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A Guide for the Budget Minded Renter in New York City

Apartment hunting in New York City is often more challenging and daunting than many other cities in America. New York is a thriving, bustling city where many different types of people work, live and play. Because of this unique nature, it attracts tourists and residents from all around the world.

In the book, Relocating to New York City and Surrounding Areas, author Ellen J. Shapiro points out that the most important aspects of living in New York City are the neighborhoods where residents live and work, as so much of their daily life will revolve around these locations. This guide was created to help residents get to the heart of apartment hunting in a realistic and budget-friendly way.

Get rid of the fantasy. The New York fantasy is to have a large fabulous apartment in a prime area for a fraction of the actual cost. Newcomers to the city are often surprised by the reality of the high costs for even the least desirable neighborhoods in New York City. Therefore, compromise is a must. As Shapiro points out: “In the real New York City, even multimillionaires have to make some compromises—and the rest..have to compromise a whole lot more.” [12]

Bargains are out there, but they are not easy to come by. When rentals that are rent-stabilized or cheaper than market rate become available, they are quickly snatched up often in hours. These elusive apartments are usually not listed on line or in magazines and are often found by word of mouth or from a very knowledgeable broker.

Focus on the budget. Consider the projected salary, taxes, monthly expenses and cost of transportation and all of those “extras” for a clearer picture of the rental budget. To save money, renters should consider moving away from Manhattan as well as to choose no fee apartments to decrease expenses. Renters with a small budget can consider sharing an apartment with roommates or even renting a small space like a studio or a room in a house to save money.
Be mindful that many landlords demand renters pass stringent background and credit checks and may demand renters to have an annual income of more than 40 times the monthly rent. For example, an apartment renting for $1,500 per month would require a minimum salary of $60,000 per year. Some rentals may require co-guarantors for those who do not have an extensive credit history.

Think about the commute to work. Focus on neighborhoods that are within easy access to transportation and if possible are on the same bus or train lines as work. Traveling crosstown for example can be more precarious than a commute from an outer-borough depending on the time of day and the mode of transit required.

Consider up-and-coming and family-friendly neighborhoods. Neighborhoods that are up-and-coming or family-friendly, without the night life or exclusive amenities, can often be the cheapest areas to live in. These areas may not be exclusive but are affordable and served well by transportation and neighborhood amenities such as parks, hospitals, shopping and restaurants.

Up-and-coming areas on the other hand are a little more gritty but are usually within reach of the more exclusive areas of the city and offer more space for the money. Residents come from a broad range of various cultures and socio-economic backgrounds creating a vibrant culturally rich atmosphere.

Shapiro suggests that up-and-coming neighborhoods are more suitable for young singles and roommates who are looking for more space for their money and may not be as suitable for families. Renters should not mind the lack of services and be able to dodge sketchy characters. [21] At one time or another, areas such as the Upper West Side, Soho, Tribeca, Chelsea and the East Village were all considered “up-and-coming”, and these areas have since become some of the most desirable areas of the city.

Narrow the focus to specific neighborhoods. Shapiro suggests that renters consider several factors when deciding on a neighborhood including their personality, the personality of the neighborhood, cost of housing, availability of desirable housing, safety and proximity to work. [12] Add to this list, comfort and neighborhood amenities. If the neighborhood is not safe or feels uncomfortable, scratch it off the list.

Considering budget and commute to work should create a more focused area to look in. Visit these areas with a friend or real estate agent to get a feel for the area, its residents, streets, transportation and amenities. A neighborhood tour should narrow the focus further. With a more narrowed focus, renters can then visit apartments in the area, observing their location, shape of the building and street during varied times before making a decision.

Do not rush to make a final decision. Do not make a final decision without going back to the location after work hours during the week, a day on the weekend and at least one late night. During these times of day, consider the noise level, number of people on the streets and safety level.

Prepare to kiss a few frogs to find a prince or princess of an apartment. New York is notorious for its creative advertisements and apartments the size of shoe boxes. Advertisements will mention the great location but neglect to mention that the living room faces a brick wall, or worse that the apartment has a bathtub in the kitchen.

