Using rental parity to find bargain properties

Equality has power. Rental parity is a powerful price point because the cost of ownership is equal to the cost of rental. Theoretically, buyers should be indifferent at rental parity, but in the real world kool aid intoxication prompts many buyers to bid prices up above rental parity. The true power of this threshold doesn’t become apparent until prices fall and owners find themselves paying far more than comparable rentals for properties worth less than they paid.rental_parity

Today’s post will be heavy on math, but I want to give everyone a look inside the black box of aggregate rental parity calculations. I use this analysis in Las Vegas to locate neighborhoods with the best rental property deals, but owner occupants can also take advantage of this analysis to narrow their search for properties to those cities or zip codes with the best bargains. In our deflating housing market, rental parity analysis is a useful tool for identifying which areas have deflated and which ones have not. I will be presenting the data for Irvine and select Orange County cities in my September 12 presentation at JT Schmids.

Rental Parity defined

Rental parity is the price point where the cost of ownership is equal to the cost of rental. Rental parity is an important price level because buyers who pay more than rental parity risk being trapped in a negative cashflow situation if they should need or want to move before the resale value has appreciated enough to cover their transaction costs on the sale. When people pay more than rental parity, they don’t have a viable plan B to get out of their property.

Because rental parity is such an important threshold, evaluating the costs of ownership relative to rentals is an excellent way to measure value. If a property is trading above rental parity, the price is inflated above reasonable valuation. Perhaps in a few of the most desirable communities where move-up buyers bring equity from previous sales, properties can trade consistently above rental parity. However, for the vast majority of the housing stock, valuations at or below rental parity are the norm and define fundamental value.

If a property is reselling below rental parity, it can be rented for a profit. If it selling well below rental parity, it may be a good cashflow investment. The only way to be certain is to perform a property-specific analysis taking account of recent comps for both resales and rentals and inputting specific property information for HOAs, Mello Roos, and other costs.

I developed the analysis I will cover today to identify areas in Las Vegas where cashflow properties are common. Rather than try to analyze all 40,000 properties on the MLS, I developed this technique to narrow my search to specific areas of town or specific zip codes. It also enables me to give a rough idea of cap rates and cash-on-cash returns in any area based on aggregate numbers.

Using Rental Parity Analysis to find bargains

I performed a detailed analysis of the Las Vegas housing market (PDF of analysis here). I use it to identify which zip codes and which areas of town provide the greatest returns to cashflow investors. However, this is a useful tool to anyone looking for a home, not just investors. Nobody wants to overpay, and its difficult to get a broad overview of prices and values across the whole of Orange County by browsing properties on Redfin.

A rental parity analysis will reveal if a specific property you are looking at is a good deal or just average for the area, it may prompt you to look in areas you previously never considered, or it may reinforce your desire to keep looking in your area of choice. It’s one more tool you can use to be sure you have made the correct decision on buying a home. has a great rental parity calculator you can use to analyse properties. Check it out.

Rental parity analysis and the returns on real estate

Rental parity analysis gives me a broad overview of the market, but the point of the analysis is to direct me toward individual properties which yield results equal to or better than the rest of the neighborhood. Once I have identified the property, I pu of ownership and returns from the property as an investment.

The return on real estate is measured in three ways: capitalization rate, cash-on-cash return, and internal rate of return. Each of those is described in detail below.

Calculating capitalization rates

The basic calculation I perform is the capitalization rate, the net operating income divided by price. The capitalization rate is the return an all-cash investor would obtain from the property. It is always wise to examine the unleveraged returns of any investment as extreme leverage can exaggerate the returns of nearly any investment and disguise the underlying risk.

To obtain the capitalization rate for an entire zip code, I obtain four values from the MLS:

  • Average rents over last 30 days
  • Average square feet of rentals
  • Median sales price
  • Average square feet of resales

The square footage is necessary to normalize the numbers. Although not perfect, normalization by square footage is far superior than simply taking the raw rental number and dividing it by the median home price.

From these four pieces of data, I calculate the capitalization rate.

Below is an example from the 89031 Zip Code in Las Vegas:

Cap Rate Avg Rent Avg Rent SF Avg RentPer SF Avg Sale Price Avg Sale SF Avg SalePer SF
8.0% $1,148 1,751 $0.66 $116,335 1,817 $64.04

So how does that compare with the reality of individual properties in that zip code?

The capitalization rate analysis correctly predicted where I could find properties with desirable characteristics.

Cash-on-Cash return calculations

The cash-on-cash return is more important than capitalization rates for the average investor who uses debt to acquire real estate. The cash-on-cash return compares the down payment to the cashflow remaining after interest is paid (includes positive cashflow plus amortization).

The calculation for cash-on-cash uses the capitalization rate calculated above and magnifies it — both up or down — based on the financing terms. The lower the down payment, the greater the returns are magnified. This is why speculators were keen to use 100% financing when it was made readily available during the bubble. Returns were infinite, and the risk of loss was passed on to the lender.

The debt ratio is the magnifying factor of leverage. The down payment is divided into 1 to obtain the multiplying factor.

The fulcrum point of leverage is the interest rate. The interest rate must be lower than the capitalization rate for debt to have a positive effect. This was one of the key mistakes investors made during the bubble. People were buying properties with 4% capitalization rates using 6.5% debt. That’s crazy. No sane investor would apply debt that is more expensive than the capitalization rate — insane speculators do this all the time, but the moment prices go down, and the property cannot be sold for a profit, the negative cashflow of inappropriately leveraged real estate eats people up.

The above property with a 7.7% capitalization rate yields 17.3% to an investor using leverage.

Internal Rate of Return

Current cashflows are not the only ways investors profit from real estate. The housing bubble was characterized by an overly exuberant opinion of future appreciation, and I have consistently decried considering appreciation as a reason to buy real estate in direct response to the foolishness of bubble-buyer attitudes. However, real estate can and does appreciate, and resale at a higher price in the future does have value. The best way to calculate this value is through a discounted cashflow analysis. When examining the rate of return of real estate, the internal rate of return is the best method available.

I won’t attempt to walk anyone through the math of the internal rate of return calculation. Like everyone else in finance, I use a spreadsheet to calculate it for me. The concept of internal rate of return is not nearly as difficult to understand as the math used to calculate it.

Imagine you are buying a house for $123,000 you believe will be worth $215,000 10 years from now. What is the current value of the $93,000 profit you will obtain in 10 years? It depends on the interest rate. That calculation is what finance people call net present value.

Now Imagine you could put $123,000 in a bank account earning a high interest rate (I know you can’t today, but just imagine). What interest rate would be required to have your $123,000 grow into $215,000 at the end of 10 years? That interest rate would be like the internal rate of return on the property that increased in value by the same amount over the same period.

Internal rate of return considers more than just the lump sum at the end. Internal rate of return compares the amount and timing of all the cash inflows and compares it to the initial investment amount to compute an overall rate of return on the investment. Internal rate of return is the most accurate measure of the financial performance of real estate.