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Investment Property Balance Sheet – 2015 Edition

23 Jun
Duplex Balance Sheet

(photo by frankieleon)

Our annual look at rental income and expenses, averaged across 12 months. We own duplexes so these numbers represent 6 units across 3 properties, purchased between 2011 and 2014.

We also perform this analysis when seriously vetting a new rental property to help spot unexpected surprises (property in a flood plain? outrageous HOA dues?) and verify cash flow.

Duplex #1

  • Total cost: $181,350, latest comp $245,000 (Feb 2015)
  • Down Payment: $45,350 (25%)
  • Mortgage: originally $136,000, currently $127,830
  • Estimated Equity: $117,170

Duplex #2

  • Total cost: $144,000, latest comp $189,000 (Apr 2015)
  • Down Payment: $36,000 (25%)
  • Mortgage: originally $108,000, currently $93,223
  • Estimated Equity: $95,777

Duplex #3

  • Total cost: $201,000, latest comp $216,000 (Apr 2015)
  • Down Payment: $61,500 (30%)
  • Mortgage: originally $139,500, currently $137,395
  • Estimated Equity: $78,605
Revenue Duplex #1 Duplex #2 Duplex #3 Monthly Total
Unit A $1,025 $975 $1,050  
Unit B $1,095 $950 $1,050  
-$41 -$37 -$40  
Total Income $2,079 $1,888 $2,060 $6,027
Principle & Interest $699 $531 $738 $1,968
Taxes $352 $365 $365 $1,082
Insurance $69 $76 $63 $208
$150 $150 $150 $450
Carpet Fund ($800/5yrs.)
$13 $26 $26 $65
HOA $50 $0 $0 $50
Property Mgmt (10%) $212 $193 $210 $615
Leasing & Releasing (30%-60%) $80 $72 $79 $231
Umbrella Insurance $12 $13 $13 $38
Tax Prep
$12 $12 $12 $36
Total Expenses $1,649 $1,438 $1,656 $4,743
Cash Flow $430 $450 $404 $1,284

Some Highlights & Observations:

  • Stagnant Cash FlowLast year I predicted our cash flow to slowly increase past our typical $400/property/mo. average because I thought most expenses had been accounted for – but we found a few more. 🙂 Technically it has risen because we got property #3 to market rate, but we also added additional protections and conveniences like umbrella insurance and tax preparation fees. Maybe next year!
  • Rent Appreciation – While cash flow remained stagnant, property #1’s rent has increased 27.5% since our first balance sheet in 2011 – bringing in $457 more income (the cash flow equivalent of having a whole other duplex). Unit A is currently under market rate, so if you assume $1,095 for both sides that would be a $527 increase!
  • Average Cash Flow vs. Actual – Since spending tends to have peaks and valleys, I’ve been charting my actual monthly cash flow throughout 2015 so I can share that perspective in the future. The $150/property/month is really a best guess… some months are SURPRISE! and others months nothing remarkable happens at all – cha ching!
  • Umbrella Insurance – I was hoping to have an umbrella policy setup by now, but no dice – so this is merely a conservative estimate using the most promising quote I have at the moment. I’m guessing insurance agents must not make a lot of commission on umbrella policies, because they sure don’t seem eager to provide quotes for them.
  • Tax Prep Fund – This was the first year I realized we could deduct a portion of our tax preparation fees on our rentals’ Schedule E. Previously we’d been applying it as a miscellaneous itemized deduction… fat lot of good that did us. Oh well, live and learn. I cringe paying a professional for something I used to do myself with online tools, but I still don’t feel reasonably qualified to handle rental tax details like cost basis calculations, depreciation schedules, and improvements vs. expenses.
  • Vacancies & Leasing/Releasing Fees – A guestimate that assumes 1 unit from each property will be vacant for 2 week a year. Using these same vacancy assumptions, I budgeted one renewal fee (30%) and one releasing fee (60%) per year, per property.

