize and make it nice; take your subject to a higher level to charge more rent
- Season of Subject: Some seasons generate less traffic; market rent prices based on number of clients looking for a place to rent and the season
- Use RISC Index to identify the risk of your property; rent affordability becomes a major indicator or cause of failure to sustain a cash flow stream
- RentFax is helpful for you to buy outside your market and to find comfortable risk tolerances; it quickly offers critical data, appreciation rates, and demographic information
- Most people who self-manage tend to be below market; but if they fall far behind the market, then they’re not capturing the full benefits from their investment
- Past three years has seen a large growth in rents – a 20% gain; recently, rents have started to slow down
- Buying properties in high-risk areas with low-risk tolerances is an investment disaster; RentFax matches area risk, subject location, and client’s expectations/tolerances
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Full Episode Transcript:
Clint: Hi everyone, it’s Clint Coons here at Anderson Business Advisors and in this episode, we’re going to be discussing how you determine your rents for those properties you’re considering buying. As an avid real estate investor, I have over 100 properties across United States and many of these are single family homes.... Read Full Transcript
One of the issues we all face as investors is are we going to get that return on our investment? We’re taking capital, we’re tying it up in a property, and we’re anticipating then that property is going to put X amount of dollars back in my pocket. But if it doesn’t do that, then we could be in a situation where possibly we’re behind every month. There’s more month left at the end of the money when it comes to covering all of our expenses and we never want to be in that situation.
It’s something that I’ve seen in the past with my own investing and I’ve seen a lot with our clients who have made purchases in markets that they thought they could get a certain return on, that their cap rate is going to be X and it turns out it was Y, and they realize they’ve made a mistake.
What I wanted to do in this episode is bring on an expert who can show you how to determine what those market rents will be for your properties so then when you’re making your investment decisions, you know going into it what that range is going to be so you can budget accordingly. With that, I want to bring on Scott Abbey from RentFax. Scott, thanks for being on.
Scott: Thank you, Clint.
Clint: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Scott: I’m a property manager of 26 years. We managed properties at 450 single family homes in the Kansas City area and by night I am a daily geek.
Clint: What does that mean, a daily geek? You just sit up all night long? I mean, what comes to mind here, you’re maybe sitting in your boxer shorts and a tank top, and you look at the computer, you’re drinking a beer.
Scott: Not quite, but I raised that story because years ago as my business was just getting started, in fact, the year 2000, I was able to bring down free data information from the Census Bureau, and I started studying the differences between properties that I was having positive and negative results in, that were in close proximity to each other. Using the same manager and the same scoring techniques, same screening techniques, same collection techniques, I found that house A and house B didn’t necessarily perform the same consistently even if the management was the same.
So, I pulled down data and data from the Census Bureau. That’s when the night time work came because I had to sort the data out by zip code and then find I had to build statistical models from my property inventory, and I started tracking things that would be indicators for when I had positive experience versus negative experience. That experience as I referred to is, was I able to sustain an income stream? How long was the sustainability of the income stream versus other properties in similar type neighborhoods?
It was a very crude Excel spreadsheet that then went to a database, was able to create a scoring model between 0 and 100, and then compared it to all of the neighborhoods with the zip codes in the Kansas City area, and developed a comparative tool that said, “Neighborhood A will perform better than neighborhood B based on these demographic nuances.”
Clint: And I assume it started working out for you. Did you see that your rental income started going up when you based all your investments on that?
Scott: It took over 10 years of changing the sauce and finding the right algorithms, but I brought in a partner, Shane Sauer, who is an engineer by trade and who also managed properties at the time. We were able to put the tool on steroids and we tested it in seven or eight different markets. That was really the foundation of RentFax.
What I, more than anything else selfishly, I wanted to make sure that when a new client came to me, I understood what the risks were of taking that property on so that I could establish a reasonable expectation from a client’s perspective. In real estate acquisition, location, location, location really is there for a reason. It is a critical part of the decision-making. When you try to quantify location with a realtor, it’s always vague and ambiguous. The quality of the location has a direct outcome in terms of what your income stream is and it also helps drive understanding what the rents need to be.
Clint: Wow. There is a lot that went into putting this together when you started RentFax. How long have you been in business then?
Scott: 26 years.
Clint: 26 years. How many clients do you have right now would you say that are using it?
Scott: Oh, wow. Well, RentFax hasn’t been in business for 26 years. My client base of my property management company—I have 450 doors—I don’t actually know how many clients are using RentFax right until it’s expanding all the time.
Clint: Got it. What you’re doing then is that you’re looking at a certain area and you’re determining the rent range. I’ve got two questions. Number one, is this all across the United States, no matter where I’m investing you have data on those areas?