Apartment hunting in the city requires tremendous effort and patience. It helps to have the knowledge of a good real estate agent or friend who lives in the city. Apartment hunters who focus on the reality of New York living, a modest and livable budget and are willing to consider areas that are affordable but less trendy will be able to find a good place on a budget.

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The Tax Consequences of Becoming a Landlord: Many Homeowners that Cannot Sell Turn to the Rental Market

As the real estate market deteriorated, many homeowners found themselves in need of a way to move out of their home without taking a large loss in value or to avoid foreclosure. A large amount of homeowners decided to become landlords. As tax time approaches, it will be important that landlords understand the implications of this decision.

Real Estate Tax Basics

Any homeowner turned landlord should consult a tax advisor when preparing their taxes. Many homeowners, who filed their own taxes in the past, will find that this simple life change complicates their taxes tremendously. It will also be extremely important to save every receipt related to the rental of the home. This includes any flyers or marketing materials, agent fees, repair costs, etc. Many of these expenses can be deducted from the rental revenue to lower the overall income from the rental. Additionally, the mortgage on the property should also be considered when deducting expenses.

Consulting a tax professional before renting the property can help to minimize potential issues related to comingling spaces. For example, if a homeowner only decides to rent a room or the top floor of the home, while keeping the basement for him/herself, there will be very different tax consequences, than if the homeowner had chosen to rent the entire home.

Real Estate and Depreciation

Homeowners are traditionally not able to count depreciation as an expense; however, once it becomes a rental, homeowners will be able to deduct depreciation. Be careful when considering this deduction, however. If a homeowner moves back into the home to use it as his/her primary resident this tax deduction might have to be repaid.

Traditionally, it is not worth the headache (or money) to deduct depreciation from a small single family home. The savings will be minimal for two reasons. First, many times the tax preparer will charge more to calculate this deduction. Second, homeowners will need to pay a depreciation recapture tax and/or more capital gains taxes when selling the home. If renting out a home is a short term strategy, don’t bother taking this deduction. If it appears that it is a longer term strategy (5+ years) then it may be worth it.

Other Real Estate Tax Considerations

Homeowners should look at their homes completely different when renting them out. Property taxes can be deducted if the home is a rental. Furthermore, any loss that a homeowner suffers while renting their home can also be deducted from their overall income. For many homeowners that find themselves in the position of renting their home for less than their mortgage, this can be a silver lining.

Again, before considering renting a home, consult a tax professional. Importantly, make sure that tax professional either specializes in real estate or has a substantial client base of real estate investors. Smart tax professionals can help first time landlords avoid the many tax pitfalls of renting their home.

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Real Estate Investment Cost Cutting: Down Markets Tend to Increase Expense Reduction as a way to Profit

In down markets, investors need to find a way to increase the value of their investment, while still maintain competitive rents. Many investors turn to reducing their costs by deferring or eliminating important maintenance items. During down times investors need to stay focused on the long-term and continue to perform maintenance capital expenditures at a minimum.

Maximize Revenues or Minimize Costs

Investors seek to maximize value in two ways, increasing rents and decreasing expenses. In down markets, they only have one tool available to them, decrease expenses. As investors seek to do this, many make the mistake of eliminating important maintenance capital expenditure items. Novice investors especially fall prey to this temptation.

Investments like cleaning gutters, changing filters, trimming trees, inspecting furnaces, etc. represent relatively small expense items in the budget. Deferring or omitting these types of expenses will hurt the long run value of the property. Additionally, investors can expect to need to put additional dollars into larger repairs at a later date. The short-term savings will cause investors long-term pain.

Watch the Competition

Another consideration investor need to factor into their investment decision is the look of comparable properties. In down markets it is even more important to keep pace with competitors. If a competitor property has additional capital improvements, then deferring these improvements in a down market could mean significant vacancies.

As competition heats up, the investor with the best property and service with competitive rents will win every time. A lack of spending at this point will lead to increased vacancy, which will further decrease the income coming from and going into the property. At some point, the investor must break this cycle and inject additional cash to stabilize the property and make it more competitive in the market.

Involve the Tenant

Investors should consider more creative ways to cut costs. Consider writing leases where tenants pay the first $200 of any repairs. This will prevent tenants from worrying the landlord for small repairs and might make them more responsible about the treatment of their property. Additionally, an investor might consider sharing the total property budget with the tenants and awarding the tenant some percentage of any cost savings at the end of the year.