Previous Statements:

“Plan specifically so you can implement flexibly.”  – Dallin Oaks

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Protest Alternative: Hiring a Property Tax Consultant

28 May Property Tax Appraisal Protest

Note: the information below is definitely Texas-specific, and possibly county-specific – so please take caution when applying it to your local area!

It’s that time again – property tax appraisal season.

Last year we shared Corey’s first-timer experience protesting our property tax appraisals (and saving $1,454) for two rental properties:

  1. Received Appraisal Notice, Reasons to Protest
  2. Filed Notice of Protest, Requested Appraisal District Documentation Letter
  3. Compiling the Evidence
  4. Informal Meeting & Outcome

A recent article by the Austin American-Statesman analyzed Travis County’s 2014 tax season: 74% of all protests resulted in reduced appraisal value, but once you account for withdrawn protests then 97% of those who completed the protest process saved money.

But I also accept that some property owners simply aren’t going to represent themselves. Maybe you’re busy, intimidated with the process, or don’t think the hassle is worth the benefit.

Property Tax Appraisal Protest - Agent vs Self Representation

Fair enough, but the good news is that many of you probably have access to a convenient and cost-effective alternative – hiring a property tax consultant.

What does a property tax consultant do?
A coworker told me about a service that handles his protests on a contingency basis – i.e. he only pays if they save him money. I’m sure the average homeowner is capable of doing it themselves, but consultants have the time, expertise, and data to navigate the protest system for you.

Call me naive, but I didn’t even realize this industry existed. I did a little research and found if they do lower your appraised value they get a cut of the tax savings – I’ve seen anywhere between 33-50% depending on location. That might sound like a lot, but remember you were going to pay more than that in taxes if you didn’t protest at all.

Property Tax Appraisal Notice

Using last year’s numbers as an example, we would have saved $1,454 in taxes and paid $480-$727 to the consultant for a net gain of $727-$974. That’s no chump change. Of course if you ARE willing to protest your own taxes you can pocket that consultant fee, but it’s a win-win either way.

Find one by searching your city or county name + phrases like:

  • Property Tax Counselor
  • Property Tax Consultant
  • Property Tax Consulting
  • Property Tax Professional
  • Property Tax Representation
  • Property Tax Appeal Service
  • Property Tax Service
  • Property Tax Agent

Sometimes the property tax consultant saves my coworker money and sometimes they tell him he doesn’t have a good case this year – either way he doesn’t pay anything unless they get a reduction.

If you’re tempted to try this for yourself, don’t delay – I know the deadline for our county is June 1st, which is right around the corner!

“A penny saved is worth two pennies earned . . . after taxes.”  -Randy Thurman

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Making New Mistakes

1 Jan

Happy 2015 Everybody!

New Years Eve Party

In honor of New Year’s Day, and new beginnings, I wanted to take a brief moment to share this wildly-appropriate quote from author Neil Gaiman:

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world.

You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.”

Whether you’re an investor or landlord, aspiring or experienced – may each of you find your own unique and special way to Do Something this year. ♥

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2014 Goal Results & Highlights

22 Dec

Earlier this year I created goals for 2014 to keep me on-track. The results:

✔  Pay Down Mortgage Debt$3,522 applied to mortgage #2
✔  Expand Property Management – done!
✔  Mean Tenants – replaced with pleasant people at market rate
✔  Try Discounted Gift Cards – success!
✔  Another Property – technically, but we weren’t expecting a rental
✔  25 Blog Posts – squeaked in at 27 posts this year, yay!

Having goals was quite motivating – a way to ensure “someday projects” get prioritized. When reflecting on the past year, a few key initiatives stand out:

Buying Duplex #3
Our third purchase last May made three properties in as many years – not too shabby! It was also the second time we saved a down payment for a primary residence and ended up buying a rental property instead.

What can I say, we have a problem. 🙂

rental property living room 3

We stumbled on some legitimately good deals, but also wanted to maximize our advantage as DINKs (dual income no kids) while we could. It’s not hard to see a future where adult responsibilities stall our current momentum.

