# Category: real estate industry/economy

## The Single-Family Home as a Rental Property Investment — Using Regression to Estimate Value

Regression – no, it’s not what your family and friends accuse you of when you want to trade in the mini-van for a two-seater stick-shift convertible (well, maybe it is, but that’s a topic for a different article).

If you’re familiar with our RealData software, my online video courses, and my other blog posts here, then you know that I’m usually talking about income-producing property like multi-family, retail, office, or the like — seldom about single-family homes. And when we estimate the value of most income properties, we typically do so by looking at their income stream.

Recently, many investors (both big and small) have been buying up single-family homes to hold as rental properties, and that presents something of a conundrum: We still want to analyze cash flows and returns as any investor should, but when we think about the price we pay to acquire a home or the price we’ll get when we sell, our usual income-capitalization may not be the best approach.

Simply put, that’s because most single-family residences are bought and sold based on the price of comparable sales, not on their ability to produce rental income. Often, our comparable sales approach is informal and unscientific. The neighbor got \$250k, so I guess this house is worth the same. Or not.

Linear regression is a statistical technique we can use to approach this with more rigor. To put it into non-technical terms, it lets us look at a situation where we can take some facts that we know (dare we call them real data?) and use them to identify a trend. If a trend really does exist, that trend, in turn, allows us to predict the value of something otherwise unknown.

Let’s look at some examples. Five years ago my property taxes were \$1,000. Four years ago they were \$1,100. Three years ago, \$1,200. Two years ago, \$1,300 and last year \$1,400. Given this trend, what can we reasonably predict we’ll pay this year? Right. \$1,500.

How did we guess? We probably had a flashback to our junior high school algebra class (talk about regression!). In the graph paper of our mind, we plotted a perfectly straight line. The line was formed by a series of data points and it clearly suggested a trend.

Each data point on this graph represents two pieces of information, or “variables:” an independent variable (time) plotted along the horizontal x-axis and a dependent variable (the tax amount) plotted along the vertical or y-axis. The first data point, therefore, is a dot that appears where “5 yrs ago” and “\$1,000” intersect. The second point lands where “4 yrs ago” and “\$1,100” intersect and so on. The tax amount is the dependent variable because it changes as a function of time. In other words the tax bill depends on the year, not the other way around.

When we play connect-the-dots as in the graphic above (hence the name linear regression), we see that those dots form a perfectly straight line. If we extend that line beyond our known data points a bit, we can see that in the current year, assuming that the trend holds up, we could reasonably expect the taxes to be \$1,500. Of course, in real life our ducks don’t always line up so nicely in a row. When they look like the graphic below, we’ll probably need computer software to fit the best possible line to the series of points. Then we can use the resulting straight line to make our predictions.

There are numerous ways that we can use linear regression in real property analysis. We invite you to download a RealData® model to give the concept a spin. “Real estate value by linear regression” is a Microsoft Excel® workbook designed to help us estimate a property’s worth using the market data, or comparable sales, approach to valuation. This approach assumes that recent sales of properties that are nearby and are comparable to the subject provide the best indicators as to the value of the subject.

While we might sometimes use this model with other types of real estate, let’s assume for the sake of example that we want to estimate the value of a single-family residence. Although previously sold homes may be comparable they are unlikely to be identical, either to each other or to the subject being appraised. One may have more land; another may offer more interior space; a third may boast a better layout and so on.

As a rule such differences are generally reflected in the selling prices of the homes. Properties that are otherwise similar sell for more or less as a function of their distinguishing features. If we can identify some measure (index) of the appeal or amenities of the properties in a given neighborhood, then we may also be able to discern a pattern between that measure and the value of the properties — our trend line again. We can then use the pattern to predict the values of other properties in the same locale.

Our model will permit us to determine by regression analysis whether or not a linear relationship exists between selling price and some independent variable that we define. One possible technique is to use the property tax assessment as an index of value. Although assessments seldom reflect true market price, they often provide a good indication of relative value, so they’re worth a try. If the assessments and prices from a number of recent home sales in a neighborhood define a linear relationship, our model can measure the strength of that relationship and use it to estimate the worth of a home not yet sold.

