Top 21 Real Estate Investing Terms and Formulas

Understanding the real estate investing terms and formulas is extremely helpful (if not crucial) for brokers, agents and investors who want to service or acquire real estate investment properties.

This is not always the case, though. During my thirty-year experience as an investment real estate specialist I often encountered far too many that had no idea, and it showed – both in their performance and success rate.

As a result, I felt it needful to list what I deem are the top 20 real estate investing terms and formulas worth understanding categorized as either primary or secondary. The primary terms and formulas are the very least you should know, and the secondary terms takes it a step further for those of you who are seriously planning to become more actively engaged with real estate investing.

Primary

1. Gross Scheduled Income (GSI)

The annual rental income a property would generate if 100% of all space were rented and all rents collected. GSI does not regard vacancy or credit losses, and instead, would include a reasonable market rent for those units that might be vacant at the time of a real estate analysis.

Annual Current Rental Income

+ Annual Market Rental Income for Vacant Units

= Gross Scheduled Income

2. Gross Operating Income (GOI)

This is gross scheduled income less vacancy and credit loss, plus income derived from other sources such as coin-operated laundry facilities. Consider GOI as the amount of rental income the real estate investor actually collects to service the rental property.

Gross Scheduled Income

– Vacancy and Credit Loss

+ Other Income

= Gross Operating Income

3. Operating Expenses

These include those costs associated with keeping a property operational and in service such as property taxes, insurance, utilities, and routine maintenance; but should not be mistaken to also include payments made for mortgages, capital expenditures or income taxes.

4. Net Operating Income (NOI)

This is a property’s income after being reduced by vacancy and credit loss and all operating expenses. NOI is one of the most important calculations to any real estate investment because it represents the income stream that subsequently determines the property’s market value – that is, the price a real estate investor is willing to pay for that income stream.

Gross Operating Income

– Operating Expenses

= Net Operating Income

5. Cash Flow Before Tax (CFBT)

This is the number of dollars a property generates in a given year after all cash outflows are subtracted from cash inflows but in turn still subject to the real estate investor’s income tax liability.

Net Operating Income

– Debt Service

– Capital Expenditures

= Cash Flow Before Tax

6. Gross Rent Multiplier (GRM)

A simple method used by analysts to determine a rental income property’s market value based upon its gross scheduled income. You would first calculate the GRM using the market value at which other properties sold and then apply that GRM to determine the market value for your own property.

Market Value

÷ Gross Scheduled Income

= Gross Rent Multiplier

Then,

Gross Scheduled Income

x Gross Rent Multiplier

= Market Value

7. Cap Rate

This popular return expresses the ratio between a rental property’s value and its net operating income. The cap rate formula commonly serves two useful real estate investing purposes: To calculate a property’s cap rate, or by transposing the formula, to calculate a property’s reasonable estimate of value.

Net Operating Income

÷ Value

= Cap Rate

Or,

Net Operating Income

÷ Cap Rate

= Value

8. Cash on Cash Return (CoC)

The ratio between a property’s cash flow in a given year and the amount of initial capital investment required to make the acquisition (e.g., mortgage down payment and closing costs). Most investors usually look at cash-on-cash as it relates to cash flow before taxes during the first year of ownership.

Cash Flow

÷ Initial Capital Investment

= Cash on Cash Return

9. Operating Expense Ratio

This expresses the ratio between an investment real estate’s total operating expenses dollar amount to its gross operating income dollar amount. It is expressed as a percentage.

Operating Expenses

÷ Gross Operating Income

= Operating Expense Ratio

10. Debt Coverage Ratio (DCR)

A ratio that expresses the number of times annual net operating income exceeds debt service (I.e., total loan payment, including both principal and interest).

Net Operating Income

÷ Debt Service

= Debt Coverage Ratio

DCR results,

Less than 1.0 – not enough NOI to cover the debt

Exactly 1.0 – just enough NOI to cover the debt

Greater than 1.0 – more than enough NOI to cover the debt

11. Break-Even Ratio (BER)

A ratio some lenders calculate to gauge the proportion between the money going out to the money coming so they can estimate how vulnerable a property is to defaulting on its debt if rental income declines. BER reveals the percent of income consumed by the estimated expenses.

(Operating Expense + Debt Service)

÷ Gross Operating Income

= Break-Even Ratio

BER results,

Less than 100% – less consuming expenses than income

Greater than 100% – more consuming expenses than income

12. Loan to Value (LTV)

This measures what percentage of a property’s appraised value or selling price (whichever is less) is attributable to financing. A higher LTV benefits real estate investors with greater leverage, whereas lenders regard a higher LTV as a greater financial risk.

