Have you ever considered buying investment real estate? Are you curious about how you would go about analyzing the financial details of the property you are considering buying? How you would go about figuring out if the property were a good deal or rip-off?

Introduction

The following is a detailed tutorial on how to do a thorough financial analysis of any multi-unit residential rental property you might be considering purchasing. While different sized properties require more or less analysis then you’ll find here, the information presented in this document is the basis for analyzing any sized multi-unit residential property, from two-unit duplexes to 500-unit apartment complexes.

While this analysis will also work for single-family rentals to some degree, the market value of single family homes is generally determined differently than multi-family properties. The value of single family homes (investment or not) is generally determined by market “comps.” Comps (or comparables) are those properties in the same area that have similar characteristics – same floor plan, same number of bedrooms/bathrooms, equivalent garage size, same amenities, etc. So, a single family investment home will generally rise in value if similar homes in the same area are rising in value, and lose value if similar homes in the area are losing value.

Larger investment properties (those with at least two units, and especially those over four units) are valued differently. The value of larger investment properties is directly related to how much income/profit it produces for its owner. So, it’s possible that an apartment building in a neighborhood where house prices are dropping could be increasing in value is the components of the market that drive income are improving.

The fact that multi-family properties are valued based on their income potential demonstrates how important good financial analysis of these properties is. You can’t just compare your apartment building to others down the street to see how much it’s worth.

I should also mention that, while this analysis will work for any multi-unit residential rental property, it is not sufficient for analyzing commercial property; for things like office, industrial, or retail space, you should seek additional guidance.

The goal is this document is to teach even the most novice real estate investor how to analyze the financial components of a rental property, but I expect more experienced investors will also find some good information in here.

Note: Keep in mind that while do financial analysis is relatively simple once you understand the basic concepts, it takes a little while to get a “feel” for how various inputs affect the overall outcome of the analysis. You should play with the numbers for a bunch of example properties (see the end of this tutorial for a list of places to find examples), and see how the inputs affect the outputs.

In the next section, we'll discuss the major input and outputs associated with our financial analysis...

Knowing What to Look For

The first step in being able to analyze the value of a rental property is to understand what factors contribute to the value of a property value, and what key metrics you should be looking for before making a purchase decision on a rental property.

In general, good financial analysis involves being able to input a bunch of information about your investment into a financial model, and have that model kick out a bunch of information that you can then use to determine whether the investment is a good or a bad one (and whether it is the right investment for you).

Below are the very high level inputs and outputs that we will be working with in the financial analysis of our property. If any of these terms – or details around them – don’t make sense, keep reading; everything mentioned in this section will be discussed in much more detail later in our tutorial.

High-Level Inputs

In general, the information you need to do a thorough financial analysis of a residential rental property includes the following:

Property Details: This is information about the physical design of the property, including number of units, square footage, etc

Purchase Information: This is basic cost information about the property you are considering, such as the purchase price, the price of any rehab or improvement work you’ll need to do, etc

Financing Details: These are the details of the loan you will obtain to finance the property. This includes such things as total loan amount, down payment amount, interest rate, closing costs, etc

Income: This the detailed information about the income the property produces, such as rent payments

Expenses: This is the detailed information about costs of maintaining the property, including such things as property taxes, insurance, maintenance, etc

High-Level Outputs

The most important part of any financial analysis is being able to interpret the data you get from your spreadsheet or model. It doesn’t matter how many statistics, metrics, or calculations you can gather if you don’t what to make of them once you have them.

Here is a very high-level list of outputs you’ll receive from your analysis, and how/why they are important (we’ll go into each of these in much more detail later in our tutorial):

Cash Flow: Cashflow simply refers to the amount of money you will make every month or year by owning this property after all expenses are accounted for. This is your profit

Rates of Return: In general, “rate of return” refers to the amount of money you make on an investment *relative* to your upfront cost of obtaining that investment. When analyzing a rental property, there are actually several rate-of-return calculations you should do, each offering their own insight into the value of the property, and its value to you based on your personal financial situation. We’ll go into much more detail about rate of return later in this tutorial

In broad terms, those are the key inputs and outputs you’ll be dealing with during the financial analysis of any residential rental property.

