The One Key Concept All Real Estate Investors Should Understand

If there is one concept that lies at the heart of all investing, especially investment in income-producing real estate — aka “rental property” — then that concept is the income stream. I pound on this idea incessantly in my books, in my grad-school classes, in the check-out line at the supermarket — anywhere I think there is a chance that folks might listen.

The concept is straightforward enough. Each factor about a property that we might assume is crucial — its location, its physical condition, its tenancies — is indeed important, but only to the extent that it affects that property’s income stream. A good location, for example, increases the likelihood of a strong flow of income, especially when we want to resell. Poor physical condition may impair our ability to attract and keep good tenants and to maximize rents. So, the usual suspects notwithstanding, ultimately what really matters to us is the income stream that the property can produce.

What exactly do we mean by “income stream?” Essentially we mean all the cash that comes in minus all that goes out between the time we acquire the property and the time we dispose of it. Not to be overlooked is the initial cash that we commit when we make the purchase. Then, as we own and operate the property, we will have recurring cash flows (revenue minus operating, financing and capital costs) — all positive cash flows, we hope. Finally, when we sell, we look to receive a nice chunk of net cash proceeds after paying off our mortgage and costs of sale.

Our income stream, therefore, is a series of cash flows that occur from the day we purchase until the day we sell. When we buy a rental property we may think we’re acquiring a building, but what we’re really buying is its income stream.

How much is that income stream worth? Is it merely the sum and difference of all the individual cash flows?  This is where experienced investors recognize that there is a time value of money. Put simply, the longer we have to wait to receive a cash flow, the less valuable it is to us. Why? Because we don’t have the use of that money to earn a return elsewhere.

When we look at the expected series of future cash flows from a property, including the cash from resale, we need to look not only at the amounts but also at the timing. How much do we expect to receive and when will we receive it? This is what investors call a discounted cash flow analysis (DCF), and it is key to making an informed decision about investing in an income property. We’ll talk more about DCF and other key investment metrics in future posts. Stay tuned.

— Frank Gallinelli

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Copyright 2013,  Frank Gallinelli and RealData® Inc. All Rights Reserved

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