After we open this model we can enter the address, an index and an adjusted selling price for as many as fifteen comparable sold properties. (Regarding the term “adjusted:” We may want to correct for price inflation whenever a sale is more than a few months old.) At the bottom (after #15), we’ll enter the address and the index amount of the subject property. The program will fill in the field for the number of comparables used and compute the subject property’s estimated selling price.

The results appear in a report and graph, in the section below.

Notice that the program will specify a correlation coefficient. This is a new bit of terminology we didn’t see in our simplified explanation above. This number is a statistical measurement of the reliability of the relationship between the index and the adjusted selling price. To put it another way, it’s a numerical way of expressing how straight our dots line up. A correlation of 1.00 is a perfect relationship, while zero indicates that we have completely random data. In most cases, we would like to see a correlation coefficient of at least 0.80 to believe that there is a strong enough relationship between the index and selling price to use that relationship as the basis of a prediction.

As an interesting sidebar, we can see how accurately this regression analysis would have predicted the values of the homes whose actual selling prices we know. That is because the program computes and displays the selling prices that the analysis would have predicted for each of the comparables. We also see the dollar and percentage differences between the projected and actual prices. This section provides a very graphic demonstration of the accuracy — or inaccuracy — of our model’s prediction.

We need to keep in mind that, as with most projections, the quality of our output is entirely dependent on the quality of our input. We certainly have to make appropriate choices for our comparables. Otherwise we can’t reasonably expect to achieve meaningful results. In addition, the kind of index we select must relate consistently to value. If we find tax assessments to be unreliable, we may want to try gross living area or experiment with a scoring system (X points for each bedroom, Y points for each bath, etc.). We may also want to consider trying for even greater accuracy in our predictions by advancing to what’s called “multiple linear regression,” a similar technique where we consider two or more independent variables as possible predictors of an outcome (i.e., a dependent variable).

A regression analysis like the one provided in this model can be very useful because of its ability to provide statistical support to what might otherwise be a subjective estimate of value. Property sellers and buyers can use it to support price negotiations; and agents can use it to enhance the effectiveness of their listing presentations. And of course, investors can estimate the initial cost and ultimate reversion value of a single-family home bought and held as a rental property. With a bit of imagination, linear regression can be used in many ways to poke and prod our analyses and projections. It’s name notwithstanding, it can take us a big step forward.

The information presented in this article represents the opinions of the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of RealData® Inc. The material contained in articles that appear on realdata.com is not intended to provide legal, tax or other professional advice or to substitute for proper professional advice and/or due diligence. We urge you to consult an attorney, CPA or other appropriate professional before taking any action in regard to matters discussed in any article or posting. The posting of any article and of any link back to the author and/or the author’s company does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation of the author’s products or services.

## Opportunity Zones = Defer or Avoid Capital Gains Tax

The end of the year compels many people to think about tax planning, which in turn prompts us to highlight a feature of the new tax law that could provide significant benefit to real estate investors. It has to do with what are called “Opportunity Zones.”

These zones are economically distressed, low-income communities, and according to the Wall Street Journal the zones encompass almost 9,000 census tracts with a population of nearly 35 million. A list of the zones can be downloaded from this IRS page

In a nutshell, the benefit to investors is that they can defer the capital gains on an existing investment until the end of 2026 by rolling those gains into an Opportunity Zone project. In addition, they can avoid capital gains on the new investments in the zone if they hold them for at least 10 years

Like a number of provisions in the Tax Cut and Jobs Act, not all of the details were in place when the law was passed, but the IRS did in fact release regulations about this on October 19, 2018. Apparently there are still some loose ends and the IRS in their FAQ says they will be “…providing further details, including additional legal guidance, on this new tax benefit” over the next few months.

Those who enjoy parsing the tax code can peruse the current version of the regulations.  You can find more readable summaries at National Real Estate Investor or here if you have an online subscription to the Wall Street Journal

A key takeaway from the Journal article is that this tax break appears to have been designed to give investors reasonable flexibility. For example, it cites that “…as long as 70% of a business’s tangible property is in a zone, the business doesn’t lose its ability to qualify for the tax break.” The regulations so far don’t seem to have a lot of hidden trap doors or “gotchas.”

