Author Topic: Real Estate as Primary Retirement Strategy  (Read 6415 times)

freeazabird

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Real Estate as Primary Retirement Strategy
« on: May 07, 2014, 10:19:06 AM »
I was wondering has anyone forgone contributing to a 401K or IRA to invest in real estate as their retirement strategy instead? Is this a good idea? I ask because my retirement accounts seem not to move. It's just money sitting there not getting gains and seems kind of wasteful to me.

CowboyAndIndian

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Re: Real Estate as Primary Retirement Strategy
« Reply #1 on: May 07, 2014, 12:22:15 PM »
Not a good idea.

You never want to put all your eggs in one basket.
This is similar to putting all your money into small-cap stocks. The risk is much higher than by spreading out your investments across different asset classes (in my stock example, you would also need to invest in mid cap, large cap, foreign, bonds etc)

I have made real-estate a part of my investing strategy, but would not forgo the stock market.


This is from the nytimes (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/06/upshot/time-to-worry-about-stock-market-bubbles.html?rref=upshot)
"While the rest of economy has been growing frustratingly slowly for almost five years, stocks have been rising at a boomlike clip. An investment in the Standard & Poor 500-stock index would have doubled from early 2009 through early 2013 and then gained an additional 18 percent over the last year."


So, if the stock market has more than doubled from 2013, and your investments have not moved, It must be a fault of your portfolio, not the stock market.

So, some questions
- What is your asset allocation in your portfolio?  All bonds? Money Market funds?
- What are the expenses of  mutual funds?


« Last Edit: May 07, 2014, 12:30:58 PM by someshrao »

arebelspy

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Re: Real Estate as Primary Retirement Strategy
« Reply #2 on: May 07, 2014, 01:07:55 PM »
Discussion on this exact question from last month:
http://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/welcome-to-the-forum/is-investing-in-real-estate-only-a-decent-fire-strategy/

:)

My answer:
Quote
I'm planning on FIREing with about 80% of my net worth being in real estate (another 10% in equities, 10% in the value of my pension).

I not only think it's a great way to FIRE, I think it's the fastest way to FIRE.  (This is due to the outsized returns + less sequence of returns risk leading to being able to FIRE on a higher "SWR".)

I plan on all excess in FIRE (and I do plan on having a decent surplus, hoping for at least a  25% savings rate in FIRE, maybe up to 50%) to be invested into equities, however, and may eventually exit all real estate (to change from 90-95% passive to 100% passive).

The biggest downside is not being able to do it in tax advantaged accounts (self directed aside, they come with enough caveats that it makes it difficult to do the strategies I prefer in them).  But it's worth it - to me - to have all taxable money for now, to be able to FIRE quicker.  The other downside is that it's not 100% passive, but I'll take 5-10% work in FIRE over 100% work for many more years (delayed FIRE to hit a 3-4% SWR level).
We are two former teachers who accumulated a bunch of real estate, retired at 29, spent some time traveling the world full time and are now settled with two kids.
If you want to know more about us, or how we did that, or see lots of pictures, this Business Insider profile tells our story pretty well.
We (rarely) blog at AdventuringAlong.com. Check out our Now page to see what we're up to currently.

totoro

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Re: Real Estate as Primary Retirement Strategy
« Reply #3 on: May 07, 2014, 01:12:48 PM »
I think it can be a good idea.  I have other investments but would be quite comfortable with real estate alone.

I'm not worried about the eggs in one basket at all because:

1.  If you understand real estate well it is not a crap shoot.  You can control for most of the risks through insurance, long-term mortgages, good credit and good practices.
2.  If prices decline you don't have to sell.
3.  A smart RE purchase beats the 6% or 7% return investing could bring hands down.

Ex.  We invested $150,000 for a $700,000 multi-family.   The rents pay the mortgage and expenses - allowing us to live for free and save the equivalent of est. $900 of mortgage interest each month that we would otherwise pay for a SFH which is then invested. 

I'm not as good with math as many others here so there may need to be some adjusting, but here is a rough comparison:

$150,000 invested for 20 years with 7% return compounded turns into $580,452.67 at year 20.

$150,000 invested into a multi-family rental for 20 years with rental income creating in additional $900 a month to invest for 20 years results in that $900/month compounding over 20 years to be $462,848.17, plus principal pay down of $350,000.   This does not account for house appreciation which in our area has historically averaged 5.4%, but let's put this at 3.5% instead.  This means at year 20 your home may be worth $1,392,852. 