Scott: Yes. There are 77,000 census tracts. We used to use zip codes, now we use census tracts. It’s a smaller area so it’s even more accurate. We have data for all census tracts for the risk of the neighborhood and the rent range. Now, I will tell you that when you’re in low density markets when you have a small number of rental properties, it’s hard to build a statistical model big enough to get accurate data. So, in those rare instances, if the data’s not there, we can’t provide an outcome. But those are very small in number.
Clint: When you’re looking at a particular area to come up with these ranges, how do you determine that? You’re looking at what their current rental rates are for homes if people are listing them for rent? You don’t have to give me your whole secret sauce here but, kind of what’s in the details? What’s in the mix?
Scott: We go out and we pull the most recent listings from the web and then they’re de-duped so that we’re not duplicating listings because listings get populated to a lot of different places. And then we look for the like type which is single family home or multi family. Our product is designed for residential that means four and less, and it’s either single family or it’s a multi family. Then it looks for the number of bedrooms. Then it brings in the closest group of comps that it can for the proximity of your subject. Then it give you those rents that are being charged.
We take it a step further because there’s a lot of products out there that offer rent information but typically the range of rents that are offered are very wide. So, it’s not as helpful as it would be if we could bring the range down to a more manageable number. What we’ve learned is, is that if your subject and your comps are in the same demographic area, the likelihood of those comps being more powerful and more desirable, more accurate are higher than those that are outside your demographic area. The further you go away from your subject, the less accurate the comp is, so we look at distance and we weight the comps accordingly.
We also do something that many don’t. We look at the square footage of your subject and compare it to the comps, and we look at the number of bathrooms, and then we adjust the rents up or down to compensate for differences in square footage and number of bathrooms, much the same as an appraiser would do.
Clint: Wow. There’s a lot of information.
Scott: And then we drive it into a 70% probability curve, and that brings your desired rent range into a fairly manageable number. What I’ve learned as managing properties for all these years is that no one can tell you exactly what rents are because it’s a function of how many competitors do you have at the moment, and how many customers there are at the moment. So, to pick a single number is generally flawed. What we suggest is you start at the high end of the predictable range and then market through that over a number of weeks by lowering your rent over time until you start getting good applications.
Clint: You advise then if I was going to going into a certain market, say Kansas City, I should probably base my rent on the property I’m buying and what maybe the lower end, and then like you said, market it from the top end, and make sure my numbers take into consideration that I may end up at that low-end number. Is that advisable?
Scott: Well, one question one would ask is the condition of your subject. A lot of the investors will barely put a bandaid on a purchase and others will go in and modernize and make them nice. So, the data that you’re getting is of the average market. Kind of get it? It’s somewhat driven by the economics of the market. But if you take your subject to a higher level of the market, then you want to be sensing the fact that you can charge more rent. Whereas if you look ugly at the street, you’re probably going to need to drive down the rent numbers.
Also, like in Kansas City, we have seasons. We’re in a season now where the traffic is much lower. So during this time of year, I tend to market closer to the lower end to accommodate for the smaller number of clients that are going to be looking for a place to rent.
Clint: Okay. With that in mind, let’s assume that I’m looking for property now in Kansas City. When you use your modeling, does it then break it down by month? If you’re going to start renting it in, say December, then you ought to expect to charge high end this amount, low end this amount, versus if you’re doing the same thing in June. Is that how—
Scott: It doesn’t do that. You have to be sensitive to the fact that when year-end climates that have cold and hot, generally speaking, as a general statement across the United States, your March to August time frame is where most of your moving actually takes place. It’s even more exacerbated where you have cold weather because people are less likely to get out. I know here in Kansas City, January-February are just miserable periods of time. The number of people that want to move in January-February are pretty slow. Now I’ve had warm Januaries where we had good activity. As an investor, you have to be sensitive to those kinds of tactical things you want to consider.
The other thing that I want to emphasize is that, when you’re looking at rents, it’s helpful to know the risk of your property because the RISC Index will tell you, “Is this a good property on the neighborhood in the city? Or is this not so good?” As you go up in a risk, what we find is that rent affordability becomes one of the major indicators or one of the major causes of failure to sustain a good cash flow stream. As you are in the lower realm of your economics, you want to start being very sensitive to affordability. Our system looks at your median income and what happens is, usually in a neighborhood, tenants are attracted to similar neighborhoods and see you have to be sensitive to the median income of your applicant, being sensitive to the rent affordability.
The thing I tell you is as your rents go down in value, generally you see that the tenants that are renting from those properties, sensitivity to job interruptions is greater and if they’re accustomed to getting five hours overtime a week and that’s cut off, that could have an impact on your ability to get paid.
