Before and After

I bought a four-plex rental in Indianapolis in 2000. It had been vacant, utilities were turned off, and it was kind of a mess. The basement apartment had water in it everywhere, and a huge family of rats had taken up residence.

So, I bought it anyway and started the rehab, with the help of a trusted contractor. Immediately after closing, I bought four rat traps. After loading them with peanut butter, I put them in the basement apartment. Every day, for about two weeks, I’d unload the dead rats, and reload with peanut butter. Got rid of ’em!

Through the years, I’ve made small and large improvements as I’ve had the money to do so. I’ve updated flooring to vinyl plank laminates throughout, installed new cabinetry and baths. And as a result, I’ve been able to up the rents quite a bit, and am getting a good, responsible tenant mix. And the ROI (return on investment) on that house is 20%+ year after year. Woohoo!

This year, I had a new roof installed, had the aluminum siding painted, and got new windows. Here’s the result … totally worth the money and hard work!

Flip vs. Buy and Hold — Indianapolis

The real estate world is in a constant state of flux, as we all know. After the collapse of the housing market in 2008, values plummeted and there were thousands of foreclosed homes, sitting empty.

Smart investors started snatching up those homes, at bargain prices. They knew the major dip in the market wouldn’t last forever. The collapse enabled them to fix up/rent out these homes, because the rental market surged, everywhere. I was fortunate to be interviewed by CNN online and USA Today about the phenomenon: click on this section to view the whole article.

Well, those days are over for the most part, as the housing market everywhere has had a nice rebound. Now, it’s a lot more difficult to find a home, do the updates/rehab, and make much money on the flip. Inventory is down, the market has tightened up. And on a flip you have to consider these cautionary tips:Most of the time, you run into unforeseen issues after you start the rehab.

  • It’s hugely important that you find a reliable contractor (if it’s not you) that will show up every day and complete the work on schedule.
  • Don’t overspend on the amenities/updates. Stay above the surrounding homes, but don’t spend crazy money you’ll never get back.
  • Be aware that the house may not sell immediately. And when the house sits, you continue to have all the carrying costs — insurance, taxes, utilities, maintenance , etc.

If you’re risk averse, flipping probably isn’t in your wheelhouse. Much safer to buy, fix up, rent out, and hold it for income and long term investment. Although I’ve flipped a couple along the way, I never depended on those “big returns” you hear about on HGTV and informercials. (They make it look way too easy!)

My best advice? Buy and hold here in Indy. Our market is super stable, and growing. Investors from all over the world are very interested in what Indy has to offer, with good reason!

The Case for Investing in Low-Middle Income Rentals

Since the collapse in the housing market almost 10 years ago, we’ve seen a steady increase in the demand for rental properties. Here are some startling facts:

  • In this time frame, the number of rental units has soared from 34 million to 43 million, in 2015. By 2025, it’s expected to top 46 million.
  • The largest percent of that growth — 80%! — has come from the conversion of single family homes into rental properties.
  • Demand has grown in all income ranges, but particularly in households earning less than $100,000/year.
  • Because of the rising demand, rents are going up, while incomes are not keeping up. Renters are spending a larger percentage of their take-home pay toward their rent payments than ever before. But even so, we’re expecting continued growth in our rental markets throughout the US.

With no end in sight for the continuing demand on rental properties, investors are diversifying their portfolios and putting their monies in real estate. Indianapolis is a very desirable rental market; our economy is growing, yet our prices are reasonable compared to the rest of the country.  We have investors from all over the world who’ve decided this is the place to be … especially in the low/middle income markets, there are still great returns to be made.

Onward and upward!


Indianapolis Rental Market Going Strong …

I’ve owned and managed rental properties in Indianapolis for 18 years … it’s been quite the journey.  (See “A Bit About Barb” along the top of this blog site.)  I started with low-income properties, moved into middle income and have added high-end property management to my repertoire.

The low-income rental market will remain constant, regardless of what’s going on in the economy.  After all, everyone needs a place to rest their head, and those who earn 25K or less will be life-long renters.  They seek a well-maintained rental, accompanied by an attentive landlord … and that’s where I come in.