Now, there are a lot of variables, but if we compare these rough calculations you can see that it is possible that you could turn $150,000 safely into $580,452 through passive investing, or turn $150,000 into $1.455 million through a home purchase plus investing the surplus income with slightly more risk and a bit more work.

Taxation of proceeds and rents and investment income is a more complicated country and situation specific calculation, but still favours owning multi-family. 

Once the entire mortgage is paid off in five years the income will be the equivalent of $3000 per month after expenses, free rent and underlying asset that will likely continue to appreciate at 3.5%.  You will also have your approx. $500,000 in additional investments that could spin off another $20,000 a year at the SRW.

This is only one strategy.  Some of you live in markets that are cheap to buy in and give great ROI.  You could potentially buy a bunch of properties and hire a manager and live on the income stream while the equity increases.

Baron235

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Re: Real Estate as Primary Retirement Strategy
« Reply #4 on: May 07, 2014, 02:00:07 PM »
I think it can be a good idea.  I have other investments but would be quite comfortable with real estate alone.

I'm not worried about the eggs in one basket at all because:

1.  If you understand real estate well it is not a crap shoot.  You can control for most of the risks through insurance, long-term mortgages, good credit and good practices.
2.  If prices decline you don't have to sell.
3.  A smart RE purchase beats the 6% or 7% return investing could bring hands down.

Ex.  We invested $150,000 for a $700,000 multi-family.   The rents pay the mortgage and expenses - allowing us to live for free and save the equivalent of est. $900 of mortgage interest each month that we would otherwise pay for a SFH which is then invested. 

I'm not as good with math as many others here so there may need to be some adjusting, but here is a rough comparison:

$150,000 invested for 20 years with 7% return compounded turns into $580,452.67 at year 20.

$150,000 invested into a multi-family rental for 20 years with rental income creating in additional $900 a month to invest for 20 years results in that $900/month compounding over 20 years to be $462,848.17, plus principal pay down of $350,000.   This does not account for house appreciation which in our area has historically averaged 5.4%, but let's put this at 3.5% instead.  This means at year 20 your home may be worth $1,392,852. 

Now, there are a lot of variables, but if we compare these rough calculations you can see that it is possible that you could turn $150,000 safely into $580,452 through passive investing, or turn $150,000 into $1.455 million through a home purchase plus investing the surplus income with slightly more risk and a bit more work.

Taxation of proceeds and rents and investment income is a more complicated country and situation specific calculation, but still favours owning multi-family. 

Once the entire mortgage is paid off in five years the income will be the equivalent of $3000 per month after expenses, free rent and underlying asset that will likely continue to appreciate at 3.5%.  You will also have your approx. $500,000 in additional investments that could spin off another $20,000 a year at the SRW.

This is only one strategy.  Some of you live in markets that are cheap to buy in and give great ROI.  You could potentially buy a bunch of properties and hire a manager and live on the income stream while the equity increases.

Not saying your numbers are wrong because I understand that you gave a very simplified breakdown of the return, but in reality, the numbers are much more complex and renting property has a lot more expenses associated with it that need to be truly factored in before making the decision (like the cost of your time among others). If you can get the return you are getting, of course it makes sense investing.  However, those opportunities are not that common. 

  Bottom line, Before you commit to rentals over investing you need to keep in mind all of the costs of renting (some hidden and some obvious).

freeazabird

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Re: Real Estate as Primary Retirement Strategy
« Reply #5 on: May 07, 2014, 02:22:49 PM »
Would someone mind telling me what FIRE means? Sorry, I'm new.

Mississippi Mudstache

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Re: Real Estate as Primary Retirement Strategy
« Reply #6 on: May 07, 2014, 02:26:00 PM »
Financial Independence/Retire Early

freeazabird

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Re: Real Estate as Primary Retirement Strategy
« Reply #7 on: May 07, 2014, 02:29:18 PM »
Thanks.

