Investing in real estate? How to Value Rental Property

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If you’re new to the real estate investment market, your first question might be, “How much will this rental property cost me? But the more important question is, “How valuable is this rental property?

Knowing how to value rental property is the first step to identifying your potential return on investment (ROI). In this post, we’ll share four common methods used by investors and the agents who help them find and purchase fruitful rental properties.

Editor’s note: This post is meant for educational purposes and should not be construed as investment advice. HomeLight always encourages you to reach out to an advisor.

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1. Sales comparison approach (SCA)

The sales comparison approach (SCA) is a widely used method for valuing residential real estate, making it particularly useful for real estate investors. This approach involves comparing a home to similar properties that have recently sold or rented in the same area.

The SCA takes into account sales data and property characteristics, such as the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, square footage, lot size, and unique features like pools, garages, or updated kitchens. This method helps investors understand the competitive landscape and determine a reasonable price for a property, as well as estimate rental rates. Using price and rates per square foot is a common metric in the SCA.

Sales comparison approach example scenario

Imagine you’re looking to invest in a rental property. The property you’re interested in is a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house with 1,800 square feet of living space. To use the SCA, you identify three similar properties in the same neighborhood that have recently sold:

  • Property A: Sold for $270,000, with 1,750 square feet
  • Property B: Sold for $285,000, with 1,850 square feet
  • Property C: Sold for $280,000, with 1,800 square feet

Based on these comparable sales, you can estimate the value of your property to be around $280,000.

If these similar rental properties in the area are renting at $1.10 per square foot, and your property is 1,800 square feet, you can estimate a rental rate by multiplying these figures.

$1.10 x 1,800 = $1,980 potential monthly rent rate

Your value estimates may need to be adjusted for differences in features or property conditions. For example, if your property has a newly renovated kitchen while the comparables do not, you might add value to your estimate.

2. Gross rent multiplier (GRM) approach

The gross rent multiplier (GRM) approach is a method for valuing rental properties based on their potential rental income. The GRM is determined by dividing the property’s price by its annual gross rental income. This method provides a rough estimate of the property’s value.

Using the GRM approach, investors can estimate the number of years it might take for the property’s gross rental income to finally pay for itself. A lower GRM indicates a better investment opportunity because it suggests a higher rental income relative to the property’s price. This option should be considered an initial screening tool because you’ll also need to account for expenses like taxes, insurance, utilities, and maintenance costs.

Gross rent multiplier approach example scenario

Suppose you’re evaluating a rental property priced at $450,000, with an annual gross rental income of $60,000. To calculate the GRM, divide the property’s price by the annual rental income:

Property Value / Annual Gross Rental Income = GRM

$450,000 / $60,000 = 7.5

Next, compare this GRM with the GRMs of similar properties in the area. If comparable properties have GRMs of around 8 or higher, the property you’re considering may be a good investment. Conversely, if other properties have significantly lower GRMs, you might want to reconsider or negotiate a lower purchase price.

3. Income approach

The income approach values rental properties based on their ability to generate income, making it a favored method among investors focused on cash flow. This approach evaluates a property’s net operating income (NOI) and the capitalization rate (cap rate) to estimate its value. The NOI is the annual income from the property after subtracting operating expenses, while the cap rate represents the expected rate of return on the investment.

This method is particularly useful for properties with stable and predictable income streams, such as apartment buildings or commercial real estate. The income approach allows investors to compare properties by evaluating their potential returns, helping them make informed decisions about where to invest their money.

Income approach example scenario

Consider you’re evaluating a rental property with an annual net operating income of $16,800 ($1,400 expected monthly income x 12). The property’s market value is $140,000.

NOI of $16,800 / $140,000 = 0.12 or 12%

In the local market, similar properties at the same price have a capitalization rate of only 10%.

NOI of $14,000 / $140,000 = 0.1 or 10%

This approach provides you with a clearer picture of the property’s income-generating potential relative to its value. In this example, the first property may be a worthwhile investment.