This acquisition was unique because the cash flow and appraised value were low for the purchase price, but our research suggested it still had potential. After a $200/unit rent increase (both tenants stayed!) and a new sales comp – we were back on track a mere 2 months later.

Series: How We Saved $1,454 on Our Property Taxes
Corey’s victorious quest to protest the tax valuations on two properties, broken into a 4-part series:

  1. Receiving a Notice of Appraised Value
  2. Filing a Notice to Appeal & Requesting Supporting Documentation
  3. Compiling the Evidence
  4. Appraisal District Meeting & Outcome

A good example of a financial skill that should be taught in public education, but usually isn’t. I group it in with preparing your taxes, the effects of compounding interest, and calculating student loan payments before a student chooses a college or major.

Aspirations / Running the Numbers
It’s fun to daydream about the future of our real estate empire. I noodled through hypotheticals like how many properties we’d need to retire and whether it would be faster to finance or buy outright.

day dreaming clouds

(photo by Kevin Dooley)

Turns out we could probably buy 13 leveraged properties faster than 5 paid off ones – all things being equal – while generating the same net income. Realistically, we’ll probably do a combination of both, and now that we’ve topped off our rental savings we’re cooking with pre-payment fire again!

Make Ready Kit + New Additions
I continue to adore our make ready kit, and got the opportunity to try it out in the field during a vacancy in November.

Make Ready Vacancy Kit Additions

Through trial and error, I’ve added to the inventory a bit:

Now the real question is whether to expand to a second bin….

Discounted Gift Cards
For those tempted to give discounted gift cards a try, I’d recommend waiting until just after Christmas. An influx of holiday gifts will likely upset the supply/demand model in your favor. More inventory = better discounts.

Also, a big thank you to those using our Raise and Cardpool links – any referral credits are going straight to our mortgage pre-payment efforts!

Cardpool Referral Credit

Previous Recaps:

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and Third, by experience, which is the bitterest.”  -Confucius

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Saving Money with Do It Yourself Pest Control

6 May

I called an exterminator for one of our duplexes, and inquired about the specific chemicals used because of a tenant’s health concerns. He said they typically apply Phantom – a general pest control product for insects and termites. A quick Google search brought me to a pest control supply website, where I verified it was safe for children and pets, and wouldn’t agitate asthma.

(photo by Kathleen Franklin) Note: this is not the company we used ourselves

The both sides were treated for a total of $150. Having never hired an exterminator before, and I found the experience rather underwhelming. I’m not sure what I was expecting. Something more… scientific? He really just sprayed the chemical around the foundation, nothing particularly skilled.

I didn’t think much more about it until a few weeks later when a tenant at a different property requested pest control and it clicked: we could probably save some money by doing our own pest control treatments instead.

The aptly named provides customer reviews and an extensive Q&A about product selection and application. Also, there isn’t anything worth knowing that somebody hasn’t already put on YouTube:

Cost Breakdown of Our DIY Pest Control:

Total cost: $77.82 (half the cost of the professional service!)

What’s more, each treatment only uses 3 ounces of the 21 ounce bottle, which means I could get 6 additional treatments at no additional cost. That’s equivalent to $1,050.00 worth of the professional service for $78.00.
pest controlPerhaps we’ll call an expert to handle an infestation, but this will do the trick for seasonal preventive care along the exterior. So far no issues or complaints. Like the duct cleaning, we’ll try to incorporate this into our make ready work moving forward.

Shameless Plug
If you decide to give DIY pest control a try, please use my referral/coupon code (KATH6799) when ordering from You’ll get $5 off your first order of $50+ too. Thank you!