I can also tell you that, particularly in the lower economic areas, utilities become a huge part of the rent. In winter time, for example, if you’re renting a property for $800, it’s not unreasonable to see utility bills that represent 40% of that bay. When you’re looking at that total rent cost of utilities and rent and then you compare that to the gross income of your applicant, it provides a reason for you to consider driving your rents down more on the context of preserving your tenants over long periods of time versus the money that you hope to make from having a short-term tenancy.
Clint: The program itself, when you start using it, does it gives you a profile of a typical tenant in that area?
Scott: If gives you a profile of the demographics of that area. It provides a lot of information for investor-making decisions about where to buy. For example, if you’re an investor from out-of-area and you’re coming to Kansas City, for example, and you find 2-3 bedroom houses comparatively, and you’re looking at the rents in there reasonably comparable, but you look at the demographic score that we have and the risk score, I would tell you, you want to pick the house that has the better score because that house will, over time, perform better at providing a steady income stream.
Clint: Okay, so then what I’ve seen, and correct me if I’m wrong here, if I have two addresses of two different properties I’m looking at, I would go to your site, log in, and then I put in the address of the property that I’m looking to acquire, and run the report on that, and then do the same thing on the other property or do you put in multiple and then compare them?
Scott: If you want to load up multiples, you can. But generally, most people, they’re looking at two or three. You just enter one and you study it, and then yet another and study it, and yet another and study it. It is a fast way for you to have some really critical data because it shows appreciation rates, it will give you demographic information that’s helpful to learn.
What I’ve learned with clients that have been using it for a while, they have an investment that works for them. They’ve got A-B-C house on such-and-such address and the thing just consistently works for them. Then they’ll run a RentFax on that property and understand what that RISC Index is. And they’ll look for like index numbers or above to buy property because an index of 33 in fill-in-the-blank, Philadelphia will have similar results of Atlanta, Georgia, if they fit the same index number.
It’s a very helpful tool for you to buy outside of your market and to find the risk tolerances that you’re comfortable with. I have some clients have loved the high risk, which generally reflects a perceived high cash flow. I have other clients that are risk-inverse. They are at the end of their run and they want to preserve and protect. They want higher risk numbers because generally in the higher risk number, you have less yield but you have greater probability of appreciation.
Clint: Got it. This is for people who are considering in purchasing property. They definitely want to run the property through the analysis. How about for somebody who already owns property you’re considering? All right, my tenant is going to be moving out the end of the month and I’m wondering now, should I move up my rents $500 a month? I can see someone wanting to run their own existing properties here. They’re to see where they should peg their new rental amount at.
Scott: Right. What I’ve learned in managing property is that most people that self-manage tend to be below market. They usually are by design which, at a strategic level, I agree with being below market but if you fall far behind the market, then you’re really not capturing the full benefits you can from your investment.
What we do on our renewals, is since we’re 90 days away from a renewal date, we’ll pull a report, we’ll send it to our client and we’ll make a recommendation of what we should do with rents. And then after he gives us a blessing on that, we send it to the tenant and we show the tenant that, “Look, your property is under market. Although we’re raising the rent, we’re not raising it as high as we could and if you go out and look for another house, here is the market.”
Over the last three years, we’ve seen a large growth in rents. Now, I’m sensing recently that those rents are beginning to hit a slowdown point but there’s been 20% gain over the last 3-4 years in rent values and a lot of self-managed properties leave money on the table and not keeping those numbers up. You can see the report justified to the tenant.
Clint: I’ve talked to a lot of investors and they see if the market slows down, that somehow that’s going to impact their rental income, personally, what I experienced when the market crashed in real estate back in 2008-2009, my rents went up considerably because people were displaced, they didn’t have houses, they couldn’t qualify for loans, and they had to become renters. That gave me an opportunity, of course, to make a little more money. Then once the properties have worked their way through and people started getting back into buying homes, I actually start reduction in my rental income because that pool of tenants started to shrink up some.
Having, I think, that kind of data as well, especially now I think would really really important, given the fact that interest rates have gone up, and you’re starting to see a decline in purchasers now of homes. I was talking to a title company, an officer just the other day and she told me that they were getting 100 a day. And now, they dropped to 70 since the rates have gone up per home.
Scott: I think there’s some surprise pressure, too. In my market, a house going to market and there being multiple bids and no mobile offers. It was a bidding war. Some of them would get to close and they wouldn’t approve this. I think that frenzy is behind us for now. My sense right now on RETS, in my market at least, is that I want to be careful to overstep the market in rents. We had our foot on the slow go during some of the economic troubles to keep the rents and to keep the rents affordable because I didn’t want to lose tenants. Then the rents went up and then we put the foot on the gas, but we’re now pulling our foot back off the raising of the rents because we’re seeing some pushback on rents and we’re seeing some affordability questions.
