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Updated on Thursday, October 10, 2019
They say real estate is all about “location, location, location.” That’s especially true when it comes to buying a rental. Where you choose to buy an out-of-state investment property can have a significant impact on your return on investment.
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For example, in a state like New York, where the median mortgage exceeds the median rent by nearly $250, buying a property to rent out doesn’t make much financial sense. If you consider buying rental property in a different state, such as North Carolina where rents in the city of Charlotte top mortgages by $84 per month, you’ll net a profit instead of a loss every month your tenant pays rent.
Before you start the interstate home search process, you should know the risks and rewards of out-of-state investment properties.
Potential rewards of buying an out-of-state investment property
Very often, the primary reason to buy an out-of-state investment property is rental properties where you live are too expensive. In some cases, you may decide to hold onto an existing home when moving to another state. There are some other more strategic reasons that we’ll cover next.
Diversify your real estate assets
Real estate markets rise and fall. During the housing boom of 2003 to 2007, many of the “sand” states, such as California, Arizona, Florida and Nevada, experienced home price appreciation at rates well above historic levels.
Investors learned a painful lesson in the danger of not diversifying when the housing markets in those states crashed during the housing crisis. Investors who had investment real estate concentrated only in these states lost big, while those who spread their portfolios out to other states fared better.
Purchase future vacation or retirement residences
If prices and rents are competitive in a state you’ve always wanted to vacation in, you may want to purchase the property first as a rental and allow tenants to build some equity for you while you generate income. After a few years, you may decide you want to spend a few months a year vacationing in the home and rent it out seasonally with a rental plan from a service such as Airbnb or VRBO.
Alternatively, you may live in a cold-weather state, such as Massachusetts, and want to retire to the warm winters of Arizona. You could put the wheels in motion on your retirement plans by buying a rental property there first that has the amenities you would want in a home for retirement.
Once you’ve pocketed some rental income and equity from renters, you can pack up for the cross-country move into the rental, throw out the snow shovel and enjoy wearing shorts instead of parkas during the holiday season.
Buy where the laws suit your rental strategy
Short-term rentals have become very popular for real estate investors, but they face legal challenges in some places. For example, New York City subways are covered with signs warning riders to avoid short-term rentals.
If you are interested in renting out your investment property through a service like Airbnb, buying in a state that has more flexible laws about short-term tenants is your best bet.
Net more income monthly with lower property taxes
According to a recent LendingTree study, homeowners in San Jose, California, paid on average $9,626 in property taxes each year. In Salt Lake City, homeowners pay only $2,765 per year — which means you’d have to get an additional $567 per month in rent in California just to cover the property tax expense before you could make any profit.
Risks of buying an out-of-state investment property
Like any investment, there are risks associated with buying out-of-state rental properties. We’ll discuss those next.
Long-distance property management problems
If you have a rental in the city you live in, you can deal with an unexpected tenant move-out or a late-night plumbing problem by driving over to the property and taking care of the issue yourself. But you’ll need to make some decisions about how to manage an out-of-state rental.
If you hire a property management company, they’ll take 8% to 12% of your monthly rent as a fee, eating into your monthly rent profit. If you self-manage, you’ll need to make sure you build relationships with local handymen, roofers, plumbers and pest control professionals so you have their numbers handy if a tenant emergency comes up.
State laws that restrict how you rent your property
Short-term rentals, such as Airbnb, may be a great way to generate a higher monthly income than you would get with a 12-month lease, but some cities and neighborhoods aren’t too keen on having a lot of different people coming and going through a nearby house. If the laws prohibit short-term rentals in an area you’re interested in, you’ll have to crunch the numbers to see if market rents for long-term leases provide you with a good return on your rental investment.
What to look for when considering an out-of-state investment property
When you’re buying in another state, take extra precautions to make sure you understand everything about the local housing market, building standards and how the local economy is doing before you start making offers. The last thing you want to do is end up with an out-of-state money pit.
Get a thorough home inspection
No matter how nice the home may look in pictures or at an open house, there can always be problems beyond the smell of new paint and carpet. Building standards and practices may vary from state to state and city to city, and you don’t want to be caught by surprise because you didn’t know polybutylene pipes behind the walls of homes built in Tucson, Arizona, have been known to burst without warning.
A good local home inspector will also help you understand whether a property has been built and maintained according to local building standards and identify any issues, such as an unpermitted room addition, that could cause you trouble with local housing inspectors down the road.
Interview several property management companies
Depending on the town, you may find very high-tech, organized property management shops with decades of experience or small mom-and-pop shops that offer real estate property management services. Either way, you want to know what they do for their fee. The graphic below provides a list of questions you should ask to make sure the property manager is a good fit for your out-of-state rental.
