Multifamily Investing 101: How To Buy Multifamily Homes
Scott Steinberg12-minute read
June 13, 2022
Multifamily investing refers to buying multifamily properties such as apartment complexes, condo buildings or duplexes which offer multiple spaces for rent. Because of its capacity to improve investors’ cash flows and boost net operating income, it’s a popular form of real estate investment.
Thinking of buying a multifamily home or investing in multifamily units? You’re not alone. Reasons that prospective multifamily homeowners may be wondering how to buy a multifamily property are numerous. They may want to learn how to increase revenue potential, master strategies to reduce vacancy rates, or try house hacking to add new income streams.
Here, we take a closer look at how multifamily real estate investing works, how you can set about buying a multifamily home, and what to know as you add to your investment portfolio. We’ll also walk you through several of the best reasons to consider investing in a multifamily home.
Investing In Multifamily Properties Vs. Single-Family Properties
Multifamily investing differs from investing in single-family residences. That’s because it requires you to purchase and maintain properties that include multiple spaces for rent. But while investing in multifamily properties (and their multiple rental units) often comes with added time, expense, and overhead, it also holds the potential to boost your monthly income. This type of investment offers consistent appreciation in value and significantly reduces your investment risk.
Investing in residential properties such as duplexes, apartment buildings, and condo buildings can often come with larger upfront and back-end costs. Property management needs also increase significantly when making the leap from single-family to multifamily housing.
At the same time, because multifamily properties offer multiple rental units to rent out (and the promise of multiple streams of revenue), they can also generate several multiples’ worth of additional income in the end. Likewise, having the ability to rent out several units versus a single unit also provides real estate investors with multiple opportunities to reduce vacancy rate, allay their expenses and offset general risk.
4 Reasons Why Multifamily Investing May Be Right For You
Real estate investing is a major part of many investment portfolios, especially those maintained by accredited investors. Of the many types of asset classes that you can hold, multifamily properties are one of the most popular, given their ability to generate somewhat predictable and routine net operating income.
In effect, because condo buildings, apartment complexes, duplexes and other multifamily properties offer the option to rent out multiple rental properties and accrue added appreciation in value over time, there’s much upside to be recognized from successful multifamily investing activities.
Ultimately, there are many reasons that you may wish to buy a multifamily home. But it’s also important to note that the choice to do so requires you to make additional commitments in terms of management, upkeep and finances as well. Be sure to think through your options as you go about considering if multifamily investing is right for your real estate investment portfolio. The following four reasons to engage in the practice may offer helpful food for thought as you begin weighing your options.
1. You Want To Expand Your Portfolio
Real estate investing (like any form of investing) is not only rooted in picking smart investments, but also investing in well-diversified holdings as a hedge against future uncertainty and risk. That means exploring a variety of property investment options beyond single-family rental units alone.
As a rule of thumb, expanding your real estate investment portfolio is key to success if real estate investing is your passion. Note that investing is generally active or passive in nature – and that purchasing a multifamily property is a form of active investing.
In other words, if you’re wondering how to buy a multifamily property, you also need to know that doing so will require you to be responsible for overseeing and managing the property to boot. However, you can also hire a property management company to handle these needs if you need to outsource day-to-day tasks and upkeep.
Of course, as an active investment practice, multifamily investing also requires you to be responsible for maintaining the premises for current tenants, and acquiring new ones. You’ll be responsible for paying property tax costs on the building as well. But here’s the upside: You may stand to gain a far better return on real estate investment (ROI) when you purchase a multifamily property compared to the level of return that you might hope to get from other passive forms of investing. In fact, many real estate investment pros have made quite the career (and fortune) out of purchasing and operating multifamily rental units.
2. You Want To Generate Additional Income
Buying a multifamily property might be the right move for you if you’re looking for a manageable way to increase your recurring revenues and significantly boost your net operating income (NOI). That’s because apartment complexes, duplexes, condo buildings and other multifamily properties offer a greater number of rental units that you can bring to market.
Likewise, over time, these real estate properties hold the potential to grow significantly in value, providing an added windfall if you elect to sell them. Gains made here can outpace those made on single-family homes by several orders of magnitude.
That said, it’s important to understand property values and residential trends pertaining to the area you’re interested in purchasing a property in as you work to determine how much profit that you stand to gain before acquiring a new holding.
3. The Timing Is Right
Sometimes a great real estate investment might fall into your lap even if you’ve never really considered how to buy a multifamily property, or the prospect of being a landlord to multiple tenants.
Let’s say you’ve discovered a multifamily property that’s being offered for an affordable price that you think could bring you sizable income and add significantly to your real estate investment portfolio.
If you think that the opportunity is too good to pass up, you’ll want to do some analysis surrounding the property, as well as cap rates, vacancy rates and local property market trends. In addition, it’s also important to run your idea by a knowledgeable agent, investor and financial advisor – they’ll be able to review the real estate benefits and your financial situation to help you make an educated decision here.