It would appear that this tax break provides an opportunity for investors to free up capital that is sitting dormant in properties they’re reluctant to sell because of what would otherwise be a capital gains tax burden. Now investors should be able to benefit from at least one if not two  tax breaks, and at the same time do something positive for their communities.

What do you think? Are you likely to pursue a project in an Opportunity Zone?

— Frank Gallinelli

View a sample lesson from my video course,
“Introduction to Real Estate Investment Analysis”

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The information presented in this article represents the opinions of the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of RealData® Inc. The material contained in articles that appear on realdata.com is not intended to provide legal, tax or other professional advice or to substitute for proper professional advice and/or due diligence. We urge you to consult an attorney, CPA or other appropriate professional before taking any action in regard to matters discussed in any article or posting. The posting of any article and of any link back to the author and/or the author’s company does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation of the author’s products or services.

## Sharpening Your Pencil – Create Better Analyses With Published Real Estate Data

It’s tempting to rush through a property analysis by simply reviewing the broker’s sell sheet, plugging the data into your favorite software program and printing the results. You’re done, right?

Think again.

We’re not saying the seller isn’t providing accurate income and expense data, but is he or she giving you a complete picture of all the issues? Consider such questions as:

• What is an appropriate cap rate for the market in which the property is located; and more specifically, what’s the prevailing cap rate for the particular sector, such as multi-family or self-storage?
• What seems like a realistic assumption for revenue and expense growth over time?
• How have vacancy rates been trending for the area, and what might those trends say about future leases, renewals, and demand for space?

You’ll probably need to look beyond the owner’s statement to build your best property analysis and thus create your best chance at a successful investment. Thankfully, you can find a number of sources online to help you achieve accuracy, and along with it, some peace of mind.  You can find data on:

• Metropolitan and submarket area cap rates
• Average rents by market sector
• Vacancy rates
• Number of units available and sold
• Sales and rental comps
• Custom reports based on your subject property

The following are some of the best-known sources of data:

## Zillow

https://www.zillow.com/research/data/

You’re probably already familiar with this site, at least in regard to its home value estimates. The focus here is residential but investors can benefit from their extensive rental information, which is provided by county, metro area, city, zip code, and even neighborhood.  You download data in Excel format. We found their series of 5 to 7 years of data particularly useful for evaluating rental trends.

You can also learn about their methodology here.

## Reis

https://www.reis.com/

Reis has been a source of commercial real estate data for nearly four decades, and say they are a “…source for property and market intelligence, including vacancy rates, rent levels, cap rates, new construction, rent comparables, sales comparables, valuation estimates, and capital market trends across eight major commercial real estate sectors.

You can get more info about their sales comps and rent comps services, including sample reports. There is also a link on those pages to request a free report.

## Costar

http://www.costar.com

Really big data commercial real estate here, for owners, brokers, appraisers, lenders, even institutional investors

They say you can search up to 1 million sales records, across all property types at http://www.costar.com/products/costar-comps; or access property-level data, including vacancy, rents, sales comps for multifamily, office, industrial, or retail property at http://www.costar.com/products/costar-market-analytics.

## Compstak

https://compstak.com/enterprise

Compstak serves up office, retail and industrial lease data for “leading institutional investors, lenders, and owners across the US and UK.”  Subscribe to their entire database or, if you are broker, appraiser or researcher, trade your own data for theirs and gain access to Compstak data for free.

## Real Capital Analytics

https://www.rcanalytics.com/solutions-for/investors-owners/

From macro trends to extensive data on individual properties, Real Capital Analytics offers data on “\$18 trillion of sales, recapitalizations and financings.”  Contact them for pricing.

## Redfin

https://www.redfin.com/blog/data-center

Redfin is a residential brokerage firm but offers a wide variety of property sales and trend data.  Of particular note is their annual report of the “Hottest Neighborhoods in the US.”