Gather your information

In order to perform a good analysis of your target property, you need access to all the data mentioned in the first section of this tutorial. Gathering accurate data can often prove the difference between making the property look great on paper and look horrible.

Pro-Forma vs Actual Data

Remember from the introduction of this tutorial that the value of multi-unit properties is directly related to how much income/profit it produces for its owner. Because of this, it’s often in the seller’s best interest to provide numbers that are more “appealing” than they are accurate; for example, a seller may give high estimates of rental income or neglect to mention certain maintenance expenses to give the impression that the property is more valuable than it is. So, part of your job is to make sure you have the best information available when doing your financial analysis.

How do you do that, you might ask?

Well, while you may rely on “pro-forma” data (basically, pro-forma means “estimated”) from the seller to kick off a discussion about a property, you should ensure that before you actually close on the property that you get actual data about income and expenses. You should ask to see previous years tax returns, property tax bills, maintenance records, etc. Hopefully all the actuals will prove similar to the pro-forma data you had previously been given, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t. Remember, the seller is trying to make a sale, and will oftentimes get creative to make the numbers seem better than they are.

In addition to getting actual data from the seller, you should do your best to ensure there are no surprises if you were to buy the place. For example, when was the last time the property was assessed for taxes? If it was a while ago, and values have increased significantly since then, it’s possible that the property will be reassessed very soon, and property taxes will increase. Remember, even small changes to the income and expense numbers can mean big changes in your bottom line.

Where to find your data

Remember the list of inputs we specified in section 2 of this tutorial? That is the data you are going to need to complete this financial analysis. Here is where you should be looking for each of these:

Property Details: This information should be available from the seller, but more comprehensive and detailed information can also be obtained from your local County Records Office

Purchase Information: Obviously the seller is going to name a purchase price (which will likely be negotiable, of course), but the more important information here will be any upfront maintenance or improvement work that needs to be completed to ensure that the property can (or continue to) meet its income potential. While there may be no extra cost here for properties in good condition, it’s worth having the property inspected by a professional building inspector to ensure that there are no hidden issues or problems

Financing Details: You’ll want to talk to your lender or mortgage broker to get an idea (or better yet a letter of approval) about the cost of the loan and the necessary down payment

Income: Details about income should come directly from the seller, but as mentioned above, don’t rely on pro-forma data for final analysis. You can also talk to the property management company currently running the property (if there is one) to get this information

Expenses: Similar to income, details about expenses should come directly from the seller (last warning not to trust pro-forma data!) or the property management company currently running the property. This is another place where a building inspector could help warn you about any major repairs that may be coming due in the near future (new roof, new heating/AC, etc)

Example Property

While it will be your responsibility to do your own due diligence in gathering the necessary data when it comes to evaluating real properties, I’m going to take the liberty to create a fictitious apartment building for sale to use as an example for this tutorial.

Here are the details on the building (click here to download flyer)...

For reference, this is similar to what a seller might provide in terms of pro-forma data on a property for sale.

Example Financing

For the sake of this example, let’s assume we’ve also spoken with our lender, and have secured a loan with the following properties:

Downpayment: 20% of total cost

Finance Amount: 80% of total cost

Interest Rate: Fixed 7% over 30 years

Closing costs: 2% of total property cost

Based on that here are the calculations we’ll need later in our analysis:

COST ASSUMPTIONS FINANCING ASSUMPTIONS

Purchase Price $400,000 Downpayment 20%

Downpayment $80,000 Finance Amount $320,000

Improvements $10,000 Downpayment Amt $80,000

Closing Costs $8,000 Interest Rate 7%

TOTAL COST $418,000 Mortgage (Years) 30

CASH OUTLAY $98,000 Mortgage Payment $2,129

Now, using this fictitious building and our assumed financing options, let’s jump into our analysis!

In the next section, we will jump into our analysis...