NumberCruncher

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Re: Real Estate as Primary Retirement Strategy
« Reply #8 on: May 07, 2014, 02:35:06 PM »
If you do this, make sure any potential investments make sense on paper and are cash flow positive after accounting for vacancy, repairs, taxes, etc. See: http://www.biggerpockets.com/forums/88/topics/13335-5-rule-and-the-2-rule


It would make me uncomfortable to have so much $$ in real estate, but then again, I've never had any (Besides Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs))! In my area, it doesn't make much sense to be a landlord. You can invest in real estate from afar, but this just comes with more difficulty, especially without prior experience.

totoro

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Re: Real Estate as Primary Retirement Strategy
« Reply #9 on: May 07, 2014, 07:29:24 PM »
I think it can be a good idea.  I have other investments but would be quite comfortable with real estate alone.

I'm not worried about the eggs in one basket at all because:

1.  If you understand real estate well it is not a crap shoot.  You can control for most of the risks through insurance, long-term mortgages, good credit and good practices.
2.  If prices decline you don't have to sell.
3.  A smart RE purchase beats the 6% or 7% return investing could bring hands down.

Ex.  We invested $150,000 for a $700,000 multi-family.   The rents pay the mortgage and expenses - allowing us to live for free and save the equivalent of est. $900 of mortgage interest each month that we would otherwise pay for a SFH which is then invested. 

I'm not as good with math as many others here so there may need to be some adjusting, but here is a rough comparison:

$150,000 invested for 20 years with 7% return compounded turns into $580,452.67 at year 20.

$150,000 invested into a multi-family rental for 20 years with rental income creating in additional $900 a month to invest for 20 years results in that $900/month compounding over 20 years to be $462,848.17, plus principal pay down of $350,000.   This does not account for house appreciation which in our area has historically averaged 5.4%, but let's put this at 3.5% instead.  This means at year 20 your home may be worth $1,392,852. 

Now, there are a lot of variables, but if we compare these rough calculations you can see that it is possible that you could turn $150,000 safely into $580,452 through passive investing, or turn $150,000 into $1.455 million through a home purchase plus investing the surplus income with slightly more risk and a bit more work.

Taxation of proceeds and rents and investment income is a more complicated country and situation specific calculation, but still favours owning multi-family. 

Once the entire mortgage is paid off in five years the income will be the equivalent of $3000 per month after expenses, free rent and underlying asset that will likely continue to appreciate at 3.5%.  You will also have your approx. $500,000 in additional investments that could spin off another $20,000 a year at the SRW.

This is only one strategy.  Some of you live in markets that are cheap to buy in and give great ROI.  You could potentially buy a bunch of properties and hire a manager and live on the income stream while the equity increases.

Not saying your numbers are wrong because I understand that you gave a very simplified breakdown of the return, but in reality, the numbers are much more complex and renting property has a lot more expenses associated with it that need to be truly factored in before making the decision (like the cost of your time among others). If you can get the return you are getting, of course it makes sense investing.  However, those opportunities are not that common. 

  Bottom line, Before you commit to rentals over investing you need to keep in mind all of the costs of renting (some hidden and some obvious).

Yes, you need a good spreadsheet to calculate everything out properly.

I have never had a month's vacancy and I own eight rental units.  Have nice places in good locations, maintain them well and price them at or slightly below market.

As far as the cost of my time, I have spent a fair bit of time on renos over the years but you can do that on your home too.  Once a place is up to a good standard and well-organized I don't spend any time on it.  I hire out repairs and maintenance.  I do spend more time organizing our vacation rental, but I hire out cleaning/maintenance.

I have spent relatively little time on renting.  I schedule showings on one day between 11 and 1 pm and choose the best candidate. I require leases for some of the places.  We have tenants that have stayed for years.  I did have one tenant who was experiencing what I believe to be early dementia (early 70's retired librarian) that took time due to a res ten complaint (thought I was entering her suite and taking her kettle... and then putting it back).

I'm not sure the opportunities are uncommon.  I live in a market that is very unfavourable for investors generally and still managed to find something. In the US these opportunities seem to be more common in many areas.

bobmarley9993

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Re: Real Estate as Primary Retirement Strategy
« Reply #10 on: May 07, 2014, 07:33:59 PM »
totoro,

Other than the dementia case have you had a lot of problems with tenants?

totoro

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Re: Real Estate as Primary Retirement Strategy
« Reply #11 on: May 07, 2014, 07:40:28 PM »
I had one other somewhat negative experience with a couple that my mom screened.  My mom is not very business-like and failed to get a signed agreement.  Although it turned out fine in the end, they were very very odd and without experience I think a landlord could have had some trouble.  Most people are really nice to deal with and you don't have much interaction except move-in and move-out inspections.  Vacation rental folks have been no problem at all.

