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Five tips for investing in rental property

Local real estate has proven to be an effective long-term wealth creator. Could stepping up now and getting into the rental property market be the right choice? Here are five tips to help ensure it's a profitable venture.

1. Understand why you're buying

There are three main reasons people invest in rental property: owning property as an investment, generating a source of income, and speculating for a quick win.

If you're a speculator, timing is everything. Catch the market in an upswing and you’ll likely make money. But stretch your finances to buy in as the market peaks and you could lose. If your timing is off and you want out, you may not be able to sell quickly unlike stocks or bonds. It may take time and the right conditions to get a fair price.

On the other hand, being an investor can be a smarter way to benefit from owning real estate. Because you're in it for the long haul, you can take the time to do the research, find the right property in a prime neighbourhood, and generate income and capital appreciation over time.

If you sell at a profit, your rental property isn't like your own home. Capital gains on this investment will be taxable like many other investments.

2. Be financially ready to get in…and stay in

Buying a rental property isn't like shopping for a principal residence. Rental properties with one to four units require a minimum down payment of 20% to qualify for a CMHC insured mortgage. Because rental homes are usually perceived as riskier by lenders, don't be surprised to encounter higher borrowing rates and stricter qualification rules. Don't forget to add the usual expenses related to property purchase like appraisal costs and legal fees.

Before you get into the market, ensure you have the finances to stay there. Will you be able to withstand an unexpected major repair bill, interest rate increases, or strata levies? Ideally you’ll have resources set aside in advance to ride out any bumps so you're not forced out of your investment prematurely, perhaps at a loss.

How Property Taxes Measure Up

If you're looking outside your own municipality for a rental home, don't assume property taxes will be the same as what you're paying now. Some communities add extra fees for services like water, sewer or garbage pickup. These costs of ownership don't always correspond to house values. For example, New Westminster residents paid nearly the same in 2016 as homeowners in Richmond, despite lower house prices.

How Property Taxes Measure Up
AreaHouse ValueProperty Taxes / Charges*
West Vancouver $2,758,473 $9,944
Whistler $1,496,915 $7,374
Vancouver $1,854,426 $7,015
North Vancouver (District) $1,281,302 $6,417
Richmond $1,160,068 $5,750
New Westminster $829,483 $5,796
Burnaby $1,216,329 $6,085
Delta $703,975 $4,734
Squamish $580,501 $4,942
Surrey $733,407 $4,529
Abbotsford $428,986 $3,943
*taxes and charges on a representative house.

Source: Local Government Tax Rates and Assessments 2016, Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, Province of BC

3. Ensure positive cash flow

Once you have an idea of what you can afford to buy, it's time to determine what income your rental property can produce.

Local market conditions will largely dictate how much rent you can charge. In desirable areas like Metro Vancouver, the potential for regular rent increases gives your income a good chance of keeping up with inflation. Areas like Vancouver, Richmond and the North Shore have traditionally seen low vacancy rates which makes these areas some of the tightest rental markets in the province.

For each property you consider, calculate your expected cash flow. Start with the projected annual rental income, then deduct your expenses including borrowing costs, maintenance, property taxes and insurance. If you plan to cover utilities as part of the rent, add those too. In the end you're looking for positive cash flow and a sufficient return relative to other investment options.

The good news is expenses you incur in renting out the property are generally deductible against your rental income. And if you have a deficit (your expenses exceed your revenues), you can apply that loss against other income you have to reduce your overall tax bill.

4. Determine how hands-on you want to be

Late rent, loud tenants, paperwork. At one time or another, they're all part of a landlord's life. How willing, or able, are you to take on these responsibilities?

Hiring a property manager is an alternative to overseeing the property yourself, but their fees will cut into your profits. Before jumping into rental real estate think about how much your time and “sweat equity” are worth. You want to earn enough to make the extra effort worth your while.

5. Do your research to find a profitable rental property

When shopping for a rental home, here's what to focus on to give you the best chance of finding and owning a profitable investment.

First look at economic factors. Is the community you're considering adding people and jobs? A neighbourhood that's on the rise has a better chance of commanding higher rents and seeing property values increase. How is the crime rate? Remember, you're not necessarily looking for the cheapest property. That can mean less rent and indicate the area is on the decline.

Next, take stock of infrastructure that would make the area attractive to renters. Easy access to transit, schools, shopping and recreation will make a difference. Certain neighbourhoods may have unique issues that warrant attention. For example, a university nearby could translate into a high concentration of student renters are in the area. You may have trouble keeping your property occupied year-around.

If you're planning to manage the property yourself, can you get to it easily? How long will it take to drive there during rush hour or in winter snow to deal with an emergency?

Even if the physical condition of a property you're evaluating is less than ideal, with a few updates you can enhance a home's appeal and rent cost-effectively. Be open to making more significant changes that can pay off in the long run. You'll typically earn more total rental income from a single-family home that's been split into independent living spaces, like a bungalow with a main floor and basement suite rented separately.

The REIT alternative.

Want to participate in the real estate market without the hassle of direct ownership? Consider a Real Estate Investment Trust or REIT*.

REITs are companies that own or operate a variety of real estate assets, from shopping malls and office buildings to apartments and industrial properties. They offer professional management and diversification. REIT units are easy to buy and sell on the stock market. Importantly for many income investors, REITs deliver a regular payout and sport relatively high yields compared to the broader equity market, term deposits (GICs) or government bonds.

If you're thinking about REITs as an income alternative, make sure they fit your goals and risk tolerance as a part of a balanced investment portfolio.

In many ways putting your money to work in real estate is similar to the other invest opportunities. To be successful you need to do your research, set an appropriate investment horizon, determine how much risk you're willing to take, and understand the costs involved.

View real estate – your rental property and principal residence – as a separate asset class. Ensure you're comfortable with how much of your net worth it represents. Put in place enough resources ahead of time to manage the ups and downs. While investing in a mutual fund requires little attention, owning a rental property can mean hard work. But that effort can pay off smartly.

If you're considering a rental property, preparation and planning are the keys to success. Your BlueShore Financial advisor can guide you through the important questions to ask and help you decide if rental real estate is right for you.
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If you would like to contact one of our expert advisors, you can visit a branch near you, call us at 604.982.8000 or 1.888.713.6728, or use our secure contact form.

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Mutual funds and other securities are offered through Credential Securities, a division of Credential Qtrade Securities Inc. Credential Securities is a registered mark owned by Aviso Wealth Inc.

Commissions, trailing commissions, management fees and expenses all may be associated with mutual fund investments. Please read the prospectus before investing. Unless otherwise stated, mutual fund securities and cash balances are not insured nor guaranteed, their values change frequently and past performance may not be repeated.

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