Loan Amount

÷ Lesser of Appraised Value or Selling Price

= Loan to Value

Secondary

13. Depreciation (Cost Recovery)

The amount of tax deduction investment property owners may take each year until the entire depreciable asset is written off. To calculate, you must first determine the depreciable basis by computing the portion of the asset allotted to improvements (land is not depreciable), and then amortizing that amount over the asset’s useful life as specified in the tax code: 27.5 years for residential property, and 39.0 years for nonresidential.

Property Value

x Percent Allotted to Improvements

= Depreciable Basis

Then,

Depreciable Basis

÷ Useful Life

= Depreciation Allowance (annual)

14. Mid-Month Convention

This adjusts the depreciation allowance in whatever month the asset is placed into service and whatever month it is disposed. The current tax code only allows one-half of the depreciation normally allowed for these particular months. For instance, if you buy in January, you will only get to write off 11.5 months of depreciation for that first year of ownership.

15. Taxable Income

This is the amount of revenue produced by a rental on which the owner must pay Federal income tax. Once calculated, that amount is multiplied by the investor’s marginal tax rate (I.e., state and federal combined) to arrive at the owner’s tax liability.

Net Operating Income

– Mortgage Interest

– Depreciation, Real Property

– Depreciation, Capital Additions

– Amortization, Points and Closing Costs

+ Interest Earned (e.g., property bank or mortgage escrow accounts)

= Taxable Income

Then,

Taxable Income

x Marginal Tax Rate

= Tax Liability

16. Cash Flow After Tax (CFAT)

This is the amount of spendable cash that the real estate investor makes from the investment after satisfying all required tax obligations.

Cash Flow Before Tax

– Tax Liability

= Cash Flow After Tax

17. Time Value of Money

This is the underlying assumption that money, over time, will change value. It’s an important element in real estate investing because it could suggest that the timing of receipts from the investment might be more important than the amount received.

18. Present Value (PV)

This shows what a cash flow or series of cash flows available in the future is worth in today’s dollars. PV is calculated by “discounting” future cash flows back in time using a given discount rate.

19. Future Value (FV)

This shows what a cash flow or series of cash flows will be worth at a specified time in the future. FV is calculated by “compounding” the original principal sum forward in time at a given compound rate.

20. Net Present Value (NPV)

This shows the dollar amount difference between the present value of all future cash flows using a particular discount rate – your required rate of return – and the initial cash invested to purchase those cash flows.

Present Value of all Future Cash Flows

– Initial Cash Investment

= Net Present Value

NPV results,

Negative – the required return is not met

Zero – the required return is perfectly met

Positive – the required return is met with room to spare

21. Internal Rate of Return (IRR)

This popular model creates a single discount rate whereby all future cash flows can be discounted until they equal the investor’s initial cash investment. In other words, when a series of all future cash flows is discounted at IRR that present value amount will equal the actual cash investment amount.

So You Know

ProAPOD’s real estate investment software solutions as well as iCalculator – it’s online real estate calculator – apply these formulas and make these calculations automatically.

Getting Started in Residential Real Estate Investing

Residential real estate investing is a business activity that has waxed and waned in popularity dramatically over the last few years. Ironically, there always seem to be a lot of people jumping on board with investments like stock, gold, and real estate when the market’s going up, and jumping OFF the wagon and pursuing other activities once the market’s slumping. In a way that’s human nature, but it also means a lot of real estate investors are leaving money on the table.

By understanding the dynamics of your residential real estate investment marketplace, and acting in opposition to the rest of the market, you can often make more money, as long as you also stick to the real estate investing fundamentals.

Real estate investing, whether you’re buying residential or commercial property, is not a get-rich-quick scenario. Sure you can make some fast cash flipping houses, if that’s your bag, but that is a full time business activity, not a passive, long term investment. The word “investment” implies that you are committed to the activity for the long haul. Often, that’s just what it takes to make money in real estate.

So, while the pundits are crying about the residential real estate market slump, and the speculators are wondering if this is the bottom, let us return to the fundamentals of residential real estate investing, and learn how to make money investing in real estate for the long term, in good markets, as well as bad.

A Return To The Fundamentals of Residential Real Estate Investing

When real estate is going up, up, up, investing in real estate can seem easy. All ships rise with a rising tide, and even if you’ve bought a deal with no equity and no cash flow, you can still make money if you’re in the right place at the right time.

However, it’s hard to time the market without a lot of research and market knowledge. A better strategy is to make sure you understand the four profit centers for residential real estate investing, and make sure your next residential real estate investment deal takes ALL of these into account.