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4. Cost approach

The cost approach estimates a property’s value based on the cost to replace or reproduce it. In other words, using a hypothetical pretense of total destruction, this method answers the question, “How much would it cost to rebuild the entire property from the ground up?” It assumes that a property’s value is equal to the cost of constructing a similar building at current prices, plus the value of the land, minus any depreciation.

This method is most effective when applied to properties with recent construction or significant improvements, as it relies on current construction costs and depreciation estimates. For older properties, depreciation can be more challenging to calculate accurately, making the cost approach less reliable. However, it remains a valuable tool for appraising special-use properties, such as schools, churches, or public buildings, where comparable sales are scarce.

Cost approach example scenario

Suppose you’re evaluating a newly built rental property. The land is valued at $100,000, and the construction cost of the building is $350,000. If the building has not depreciated, the property’s value is the sum of the land and construction costs:

Property Value = Land Value + Construction Cost

$100,000 + $350,000 = $450,000

If the building has depreciated by $50,000, the adjusted value would be:

Adjusted Property Value = Property Value – Depreciation

$450,000 – $50,000 = $400,000

The cost approach strives to provide a realistic estimate of a property’s value based on its replacement cost, helping investors assess whether the property is priced appropriately relative to its current condition and potential use.

The 2% rule

The 2% rule is a guideline many real estate investors use to evaluate whether a rental property is a good investment. According to this rule, a property is considered a good investment if its monthly rental income is at least 2% of the purchase price. For example, if a property costs $200,000, it should generate at least $4,000 in monthly rent. This rule helps investors assess a property’s cash flow potential and overall profitability. This is a baseline rule. Some investors set a benchmark much higher than 2%.

5. Other options: From complex to automated

In addition to the traditional valuation methods, there are other options that can provide investors with deeper insights or quicker estimates. Two such methods are the capital asset pricing model (CAPM) and rental property calculators.

Capital asset pricing model (CAPM)

The capital asset pricing model (CAPM) is a more complex method used to determine the expected return on an investment property. This approach takes into account the risk-free rate of return, the expected market return, and the property’s beta (a measure of its volatility compared to the market). CAPM is useful for investors who want to assess the potential return on investment relative to the risk involved.

For example, if the risk-free rate is 2%, the expected market return is 8%, and the property’s beta is 1.2, the expected return can be calculated as follows:

Expected Return = Risk-Free Rate + Beta * (Market Return – Risk-Free Rate)

Expected Return = 2% + 1.2 * (8% – 2%) = 9.2%

This approach can help investors evaluate whether a property offers a return that justifies its risk compared to other investment opportunities.

Rental property calculators

Rental property calculators are automated tools that can quickly estimate a property’s value and potential return based on inputted data. These calculators typically require information such as purchase price, rental income, expenses, loan details, and vacancy rates. By inputting these details, investors can get an instant snapshot of a property’s financial performance.

For instance, an online rental property calculator might ask for:

  • Purchase price: $400,000
  • Down payment amount: $80,000
  • Monthly rental income: $2,400
  • Insurance: $1,200 annually
  • Property tax rate: 1%
  • Appreciation rate: 2.5
  • Other expenses: $220 a month
  • Loan details: $320,000 loan with 6.8% interest

The calculator will then provide metrics like cash flow, cap rate, and ROI, helping investors quickly assess whether a property meets their investment criteria.

Illustration: How a rental property calculator can provide estimated returns

Examples of rental property calculators

Find a good rental property with a top agent

Many first-time investors will take a low-risk step into the investment pool by buying a second home and renting their first.

If you’re looking to purchase a rental property with a favorable ROI, the right real estate agent can provide valuable insights and help provide peace of mind.

HomeLight can connect you with top-performing agents who have extensive experience in the local market and a proven track record of successful transactions.

By working with a knowledgeable agent, you can ensure that you’re making informed decisions and maximizing your investment potential.

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