Net Operating Income

It’s now time to jump into the analysis. And one of the cornerstone metrics of your analysis is “Net Operating Income” or “NOI.” In short, NOI is the total income the property generates (after all expenses), not including debt service costs (loan costs). In mathematical terms, NOI is equivalent to the total income of the property minus the total expenses of the property:

NOI = Income – Expenses

In general, NOI is calculated on a monthly basis using monthly income and expense data, and can then be converted to annual data simply by multiplying by 12. So, now that we know we need NOI, and we know that NOI is calculated using property income and expenses, let’s jump into our income and expense calculations.

Assessing Property Income

Gross income is the total income generated from the property, including tenant rent, other income from such things as laundry facilities, parking fees, etc, and any other income that your property will produce on a regular basis. From our example property, we have 8 units renting for between $525-650 per month, as follows:

UNIT TYPE RENT

1 1+1 $525

2 1+1 $525

3 1+1 $525

4 1+1 $525

5 1+1 $550

6 1+1 $550

7 2+1 $650

8 2+1 $650

TOTAL $4,500

Plus, we have $200 per month ($2400 per year) in additional income from laundry facilities in the building, for a total monthly income of $4700 (and annual income of $54,000).

Because the majority of a property’s income generally derives from tenant rent, it is very important that your income calculations take into account the rent you won’t be collecting due to unit vacancy. In any area, there is some average vacancy rate; the vacancy rate for the property you are evaluating may be higher or lower than the surrounding area, and if it is, you need to decide how you’d like to factor that into your analysis.

For example, if building vacancy is listed as lower than average local vacancy, the first question you should ask is whether the data you are looking at is pro-forma or actual? If it’s actual, what is the current management doing to keep the building filled? Is the rent lower than market rents? When do current leases expire? In any regard, you need to determine what you think is a reasonable vacancy rate going forward; my suggestion would be to err on the side of conservative for this, and not assume that your vacancy rate will be any lower than the local average vacancy rate.

So, to assess total income on the property, you want to subtract out the income that you likely won’t see due to vacancy. In our example property, the seller listed typical vacancy at 12%, so we’ll go with that for our analysis. So, our total monthly income for this property would be:

REVENUES: MONTHLY YEAR 1

Rental Income $4,500 $54,000

Vacancy Rate 12% (540) (6,480)

Net Rental Income $3,960 $47,520

Other Income $200 $2,400

GROSS INCOME: $4,160 $49,920

With the total monthly income $4160, the total annual income would be $49,920.

Assessing Expenses

Now let’s calculate our total expenses for this property. In general, expenses break down into the following items:

Property Taxes

Insurance

Maintenance (estimated based on age and condition of property)

Management (if you choose to employ a professional property manager)

Advertising (to advertise for tenants)

Landscaping (if you hire a professional landscaping company)

Utilities (if any portion of the utilities is paid by the owner)

Other (anything else we may have missed above)

Any expenses listed as monthly should be converted to annual, and then we can total our expenses to find the annual cost of operating the property:

the total annual expenses for this property would be $12,751:

Calculating NOI

Now that we have our total annual income and expenses for the property, we can calculate NOI using the formula above:

NOI = Income – Expenses

= $49,920 - $12,751

= $37,169 (the property generates $37,169 per year)

While NOI doesn’t give you the whole picture (or even enough information to make any decisions), it is the basis for calculating most of the important metrics in our analysis.

In the next section, we'll examine those key metrics...

Calculating Key Financial Metrics

We now have all the key pieces of information necessary to determine if this property meets the financial bar you’ve set for making an investment. If you remember from the beginning of this tutorial, I listed a number of key outputs you will want from this analysis. In this section, I will focus on the first two of these – Cash Flow and Rates of Return.

In the last section, we learned that NOI was the total income the property produced, not including the debt service (loan) costs. You might have been wondering, “Why doesn’t NOI include the expense cost of the loan, since that will ultimately affect your bottom line?”