These creative ways of keeping costs down enroll the tenant in the process and serve to get them more invested in the property. In the long run this will be the best way to keep costs low and tenants happy. This allows investors to maximize revenues and minimize costs.

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How to Buy at Real Estate Auctions: Understanding the Ins and Outs of Public Sales

Real estate auctions can be a great place to find a hidden gem. Smart investors use real estate auctions as one of their many sourcing strategies for good real estate investments, but beware; real estate auctions can also hold many dangers.

Prepare for the Auction

Most auctions send out a property list some time before the auction or hold a public viewing of the properties before the auction. These are a must visit for any investor potentially looking to purchase a property at the auction. Investors should do their best to take pictures and do a thorough review of the physical property. If possible bring an inspector along. They can point out the not so obvious issues with the property and even give an investor a potential costs to correct any damages. While this look will certainly be preliminary, it should help an investor avoid an obvious bidding mistake.

Next, head down to the local courthouse and do a lien search. Investors that want to become serious bidders at auctions should be very familiar with this process. To be certain that when the property is purchased from the primary lien holder, its ownership will revert to the investor, an investor must verify that there are no other lien holders. Most importantly, any property taxes or government liens on the property will not mysteriously go away after the auction process. These must be paid or settled and should be factored into the bidding price.

Last, come up with a maximum bid price. Create an investment plan for the asset and then work backwards. Understand how much a fully renovated property would sell for, how much it will cost to renovate the property, pay off the liens and hold the property until a buyer is found. Add a healthy profit margin for cost overruns and that will be the maximum price.

Bidding at the Auction

After preparing for the auction, investors should take their time at the auction. It’s helpful to have multiple properties researched and ready to bid on in case there are multiple bidders. It helps to come early to get an understanding of the environment and the bidding process. Stick to the maximum and never go over. If investors do their homework right, they should never have a reason to increase their maximum bid despite human nature.

Auctions are a great way to find good investment opportunities. They are often quick sales and require quick analysis of the properties and a quick ability to close them. Investors that prepare and understand the process, stand to reap huge rewards from this buying method.

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Deciding Whether to Add Distressed Property to a Portfolio

The following is a guest post on distressed property additions by Patrick Mackaronis, entrepreneur in New York City.

In real estate, a fixer-upper refers to property that needs an overhaul or that is owned by someone who no longer wants it or cannot continue to hold on to it. In other words, either the property is in distress or its owner is. Because fixer-uppers are usually ugly and poorly maintained, it should be possible to buy them for far less than the asking price. By fixing what is wrong without spending too much, an investor can resell the property for a tidy profit.

Or so goes the myth.

In reality, fixer-uppers can be challenging. Repairs may end up costing much more than expected. Renovations often take much longer than planned, and this keeps the property off the market for sale or rental for an extended period of time; not only is there no profit or rental income during that time, there are maintenance, taxes, utilities, insurance, and other expenses associated with the property.

All of this means that, before buying their first fixer-uppers, investors must know what is involved and whether they have what it takes to forge ahead. Specifically, with reference to their real estate investment plans, investors must determine whether they have the time, finances, interest, and perseverance to oversee or personally undertake the repair, renovation, or upgrade of a neglected property or to solve tenancy or other problems at a property.

Good Time to Buy Distressed Property

Although the real estate market is in a deep freeze in many parts of the United States, Stephen DiClemente, a real estate agent with Re/Max Tri County in Hamilton, New Jersey, believes that “for those with the time and finances, this is still a good time to buy fixer-uppers.” As he explains, “The price for fixer-uppers is decreasing at a higher rate than other real estate because of increased competition from the lower prices of homes that are in move-in condition.”

By the same token, he notes that, in a glutted real estate market, if an investor plans to sell a fixer-upper after renovating it, “the investor needs to have enough capital on hand after the renovation to sustain the property – in terms of mortgage payments, real estate taxes, upkeep, and other expenses – on the market for a longer period of time.”

Know What to Buy with Your Distressed Property

Most investors in real property want only to collect rent each month. This means that investors find much less competition for distressed properties than for properties that are in good condition.