But the upper level rental market in Indianapolis — and across the country — is booming.  Thousands of people lost their homes to foreclosure and although their credit is a mess because of it, they still have decent jobs and the ability to make rent payments.  They won’t be able to buy a home but they want to live in one, of course!  The other factor is, there are many who have lost faith in “the American dream” of home ownership and are becoming renters by choice.  They can afford to buy but are choosing not to.  They don’t trust the government, the economy, the stability of the real estate market.  They’re happy to be renters, not buyers.   And again, that’s where I come in.  And many others as well …

Hedge funds, huge companies like American Homes For Rent, and thousands of international buyers are snapping up homes, doing a quick rehab and renting them out.  I just sold a home to a woman from Singapore who was spending two weeks here in Indianapolis, and hoping to buy 40 rental properties in that time.

The Indianapolis rental market has always been steady … a good money maker.  Even when the real estate market tanked, we weren’t hit nearly as hard as many states.  And with the growth of our downtown area and wonderful suburbs, the sky’s the limit.

Life is good …

“Shut Your Mouth!”

I was pleased to be quoted twice in the current edition of Personal Real Estate Investor magazine … they were doing an article on what NOT to say to a tenant and since I made so many errors along these lines early in my career, I was able to give them some good input for the article.  Of the seven areas listed, I’m quoted in numbers three and five.  Here’s the piece:

Personal Real Estate Inv., Fall ’12

And by the way, if you’re into this kind of thing, Personal Real Estate Investor is an excellent publication.  They discuss investment strategies, the housing market in general as it relates to the economy, foreclosures and how they’re affecting the market … valuable info for those who are looking to profit from this downturn in the economy and come out whole.  Definitely worth taking a look.

Onward and upward …. !   🙂

All We Need is Love …

I passed this house when I was at work yesterday and I was struck by the simple beauty of the message:


This home is in a pretty rough area.  The sign on the telephone pole advertises “CrimeWatch” for the neighborhood but evidently it hasn’t been effective.   Countless times I’ve driven by, there have been police cars out in front of various homes, with several individuals sitting on the lawn in handcuffs.  Drugs and gang-related crimes are prevalent.

But this homeowner is sending his own message, with his garage mural depicting the last supper, Jesus on the cross, praying hands and the written words, “Jesus Loves Peace.”  A beam of hope and light in an otherwise dark and sinister area of the inner city.

With the economy in a state of disarray, investors are snapping up vacant, foreclosed homes throughout the city, but the lower-income areas will lag behind the other (higher-end) areas.  There are tremendous bargains to be had in the inner city, and the return on the investment in rentals is excellent if you have the heart for it.

I’ve seen improvement in some areas, some rebuilding and rehabbing, and I’m hopeful it will continue.  But progress has been slow lately . . . onward and upward . . . or is it onward and sideways?

1M Foreclosures Delayed til 2012

With the housing market already struggling to recover, RealtyTrac recently reported that an estimated one million foreclosure-related notices that should be filed by lenders this year will be pushed back until next year.  Here’s the full article:

While this may be good news for homeowners who feel they can get back on their feet and get caught up on their payments, this “shadow inventory” of foreclosed properties wil delay the housing market recovery even further.  Given this scenario, RealtyTrac predicts we won’t return to normal foreclosure activity until 2015.  Yikes!

The number of homes repossessed by lenders dropped 30% in the first half of this year compared to last, but delays — lenders taking longer to take action against late payers — are stalling the housing recovery.

Is there any good news here?  For the economy as a whole, I’d say no.  For homeowners who are delinquent, yes.  Perhaps they can get caught up on payments and keep their homes.  For investors, yes.  Foreclosed homes will continue to hit the market and prices will continue to bump along the bottom for at least the next year.  So, now is the time to jump, if you have the drive, desire and determination … oh, and the cash …

Onward and upward!

Rent, or Buy?

The early 2000s . . . ah yes, the good old days, when home prices were soaring and investors were flipping houses and making money hand over fist. And then, the total collapse . . .

With today’s economy in a state of flux and the real estate market still flat-lining, thousands of wonderful homes are sitting on the market. Homeowners are under water on their mortgages and can’t sell, and are becoming landlords by default.

People are nervous. The banks, who were so crazily free-wheeling a few years back, have tightened the purse strings to the point where applicants who deserve loans are being denied. Even those who are capable of purchasing homes are hesitant:

  • They’re unsure of the direction of the economy
  • They fear being laid off.
  • With the rising cost of education, they’re choosing to put money in their children’s college funds rather than invest in “The American Dream.”