- How many rental units do you manage? Ideally, you want a manager who has between 200 and 600 rental units. This indicates that the management company has a solid enough client base to understand the local market but not so extensive that they won’t be able to handle managing yours.
- What experience does your company owner have managing rentals? When the long-distance plumbing hits the fan you don’t want to be dealing with a company that’s never managed rentals. There is no college of rental property management, and you don’t want to have your rental managed by someone who’s still learning the ropes.
- Are you actively investing in real estate in your market? If you are buying in a housing market you’ve never purchased in, you may want to have a property manager who understands the nuances of the local rental market. This is especially important intel when you’re dealing with an out-of-state investment property in a neighborhood that may be going through changes that only an experienced local investor would know about.
- How do you collect rent? In order to track cash-flow of a rental property, you should be able to easily track payments. The best method is through an online payment system that gives you real-time information about any late payments. If you took out a mortgage to purchase the rental property, you want to know as early as possible if a tenant is going to miss rent, so you can move money to cover the mortgage payment.
- What is your average vacancy time on rentals? The correct answer should be two to four weeks. An experienced property management company should have the marketing and rental pricing know-how to make sure your property is not vacant for more than a month. It’s bad enough having a rental vacant, but when it’s out-of-state, you want to know the company managing the property has a track record of getting renters quickly to minimize the expenses you incur when a rental is without a renter.On the other hand, a property manager that rents out your place in less than two weeks may be pricing it too low.
- How do you handle maintenance and repairs? It’s not uncommon for a property manager to have “preferred” vendors to help with the inevitable issues that come up with maintaining and repairing a rental. You’ll want to get a list of these preferred providers and keep track of their expenses.Also be sure to put a cap on the cost of repairs that can be done without your authorization. You should trust the company to handle a $100 fee, but you may want to cap them on anything more than $200 so you can have a chance to see if you need a second opinion with a different vendor.
Track property tax trends in the neighborhood
Property taxes are a fixed expense you can’t get around paying, so be sure to track the last five years of property taxes to see what the average increase has been. If you’re seeing an acceleration in the tax rate, figure that into your return-on-investment analysis, so you don’t end up in a situation where your monthly expenses are more than the rent you’re taking in.
Make sure you understand the rental market in the area
Rental markets ebb and flow as new homes are built, new employers set up shop nearby or new schools are built in the area. A good property manager or experienced real estate agent should be able to give you a good idea of where the market is headed with a comparable rental analysis.
When you bought your first home, you may have gotten a comparable market analysis (CMA), which analyzes what homes are selling for in the area you’re thinking of buying. A comparable rental analysis looks at rentals nearby to give you an idea of what your monthly income is going to be.
If you finance the property with a mortgage, you’ll likely need a rental analysis form 1007, which is an additional report in a residential home appraisal that provides an opinion of the market rent for the home you’re buying. In some cases, the appraiser’s projected market rent can be used to help you qualify for the new mortgage, even if you don’t have a lease on the property you’re buying.
Special mortgage considerations for out-of-state investment properties
If you’ve been buying investment property in your hometown, you already know financing a rental property comes with higher down payments and interest rates. There are a few more factors to consider.
Are transfer taxes due and who pays them?
Depending on what state you are buying property, transfer taxes may be charged for you to take ownership of the property you are buying. Unlike property taxes, these are a set lump sum percentage of your sales price, added to your closing costs.
Transfer taxes are often paid by the seller, but in some cases they may be payable when buying a home, adding to your total closing costs. It’s also good to at least know how much they are so they don’t end up being one of those hidden costs of selling a home. In places like New York City, that could mean an extra 1% to 2.625% of your sales price subtracted from your profit, in addition to real estate fees that usually run between 5% and 6%.
Are you buying in an attorney or escrow state?
Depending on where you purchase your rental property, you may need an attorney to handle your contract negotiations. That means higher costs than you’ll find in an escrow state, where an escrow offer can handle the signing usually at a much lower cost.
Are you buying in a community property state?
If you’re currently married or have a domestic partner, the community property laws could affect what happens to the property in the event of a divorce. Community property states require a split of equity down the middle, whereas the equity can be split up in negotiable amounts in a non-community-property state.
A little due diligence and research will help you avoid unpleasant surprises if you’re considering buying an out-of-state investment property. While many real estate companies offer “virtual tours” of homes, there’s nothing like an in-person tour to soak up the light, views, smells and feel of a home before you buy it.
If you can, budget enough time to take a trip to the state you’re considering buying in to inspect the top contenders before you start making offers on an out-of-state investment property.