Cash Flow

The reason we don’t include debt service in the NOI calculation is that NOI dictates what size income the property will produce independent of the owner’s particular financing model. Because the monthly or annual debt service amount is going to be specific to the particular financing plan (it will be dependent on the down payment amount/percentage, interest rate, amortization schedule, etc), if we included debt service in the NOI, then NOI would only be meaningful in the context of that particular financing plan. And because different buyers will no-doubt have different financing, it’s important to have a income metric that is specific to the property, not the buyer.

That is why we have the cash flow calculation. Cash flow is equivalent to NOI adjusted for the expense of debt service. Specifically, cash flow is the NOI minus the debt service payments:

Cash Flow = NOI – Debt Service

As might now be obvious, cash flow is the total profit you will see at the end of the year from this property. As is also probably obvious, the higher your debt service payments (the larger your loan, higher your interest rate, or shorter your amortization period), the smaller your cash flow. If you pay all cash for a property (don’t take any loan), your cash flow will equal the NOI – this is the maximum cash flow on the property.

If you recall from our financing data, our monthly debt service would be $2129 on this property, and therefore our annual debt service would be $25,548. For this property, our cash flow would be:

Cash Flow = NOI – Debt Services

= $37,169 - $25,548

= $11,621 (at the end of the year, we’d have $11,621 in our pocket from this property)

Hmmm, paying all cash will minimize my debt service (it would be $0) which would therefore maximize my Cash Flow. So, if paying all cash maximizes Cash Flow, and if you have the means to pay all cash for the property, why wouldn’t you?

Read on to find out…

Rates of Return

Cash flow isn’t the only important factor when it comes to analyzing the property. What is more important than cash flow is rate of return (also known as return on investment or ROI). Think of ROI as the amount of cash flow you receive relative to the amount of money the investment cost you (your “basis”). Mathematically, that would be:

ROI = Cash Flow / Investment Basis

Obviously, ROI is going to be higher when one or both of the following is true: Cash Flow is higher or Investment Basis is lower. You can see that from the equation above, but it should also be obvious when you think about it: if you can make a lot of money from a small investment, things are good!

What is a reasonable ROI, you might ask. Well, we already know our ROI from several other types of investing vehicles. For example, if you put your money in a high-interest savings account, your return (in this case, your interest rate) is about 5%. In mathematical terms, for every $100 you “invest” in your savings account, you get $4 in cash at the end of the year:

ROI = Cash Flow / Investment Basis

= $4 / $100

= 4%

We know that a savings account will have an ROI of about 4%. A CD will have an ROI of about 5%. And if you do a little research, you’ll find that investing in the stock market will have an average ROI of about 8-10%.

So, what would our ROI be on this property?

There are actually three ROI numbers that you should be concerned with; let’s explore each of these individually.

Capitalization Rate (Cap Rate)

Just like we have a key income value (NOI) that is completely independent of the details of the financing, we also have a key ROI value that is also independent of the buyer and the details of the financing. This value is known as the “Capitalization Rate,” or “Cap Rate.” Cap Rate is calculated as follows:

Cap Rate = NOI / Property Price

If there is a single number that is most important when doing a financial analysis of a rental property, the Cap Rate may be it. Because the Cap Rate is independent of the buyer and the financing, it is the most pure indication of the return a property will generate.

Here is the cap rate for our example property:

Cap Rate = NOI / Property Price

= $37,169 / $418,000

= 8.89%

Another way to think about Cap Rate is that it is the ROI you would receive if you paid all-cash for a property. Though, unlike cash flow, where the value is maximized by paying all cash, the Cap Rate is *not* necessarily the highest return you’ll get on a property. This is because Cap Rate assumes that the investment amount is the maximum (the full price of the property), and we learned above that the value of ROI calculations goes up as the investment amount goes down.

So, what is a good Cap Rate? It really depends on the area of the country you’re in, but in general, most areas see maximum Cap Rates in the 8-12% range. And just like the value of single family houses are based on the prices of comparable houses in the area, the value of larger investment properties are usually based on the Cap Rate of comparable investment properties in the area. So, if the average Cap Rate in your area is 10%, you should be looking for at least an 10% Cap Rate for your property (barring other more complex situations and considerations).

