Is It a Good Time to Invest in Real Estate? Insights for 2024

If you're wondering whether 2024 is the year you should invest in real estate, this in-depth article is a must-read. It examines key factors like cash flow, location, leverage, and market risks you need to consider. We'll guide you through weighing the potential upsides and downsides of real estate investing in today's economic climate.

By
Nichole Stohler
|
Last Updated
May 21, 2024
Is It a Good Time to Invest in Real Estate? Insights for 2024

Mortgage rates are higher than they've been in years, and housing prices have increased significantly, which may have you questioning if it is a good time to invest in real estate. Trying to perfectly time the market is often an impossible task, and simply waiting for conditions to somehow be "better" is not a profitable strategy, either.

Instead of getting caught up in the never-ending debate over whether this particular year is the optimal moment for real estate, you should evaluate whether a potential property investment meets your specific criteria. Real estate investing is about making property-specific decisions based on several factors that ultimately determine your long-term profit potential.

The real estate market is extremely diverse — what may seem overheated in one area could present amazing bargains in another. Major city rental prices could be through the roof, while surrounding smaller markets offer great deals.

Although there isn't a one-size-fits-all answer about the current real estate environment, taking a targeted approach and analyzing prospective properties with your specific financial goals and parameters is how you can find wise investments despite broader market conditions.

What to look for in a good rental property investment

How do you determine if real estate is a good investment? There are key components that indicate the potential for profitability, stability, and manageable risk with any investment property. Here’s what a real estate investor should look for in every property:

Positive cash flow

Does the rental property investment generate more income than it incurs in expenses like mortgage payments, maintenance, taxes, and fees? If so, it's a solid investment because it provides a steady, positive cash flow, even if interest rates remain high or the home costs more than it did a few years ago.

Consider a $250,000 two-bedroom home you're looking to purchase in a growing neighborhood. After a 20% down payment and mortgage, your total monthly expenses are around $1,650. If you can rent this investment property for $2,000 per month, you'll have a positive monthly cash flow of $350 after expenses.

But, let's say the rental market only allows charging $1,400 per month. Then, you'll be operating at a $250 monthly deficit, making it an unfavorable option from a cash flow perspective.

Location demand and appreciation potential

It's not just about cash flow — the location of a rental property matters, too. For an investment to be sound, it should be profitable on paper and reside in an area with strong rental demand and growth potential.

Key attributes to consider in a promising housing market include:

  • A growing job market: Areas with growing employment opportunities attract and retain tenants.
  • Quality schools: Good schools increase property desirability for families.
  • Accessibility: Convenient transportation links are a high priority for most renters.
  • Future growth: Evaluate the long-term appreciation potential of the area. Look for signs of healthy economic activity such as new developments, revitalization projects, or proximity to major employers, which can lead to an increase in property values as demand in the area grows.

The advantages of real estate investing

Despite the current state of the economy, there are advantages that make real estate a good investment.

Passive income and wealth creation

One of the biggest draws of real estate investing is the ability to generate passive income streams and build wealth over time. Rental properties that produce positive cash flow after accounting for expenses provide investors with regular income without the need for active daily management.

Historically, real estate has proven to be an excellent path for wealth accumulation, appreciating in value over the long term. This appreciation contributes significantly to equity growth. In fact, housing wealth has increased by an average of 8.3% over the past 10 years. This growth in equity creates wealth that investors can access through selling or refinancing their properties, offering both stability and financial reward.

Tax benefits

Real estate investment offers unique tax benefits that can significantly enhance returns:

  • Deductions on operating expenses: Investors can reduce their taxable income by deducting the costs associated with owning and managing rental properties. This includes expenses like mortgage interest, property taxes, maintenance costs, and management fees, effectively lowering the overall tax burden.
  • Depreciation deductions: Despite a property potentially increasing in value over time, investors can take advantage of depreciation deductions. This allows for deducting a portion of the property’s cost annually, which is calculated based on the theoretical decline in property value.
  • Capital gains tax benefits: When selling a property held for more than a year, investors may be eligible for reduced long-term capital gains tax rates, which are typically lower than regular income tax rates.
  • 1031 Exchange: This strategy permits investors to defer paying capital gains taxes by reinvesting the proceeds from a sale into another property. 1031 Exchanges are a powerful tax tool for preserving capital and continuing to grow one's real estate portfolio without immediate tax liability.