4. You Want To Reduce Living Costs
Many landlords who own smaller multifamily properties as a form of real estate investment (like two to four-unit properties) don’t just hope to generate additional monthly income either. Rather, they also aim to cut back significantly on rental or mortgage costs for their own home.
You can follow in their footsteps – and enjoy equally large cost savings and amounts of money put back in your pocket – by moving into one of your units and using your additional rental income to defer costs and earn a profit here.
This real estate investment strategy, which essentially leverages the income from other rental units to help pay for your own, can prove quite lucrative if you can find an affordable property in a neighborhood you like.
Get your free credit report and score.
Create a Rocket Account to see where your credit stands.
Find Out Whether You Qualify For Buying A Multifamily Home
Are you ready to start considering adding multifamily properties to your real estate investment portfolio? Wondering how to go about buying multifamily rental unit options?
Before you jump into the buying process, you’ll want to find out if you qualify for a mortgage on a multiunit property.
For a two to four-unit multifamily property of the type that you can get from many residential lenders, including Rocket Mortgage®, you need to take the following into consideration:
The first concern for aspiring real estate investors to be aware of are higher down payments for multifamily properties (compared to single-family homes). For instance: If you’re seeking to buy a two-unit primary residence as a start to multifamily real estate investing, you’ll need a minimum 15% down payment if you’re getting a conventional loan. However, if you’re considering investing in three- to four-unit primary properties as part of your multifamily real estate investing strategy, the minimum down payment is 20%.
Down payment requirements also differ on conventional loans for investment properties (such as multifamily properties that you are not living in) to boot. Case in point: There’s a 25% minimum down payment that you’ll need to consider when buying a multifamily home if you don’t plan on living in one of the units.
On the bright side, down payments for multifamily properties backed by an FHA loan are the same as they would be for a single-family home. You can buy a residence up to four units with a 3.5% down payment through Rocket Mortgage as long as you live in one of the units. While you can get an investment property through the FHA, Rocket Mortgage doesn’t offer this option if you don’t live in one of the units.
VA loans are offered as a real estate financing benefit for eligible veterans, active duty service members, reservists, and surviving spouses of those who passed away in the line of duty or as a result of a service-connected disability. Those who qualify can acquire a primary residence of up to four units without a down payment. Investment properties (that you don’t live in) aren’t eligible for VA loans.
Debt-To-Income Ratio (DTI)
If you’re contemplating buying a multifamily property and engaging in multifamily real estate investing, it’s important to consider your debt-to-income ratio (DTI) as well. Your DTI effectively represents the amount of monthly debt that you have in comparison to your gross monthly income. In other words, the less money that you’re paying out each month in debt and the more that’s coming in as income, the more attractive your DTI will look to lenders.
When considering whether to extend you a multifamily home mortgage, a lender will effectively take your income and cash flows into consideration – and take an even closer look at regular and recurring debts like car payments, student loans and mortgages. Minimum payments on revolving lines of credit like credit cards will also be considered. In effect, the lower your DTI, the better chance that you’ll have of being able to qualify for a multifamily property mortgage loan.
A good general guideline here if you wish to buy a multifamily home is to keep your overall DTI below 43%. However, the exact DTI requirements that you’ll need to meet will depend on the type of loan that you’re considering getting.
The two conventional investors, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, even have different policies surrounding DTI. For example: Fannie Mae says that you absolutely can’t spend more than 50% of your monthly income toward payment of debt. Meanwhile, Freddie Mac doesn’t set a hard and fast guideline. Instead, each case is looked at based on factors including median FICO® Score and the size of your down payment as well as other risk factors before determining the maximum acceptable DTI.
On the VA side, maximum DTI for a fixed-rate loan is 60%. However, additional qualifying factors need to be really strong if your DTI is above 45%. This includes having a FICO® Score with a median of at least 620. To qualify with a score between 580 and 620, you’ll need to maintain a housing expense ratio – your overall mortgage payment compared to your gross monthly income – of no higher than 38% and overall DTI of no more than 45%.
FHA requirements for scores between 580 and 620 are the same as VA requirements. If your credit score is 620 or higher, qualifying DTI is decided on a case-by-case basis, but in no event will it be higher than 67%.
When thinking of buying a multifamily home, one way to keep DTI in check is to use the rental income that you’re anticipating receiving from tenants in order to qualify for the mortgage payment. To do this, you’ll need a firm lease agreement in place with your anticipated multifamily tenants in order to use the income to qualify. For some loans, a special type of appraisal will need to be done that includes the approximate rental value of your space, factoring in its multiple rental units.
Another really important item to note here is that you can only use rental income to qualify for the purchase of a multifamily home after a vacancy factor (or vacancy rate) is applied. The vacancy factor accounts for the fact that if a tenant gives notice, you may have a period of time during which a rental unit is unoccupied while finding a new tenant. To compensate for this, you can only use 75% of your multifamily property rental unit income to qualify for the mortgage.