  1. Cash Flow – How much money does the residential income property bring in every month, after expenses are paid? This seems like it should be easy to calculate if you know how much the rental income is and how much the mortgage payment is. However, once you factor in everything else that goes into taking care of a rental property – things like vacancy, expenses, repairs and maintenance, advertising, bookkeeping, legal fees and the like, it begins to really add up. I like to use a factor of about 40% of the NOI to estimate my property expenses. I use 50% of the NOI as my ballpark goal for debt service. That leaves 10% of the NOI as profit to me. If the deal doesn’t meet those parameters, I am wary.
  2. Appreciation – Having the property go up in value while you own it has historically been the most profitable part about owning real estate. However, as we’ve seen recently, real estate can also go DOWN in value, too. Leverage (your bank loan in this case) is a double-edged sword. It can increase your rate of return if you buy in an appreciating area, but it can also increase your rate of loss when your property goes down in value. For a realistic, low-risk property investment, plan to hold your residential real estate investment property for at least 5 years. This should give you the ability to weather the ups and downs in the market so you can see at a time when it makes sense, from a profit standpoint.
  3. Debt Pay down – Each month when you make that mortgage payment to the bank, a tiny portion of it is going to reduce the balance of your loan. Because of the way mortgages are structured, a normally amortizing loan has a very small amount of debt pay down at the beginning, but if you do manage to keep the loan in place for a number of years, you’ll see that as you get closer to the end of the loan term, more and more of your principle is being used to retire the debt. Of course, all this assumes that you have an amortizing loan in the first place. If you have an interest-only loan, your payments will be lower, but you won’t benefit from any loan pay down. I find that if you are planning to hold the property for 5-7 years or less, it makes sense to look at an interest-only loan, since the debt pay down you’d accrue during this time is minimal, and it can help your cash flow to have an interest-only loan, as long as interest rate adjustments upward don’t increase your payments sooner than you were expecting and ruin your cash flow. If you plan to hold onto the property long term, and/or you have a great interest rate, it makes sense to get an accruing loan that will eventually reduce the balance of your investment loan and make it go away. Make sure you run the numbers on your real estate investing strategy to see if it makes sense for you to get a fixed rate loan or an interest only loan. In some cases, it may make sense to refinance your property to increase your cash flow or your rate of return, rather than selling it.
  4. Tax Write-Offs – For the right person, tax write-offs can be a big benefit of real estate investing. But they’re not the panacea that they’re sometimes made out to be. Individuals who are hit with the AMT (Alternative Minimum Tax), who have a lot of properties but are not real estate professionals, or who are not actively involved in their real estate investments may find that they are cut off from some of the sweetest tax breaks provided by the IRS. Even worse, investors who focus on short-term real estate deals like flips, rehabs, etc. have their income treated like EARNED INCOME. The short term capital gains tax rate that they pay is just the same (high) they’d pay if they earned the income in a W-2 job. After a lot of investors got burned in the 1980’s by the Tax Reform Act, a lot of people decided it was a bad idea to invest in real estate just for the tax breaks. If you qualify, they can be a great profit center, but in general, you should consider them the frosting on the cake, not the cake itself.

Any residential real estate investing deal that stands up under the scrutiny of this fundamentals-oriented lens, should keep your real estate portfolio and your pocketbook healthy, whether the residential real estate investing market goes up, down or sideways. However, if you can use the real estate market trends to give you a boost, that’s fair, too. The key is not to rely on any one “strategy” to try to give you outsized gains. Be realistic with your expectations and stick to the fundamentals. Buy property you can afford and plan to stay invested for the long haul.

What Is Turn-Key Real Estate Investing?

This is a simple concept in which the investor buys, rehabilitates, and then resells a property at a profit. This is also known as “flipping” a home. This process usually happens remotely, because the investor remains in his or her own home, sometimes in a locale where flipping doesn’t make sense, and utilizes the Internet to find and invest in opportunities. The goal here is to make the process of investing in real estate as easy as possible, so all the investor has to do is flip a switch or “turn the key.”

Typically, then, you’re purchasing a single-family home, fixing it up, in order to bring it in line with current codes as well as make it more appealing to buyers. Here’s how it works:

  1. A turnkey retailer or company purchases the property.
  2. One or more investors purchase a share in or all of the shares in the house.
  3. The retailer or company “fixes up,” or rehabilitates, the property to make it current and appealing to buyers.
  4. Once the property is rehabbed, it’s put back on the market for resale.
  5. As soon as a sale is closed, the investor gets his or her money back plus whatever profit was earned, according to what share of the investment he or she owned.

