Real estate is the most exciting investment vehicle because there are nearly an infinite number of way to get started, achieve financial freedom and/or launch a business to create generational wealth.
There are many investment types to invest in, but which one is the most conducive to long-term success?
Today, I want to determine the answer to this question by looking at two investing strategies in a particular – single family residence rentals and apartment investing.
I will define SFR investing as purchasing a single-family home using your own capital and renting it out, and apartment investing as purchasing an asset with 50 or more units and raising capital from passive investors and renting it out.
For the purposes of this blog post, I will assume that an individual has set out to achieve a goal of $10,000 per month in cash flow (or $120,000 per year), which will replace their current corporate salary.
So, based on this goal, which strategy is superior? Let’s compare both across three important factors: scalability, barrier to entry and risk.
Scalability is how efficiently one can grow their real estate portfolio. The more difficult it is to scale a business using a certain investment strategy, the longer it will take to attain a cash flow goal.
Both SFR and apartment investing will allow you to generate $10,000 per month in cash flow, but which strategy will reach this goal the fastest while reducing the number of headaches?
For SFR rentals, the average cash flow per property per month is in the $100 to $200 range (depending on the market of course). Therefore, 50 to 100 SFRs are required to make $15,000. We immediately run into a few problems. First, you can only take out a limited number of SFR loans. Once you’ve purchased 4 to 10 homes (depending on the bank use and if they use Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac), you no longer qualify for a standard residential loan. However, a simple solution is to find a local community bank, who – once you’ve established a successful track record – will provide ongoing financing for your deals.
Although, you haven’t completely solved your financing problem. How will you afford the 20%, 25% or 30% down payments required to purchase 50 to 100 SFRs? This is the biggest drawback of SFR investing in terms of scalability. If you’re buying all $100,000 properties, that’s $1,000,000 to $2,000,000 in 20% down payments. Even if our sample individual saved up half their corporate salary to cover these down payments, it would take them 17 to 33 years to purchase 50 to 100 SFRs, and that’s assuming everything else goes according to plan. This timeframe can be reduced through refinancing, lines of credit or other creative financing strategies, but it will require a large amount of capital for down payments nonetheless.
For apartment investing, since you’re receiving commercial financing, you can obtain an unlimited number of loans (as long as the numbers pencil in for the lender). However, you will run into the same funding problem if you plan on using your own money. That’s where raising private money and syndicating an apartment comes in to save the day!
As an apartment syndicator, one of the ways you make money is from an acquisition fee, which is a percentage of the purchase price paid to the syndicator at closing. The industry standard is 2%. Therefore, to make $120,000 in one year, you would need to syndicate $6,000,000 worth of deals. To break it down even further, since an apartment deal generally required 35% down, you must raise $2.1 million from private investors to achieve your annual goal. And that’s not even accounting for the other ways you’ll get paid as a syndicator (i.e. asset management fee, a portion of monthly cash flow, a portion of the sales proceeds, etc.), which you could then use to purchase your own properties or reinvest into future syndications.
Technically, you could also raise private capital for SFR investing. However, the problem is that you’ll need to find multiple cash flowing deals at the exact same time in order to attract private capital or make the same amount of money compared to an apartment community. It’s possible but much more difficult to find 50 to 100 SFRs than finding an equivalent sized apartment community.
Unless you believe it will take you multiple decades to raise a few million dollars or you win the lottery, apartment investing is more scalable than SFR investing.
Winner: Apartment investing
Barrier to Entry
Barrier to entry means how easy it is to get to the point where you are capable of investing in your first deal. From a personal finances perspective, the barrier to entry is lower for apartment investing than SFR investing. To syndicate an apartment deal, investing your own personal capital will promote alignment of interests with your investors. However, this alignment of interests can be achieved in a variety of different ways (having your property manager invest in the deal, having your broker invest in the deal, having an experience syndicator as a general partner, etc.). Therefore, it is possible to syndicate a deal with zero dollars out of pocket. Although, I always recommend investing some of your own money in the deal for alignment of interest purposes but to also benefit for the profits! Whereas for SFR investing, as I outlined above, you will need to save up millions of dollars to afford the number of down payments required to generate $10,000 a month in cash flow.
From an educational and experience perspective, apartment investing has a much higher barrier of entry. No one is going to invest with you if they don’t know who you are or if you haven’t proven yourself to be a credible apartment syndicator. The solution to the former is creating a thought leadership platform. The solution to the latter, however, is more difficult (although, establishing a name for yourself through a thought leadership platform will not happen overnight). From my experience, before you can even entertain the idea of becoming an apartment syndicator, you must have a successful track record in real estate, business, or preferably both. Once that’s established, you need to educate yourself on apartment investing and syndications, which requires a lot of reading and research (but that’s what this blog is for!). Then, you need to surround yourself with credible team members who have an established track record in apartment investing. Only then will you be ready to search for your first deal, which could take anywhere from a few months to a few years! Whereas for SFR investing, as long as you have the money, you can buy a deal.
The barrier to entry for apartment syndication is easier from a personal finances perspective, but much more difficult from an educational and experience perspective compared to SFR investing. And there isn’t a way to fast track this process. It will take time.
Winner: SFR rentals
Investing, in general, will always have risks. However, not all investment strategies are the same in that regard.
As I mentioned in the section on scalability, the typical monthly cash flow generated by a SFR is $100 to $200 per month, or $1,200 to $2,400 per year. However, those low margins are very vulnerable to being drastically reduced or wiped out completely. One unexpected maintenance issue (let’s say a broken HVAC system) will cost thousands of dollars. Even minor maintenance issues of a few hundred dollars (replace an appliance, plumbing problems, electrical problems, etc.), when added up over time, will cost thousands of dollars. The same goes for turnovers. Some turnovers are relatively smooth and cost a few hundred bucks. However, if you have to repaint walls or replace carpet/refinish hardwood, those expenses add up quickly. An unruly resident may stop paying rent or violate the lease, and the resulting eviction process can be quite costly. Any one of these scenarios will eliminate months or even years of profits! Some of these risks can be mitigated with proper due diligence, but most of them are just the costs associated with investing in SFRs.
For apartments, these risks are spread across tens or hundreds of units. One maintenance issue, one turnover or one eviction has a much smaller impact on your profit and loss statement. Unless you are hit with a large amount of these problems at the same time, the apartment will cash flow. Whereas for SFR investing, you will not be able to benefit from this risk reduction until you’ve created a portfolio of at least 10 to 20 properties.
An apartment community is susceptible to risk when you don’t have a solid property management company or you failed to perform proper due diligence on the asset. As long as you have these pieces in place, and you follow the three fundamentals of apartment investing, the asset will not only survive, but thrive – even in a down market or if a handful of major or minor maintenance or tenant problems occur.
Winner: Apartment investing
Apartment investing has a higher barrier of entry. However, once you’ve addressed your education and experience, apartments are advantageous in terms of scalability and risk when compared to SFR rentals.
COMMENT BELOW: Which investment strategy do you think is superior between SFR rentals and apartments, and why?
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