Leverage

Real estate investing effectively utilizes leverage through mortgage financing. This makes the right investment properties a strong investment for high returns. Here's how it works:

  • Initial investment: Investors typically need to put down only 20-25% of the property’s total cost. They can then finance the remainder, allowing the purchase of properties without the need for full upfront payment.
  • Control significant assets: With just a fraction of the total cost invested upfront, investors can control a significant asset. This is a key benefit of using leverage in real estate.
  • Amplified gains: As the property appreciates in value, the gains are amplified not just based on the cash initially invested but on the total value of the property.

Example of leverage in action:

  • Initial investment: Suppose you put a 25% down payment on a $400,000 property, which amounts to $100,000.
  • Property appreciation: The property appreciates by 20%, increasing its value to $480,000.
  • Equity gain: The increase in value results in an $80,000 gain in equity.
  • Return on investment: This represents an 80% return on your initial cash investment of $100,000, demonstrating how leverage magnifies financial outcomes.

Without the use of leverage, the return on the same investment would be significantly lower, showcasing the power of financing in real estate.

Diversification

Adding real estate to an investment portfolio allows investors to diversify their assets beyond just stocks and bonds. Real estate tends to have investment cycles that differ from other asset classes, providing valuable portfolio diversification. This can help reduce overall risk and volatility while potentially smoothing out returns over market cycles.

Inflation hedge

Real estate serves as a hedge against inflation, offering unique advantages not typically found in other investment types. Here’s how investment properties protect and potentially enhance your investment in an inflationary environment:

  • Adjustable rental rates: As the cost of living increases, reflected by the current inflation rate of 3.1%, investors have justification for increasing rental rates by this percentage or more. This helps make sure that rental income keeps pace with or exceeds inflation, maintaining or enhancing the property's income yield over time.
  • Fixed mortgage payments: Properties financed with fixed-rate mortgages benefit from consistent monthly payments. As rental rates rise in response to inflation, the spread between income and costs widens, improving the property's cash flow.
  • Preservation of purchasing power: Real estate is a tangible asset that can enhance an investor's purchasing power by outperforming the inflation rate. This is different than cash or paper assets, which may lose value in real terms under the same economic conditions.

Control

Few investments allow you direct control over an asset like real estate. Investors have the autonomy to enhance property value and income through areas like:

  • Improvements: Upgrading or renovating properties to increase their market value and attract higher rents.
  • Strategic marketing: Effectively marketing properties to reduce vacancy rates and attract quality tenants.
  • Tenant management: Managing tenant relations to ensure steady rental income and reduce turnover.
  • Rental strategies: Adapting rental approaches, such as shifting from long-term to short-term rentals (e.g., vacation rentals), depending on market demand and profitability.
  • Property use changes: Exploring different uses for a property, such as converting a residential building into a commercial space, subject to zoning laws and regulatory approvals.

This hands-on approach allows investors to optimize performance and adapt to changing market conditions, directly impacting and maximizing returns.

The disadvantages of real estate investing

Investing in real estate does not come without risks. Before buying a rental property, you should be aware of certain factors.

Liquidity

Real estate is inherently less liquid than other investment classes like stocks, which you can easily sell on exchanges. Selling real estate involves a longer process of marketing, finding qualified buyers, and completing transactions, which can take several months, especially in slower markets.

This illiquidity limits your ability to rapidly access capital or equity, tying up funds until the property sells. Significant transaction costs, such as repair expenses, realtor commissions, and closing fees, can also hurt your returns.

To combat these factors, most investors opt for a long-term buy-and-hold strategy for their real estate investments.