If done properly, this can be a very sound investment strategy. You, as the investor, have earn a profit from flipping the home, and you can have as little or as much involvement as you wish. You can be as involved or uninvolved in the flipping process as you desire, helping to oversee the contractors rehabilitating the home or leaving the entire process up to the turnkey retailer.

Why not just buy a house myself and flip/rent it?

You might be thinking you can just eliminate the middleman, the turnkey retailer or company, and do all of the legwork yourself. While many investors do just that and succeed at it, there are some drawbacks. In most cases, you’ll end up undertaking much more work than you would as an investor. Here is what you would have to do if you became a flipper, rather than utilizing a turn-key solution and having the turnkey retailer handle the process for you.

  • Finding the property: First, you would have to locate a suitable property, which means knowing which neighborhoods are going to appeal to buyers or tenants.
  • Rehabilitating the property: Next, you would have to renovate and rehabilitate the property, making it adhere to current codes and also be an excellent single-family property. This requires proper budgeting and attention to contractors and laborers, something that requires an on-site presence.
  • Marketing the property for sale or rent: Once the house is move-in ready, you would have to find a buyer or a paying tenant to move into the location.

Should you decide to rent out the property, you would be entering a whole new dimension. For more information on turn-key real estate investment where you rent instead of resell, check out our outline of that investment strategy.

If this sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is. With turn-key real estate investing, as little or as much of that work can be taken off your shoulders and put on someone else’s. Let’s look at the advantages of turn-key real estate investment.

The advantages of turn-key real estate investment

In a full-fledged turn-key real estate investment situation, you are an investor, not a flipper or landlord. You’re hiring someone else to manage the property for you, so all you have to do is collect on the profit. Here are some of the primary advantages of turn-key real estate investment.

Does not require your presence locally

With turn-key real estate investment, you acquire single-family properties in remote locations. This allows you the freedom to remain living where you want, while still maintaining a cash flow from a location that has excellent real estate values. You can continue living in your gated community in Florida, for example, where flipping houses might not make sense, while investing in flippable or rentable properties in Seattle or anywhere else that has a strong demand for such properties.

Easy diversification of your investment portfolio

turn-key real estate investment can be a wise move, if done correctly. One aspect of correctly executing a turn-key real estate investment strategy is investing properly in multiple markets, something that is easy to do since it requires little to no time of your own. The benefits of investing in multiple markets is simple: it provides you with protection from an unexpected downturn in an economy. For example, an investment in single-family properties in Seattle might seem like a guaranteed cash flow scenario, but what happens if Boeing announces major layoffs? If that were to happen, home prices would fall and properties would be more difficult to sell, negatively affecting your profit.

Since turn-key real estate investing makes it so easy to have multiple properties, this is a significant advantage of the investment strategy if you do it right. In other words, don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.

You don’t have to be a real estate expert

When you deal with a reputable turn-key real estate retailer or company, that provider knows the real estate markets with much more precision than an outsider would. Sure, you could do some basic research on an area, checking out the local school ratings, crime reports, and price ranges, but a turn-key provider will know all of that and more; they’ll know the heart of an area, such as why people prefer one neighborhood over another.

The disadvantages of turn-key real estate investment

If turn-key real estate investing sounds like a sure-fire way to make money, you should be aware that there are disadvantages to the strategy. First and foremost, you will come across turnkey retailers that try to maximize their own returns at the expense of cutting corners, but beyond that there are other drawbacks.

The “middle man” needs to make money

The turn-key company is a business, and that business needs to make money. This means buying property at a discount and then selling it to you at a higher amount, of “flipping” the property, often for a hefty profit margin. Following that, the turn-key company can make an additional profit by managing the sale or rental of the single-property property for you. One thing to remember about this drawback, though, is that turn-key companies often have a marketing machine running at all times and can find incredible deals in their market, allowing them to give you a great deal even as the company makes its profit.

You gotta trust someone

There are “shady” turn-key companies out there. These companies will encourage an out-of-state investor to buy a bad property in a bad location, meaning more money leaking out of the investor’s pockets than coming in. You have to rely on the turn-key operator’s knowledge, expertise, and credibility to actually make you a good deal. This means you have to be dealing with someone you can truly trust.

Conclusion

There are serious benefits to turn-key real estate investment, and it can definitely be an attractive cash flow strategy. However, there are also drawbacks to take into account before you proceed with any deals. You will need to investigate the turn-key provider and make sure they are both reputable and profitable, and ensure that the cash flow opportunity they are offering you is actually feasible and realistic. turn-key real estate investment is a fantastic way to make money, as long as you are smart about it and take care of your own due diligence throughout the process.