While you may not be an investor in single family homes, consider that the market for your commercial property is linked to the health of the local residential market.

## LoopNet

http://www.loopnet.com/salescomps/

Gain access to their database of 1.6 million sales listings.  Cost is \$175 per month.  They also offer, at no charge, sales and lease trends for hundreds of localities across the US.  See http://www.loopnet.com/markettrends/

What data sources do you use? Share your thoughts by commenting below.

## New Edition of Frank Gallinelli’s “What Every Real Estate Investor Needs to Know..”

Frank Gallinelli’s popular book, “What Every Real Estate Investor Needs to Know about Cash Flow…” is now available in a new third edition. Frank has added detailed case studies while maintaining the essentials that have made his book a staple among investors. The new cases show how to evaluate an apartment building, a mixed-use, and a triple-net leased property — not just running the numbers, but also looking beyond the surface data to see how you might discern what’s really going on with a potential investment.

See the new edition at Amazon here.

McGraw-Hill first published Frank’s book in 2003 and has since sold over 100,000 copies. For more than a decade it has been a top title in the real estate section at Amazon.

For those seeking reviews from readers, look to the 100+ reviews of the second edition at Amazon, which collectively rate the book at 4.6 out of 5 stars.

And finally, a visual clue: Second edition has a blue cover, new third edition has a green cover.

## Crowdfunding Real Estate Investments

Pooling of resources, passing the hat — call it what you will, but collaborative underwriting has probably been around for a couple of centuries. Never one to leave well enough alone, the internet has again risen to the role of game-changer, extending a global reach to individuals and companies looking for backers.

You have probably heard of the crowdfunder Kickstarter, which is a popular donation-based site, aimed primarily at creative projects. Backers who donate to such projects don’t become shareholders or expect any financial return. They may be more akin to patrons than to investors.

But investment-based crowdfunding sites have also emerged. I can’t say that I knew much about them, but I recently attended the annual Yale Alumni Real Estate Association’s National Conference where one of the sessions was devoted to this subject, with presentations by two of the top players in this field: Daniel Miller of Fundrise and Rodrigo Nino of Prodigy Network.

Although this method of funding real estate projects may be just a blip on the radar at present, it does appear that more and more real estate crowdfunding sites like these are cropping up and deals actually are getting funded. So just what is this all about and how is it supposed to work? I’ve tried to take what I learned at the Yale conference and have expanded on it a bit; and so, the following are a few observations from an interested outsider.

For the Project Developer Seeking Financing

Among the top arguments for crowdfunding a real estate project are these:

• It offers an opportunity to get a project financed more quickly and easily than it would through more conventional channels.
• By eliminating some of the middlemen usually involved, it can lower transaction costs.

The arguments seem credible, since most bank and institutional financing has become a test of endurance. Some crowdfunding sites offer both debt and equity investments, and most are quite specific as to the types of properties with which they deal. The process may not be entirely a walk in the park, because the typical site screens developers by taking them through a rigorous application and evaluation process.

For the Investor

One attraction for investors is that they typically don’t have to pony up a huge commitment to participate in a single project. Hence, they could spread smaller chunks of cash among several properties or even several developers, thus spreading their risk.

There would appear to be a few murky areas, however. Successful commercial real estate investors generally apply a laser focus on their due diligence. In a crowdfunded scenario one should expect that the developer will be doing that, carefully vetting the property and supplying detailed financial information and projections to the potential investor; but how much detail will they provide and can the investor independently verify that information? With the proliferation of crowdfunding sites, will there be consistency among them in the amount and quality of data they provide? A prudent investor must be certain at least to take a very careful look at the track record of the developer.

Investing through crowdfunding may have particular appeal to inexperienced investors. They should be particularly cautious, understanding that there is not likely to be any liquidity, that their cash could be tied up for a considerable time, and of course that there is no guarantee of an acceptable return or of recovering the initial investment. Sometimes deals simply fail.

How is Crowdfunding Even Possible?