Successful real estate investors study the real estate markets in which they want to invest and note which segments are in motion and which are stagnant. These investors then put their money in the types of property that other buyers are seeking. For example, if single-family homes are selling at a faster rate than townhouses in a given market, a smart investor will buy a single-family fixer-upper to renovate and resell to a buyer who wants a home in move-in condition.

After Due Diligence: Tap All Available Resources

After performing the necessary due diligence on targeted properties, investors need to determine the resources they have available for fixer-uppers. This does not only mean the investors’ own funds. There are also grants and low-interest loans from federal, state, and local governments for property rehabilitation. There is also secondary financing, such as second mortgages, lines of credit, and equity loans.

Other often overlooked resources include competent, trustworthy professionals who can make repairs at a property for a little more than the cost of materials, such as relatives of an investor who are licensed electricians or plumbers, certified mold remediators, and the like.

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Exiting Real Estate Investments: When Backing Out Is The Best Option

The following post is a guest post on exiting real estate investments by Alex Vasser, real estate expert and entrepreneur in Phoenix, Arizona.

Sooner or later investors will want to dispose of one or more properties in their portfolios. Market conditions and changing personal needs may play into the decision to get rid of a property. Nonetheless, individuals should be guided primarily by their investment plans to determine which properties to dispose of and when and how to do so. This will ensure that the disposal is the right move at the right time.

Disposal of Real Estate: Good and Bad Reasons

There are many good reasons for wanting to get rid of property, such as:

  • The property was a fixer-upper that has been rehabbed and made ready for sale.
  • The owner of rental property has tired of being a landlord.
  • The sale will provide funds to buy other property or invest in other types of assets.

Other valid reasons that may prompt a sale are a divorce judgment calls for the division of a couple’s assets, the desire to finance a luxury such as a first-class vacation or a retirement home, or the termination of the partnership that owned the property.

There are also bad reasons to sell, including that the owner has received an unexpected offer to buy one of the properties. Obviously well-kept properties in acceptable locations will always attract buyers. This does not mean that the owner has to entertain unsolicited bids from buyers. The property is likely a good income producer for the owner and selling it too early may defeat the goals of the investment plan.

Another bad reason to sell is that a property has been owned for so long that it has used up its depreciation under the U.S. tax laws. Again, if the property still offers decent cash flow and is in good condition, it may not be the right time to sell. Investors should never over-rely on the benefits of depreciation when they select a property to purchase; similarly, the existence or lack of depreciation should not control an investor’s decision of whether to sell.

Yet another bad reason to sell is that a property has become rundown and unattractive. Serious investors never allow their assets to lose value through neglect because they know that real estate investment is a business.

Exiting Real Estate Investments: Keep Return on Investment in Focus

When owners act impulsively out of a need for instant gratification or fear that market conditions will deteriorate, they risk undervaluing property that they improved and maintained and – if it is rental property – into which they installed good tenants. An impulse- or fear-driven sale also may result in the payment of capital gains taxes that could have been deferred or even avoided. All of this stands in sharp conflict with the ROI goals articulated in a well-designed investment plan.

Another problem is that investors may not have realistic expectations about what their properties are worth. For example, Nancy Newbie from the Northeast may need $350,000 to finance a retirement condo in a sunny climate and the relocation expenses involved, so she puts two of her properties up for sale for a total of $400,000. If the market conditions where the properties are located are such that Nancy will net less than what she wants or expects from the sales, she may choose to dig in her heels and to wait until she gets the price she wants or she may have to postpone or revise her relocation plans. In the meantime, she will have wasted a considerable amount of time, all because she neglected to research her market.

A tax professional or financial advisor can guide the investor through the murky waters of indecision over whether to dispose of property in a portfolio. These pros can also advise the investor whether the exit strategies set out in the investment plan are the best means for reaching the investor’s financial goals.

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Tax Consequences of Becoming a Landlord

This is a guest post on the tax consequences of becoming a landlord by Aleksandr Vasser of Avky Inc.

As the real estate market deteriorated, many homeowners found themselves in need of a way to move out of their home without taking a large loss in value or to avoid foreclosure. A large amount of homeowners decided to become landlords. As tax time approaches, it will be important that landlords understand the implications of this decision.

