Should Long Term Real Estate Investors Focus On Cash Flow or Growth?

There are really two sides or two strategies to this debate. I lean one way for sure and will explain why but, I am also open about this and understand that other people have goals and strategies that differ from my own. In this article I want to briefly talk about both strategies and then give you some ideas to expand what you are trying to accomplish.

I want to define a long term investor as someone who is purchasing real estate with the strategy to hold onto it for at least 5 years but in most cases much longer. This is a great way to grow wealth and although it can be slow, it will guarantee financial freedom if the strategy is done correctly.

When we discuss lending the staple in the industry is the 30 year fixed rate loan. The advantage to this loan is that your principal and interest payment will remain constant for 30 years even though rents should increase. This loan also comes with the lowest payment in the market helping you to maximize cash flow. I put 30 year loans on my properties whenever possible. (This becomes more difficult as you get more properties which might be a topic for a different article). I like the cash flow because it gives me control and I can choose where to invest it.

The disadvantage to a 30 year loan is that it takes 30 years to pay off the house, assuming you make the minimum payment. If you are a believer in paying off your rentals then a shorter term loan might be a better strategy and will give you the discipline to actually do it. Because interest rates are important to a lot of investors it is important to know you will get a much better rate with a shorter term loan.

My personal belief is that if you are leveraged on your properties you can buy more properties and more properties create more cash flow and more growth. It is the best of both worlds. This is true only IF you are buying quality deals and have reserves and plans in place for the unexpected. As many of you know when I started investing with my wife we would leverage as much as we could and we purchased as many houses as we could. Needless to say that back fired and we lost almost everything. I share this because I want you to know that I understand that leverage creates additional risk. However, if you are purchasing properties that cash flow AFTER vacancies and maintenance there really is not much of a down side.

As you can see I am not a fan of paying off your real estate when you are in your growth strategy period. I believe this strongly for several reasons and have been quoted in major publications sharing my view. I do, however, think you should start paying them off as you get closer to retirement or when you are in a position that income becomes more important than growth. I also understand that many people have a different risk tolerance than me.

There is one thing I want to caution you about. I would not recommend purchasing property on speculation. Again, we learned this the hard way. If you purchase for cash flow, whether you choose to pay off the property or not, you won't get hurt. If you cash flow and the house decreases in value, you keep it and enjoy the cash flow. If it goes up in value… well, you either keep it to enjoy the cash flow or you can sell it and take the cash. Don't get caught up on any of the hype. In Denver the big thing right now is the light rail expanding North, West, and Northwest. Several new lines going in could of course increase the value of real estate, but that is speculation and if the market turns or the lines get delayed you could suffer.

In my opinion, if you are trying to grow your money quickly and are less concerned with the income, you should purchase as many properties as you can, especially those of you in Minnesota. Inventory is not as tight as other parts of the county and it is still easy to buy rentals with no down payment. To purchase as many properties as you can you need to leverage as much as you can.

I want to close by sharing one last opinion. Although I am a strong believer in leverage and being smart about it, I understand that it is not always the best way to go. In Colorado specifically, there are not many deals. Travis, Justin and I talk about this frequently. We all want more deals in Denver but cannot find them. If there are limited deals in the areas you want to buy, you need other investment vehicles to put your money. For some that is investing outside your area, which is what I am doing and for some it is paying off your loans, which I am also doing. If you want to buy more but cannot find the deals, by all means focus on paying off the loans. That is much better than leaving your money in the bank doing nothing.

If you have any stories on the relating topic please feel free to share.

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