Cash-on-Cash Return (COC)

Just like there are multiple measures of income -- NOI (financing independent income) and Cash Flow (financing dependent income) -- there are also multiple measures of return. As we’ve discussed, the financing independent rate of return (the theoretical return on a fully paid property) is the Cap Rate, and of course there is the real (not theoretical) rate of return as well. This is called the Cash-on-Cash (COC) return, because it is directly related to the amount of cash you put down on the investment.

For example, we discussed that if you took $100 and put it in a savings account, you’d receive $4 per year, or 4% ROI. The COC is the equivalent measure of how much return you would make if you put that $100 into the property.

COC is calculated as follows:

COC = Cash Flow / Investment Basis

In our example, the annual Cash Flow was $11,621, and the investment of cash that we had to apply upfront on the property was $98,000 (this includes the downpayment, the improvements, and the closing costs). So, our COC is:

COC = Cash Flow / Investment Basis

= $11,621 / $98,000

= 11.86%

As this return is directly comparable to our savings account return, we can see that we are getting a better return than either a savings account or in a diversified stock portfolio (albeit with a lot more time and energy spent).

While it’s completely up to you on what rate of return you need to purchase a property, it should be obvious that if you’re getting less than a 10% return on a property, it’s probably not worth your investment (you’d rather take that money and invest in the stock market where you can do a lot less work).

But, before you run off and make any final decisions based on COC, consider that the Cash Flow you make on a property isn’t the only thing that affects your bottom line…

Total ROI

In addition to Cash Flow, there are several other key financial considerations that affect a property’s performance. Specifically:

Tax Consequences (depending on your situation, you may gain or lose money to taxes)

Property Appreciation (you may not be able to predict this, but if you can)

Equity Accrued (remember that your tenants are paying off your property for you)

The difference between COC and Total ROI is that COC only considers the financial impact of Cash Flow on your return, while Total ROI considers all the factors that affect your bottom line. Total ROI is calculated as follows:

Total ROI = Total Return / Investment Basis,

where “Total Return” is made up of the components we discussed (Cash Flow, Equity Accrual, Appreciation, Taxes).

Let’s use the following for our Total Return calculation:

Let’s assume we would expect a 2% appreciation on the value of the property this year, based on the improvements that we would do upon purchase (2% appreciation is $8360)

We can calculate that the equity accrued in the first year of the mortgage is $3251

Let’s also assume that for the sake of this example that there are no tax breaks (or extra taxes due) by owning this property.

The Total Return of the property for this year would be:

We now have all the data to assess the value of this property, but keep in mind that our assessment is only for the first year of ownership of this property. In subsequent years, accrued annual equity will increase, expenses may rise (with inflation), rental rates may increase or decrease, depending on the market, your tax situation may change, and a host of other factors may contribute to the return on you investment either increasing or decreasing.

While you can’t predict the future, you should extend your analysis out a couple years, using trend data or demographic data that indicates the direction of the market, inflation, etc.

What Is The Return On My Real Estate Investment?

Purchase price, loan terms, appreciation rate, taxes, expenses and other factors must be considered when you evaluate a real estate investment. Use this calculator to help you determine your potential IRR (internal rate of return) on a property.

Purchase

Purchase price ($)

Market Value (if different from Purchase price) ($)

Cash invested ($)

Depreciable value: (%)

Debt

"Interest-Only" Loan? (Y/N)

Loan amount (may include estimated Rehab) ($)

Interest rate: (%)

Term: (years)

Closing costs ($)

Income

Gross rental income ($)

Income frequency

Annual rent increases: (%)

Occupancy Rate

Expenses

Annual property tax ($)

Annual insurance ($)

Annual maintenance ($)

Annual HOA ($)

Annual increase in expenses: (%)

Other Information

Duration of analysis: (years)

Realtor fees upon future sale: (%)

Annual appreciation rate: (%)

Marginal tax bracket: (%)

Long-term capital gains bracket: (%)

Real Estate Investment Evaluation is Both Quantitative and Qualitative

I was taking a look at a potential investment the other day. It was a sprawling four unit multi-family property that was being occupied in its entirety the owner, who had been there for thirty years. The owner was an eclectic academic and there was every manner of bric-a-brac and antique scattered throughout the place. The place wasn’t sub-divided properly. Carpet needed to be replaced and floors repaired. The shifting foundation had bulged the floor in places, and had created large cracks that ran up and down various walls.