“The way to wealth depends on just two words, industry and frugality.”
-Benjamin Franklin

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Investment Property Goals for 2014 – Staying the Course

3 Mar

(photo by paraflyer)

I’ve been distracted by tax paperwork lately, but I did want to outline our 2014 plans before too much more of the year has passed:

  • Double Down on Property Management – we’ve been very pleased with our management company experience thus far, and I’m looking forward to consolidating both locations under one company. While the property management company handles the day-to-day demands and rent collection, I’m still very involved in the bookkeeping and make ready work.
  • An Ounce of Prevention – last year a tenant was unhappy that we deducted their neighbor’s security deposit (the garage walls, ceiling, floor – all painted pink). As a result they have stopped reporting repairs, and subsequent communications have been cold or hostile. I’ve been dreading the drama and hassle, but the lease is ending and we’ve decided not to renew. Bonus: that unit is currently $85/month under market rent, so we should realize a small income bump for our troubles.
  • Leverage Discounted Gift Cards – I want to experiment with a new cost-savings strategy. Maybe for the entire year, or perhaps just during vacancies (we have a tenant moving to another city soon). We’ll see how it goes, and I’ll detail the results afterwards.
  • Purchase our 3rd Property – we’re actively saving our 3rd down payment (36% to goal currently), with the intent to purchase another investment property later this year. This purchase will be unique because (1) it will probably be a single-family home instead of a duplex and (2) we’re planning to occupy the property for at least the first few years. Finding a property that suites our personal and investment wants/needs could be a challenge.
  • More Blog Posts! – I published 24 posts in 2013, so I’ll aim for at least 25 this year (I know, big stretch). The tenant communications category is a crowd pleaser, so I’ll try to incorporate more example letters when I can.

Nothing too glamorous, but I just have to remind myself that slow and steady progress is still progress!

I think in terms of the day’s resolutions, not the years’.  –Henry Moore

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Property Management Company Decisions, Part 2

26 Aug

This is the 4th installment of my Property Management Company series. The previous posts focused on the benefits and costs, followed by our selection process and company decision.

A Change of Plans

Contrary to our original intent, we decided to hire a property management company for only for our second investment property, for several reasons:

  • Compared to our suburban property, our rural property is farther from us and generates less gross rent – which equates to cheaper property management fees. We’ll be exchanging more hassle reduction for less property management cost = better value.
  • Because this property has higher margins, we purchased with the understanding that we could afford a property management company.
  • A significant portion of the leasing fee pays the commission for the broker who brings the new tenant, which would be cost-effective for our rural property. However I believe it is likely wasteful for our suburban property, which rents quickly. Thus far I don’t see a lot of flexibility adjusting the leasing fee based on whether an MLS listing is necessary.
  • There is nothing stopping us from including the other property later. Until then, we’re going to beef up our rental emergency fund with that additional positive cash flow. So far we’ve been successful with our goal of paying all expenses directly from rental income, and we’d like to keep it that way.
  • By continuing to manage our first property, we can keep growing our own skills (and blog) at a slower learning curve.
  • We have difficulty finding independent contractors to work the rural location. The company we chose already manages other properties in the same area, and has an established network of plumbers, painters, etc.

Cost Breakdown

  • Management fee – $1,745 rent/mo. = $174.50 fee/mo. = $2,094 fee/year
  • Leasing fee – $537/vacancy = $1,074 assuming 2 vacancies
  • Releasing fee – $268.50/renewal = $537 assuming 2 renewals

At those costs, hiring a property management company will cost us between $2,362 – $3,168 a year depending on vacancies and renewals.

To put it into perspective against our balance sheet – that would subtract $197-$264 per month, leaving about $547-$614 in positive cash flow.

Price is what you pay. Value is what you get. – Warren Buffett

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Property Management Selection Criteria and Decision

22 Aug

This is the 3rd installment of my Property Management Company series. The previous posts focused on the benefits and costs of hiring a property management company. 