It should come as no surprise that there are plenty of regulations that govern these investment offerings. It appears that most of the crowdfunding sites have been operating under SEC Regulation D, which limits general solicitation and restricts participation to “accredited investors.” These generally include investors with a net worth of at least \$1 million (not including the value of their home) and income of \$200,000 for the past two years, or \$300,000 together with spouse.

One site, which at present seems to be unique, is Fundrise. They have been able to use an obscure SEC Regulation A that allows non-accredited investors to participate in community-based deals with investments as little as \$100. There is apparently plenty of hoop-jumping for them to deal with, since this regulation also involves state approvals as well as a limit on capital that can be raised in a 12-month period.

In 2012, Congress passed the JOBS Act (Jumpstart Our Business Startups)  and in September 2013, Title II of that act became effective. Title II allows general solicitation, but only to accredited investors.

Title III of the JOBS Act is called the “Crowdfunding Exemption.” Expected to work its way through the SEC rule-making process sometime later this year, it would allow non-accredited investors to participate in equity offerings. The proponents of investment crowdfunding see this as the real game-changer.

Conclusion

Crowdfunding could revolutionize how real estate investments are financed, but not everyone is convinced that it is the Next Big Thing. A recent BusinessWire article cites a number of concerns, including one that this writer has seen elsewhere:  “Will crowdfunding expose innocent, small-time investors to fraudsters and scam artists?”

Both real estate crowdfunding itself and the regulatory environment that will govern it are in their infancy, so how this will all play out must be a matter of conjecture for now. On the one hand, the real estate industry — to put it as politely as possible — has a long history of being resistant to change. On the other, technology in the 21st century has had a habit of sweeping away things that we confidently viewed as permanent cultural fixtures. To be convinced, I need only to rummage in my basement to dig out my old rotary-dial wall phone and my case of incandescent lightbulbs.

Time will tell the story.

—- Frank Gallinelli

Crowdfunding’s Latest Invasion: Real Estate

How Crowdfunding Could Reshape Real Estate Investing

The Big Five in Real Estate Crowdfunding

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Your time and your investment capital are too valuable to risk on a do-it-yourself investment spreadsheet. For more than 30 years, RealData has provided the best and most reliable real estate investment software to help you make intelligent investment decisions and to create presentations you can confidently show to lenders, clients, and equity partners. Learn more at www.realdata.com.

## Results of our first real estate investor survey

We would like to thank all those who took a few minutes to respond to the first of our investor surveys; and we’d like to share the results:

Q1: What type of real estate investment property do you buy, or plan to buy? Check all that apply.

 Multifamily, 2-5 units 52% Apartment Building, >5 units 54% Mixed-Use 20% Retail Strip Center 26% Retail, Larger Shopping Center 9% Free-Standing NNN 4% Office Building 30% Self-Storage 24% Industrial 7% Hotel 9% Other (please specify) Single-family 22% Land 2%

Keep in mind that we asked respondents to “check all that apply,” so that is why these don’t–and shouldn’t– add up to 100%.  The results show that many investors buy more than one type of property.

Clearly, residential property was more popular than commercial, and what may have been a bit surprising to us was the number of “write-in” votes for single-family.  Combining these with the 2-5 unit multifamilies, it would appear that many investors are currently leaning toward smaller residential–at least among our pool of survey-takers. This may be a reflection of the inventory of homes that ended up in foreclosure, and could perhaps be purchased at prices that woulf make them attractive to investors.

Q2: Thinking about your cash flow projections for your potential investment, why do you make those projections? Check all that apply.

 To decide if I believe the property is worth considering. 87% To help me to decide on an appropriate offer price (or selling price). 78% To show to a lender in support of my request for financing. 61% To show to a potential equity partner. 48% I don’t make cash flow projections. 7%

We’re certainly not surprised to see that the great majority of  investors want to vet their deals and scrutinize the pricing by performing a cash flow analysis; and also that a good pro forma can bring you some credibility when dealing with a lender.

We find it very interesting that almost half of our respondents said they use a cash flow projection to show to a potential equity partner. That would certainly seem to suggest that a lot of investors are pooling their resources in order to do deals. Just anecdotally, we believe we’ve seen a lot more investment partnerships since the 2008 meltdown, probably because of the difficulty that many have encountered finding financing.

