I have been asked a number of times about the common traits of successful real estate investors, owners and operators. So I’ve given it a little thought and stolen a catch phrase from Stephen Covey and originated the following Seven Habits of Highly Successful Real Estate Investors. Whether you’re investing for wealth development, income, tax shelter or asset growth, these habits will hold true for you. At least give them a read and a thought or two. They can help and I hope they’ll help you.
From my experience I believe that the following seven principles are consistently understood and implemented by successful investors. Let’s review what they are and why they’re important.
1. Reduce the risk of negative cash flow by not overleveraging. When you over borrow for a piece of real estate the property must earn enough money to pay its traditional operating expenses and debt service. Unless you are able to buy the property at significantly below its value, when you over-leverage you will put the property at a huge disadvantage that will typically result in significant negative cash flow. I can’t speak for all investors, but I don’t like negative cash flow!
2. Reduce the risk of property/ casualty losses or related law suits by purchasing adequate coverage from a reputable insurance firm. Sometimes an owner may think that insurance is an unnecessary expense, after all, they never plan to use it. So they get the cheapest coverage they can find. The biggest reason some policies are cheap is because they don’t cover much. This looks good until the disaster occurs and then you are financially crippled. Better to get adequate coverage and not worry about it. It says in the Good Book that if you are prepared you shall not fear. Proper insurance makes for proper preparation.
3. Reduce the risk of financial devastation caused by major repairs or upgrades by initiating an inexpensive preventative maintenance program. By keeping a property in decent operating condition, all components will last longer, upkeep will be minimal and revenue sustained. If you let a property deteriorate, you will have major capital expenses, loss of revenue from down rooms, apartments or units and a drop in value. Better to spend a little now than lose a boat-load tomorrow.
4. Reduce the risk of tenant problems by actually doing a credit and rental history check on applicants. Just because somebody is vertical and ventilating does not mean you should rent to them. There are lots of firms that will do the research for you (for a small fee) to tell you whether an applicant has a history of suing landlords, running on leases or not making payments. You cannot make good decisions without accurate information. Credit and rental checks give you the data you need.
5. Reduce the risk of personal financial ruin by using a properly formed and maintained legal entity to own the real estate. The business value of using an LLC, Corporation or Partnership to own real estate is well documented. While it may be easier to just “do it in your name”, that would will allow any financial or legal problems to follow you home from work and invade your personal assets, bank accounts and investments. Chances are that you will sleep better being a stockholder or interest holder than you would as a sole owner.
6. Reduce the risk of business failure by implementing an effective property management system. With a few simple protocols and practices you can take the headache out of property management. Simple timed activities will remarkably reduce the time, effort and frustration of being a property manager. Take the time to establish your program early on or you’ll be investing tons more time than you need to in the future.
7. Reduce the risk of tax problems by keeping accurate books and records and using a CPA at tax time. You cannot manage what you cannot measure. You cannot measure what you cannot monitor. You need accurate books and records if you expect to be successful long term. Without good financial records you will never be able to maximize your yield. Get them started and keep them up to date.
There they are, seven habits that are simple, sweet, straight to the point and sure to work. While virtually every property owner you will ever meet will agree with these principles, yet only a few will actually live by them. It will be easy to recognize the difference. Those that put these principles into play will smile a lot and visit the bank to make deposits. Those that don’t will frown more and need to visit the bank to get extensions or new loans. I know which one I’d rather be. Keep smiling. If we can help we’d be glad to.