I toured the place with some friends of mine – a couple that was interested in getting into real estate. They wrote the place off from the moment they walked in the door. But when I saw those bulges and cracks I saw one thing: money. Foundation problems scare off most investors, which decreases competition and can soften up pricing.

But how to evaluate a deal like this? Or any deal, for that matter? Personally, I break the considerations down into two categories:

• Quantitative: How do I expect the property to perform as an investment? For this part I can whip out my calculator, or my spreadsheet, or my evaluation software and run some numbers.

• Qualitative: I have to ask myself “can I pull it off?” If you’re like the vast majority of real estate investors, then you’re a part-timer. That means you’re going to have to tackle this project on top of your “day job” and manage it afterwards. This part of the analysis will take some soul searching; a calculator isn’t going to help you here.

Quantitative - Running the Numbers Using Cap Rate

Personally, I tend to look at three key figures when I’m considering an investment. Cap rate, is the first of these tools.

Cap rate is simply the annual net income divided by the price of the property. For years investors have been using the “1% rule” which simply states that the monthly rental income for a property should be roughly 1% of the price that you pay for the property. Some markets have moved away from this ratio due to rocketing property values, but in others you can still find properties that fit the 1% rule. Something that you should keep in mind, though, is that the 1% rule of thumb is a fair indicator of whether or not the property is going to generate enough cashflow on an annual basis to cover mortgage payments plus expenses. There, of course, are a lot of variables that go into this (from taxes, to interest rates to the percent down payment that you pay) but it’s a starting point.

Cash Flow as a Quantitative Evaluation Tool

The only reason you care about cap rate is that you’re really trying for an easy proxy for what kind of cashflow the investment is going to generate. In investing cash is king – ignore this calculation at your peril.

Estimating cashflow entails plotting out the major expected cash outflows (taxes, principal, interest, expenses, vacancies, fees, repairs) and comparing it with the income that the property produces. You can do this either via a spreadsheet or using a real estate evaluation software package.

Rate of Return as a Quantitative Real Estate Investment Analysis Tool

Cashflow, in turn, will allow you to calculate the property’s expected rate of return (ROR). Rate of return is a measure of profitability; it measures the cash that a project will generate vs. the cash that you have to put into the project.

You’ll need a spreadsheet or a real estate evaluation software to calculate this ratio. I think it’s highly useful because it allows me to compare the return I’m expecting for the investment vs. the return I would reasonably expect for other, dissimilar investments. For example: if I ran the numbers for the property I described at the beginning of this article and it kicked back to me a rate of return of 8% I’d surely pass.

I can expect to get 8% investing on the stock market (lower risk, and a whole lot less effort). For the risk and effort I’d have to put into this project I’d expect a rate of return well north of 20%.

Qualitative - Can You Get the Project Done?

As I mentioned above, your calculator won’t help here. This is when you need to take a look in the mirror and think about how much time and effort you’re going to be able to devote to the project.

Again, let’s look at the project I talked about at the start of this article. Let’s say you’re comparing it against a similar opportunity; another multi-family in the same neighborhood but which requires less work. You’d take that opportunity over the fixer-upper unless the second one offered a considerably higher rate of return. But how much higher?

To starting investors I always offer the same advice: In this area err on the side of caution. A project that you can get done is infinitely better than one that has you burned out by the time you’re halfway through it. Find something in your comfort range that offers some decent numbers, get it done, then move on to a more challenging (and hopefully more profitable) project the next time around.

Conclusion:

Analysis is part art, part science. Take a look at the other topics in this section for more ideas on evaluating investments.