GrayGhost

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Re: Real Estate as Primary Retirement Strategy
« Reply #12 on: May 07, 2014, 07:54:12 PM »
No derailment intended, but I've done some research on vacation rentals and it seems like they can be quite a lot of trouble. I guess it comes down to making sure that things are cleaned/repaired to a high standard between stays and ensuring that you have a system in place for all contingencies.

Can you speak to the differences between a vacation rental vs. traditional units? I'm shocked that you're saying the former is less trouble!

totoro

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Re: Real Estate as Primary Retirement Strategy
« Reply #13 on: May 07, 2014, 08:30:56 PM »
Our vacation rental has been no trouble.  I think because it is expensive ($1550 per week) and always rented by families and we require a refundable deposit. It is a beach house (well, across from the waterfront homes house) on a cul de sac hat adjoins a family beach.

I have never kept any part of the deposit because there has never been any damage.  We are in our fourth year now with an average of eight weeks rented per year (summers only).  I also have a written agreement and give a welcome letter with specific instructions.  I think having a nicely maintained place helps.

totoro

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Re: Real Estate as Primary Retirement Strategy
« Reply #14 on: May 07, 2014, 08:40:15 PM »
As far as the differences go - vacation rentals are fully furnished and require 3-4 hours of cleaning on turnover day and only last a week.  They are not governed by res ten rules but by contract law.  They are also not legal everywhere.

Regular rentals are lower value and can be month to month or leased for a term.  They are more.. reliable in a way.  In that I mean you sign an agreement and it carries on with little work and they are not dependant on a tourist season/destination. I actually prefer to rent furnished as you get slightly higher rents with less wear and tear, but this only works well for students and shorter term rentals for folks on business on locums.

Not sure if I answered the question?

freeazabird

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Re: Real Estate as Primary Retirement Strategy
« Reply #15 on: May 07, 2014, 09:14:32 PM »
Totoro thank you for your feedback. When you nice places, how nice are we talking? for instance do your rentals have granite countertops and stainless appliances?

For any other landlords out there do you have a mix of low and higher income properties? Is one type of renter more preferable to the other? I would like to rent in my current neighborhood which is near two universities, is renting to students too much of a hassle?

totoro

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Re: Real Estate as Primary Retirement Strategy
« Reply #16 on: May 07, 2014, 09:24:28 PM »
Totoro thank you for your feedback. When you nice places, how nice are we talking? for instance do your rentals have granite countertops and stainless appliances?

For any other landlords out there do you have a mix of low and higher income properties? Is one type of renter more preferable to the other? I would like to rent in my current neighborhood which is near two universities, is renting to students too much of a hassle?

No granite countertops.  One place has stainless but the rest are white appliances - easy to replace from CL.  The vacation rental has white.  I meant nicely maintained - good paint, landscaping, everything in good repair, and very very clean.  Not super modern, but not dated either and no carpet.   I think it really depends on your home and the competition.  Location matters more than stainless and granite by far.

arebelspy

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Re: Real Estate as Primary Retirement Strategy
« Reply #17 on: May 08, 2014, 07:15:44 AM »
Good info, totoro.  Sounds like a good deal, as long as it cost around 80k or less (hopefully 60k or less).

The problem I've always had with vacation rentals is they cash flow quite poorly (especially if only rented in a single season, and you're paying utilities the rest of the year) and the management.  If you're close by and can manage them, that's awesome.

But for most, they're a long distance thing (they bought them intending to use it themselves), and the management is a pain on those things.  For the deposit, for example, you have to immediately assess if there's damage in order to refund it ASAP.  If you aren't there to do so, you need reliable people who are, who can clean and turn the place quickly, etc.

Finding a good property manager on a normal rental who only has to collect rent and occasionally schedule a repair is tough enough.. finding one completely hands-on for a vacation rental?  Yikes.