One general note: Before the statisticians in the audience take us to task, we should impose a caution in regard to interpreting these survey results. A truly scientific study would have avoided what is called “self-selection,” where responses come strictly from those who are willing to volunteer their point of view.

Nonetheless, we believe this simple and informal survey offers a fairly good window into investor thinking.

We would be very interested in hearing your take on these survey results. We hope you’ll send us your comments.

And finally, we didn’t forget about that bonus:  We promised to give away three signed copies of What Every Real Estate Investor Needs to Know About Cash Flow… , and that’s up next.  This week we’ll pick three email addresses from among those who opted-in to the drawing and contact them so we can send them their copies.  If you participated, please keep an eye out for that email from us.

## Real Estate Investing: Time to Remember the Lessons of History

As the summer 2013 begins to cool off, many real estate markets are finally starting to heat up. For a lot of folks, who have slogged through five of the worst economic years in memory, it feels a bit like we’ve just been released from the locked trunk of a car.

The temptation now is to celebrate our release from investing confinement by jumping back into the market with both feet. Before we do so, however, it would be wise to reflect on a few of the lessons of recent history.

There were many reasons for the financial meltdown, but one of the biggest surely was the belief that real estate inexorably increases in value over time. To many people, that looked like a law of nature. The reality turned out to be different, and now, as property values start to rise, we have to resist the temptation to start believing this all over again. If not, we will simply create another bubble and repeat the cycle.

Another cause of that meltdown was the tendency to dismiss or completely ignore investment fundamentals.  Real estate simply couldn’t fail to do well (after all, they’re not making any more of it), and we didn’t really need to think too hard about our investments because, surely, they would work out happily in the end.

Savvy investors always knew that this wasn’t necessarily true; they knew that income-producing real estate could go up, down, or sideways.  Time, all by itself, does not create value; the ability of a property to produce income is what creates value, and so the prudent investor would take nothing for granted and always carefully weigh a property’s prospects for generating income today and in the future.

The beginnings of a general economic recoveryand, in particular, a real estate recovery may signal that we can and should get back into the game, but it doesn’t mean that we can return to pre-2008 thinking and disregard the fundamentals that ought to guide our investment decisions:  For example:

Due Diligence: This is just as important in good times as in bad. We need to examine thoroughly and critically all of the financial data we can get our hands on about a potential investment property.  Are the rents really as represented? Are the operating expenses as portrayed by the seller reasonable and complete? Have we done a thorough assessment of the property’s physical condition?

It is essential to remember that a property doesn’t live in a vaccum, so our due diligence needs to extend beyond the individual property and include the local market as well.  What is the prevailing capitalization rate for properties of this type in this market? What kind of rents are similar buildings actually getting, and what are the asking rents in properties that may be in competition with us for tenants? What is the current vacancy rate in this market, and has it been rising or falling? What is the general business climate, and in what direction is it headed?

Cash Flow:    We always need to make hard-headed projections about the prospects for current and future cash flow. Too often we see investors, motivated to make a purchase and get on the presumed gravy train, put together the numbers they want to see.  They ignore the potential for vacancy and credit loss. They ignore setting some of their potential cash flow aside each year as a reserve to pay for that new roof or new HVAC system a few years down the road. We should make best-case, worst-case, and in-between projections to give ourselves a sense of the range of possible outcomes.

It is important to be realistic about cash flow projections. Excessive leverage may seem like a great advantage on the day you close the purchase, but the high debt service may also result in very weak or even negative cash flow. Are you really prepared to support your property out of your own pocket, to absorb unexpected expenses or loss of revenue?

The Long View: We seldom buy an income property with the expectation of flipping it for short-term profit. Rather, our plan is probably to buy and hold so we can derive an annual cash flow plus a long-term gain when we sell. If that is indeed our plan, then we need to forecast the property’s performance not just for one year, but for a likely holding period—perhaps five, seven or ten years—and to compute an Internal Rate of Return for that holding period. Doing so can be especially valuable when we are looking at more than one property that we might purchase.  Which one appears likely to give us the best overall return within our investment horizon?