Tax Consequences: Real Estate Tax Basics

Any homeowner turned landlord should consult a tax advisor when preparing their taxes. Many homeowners, who filed their own taxes in the past, will find that this simple life change complicates their taxes tremendously. It will also be extremely important to save every receipt related to the rental of the home. This includes any flyers or marketing materials, agent fees, repair costs, etc. Many of these expenses can be deducted from the rental revenue to lower the overall income from the rental. Additionally, the mortgage on the property should also be considered when deducting expenses.

Consulting a tax professional before renting the property can help to minimize potential issues related to comingling spaces. For example, if a homeowner only decides to rent a room or the top floor of the home, while keeping the basement for him/herself, there will be very different tax consequences, than if the homeowner had chosen to rent the entire home.

Tax Consequences: Real Estate and Depreciation

Homeowners are traditionally not able to count depreciation as an expense; however, once it becomes a rental, homeowners will be able to deduct depreciation. Be careful when considering this deduction, however. If a homeowner moves back into the home to use it as his/her primary resident this tax deduction might have to be repaid.

Traditionally, it is not worth the headache (or money) to deduct depreciation from a small single family home. The savings will be minimal for two reasons. First, many times the tax preparer will charge more to calculate this deduction. Second, homeowners will need to pay a depreciation recapture tax and/or more capital gains taxes when selling the home. If renting out a home is a short term strategy, don’t bother taking this deduction. If it appears that it is a longer term strategy (5+ years) then it may be worth it.

Tax Consequences: Other Real Estate Tax Considerations

Homeowners should look at their homes completely different when renting them out. Property taxes can be deducted if the home is a rental. Furthermore, any loss that a homeowner suffers while renting their home can also be deducted from their overall income. For many homeowners that find themselves in the position of renting their home for less than their mortgage, this can be a silver lining.

Again, before considering renting a home, consult a tax professional. Importantly, make sure that tax professional either specializes in real estate or has a substantial client base of real estate investors. Smart tax professionals can help first time landlords avoid the many tax pitfalls of renting their home.

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Real Estate Investment Cost Cutting

Below is a guest post on real estate investment cost cutting from Kyle Uchitel, half of chemicals business Avky Inc and an avid real estate investor. 

In down markets, investors need to find a way to increase the value of their investment, while still maintain competitive rents. Many investors turn to reducing their costs by deferring or eliminating important maintenance items. During down times investors need to stay focused on the long-term and continue to perform maintenance capital expenditures at a minimum.

Real Estate Investment: Maximize Revenues or Minimize Costs

Investors seek to maximize value in two ways, increasing rents and decreasing expenses. In down markets, they only have one tool available to them, decrease expenses. As investors seek to do this, many make the mistake of eliminating important maintenance capital expenditure items. Novice investors especially fall prey to this temptation.

Investments like cleaning gutters, changing filters, trimming trees, inspecting furnaces, etc. represent relatively small expense items in the budget. Deferring or omitting these types of expenses will hurt the long run value of the property. Additionally, investors can expect to need to put additional dollars into larger repairs at a later date. The short-term savings will cause investors long-term pain.

Real Estate Investment: Watch the Competition

Another consideration investor need to factor into their investment decision is the look of comparable properties. In down markets it is even more important to keep pace with competitors. If a competitor property has additional capital improvements, then deferring these improvements in a down market could mean significant vacancies.

As competition heats up, the investor with the best property and service with competitive rents will win every time. A lack of spending at this point will lead to increased vacancy. This will further decrease the income coming from and going into the property. At some point, the investor must break this cycle and inject additional cash to stabilize the property and make it more competitive in the market.

Real Estate Investment: Involve the Tenant

Investors should consider more creative ways to cut costs. Consider writing leases where tenants pay the first $200 of any repairs. This will prevent tenants from worrying the landlord for small repairs and might make them more responsible about the treatment of their property. Additionally, an investor might consider sharing the total property budget with the tenants and awarding the tenant some percentage of any cost savings at the end of the year.

These creative ways of keeping costs down enroll the tenant in the process and serve to get them more invested in the property. In the long run this will be the best way to keep costs low and tenants happy. This allows investors to maximize revenues and minimize costs.