But again, if you live in a hot vacation area, and purchase a second property right near your own, and manage yourself, that can be an awesome strategy (as long as you aren't sacrificing the numbers - there may be better rentals, so don't default to that because it's close, but run the numbers).
We are two former teachers who accumulated a bunch of real estate, retired at 29, spent some time traveling the world full time and are now settled with two kids.
If you want to know more about us, or how we did that, or see lots of pictures, this Business Insider profile tells our story pretty well.
We (rarely) blog at AdventuringAlong.com. Check out our Now page to see what we're up to currently.

monarda

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Re: Real Estate as Primary Retirement Strategy
« Reply #18 on: May 08, 2014, 07:43:49 AM »
Yes, good info. I just came back from a vacation where I was with a group that rented one of those beach vacation rentals.
A tempting investment, especially if in retirement we plan to stay more at the beach, and rent out our primary residence...

We are also primarily using rentals for our retirement strategy. And for about a third of our pre-retirement strategy. I'm trying to figure out in 10-15 years when most of our current mortgages are paid off (if we only pay at standard rate- we'll likely pay off sooner), what our balance of allocation will be or should be  (real estate vs other).

monarda

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Re: Real Estate as Primary Retirement Strategy
« Reply #19 on: May 08, 2014, 08:06:26 AM »
Totoro thank you for your feedback. When you nice places, how nice are we talking? for instance do your rentals have granite countertops and stainless appliances?

For any other landlords out there do you have a mix of low and higher income properties? Is one type of renter more preferable to the other? I would like to rent in my current neighborhood which is near two universities, is renting to students too much of a hassle?

We're in a university town, but too far from campus to attract students. We occasionally have grad students who like a long bike ride to campus. Most of our tenants are recent grads with a pretty good job, getting ready to buy their own first home. They tend to stay a while and our places are nice.  No granite, no stainless. But when other folks upgrade to granite, we snatch their nice looking corian from craigslist. Appliances are white or black. 

Regarding the type of property, they are moderate income. We have three houses, bought them for 130-170K and have put quite a bit into them. Considering the total original purchase price we're over 1% (re: the 1% rule) total purchase $450K, total gross monthly rent about $5K.  Very ballpark, and that's not counting what we've put into them over the years.

totoro

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Re: Real Estate as Primary Retirement Strategy
« Reply #20 on: May 08, 2014, 09:40:36 AM »
Good info, totoro.  Sounds like a good deal, as long as it cost around 80k or less (hopefully 60k or less).

The problem I've always had with vacation rentals is they cash flow quite poorly (especially if only rented in a single season, and you're paying utilities the rest of the year) and the management.  If you're close by and can manage them, that's awesome.

But for most, they're a long distance thing (they bought them intending to use it themselves), and the management is a pain on those things.  For the deposit, for example, you have to immediately assess if there's damage in order to refund it ASAP.  If you aren't there to do so, you need reliable people who are, who can clean and turn the place quickly, etc.

Finding a good property manager on a normal rental who only has to collect rent and occasionally schedule a repair is tough enough.. finding one completely hands-on for a vacation rental?  Yikes.

But again, if you live in a hot vacation area, and purchase a second property right near your own, and manage yourself, that can be an awesome strategy (as long as you aren't sacrificing the numbers - there may be better rentals, so don't default to that because it's close, but run the numbers).

Our vacation rental has two suites that are rented for the two months in the summer.  In the winter one suite is leased furnished for ten months (much lower rate) and they pay half the utilities.  This increases our overall return significantly. 

Our family stays in one of the suites for unrented weeks in the summer, or weeks of our choosing.  This summer a big group of us are going so we have the last week of August reserved for both suites. 

In the winter I, and sometimes family (for skiing), stay in the other suite once a month. I have work there so it is business travel which I get to claim an accommodation credit as a non-taxable expense. 

I pay no management fees.  I organize everything myself.  I do pay for cleaning, repairs and maintenance.

In the past four years I have purchased a new sofabed, a second-hand nice couch, and some cookware.  The big costs were in the original set- up which involved renovations, furnishing and some low maintenance landscaping.

Overall we do not meet the 1% rule, but we are cash flow positive after all expenses and I'm very happy to have my mortgage paid by others and have a great place to stay on vacation and for work. 

As far as damage goes, yes, the cleaners need to note any damage but we return funds by e-transfer so it is not on the spot.  Finding cleaners can be a PITA and this is the biggest challenge.  In my case I am lucky because I have family in town who do part of this.  I trust them. 

I agree that living in the town is ideal, but we do not and it still works out okay.