The Last Word: Investing in real estate can be a profitable move in just about any economic climate if we proceed wisely, so to answer our initial question: Yes—if we’ve been on the sidelines, then this is a fine time to get back in.  But as with any other kind of investment, we can just as easily lose money as make it if we charge ahead without doing our homework and without going through the kind of fundamental analysis and projection that is essential to smart investing. Success in real estate investing, as in most endeavors, doesn’t just happen by good luck or chance. We have to work at it and have our head in the game. The luck will follow.

— Frank Gallinelli

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Your time and your investment capital are too valuable to risk on a do-it-yourself investment spreadsheet. For more than 30 years, RealData has provided the best and most reliable real estate investment software to help you make intelligent investment decisions and to create presentations you can confidently show to lenders, clients, and equity partners. Learn more at www.realdata.com.

## Real Estate, Healthcare, and Your 2013 Taxes – Some Surprises Waiting for You?

Champagne, funny hats, and the ball-drop in Times Square might not be the only significant events to mark the New Year in 2013. If you are a real estate investor or a home-seller, you could have a couple of surprises lurking in your federal taxes.

The Medicare Tax

One of those surprises found its way into the Health Care and Reconciliation Act of 2010 at the last minute. If, as the the National Association of Realtors® states, it was added to the legislation at the last minute, then one has to wonder just how carefully our elected officials studied this before passing it.

What It Is Not

There has been a lot of talk and many email blasts, claiming that this is a sales tax on real estate. It is not. It doesn’t apply to every real estate transaction, and it doesn’t get tacked on at the point of sale, the way a sales tax would. That much is clear.

What It Is, Sort Of

The details may seem a bit daunting, but let’s try to summarize:

• It is a 3.8% surtax on “net investment income,” which appears to include rental income, capital gains on the sale of investments (and to a limited extent on the sale of a personal residence), interest, dividends, royalties, and annuities, all net of the expenses to achieve that income.
• It does not apply to withdrawals from IRAs and 401ks, or from veterans benefit,  life-insurance proceeds and several other types of income. (For a further discussion, see this article in Forbes.)
• But wait, it can actually get even more complicated. According to an article in SmartMoney, there is an exception for income from sources that come from business activities. Presumably this would mean that if you derive your livelihood solely from operating rental property or from flipping houses then your rental income or capital gain from those activities is business- and not investment-related; hence it doesn’t go into the bucket of items subject to the Medicare surtax. But that same article notes an “exception to the exception” if the income is from a “passive business activity.”
• It will never apply (should we ever say never?) if your adjusted gross income is less than \$200,000 as an individual or \$250,000 for a married couple filing jointly. Fire up your spreadsheet now, because there is a further test: The tax applies to the lesser of your total net investment income or the excess of your Modified Adjusted Gross Income over the \$200,000 (single) or \$250,000 (joint return) thresholds. (MAGI is the same as AGI for most taxpayers.) Keep in mind a couple of potential “gotchas” in regard to these thresholds. Even though your conventional (not Roth) IRA or 401k withdrawal is not considered investment income for the purpose of this law, it’s still income and could potentially push you over the threshold. Likewise, the gain from the sale of an investment property could catapult you over the line.
• If you are selling your personal residence, you will continue to get the \$250,000 exclusion for individuals, or \$500,000 for a married couples filing jointly, so it is only your gain over that amount that is in play. As before you still have to pay the capital gains tax on your profit in excess of those exclusions. More about capital gains in a moment.
• Congress did not learn its lesson from the Alternative Minimum Tax debacle, because there does not appear to be any provision to index the threshold amounts for inflation, so the tax may affect more people as time goes on.

For more information about this tax, you can refer to the articles noted above as well as a PDF summary put out by the National Association of Realtors®. You’ll find a link to that PDF here.