Capital intensive

Real estate is a capital-intensive asset class that requires significant upfront and ongoing investments. Even turnkey properties often require additional funds to prepare for renters, including cleaning and minor repairs.

Here are the typical initial costs:

  • Down payments: Generally 20-25% of the purchase price.
  • Closing costs: Usually between 3-6% of the purchase price.
  • Renovation/repair budgets: Necessary for fixer upper properties to make sure they're market-ready.

Beyond acquisition, you'll also have recurring expenses. Ongoing maintenance needs and periodic large capital expenditures like HVAC upgrades and appliance replacement can impact monthly cash flows. You'll need adequate financial reserves to manage these costs without financial strain.

Market risk

Real estate doesn't exist in a vacuum — broader market forces outside of an investor's control influence property values and rental incomes. These external factors create market risks such as:

  • Economic conditions: Recessions, job market volatility, and changes in consumer confidence can dampen real estate demand and pricing power. Downturns reduce the pool of qualified tenants and buyers.
  • Interest rates: Rising interest rates increase mortgage costs, which impact affordability and real estate pricing. Higher rates also create competition for investment dollars flowing into other asset classes.
  • Local dynamics: Oversupply from overbuilding, population shifts, crime rates, and neighborhood changes can adversely impact specific real estate markets regardless of national trends.
  • Public policy: New rental regulations, property taxes, zoning laws, and other real estate policies at the municipal level impact operating costs and investment returns.

You can reduce some of these risks with research and due diligence, but there may be times when you need to ride out the cyclical nature of housing markets. Failing to account for risk can leave investors struggling with vacancies, stagnant values, eroding cash flows, and selling at a bad time.

Management burden

While you can use real estate investing platforms for passive investment, directly owning properties often involves time and effort. Managing properties can be overwhelming, especially for investors who own multiple properties or those balancing another job. You should pay special attention to the following areas:

  • Tenant management: Screening applicants, collecting rent, handling complaints, and dealing with evictions when needed.
  • Property maintenance: Regularly inspecting and coordinating repairs/upkeep and handling emergencies like plumbing issues.
  • Administrative tasks: Maintaining records, reviewing financials, verifying regulatory/legal compliance, managing taxes and insurance.

Some investors hire professional property management companies to handle day-to-day operations, but this comes at a cost that reduces their return on investment.

Is now a good time to invest in real estate?

Real estate investing requires the evaluation of multiple factors to maximize returns and mitigate risks. While you should keep certain key considerations in mind, success ultimately depends on an investor's ability to conduct due diligence, maintain a long-term perspective, and adapt to evolving market dynamics.

The real estate market is ever-changing, presenting challenges and opportunities along the way. A commitment to continuous learning and strategic decision-making is instrumental. Gaining the benefits of real estate investments, like steady income and tax advantages, requires a willingness to manage and adapt.

Keeping these fundamental principles at the top of your mind can serve as a guide, helping to reduce risks while capitalizing on opportunities as they arise.

Is this a good time to invest in real estate? FAQs

What age is too late to invest in real estate?

It's never too late to invest in real estate! Investors of any age can benefit, provided they carefully evaluate their financial situation and investment goals.

Should I wait to buy a house until the market crashes?

Trying to time the market can be tricky. Instead, focus on buying when you're financially ready and when the property meets your needs.

Should you invest in real estate during a recession?

Investing in real estate during a recession can offer opportunities, such as lower prices and less competition, but it's important to assess your financial stability and market conditions carefully.

Important Note: This post is for informational and educational purposes only. It should not be taken as legal, accounting, or tax advice, nor should it be used as a substitute for such services. Always consult your own legal, accounting, or tax counsel before taking any action based on this information.

Nichole Stohler

Nichole co-founded Gateway Private Equity Group, with a history of investments in single-family and multi-family properties, and now a specialization in hotel real estate investments. She is also the creator of NicsGuide.com, a blog dedicated to real estate investing.

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