The key thing with vacation rentals or any rentals is understanding your market.  Different cities and even different locations in cities have entirely different vacancy rates and demographics.

aj_yooper

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Re: Real Estate as Primary Retirement Strategy
« Reply #21 on: May 08, 2014, 09:52:42 AM »
Totoro,  thank you for your thoughts on real estate investing.  You're a good teacher.

AJ

totoro

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Re: Real Estate as Primary Retirement Strategy
« Reply #22 on: May 08, 2014, 10:28:16 AM »
Thanks - just have some experience now is all.  I wish I knew all this earlier.  First-hand information was not so easy to find before the internet. 

I will say that something new we are considering for one our rentals in a non-tourist area is airbnb. 

I did a test run this year to see the response rate and we could have been fully booked for June/July/August for a furnished suite in our primary multi-family at slightly more than double the regular monthly rate.  This would have meant an additional $4200 in rents.  People who responded were primarily coming to town for short-term work or to visit family.  There was little interest outside of those months.

As we are limited to monthly bookings under the by-law, it was interesting to see that it could still work and we will do this for next year. 

Beaker

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Re: Real Estate as Primary Retirement Strategy
« Reply #23 on: May 08, 2014, 11:31:52 AM »
Thanks - just have some experience now is all.  I wish I knew all this earlier.  First-hand information was not so easy to find before the internet. 

I will say that something new we are considering for one our rentals in a non-tourist area is airbnb. 

I did a test run this year to see the response rate and we could have been fully booked for June/July/August for a furnished suite in our primary multi-family at slightly more than double the regular monthly rate.  This would have meant an additional $4200 in rents.  People who responded were primarily coming to town for short-term work or to visit family.  There was little interest outside of those months.

As we are limited to monthly bookings under the by-law, it was interesting to see that it could still work and we will do this for next year.

Do be careful about converting monthly rentals or regular homes into "AirBnB hotels." Some jurisdictions are getting really annoyed about people essentially running hotels without paying hospitality taxes and complying with all the regulations. Right now it's mostly big cities (NYC, San Fran, etc) looking at it, but that could spread.

If your property was already a vacation rental then you're probably fine, and if you're doing monthly rentals rather than daily you're probably safer. Just make sure you're on the right side of your local laws before doing that sort of thing.

Disclosure: I work for HomeAway, which is an AirBnB competitor.

totoro

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Re: Real Estate as Primary Retirement Strategy
« Reply #24 on: May 08, 2014, 11:47:33 AM »
Thanks - just have some experience now is all.  I wish I knew all this earlier.  First-hand information was not so easy to find before the internet. 

I will say that something new we are considering for one our rentals in a non-tourist area is airbnb. 

I did a test run this year to see the response rate and we could have been fully booked for June/July/August for a furnished suite in our primary multi-family at slightly more than double the regular monthly rate.  This would have meant an additional $4200 in rents.  People who responded were primarily coming to town for short-term work or to visit family.  There was little interest outside of those months.

As we are limited to monthly bookings under the by-law, it was interesting to see that it could still work and we will do this for next year.

Do be careful about converting monthly rentals or regular homes into "AirBnB hotels." Some jurisdictions are getting really annoyed about people essentially running hotels without paying hospitality taxes and complying with all the regulations. Right now it's mostly big cities (NYC, San Fran, etc) looking at it, but that could spread.

If your property was already a vacation rental then you're probably fine, and if you're doing monthly rentals rather than daily you're probably safer. Just make sure you're on the right side of your local laws before doing that sort of thing.

Disclosure: I work for HomeAway, which is an AirBnB competitor.

Weekly vacation rentals are legal where our vacation rental is.  There were so many people doing  this for the short but very high demand summer season that Council decided it was better to legalize and collect a licensing fee.  This is not all that common I believe.

Where our other unit is owners must rent for a minimum of one month at a time.  This is why there was no winter demand for the unit I believe.  There would have been more of a demand for shorter term rentals. Also, during the winter it is also fairly to find low cost short-term rentals from snowbirds who head to Palm Springs or wherever.  Monthly rentals are governed by res ten laws so the city does not get involved in any inspection or licensing beyond issuing the certificate of occupation upon final completion of original construction.

You can check the rules by finding your city or town's website and all by-laws should be listed there.  Some towns have created hand-outs on the rules that apply.

All that said, there are definitely many people listing who are not following the rules.  In most jurisdictions bylaw enforcement is complaints based.  This means if your neighbour complains, they will investigate and enforce.