Capital Gains and the Fiscal Cliff

Another sobering New Year’s Day adventure is what is being called the “fiscal cliff.” Part of the wild ride into the abyss is the scheduled expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts on January 1, 2013. Here, in brief, is what it means for those of us in real estate:

• If you sell your real estate investment property for a profit, that profit is taxed at the capital gains rate. Currently that capital gains tax rate is 15%, but if we go over the fiscal cliff on January 1, 2013, the rate will go to 20% with the potential to add the 3.8% Medicare tax to part of the gain.
• If you sell your home for a profit and if you have a gain that exceeds the \$250,000 or \$500,000 exclusion (not an unrealistic possibility, especially for older homeowners who bought several decades ago – especially in what are now the more costly markets on the coasts like Fairfield County, Connecticut where I live) you may be faced with a similarly higher tax on that gain.

The Bottom Line

I believe the significance of the Medicare tax may be not so much the money it raises – probably not very much – but rather in the anti-investor mindset it reveals. The same would seem to underlie the proposals to raise the capital gains tax. Both taxes suggest to me a policy that puts investing and risk-taking in the crosshairs, that seeks to discourage rather than encourage the activities that are essential to making an economy grow.

This writer shares the opinion of many that higher tax rates on capital gains are a bad idea generally, and a terrible idea during a struggling economy. Existing businesses need capital to grow and startups need capital to launch. If our tax structure is changed to impose a disincentive to invest, then we shouldn’t be surprised to see our economy shrink even further. This WSJ article says it well.

Those who invest and who see investing as vital to our society need to keep careful watch on every new tax proposal and to keep ourselves in the conversation about those proposals. And as this Wall Street Journal article put it: “If you’re planning to sell rental real estate or other investment property, run, don’t walk, to a trusted tax expert.”

–Frank Gallinelli

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## You’re Invited: Value Hound Academy’s Webcast Interview with RealData Founder, Frank Gallinelli

I want to invite you to a webcast interview that will be broadcast Wednesday Sept. 14, 2011 at 11AM PST (2 PM EST).

The folks at Value Hound Academy asked me to discuss my insights into analyzing real estate deals:
—  how to be a “financial detective” when examining a seller’s representations
—  the biggest mistakes investors make when analyzing deals
—  critical items folks overlook in renovation projects
—  and lots more

Crunching numbers is critical to your success as a real estate investor, so do sign up to hear this webcast.  It’s free.  http://www.valuehoundacademy.com/public/337.cfm

## The Flavor of the Month: Apartment Investing

It comes as no surprise to those of us who are a bit long in the tooth: The recent economic environment has been bad for almost everything, but it’s good for multi-family investment property.

When credit flows freely, almost anyone who can buy a house will buy a house. (Whether they can pay for it after the closing is of course another matter.) On the other hand, when credit tightens or dries up almost completely, then the subprime prospects are frozen out of the housing market, along with a sizeable group of perfectly responsible borrowers who now find they can’t clear the considerably elevated qualification standards. It doesn’t take tremendous insight to realize that most of these people are now candidates for apartment space. Remember Econ 101?  Supply, demand, etc.

If you read the financial press (or follow our tweets) then you’ve seen ample evidence lately that apartment properties are hot. The Wall Street Journal  cites a Marcus and Millichap report stating the the values of apartment buildings rose 16% in 2010 after falling 27% between 2006 and 2009. In that same article, WSJ says that the supply of new apartment buildings is at a two-decade low. There’s that supply and demand thing again.

Reuters  recently reported that apartment vacancies showed a steep drop in the first quarter of 2011. At the same time, Investor’s Business Daily noted that even the smallest buildings — those with four units or less — were in high demand. An advantage here for the small investor is that this kind of property can usually qualify for Fannie- or Freddie-backed financing, and perhaps on even more favorable terms if the investors lives in one of the units.

After a long period when it seemed like investors were in duck-and-cover mode, it’s good to see this resurgance of activity.

(self-serving footnote: If you’re doing an apartment deal, be sure to run the numbers first, Either the Express or Professional Edition of Real Estate Investment Analysis will do a great job with apartment buildings. If you’re raising capital from equity partners, then use the Pro Ediiton — it will give you presentations for individual partners.)