Are Condos a Good Investment?

Question: How have rental rates on condos compared to appreciation in resale market value?

Answer: Last week, I compared the historical appreciation rate of different property types (tl;dr…single-family > townhouse > condo) so this week, I thought it would be interesting to drill into what a condo investment looks like in Arlington by comparing historical market value appreciation against historical rental rate appreciation.

1BR vs 2BR Condos, North vs South Arlington

Last week we learned that, since 2012, condos in South Arlington have appreciated faster than similar condos in North Arlington, and in both areas, a two-bedroom condo has performed better than a one-bedroom condo.

North Arlington Rental Rates Frozen, Moderately Higher in South Arlington

Incredibly, the average rent for a one- or two-bedroom condo in North Arlington has barely changed since 2012, while increasing about 18% and 15%, respectively, in South Arlington. I believe that is due to the high volume of new apartment buildings delivered over the last 10+ years, significantly increasing the supply of rents and delivering more modern finishes and amenities than most condo buildings offer, causing condo buildings, mostly built 15+ years ago, to become less desirable for renters.

It’s important to note that the rental data below is limited to what is in the MLS, which is mostly condo rentals and does not reflect the commercial rental market, which has seen average rental prices increase since 2012.

Table

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*Calculated using that year’s average 30yr fixed interest rate (5.5% for 2022), 20% down, and $50 per month on homeowner’s insurance

**Approximate first-year return on an all-cash purchase

Expect Low Return, Potentially Negative Cashflow

In most cases, real estate investments follow similar principles as other investments – more risk for higher returns and lower expected returns for more stable investments. Arlington is one of the most stable, lowest-risk real estate markets in the country/world and condos tend to have the lowest risk of all property types because they’re generally easy to rent with less exposure to costly repairs and maintenance oversights. Thus, you can expect shockingly (for some) low returns on a condo investment in Arlington.

If you’re putting close to 20% down, expect to be cash-flow negative for a while. If you’re paying cash, expect a low single-digit cash-on-cash return. It’s important to note that the calculations above do NOT include vacancy periods (expect some between tenants), property management (usually ~6-10% of gross rent), maintenance/repair, and other expenses you may incur.

Where is the Payoff?

Investment properties come with significant tax benefits from depreciation and some other expenses (not mortgage interest) so for high-earning individuals with few write-offs, the payoff for large tax deductions is substantial and can offset monthly cash flow losses. If you are financing the investment, you must consider the unrealized gain of principle buydown (unrealized until you sell) and incorporate that into your return-on-investment calculations.

Also, keep in mind that these are blended averages of one- and two-bedroom condos. If you are exclusively seeking an investment property, you will find some properties with moderately better-projected returns by focusing less on what you want to live in and more on value.

Many people end up with a condo investment property because they’ve bought it for their primary residence and then convert it into a rental property when they move out. This can be an excellent way to build your investment/real estate portfolio because you get a lower interest rate on a primary residence, with the ability to put less than 20% down, and generate value just by living there and not paying rent yourself.

Condos are, of course, not the only option when it comes to real estate investing but they tend to be the most accessible, and thus, the most popular. Investing in real estate can be a great way to build wealth, but you must first understand the risk-return profile you want and be realistic about costs, returns, and the time you’ll spend managing the investment. 

If you’d like to discuss buying, selling, investing, or renting, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com.

If you’d like a question answered in my weekly column or to discuss buying, selling, renting, or investing, please send an email to Eli@EliResidential.com. To read any of my older posts, visit the blog section of my website at EliResidential.com. Call me directly at (703) 539-2529.

Video summaries of some articles can be found on YouTube on the Ask Eli, Live With Jean playlist.

Eli Tucker is a licensed Realtor in Virginia, Washington DC, and Maryland with RLAH Real Estate | @properties, 4040 N Fairfax Dr #10C Arlington VA 22203. (703) 390-9460.

Caveat Emptor – Let The Buyer Beware!

Question: What responsibility does a seller have to disclosure problems with their home?

Answer: Sellers cannot lie about or conceal material defects of their home, but in Virginia, property owners are under no responsibility to disclose them to a buyer. That’s because Virginia is one of the few states in the US still operating under the common law concept of Caveat Emptor, meaning “Let The Buyer Beware.” This places the duty of discovery (of defects) on the homebuyer. Per Bankrate.com, the other states include Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, North Dakota, and Wyoming.

Residential Property Disclosure

The Residential Property Disclosure is required in most transactions except for sales between relatives, foreclosures, builders, and a handful of other scenarios. The Disclosure, signed by the seller and buyer, states that the homeowner(s) makes no representations or warranties with respect to things like:

  • Property Condition
  • Sexual Offenders
  • Adjacent Parcels
  • Wastewater Systems
  • Historic Districts

Alternatively, jurisdictions like Washington DC and Maryland require extensive disclosures by homeowners. The DC Disclosure runs 4+ pages long and requires owners to make representations on every material aspect of the property and community including roof, insulation, heating/cooling, appliances, drainage, zoning, and more.

Realtors Held To A Higher Standard

While Virginia homeowners aren’t required to disclose defects, the Realtor Code of Ethics holds us to a higher standard. A listing agent who is a Realtor “shall disclose to prospective buyers/tenants (customers) all material adverse facts pertaining to the physical condition of the property which are actually known by the licensee.”

While listing agents don’t have a duty to discover latent defects, they are required to communicate anything they’re made aware of through the standard course of the transaction be it discussions with the seller, inspection of the property, or otherwise.

Should Virginia Change?

Personally, I’d like to see Virginia make changes to the seller disclosure laws to balance the scales a bit. One could make a case that increasing disclosure requirements would reduce buyer risk, thereby making Virginia homes more valuable and pushing home values up across the board (sellers would still have the ability to offer “As-Is”). It would be particularly valuable in a market like we’ve had the last few years where due diligence periods are shortened or waived completely.

As a counterpoint, buyers in jurisdictions with heavy disclosure requirements can rely too much on what the seller says/does not say and fall victim to a seller simply not being aware of a defect that a buyer could have discovered through due diligence.

What do you think? Are you happy with the current system or would you like to see Virginia get rid of Caveat Emptor and place more duty on the seller to disclose material defects? 

If you’d like to discuss buying, selling, investing, or renting, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com.

If you’d like a question answered in my weekly column or to discuss buying, selling, renting, or investing, please send an email to Eli@EliResidential.com. To read any of my older posts, visit the blog section of my website at EliResidential.com. Call me directly at (703) 539-2529.

Video summaries of some articles can be found on YouTube on the Ask Eli, Live With Jean playlist.

Eli Tucker is a licensed Realtor in Virginia, Washington DC, and Maryland with RLAH Real Estate | @properties, 4040 N Fairfax Dr #10C Arlington VA 22203. (703) 390-9460.