It’s also important to note that because the VA requires rental income to be reported on a tax return, you won’t be able to use the anticipated income to initially buy the home with a VA loan.
How To Start Investing In Multifamily Real Estate
If you’re wondering how to buy multifamily homes, it pays to have a good idea of where to start, how to choose a loan type and what’s involved with making a strong offer.
Below, we take a closer look at the multifamily real estate investing process – and how you can maximize your odds of successfully identifying and capitalizing on new opportunities.
Step 1. Find A Multifamily Home
From a multifamily property real estate investing standpoint, it cannot be overstated: Location is extremely important to keep in mind as you go about considering when and how it makes the most sense to invest in a multifamily home.
For starters, you’ll want to seek out a property that is located in an area that will be appealing to renters. As you set about reviewing rental units and properties, look for neighborhoods with good school districts, located in up-and-coming areas of town, and within districts with a large number of attractions – destinations that have the potential to stand the test of time. After all, a great location attracts high-quality tenants who will want to pay to live in the home.
What’s more, you’ll also want to partner with a local real estate agent, as they understand the market, industry dynamics, and how property and rental trends are prone to fluctuating in the area. They can further offer quality advice on where to purchase and can help you determine whether a property is overpriced.
You’ll also want to do your own research on the area as well – especially if you’re not familiar with the neighborhood or do not live nearby. This may include visiting specific neighborhoods at different times on different days to get a better sense of theircharacter. A little upfront legwork and investigation can prevent you from investing in a property in a bad location.
Step 2. Choose A Loan
When buying a multifamily property, it’s also important to be conscious of how to pick a loan program and provider. After all, successful real estate investing isn’t just about picking the right property: It’s also about securing the best possible interest rate, managing cash flow and thinking about how different asset classes fit into your overall investment portfolio.
One point to be aware of as you do so is that some online lenders will finance a two-unit property but not anything larger. This type of investment is typically ideal if you want to be a landlord and manage different multifamily properties or if you’re hoping to live in one of the units and rent out the other for additional income.
Otherwise, conventional mortgages are the most popular choice. However, you may also qualify for an FHA loan or VA loan through Rocket Mortgage as long as one of the units is your primary residence.
Once financing is arranged, you’re ready to make an offer on your property.
Step 3. Make An Offer
You’ll want to lean on your agent for insight and advice when making an offer. Your agent will meet with the selling agent and act on your behalf, so before they do so, it’s important to determine the absolute highest offer that you’re willing to make (based on your budget and financing limits).
Once you have your numbers ready, your agent will meet with the seller’s agent and negotiate. You’ll move forward if your offer to buy the multifamily property is accepted. Counteroffers are common, so don’t be discouraged if you have to go through a few rounds of renegotiating.
Step 4. Renovate And Get Ready For Your Tenants
After closing, you’re ready to renovate your new multifamily property (if necessary) and prepare for the arrival of tenants. There are two key components to this preparation step: Renovating/making repairs and creating a management plan.
Part 1: Renovate And Make Repairs
Before you open your doors (and rental units) to the public, you’ll need to make any repairs detailed in your inspection report and ensure that your multifamily home follows local codes.
You may also want to invest in some cosmetic upgrades, like new doorknobs, light fixtures, cabinet pulls, and a fresh coat of paint. Bear in mind that you might find you’re able to attract more tenants or even increase your rent – not to mention overall net operating income – with the help of these upgrades.
Be sure you have a maintenance plan in place as well. This plan should handle any tenant repair requests and regular upkeep of the building as well as lawn care and snow removal.
Part 2: Create A Management Plan
Lastly, you need to decide how you want to handle the day-to-day management of your multifamily rental units as well as any marketing for prospective tenants. Decide how much time you’re willing to commit to running your property before you make this decision.
As part of your considerations here, you’ll also want to map out a budget for your multifamily property that accounts for various operating costs, upgrades and cash flow demands that may arise as you manage your multifamily unit.
The Bottom Line
Investing in a multifamily property is a great way to grow your real estate portfolio and bring in additional income. Owning multifamily properties can be a small endeavor or large undertaking, depending on the number of rental units that the property contains.
If you’re ready to get started with buying a multifamily home, begin by finding a local real estate agent that you trust to help you make savvy investment decisions and help you locate the perfect property to add to your real estate investment portfolio. From there, you’ll want to shop around for multifamily real estate mortgage lenders and compare interest rates and mortgage options to find the best fit.
See What You Qualify For
Viewing 1 - 3 of 3
Understanding The BRRRR Method Of Real Estate Investment
Home Buying - 6-minute read
Lauren Nowacki - May 23, 2022
Interested in earning money through real estate investment? Learn how each step of the BRRRR method works, and explore pros and cons.
What Is Rental Property Depreciation?
Servicing - 8-minute read
Hanna Kielar - June 10, 2022
Rental property depreciation is a big tax advantage that can make real estate investment profitable beyond the income it generates. Learn how it works.