But for those who still lust after that traditional dream, there’s a formula — although a loose one at that — that might help determine if your city is one in which it’s better to rent or buy. It’s called the rental ratio formula and here’s how it works.

You take the cost of the house you’re looking to buy, and find out what the comparable place would cost to rent, for one year. Divide the total yearly rent by the sale price of the home. If the asnwer is less than 15, it makes sense to buy rather than rent.

For example, on the three-bedroom foreclosure I purchased last fall (See “And Speaking of Fortunes Being Made . . .”, October 2010) the rent I receive is $825/month x 12 = 9900. In this Indianapolis market, I bought that home for 35K and with repairs, have a total of 40K in it. But, the surrounding homes are worth (in a normal market) 80K. Either way, when I do the equation, the results are 4 and 8.5, meaning Indy is definitely a city where it’s better to buy.

But don’t be fooled by the numbers or the gurus. Even though this formula says it’s more costly to rent than buy, our Indy rental market is very strong and I don’t see the end in sight. My 27 rental units never stand empty, which tells me there’s opportunity on both ends — both as a buyer, if you can qualify, pay cash or use private money — and as a landlord who rents out your properties.

So don’t be shy . . . now’s the time to buy!

Thinking of Flipping?

Home prices are low right now, as you know.  And from what I’m reading, they’re going to stay low through 2011 and into 2012.

So, are you thinking of snatching up one of these homes at a great bargain price, putting a little money into it, and reselling it for a nice fat profit?  Think again.  Those days are gone, at least for now.

I flipped a few along the way, back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s when the real estate market was booming.  Aaah, those were the days.  Back then, the foreclosure I just bought last fall would’ve been a perfect candidate for a flip.  Purchase price, 35K.  I put another 5K into fixups and it was ready to go.  The homes around it are worth 80-85K.  But!  Who’s going to pay 80K when they can find a nice foreclosure for 30?  No one in their right mind, that’s for sure.

So, I’m renting it out.  And actually, there are thousands of homeowners who need to sell their homes and can’t — for a decent price — so they’re renting them out.  They’re becoming unwilling landlords, poor things.  At least the rent payment should cover the mortgage.  The demand for rentals is strong and is driving the price up in most areas of the country.

So, if you think you’re going to make a fast buck by flipping a property, think again.  Now is not the time and, if I were you, I wouldn’t hold my breath.  If you want to make money, buy the bargain home and rent it out.

You won’t get the fat reward of the one-time payoff of a flip, but you’ll reap the nice tax breaks and steady stream of income the rental  provides.  I know, it’s not glamorous.  But it works.   🙂

Onward and upward!

Still Tumbling Down …

Everywhere I turn, I hear analysts talk about how the economy is on the upturn, and the housing market is on the mend.  I don’t know about the economy, but I’m not buying that stuff about the rosy housing market.

Zillow’s chief economist Stan Humphries is now predicting the housing market won’t hit bottom until sometime in 2012.  Home values have fallen for 57 consecutive months.  Doesn’t sound very rosy to me . . . The full article containing this info appeared in the WSJ on May 9th.  Here’s the link:

We saw the surge in home purchases last year, spurred by the $8000 tax credit, but when that expired in late summer, so did the breath of fresh air that had been pumped into home sales. 

There’s just sooo much inventory out there, prices aren’t going anywhere soon.  The glut of foreclosures on the market make it nearly impossible for someone to sell their home at anything near its true value.

Remember the cute three-bedroom ranch I bought a few months ago for $35,000?  It’s on a cul-de-sac with other homes valued at $80-85,000.  With that kind of (foreclosure) competition, those people can’t sell their homes right now. 

So yes, the housing market is still tumbling down, but we investors are taking advantage.  Really, anyone who has decent credit and wants to be a homeowner should be seriously looking to buy right now.  However, the banks have tightened their purse strings — many are demanding a credit score in the 700s — — which makes it challenging for many to obtain a mortgage.  How do we clear the huge inventory of homes on the market when very few are able to get loans?  Cash is king, of course, but aside from the investor segment, there aren’t many potential buyers who can pay cash for their home.  Definitely a “catch 22” situation!

What I know is this:  there’s a huge inventory of wonderful homes out there — single- and multi-family — a lot of value for a little money.  These prices are going to bump along the bottom for at least nine more months.  And I plan to take full advantage.

How ’bout you?