Not everybody’s boat is rising at the same rate, and again, it depends on the economics of your property. You talk to someone that has a rent that rents for $2500 and you talk to others that rent for $750, that’s a whole different economic group. You have to be sensitive to both, though.
Clint: I think what’s unique is you built this to sound like for yourself, initially, for your properties, and then you saw there’s an opportunity that other people can take advantage of it because it helped you with your business. Is that a fair statement?
Scott: It is to an extent. I have to say selfishly when I first developed it, I didn’t want to have to drive to every house to look at the neighborhood before I accepted it. There are neighborhoods in Kansas City that, at the time, I wouldn’t accept to manage because the neighborhood was so difficult. But subsequently, as I started investing more and more of my passion into the product, over the years I’ve seen so many people come into my business, sit down, and said, “I want to hand you, I want you to manage this property for me,” and the first thing I’d do, I would, of course, pull a RISC Index.
I found that a lot of people were buying properties in high-risk areas with low-risk tolerances. It turned into an investment disaster because the risk of the property area didn’t match the tolerances of the investor and the investor would burn out after two or three tenants. It was important to me to help match the risk of the area, the location of the subject property to the expectations and the tolerances of the client that was making the purchase.
Clint: Yeah, because you don’t want to have pissed-off clients.
Scott: I’ll share a story. A little lady and her son walks into my office and sat in my conference room. He had taken her retirement money and paid in cash for a house, or was about to pay cash for a house that was in a very high-risk area. I might work but the greater probability is it wasn’t going to work than it was going to work. He just kept telling her, “It’s going to be okay. It’s going to be okay,” and I ran the report and I gave it to both of them. When she saw the risk, when she saw the demographics, and she saw the crime factors and such, it had a big impact on her decision on whether she was going to give grandson the $75,000 he talked her into to buy this house.
I can repeat story after story. A couple of retired teachers came in with three houses they have packaged up. They wanted zero risk but they were told that these were a good deal and they were low cost and how can I go wrong. They were in a war zone in our city.
Clint: Yeah. They didn’t get out and visited the properties at all?
Scott: They did but unless you have an experienced eye, you don’t recognize some of those things.
Scott: And not everybody that goes into real estate investing has the training and has the knowledge they should. They make bad investments and oftentimes they’ll blame it on the realtor that sold it to them, or they blame it on the manager that manages it, but in fact, part of the problem was the due diligence they did on the front side of the acquisition and understanding where they are in terms of their investment protocol, like, “Do I have enough cash to sustain three months of vacancy if something terrible would happen? Do I have enough cash to sustain a new roof? Am I comfortable with what appears to be great cash flow but can often be nine months tenancies where there’s eviction every two years?” Those are things that can happen in the higher risk areas. And then, just making sure that there’s a good match there so the investor gets out of the experience what he had hoped for.
Clint: And this is why when I first came across your company, I was so intrigued by it because we have a lot of clients that are on the coast that buy in the Midwest because it’s affordable. You can’t get the returns on the coast right now that you can in the Midwest. But the problem I see is that they hook up with these people who sell properties, that are buying them and then rehabbing them and then selling them as packaged deals to these investors, and the investors don’t even know what they’re buying. All they see is the numbers like, “Oh my gosh. That house is only $85,000. That same house out in California would be $500,000. Give me four.”
Scott: That’s it. I’ve seen it for 20+ years. That’s one of the motivating factors that drawn all those late nights in developing a tool that not only can I use for my clients but can be used universally for investors to make a good match between the investment risk of the neighborhood because in real estate, it’s about location. Location has driven so many other factors that impact the asset as it ages and the tenant that it attracts.
Clint: Got it. I know this that you agreed to give us special discount to Anderson clients that come to RentFax. We negotiated that so we can get 15% off if they go to our site, they go through the length that we’ll have up there for them and then they could take advantage of all the services you have to offer. I want to thank you for that.
Scott: Yes. What’s important is that the folks use it and study it. The product I suggest the most is the Rent Package because it has a detailed risk report, it has a rent report, and also shows the historic vacancy report. When you look at those three factors, that really gives you most the tools you need for making decisions about what properties to buy and how to manage those properties.
Clint: Great. Yes everyone, when you go to the link, you go to the site, make sure you put in the coupon code COONS15 in there and that’s going to get you the discount on those reports that you’re going to be running. Scott, I want to thank you for coming on today. This has been a great podcast. I know a lot of people are going to get great information out of this and they’re going to be coming to your site to start running those risk analysis because those are things that many people do not realize are so important in making an investment decision. Anything else you like to add?
Scott: I wish everybody good luck with their investing. Thank you very much, Clint.
Clint: All right, Scott. Take care. Thanks.
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