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Real Estate Auctions: How to Buy and What to Do

The following is a guest post on real estate auctions from Avky Inc real estate entrepreneurs Kyle Uchitel and Aleksandr Vasser.

Real estate auctions can be a great place to find a hidden gem. Smart investors use real estate auctions as one of their many sourcing strategies for good real estate investments, but beware; real estate auctions can also hold many dangers.

Real Estate Auctions: Prepare for the Auction

Most auctions send out a property list some time before the auction or hold a public viewing of the properties before the auction. These are a must visit for any investor potentially looking to purchase a property at the auction. Investors should do their best to take pictures and do a thorough review of the physical property. If possible bring an inspector along. They can point out the not so obvious issues with the property and even give an investor a potential costs to correct any damages. While this look will certainly be preliminary, it should help an investor avoid an obvious bidding mistake.

Next, head down to the local courthouse and do a lien search. Investors that want to become serious bidders at auctions should be very familiar with this process. To be certain that when the property is purchased from the primary lien holder, its ownership will revert to the investor, an investor must verify that there are no other lien holders. Most importantly, any property taxes or government liens on the property will not mysteriously go away after the auction process. These must be paid or settled and should be factored into the bidding price.

Last, come up with a maximum bid price. Create an investment plan for the asset and then work backwards. Understand how much a fully renovated property would sell for, how much it will cost to renovate the property, pay off the liens and hold the property until a buyer is found. Add a healthy profit margin for cost overruns and that will be the maximum price.

Real Estate Auctions: Bidding at the Auction

After preparing for the auction, investors should take their time at the auction. It’s helpful to have multiple properties researched and ready to bid on in case there are multiple bidders. It helps to come early to get an understanding of the environment and the bidding process. Stick to the maximum and never go over. If investors do their homework right, they should never have a reason to increase their maximum bid despite human nature.

Auctions are a great way to find good investment opportunities. They are often quick sales and require quick analysis of the properties and a quick ability to close them. Investors that prepare and understand the process, stand to reap huge rewards from this buying method.

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Connecting with the Right Realtor: Real Estate is a People Business

Real estate is a people business. Novice investors often struggle with finding the right people to do business with. The right real estate agent brings deals to an investor and helps investors determine if a property is a fit from an investment objective perspective. Similarly, strong realtors can recommend other professionals to round out a real estate investment team. Here are some tips and tricks for connecting with the right realtor.

Connecting With The Right Realtor: The Lynchpin

Sourcing great investments starts with a good real estate agent. A good realtor is the most connected person an investor needs in the world of commercial real estate. Not only will they have their ears to the ground when it comes to market pricing and investment opportunities, but they can also provide important connections to contractors, lawyers, accountants, title companies, etc.

Finding a good realtor starts with recommendations. Investors should consider attending a local real estate investment club meeting, a local real estate trade show or simply speaking with a local mortgage broker. Starting with an investment professional assures an investor that he/she will be getting a trusted recommendation. This also assures that the realtors an investor speaks with will have experience working with investors.

After compiling a list of three or four local brokers that work with investment professionals, call each of these professionals in for an interview. The interview should help an investor find a real estate professional that meets their needs. It will be important for an investor to have a very clear idea of their investment objectives and their investment potential. There is no point in interviewing a realtor that specializes in 10-20 unit multifamily buildings if an investor only plans to purchase single family rental homes.

Connecting With The Right Realtor: Interviewing Real Estate Professionals

The goal of interviewing real estate professionals is to ensure that their style fits the investment needs of the investor. Not only should they be very familiar with the property type, but they should also be familiar with the investor’s investment style. Novice investors should be cautious about working with realtors that traditionally only work with veteran real estate investors. The agents might assume the novice investor is familiar with the area and the way business is done and omit critical details around a potential investment.

Investors should also be very clear in what they expect from a realtor. If an investor knows nothing about the market, they should seek to understand the market fundamentals from their realtor, as well as be connected to other important real estate professionals. Good realtors can provide these connections. Importantly, the quality of the referral also reflects the quality of the realtor. Before signing any exclusive engagements speak with the mortgage broker, lawyer and accountant that the agent recommends. If these are not a fit, the realtor is probably not a fit either.

Don’t overlook this process. Connecting with the right realtor will increase the chance of finding a successful investment.