Beginners Guide to Buying Rental Properties (Formula for Buying Rentals)

Before getting into specific techniques, I’d like to re-emphasize that just like any other investment out there, if you don’t know what you’re doing, you will get burned and lose A LOT of money. I always recommend doing your homework and investing FIRST in your education.

Here are a couple of things I do to get educated:

Talk to other investors – make sure you are getting solid advice from people who have accomplished what you are trying to do, not from broke family members! You will be surprised by how many well-meaning people are eager to give you free advice on something they know NOTHING about.

Read, Read, Read

I am a HUGE fan of reading. It’s advisable to read a variety of authors who have different approaches. Your job will be to read enough material to begin seeing patterns and to form your own opinions and strategies.

Consider Buying Courses

There is a TON of quality content out there; however, just like any other industry, there’s also plenty of snake oil salesmen peddling get-rich-quick schemes, so be careful. Usually, a thorough Google search will help sort out the bad apples.


I recommend buying in an area that you are familiar with, at least for your first few properties as you get your feet wet. If you are not familiar with an area, try spending a few weekends in your target market over a period of months. Drive around in 2-3 zip codes you are interested in and talk to neighbors, local shop owners, property managers, etc. so you can get a feel for the area and the potential clientele you’ll be dealing with.

What type of neighborhood should you be looking in?

Well, each person’s strategy is different, but here is how I analyze properties and scout out neighborhoods:

I evaluate them as one of three categories…

A Class

These are in “pride of ownership” neighborhoods occupied predominantly by homeowners. The houses are typically well maintained with green lawns, tree-lined streets, etc. These tend to make great homes to impress your friends, but don’t usually pencil out as great investments. I stay clear of these areas.

B Class

This typically has the largest range of product between the three classes. These houses usually serve the greatest number of people within the community and have the largest amount of inventory. I usually try to target a neighborhood where there is a large portion of blue-collar workers and where there is a 35/65 percent ratio of the renter to homeowner. You can usually tell if you’re in one of these neighborhoods by the number of utility vehicles parked in driveways – cable repair vans, constructions trucks, etc.

C Class

These are in “run-down” neighborhoods occupied predominantly by renters. These rental properties typically have a high renter turnover rate. People tend to RUN in these areas at night, NOT jog. There’s high crime, gang and drug activity, substantial cop presence, etc. I am not saying these are poor investments; typically the cash flow on these deals can be high. But the successful investors taking these on are probably running a tight operation and have a specialized property management team in place. For someone looking to acquire one or two investment properties as a way to supplement income, I would recommend against this. I haven’t purchased one and I don’t think John is eager to buy another one either.


a. Buy below market 10-20%.

Think of this not only as a way to grow your net worth, but also as a way to ensure your financial security. If you ever have to sell due to an emergency, that 10-20% is going to allow you to lower your offering price to move it quicker. On a positive note, if you don’t have to sell in an emergency, you’ve just made an instant return on your investment.

b. The property must generate at least a 15% ROI, cash on cash.

That means the rent minus the debt (if mortgaged) and expenses must equal 15% or more. For example, a $20K down payment would have to yield at LEAST a yearly cash flow of $3,000. 

c. Buy in a B-class neighborhood, 35/65 percent ratio of the renter to homeowner.

d. The rent should be at LEAST 1% of the purchase price.

For example, a $100K home should rent for at LEAST $1000 per month.

e. Do your due diligence regarding repairs before buying.

If the repairs plus your down payment exceeds 15% ROI, move on to the next property.

f. Maintain six months of cash reserves per property to pay the debt service.

This should suffice for any unforeseen repairs or vacancies.


These next few years will probably go down as the best time to purchase income-producing rentals in our lifetime. In many markets, you can acquire property far below the cost to build. Interest rates are at historic lows. Generation Y is three times the size of Generation X and is expected to continue to rent for the foreseeable future—while property values have dropped significantly, costs to rent have not.


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