Comparing Property Management Companies

We focused on the criteria most important to us:

  • Cost – management fee, leasing fee, renewal fee
  • Ability to manage both rental property locations
  • Option to perform our own repairs to save costs
  • Positive reputation / trustworthiness
  • ACH rent payments & distributions

We started with the hardest factor – which property management companies will service both of our rental locations? Our second property is somewhat rural, so that eliminated many companies immediately. I also used their websites to make an initial judgment about the professionalism and legitimacy of each business. That left us with 3 serious contenders – we’ll call them Company A, B, and C.

Company C had the lowest management fee at 6%, and I liked that they had an in-house maintenance company to provide low-cost repairs compared to hiring independent contractors each time. However, Google reviews indicated 2.7 out of 5 stars (7 reviews) and highlighted a bad habit of yelling or hanging up on tenants in frustration. This was enough for me to eliminate them from consideration entirely.

Here is the high-level, side-by-side comparison of Company A & B:

 Criteria Company  A Company B
Management Fee 10% 7%
Leasing Fee 60% 75%
Renewal Fee 30% $150
Contract Details Contract cancellation
w/ 30 days notice
1 Year Lease
Req. Liability Insurance $100,000 $250,000
Reputation Google Reviews
4.8 stars out of 5
(21 reviews)
No online reviews

Our Decision

We chose Company A, the more expensive option. Our bet is that the higher cost and positive review history will result in a better experience and property care. I have heard enough first-hand property management horror stories to be wary of choosing the least expensive option, compounded by lack of 3rd party reviews for Company B.

At one point I asked Company B whether the broker commission was mandatory for our fast-renting property.  Could we split what we would have paid a 3rd party realtor between us instead? He replied:

“As a management company we have to be fair to all of our owners and treat each one the same as the others or risk having problems with the Texas Real Estate Commission.  We can’t waive the fee for one owner and not for others”

That doesn’t smell right to me – his own contract says he can change the commission amounts without notice, and will provide “up to 50%” of one month’s rent to the tenant’s broker.  I notice his leasing fee isn’t “up to 75%” – I suspect he only offers a finder’s fee when he needs to, and pockets the brokers fee the rest of the time. It really put a bad taste in my mouth about Company B’s trustworthiness.

In short, I’m willing to pay a premium to hire a company that I trust. Imagine I was deciding who would manage $150k in cash instead of $150k in property – this duplix is still a significant investment that needs to be managed well.

Trust your own instinct. Your mistakes might as well be your own, instead of someone else’s. -Billy Wilder

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Benefits of Hiring a Property Management Company for Our Investment Properties

15 Aug

This is the 1st installment of my Property Management Company series which details my property management selection process and experience.

Lately I’ve been itching to free up time in order to dedicate energy towards other projects (this blog included). To that end, I began researching property management companies for our two rental properties.

While there are other perks of using a property management company, these are the benefits that are the most important to me:

  • Experience – one of my latest newb landlording mistakes was actually the impetus of looking for a property management company. I’ll live and learn and do it better next time, but how nice would it be to benefit from the experience of a property management professional who has already refined their own process for success. Just through the vetting process, I’ve already learned a few fun facts about lease stipulations commonly used in some of their leases (“Tenants agree to that?!”) that I wouldn’t have considered on my own.
  • Stricter Lease Enforcement – I often sympathize with our tenants, which tempts me to bend my own rules. Rules that were put there for perfectly good reasons in the first place. An objective point-of-contact to look out for my interests would prevent me from inadvertently being taken advantage of by a tenant.
  • Objective Eye – I tend to care more about my properties than I probably should, and sometimes I have difficultly differentiating the slumlord -> rental property -> home owner spectrum when it comes to repairs and improvements. I’m never quite sure if I’ve done enough or too much. It would be very helpful to get a 3rd party assessment of what an unattached professional recommends.
  • Better Follow-Through – the leasing process in particular has a lot of moving parts while also being one of the most critical decisions to get right. The consistency of my process wavers depending on what other demands are on my time at that moment, and it would be nice to have a team working in the background during those times when I’m bogged down.
  • Vendor Relationships – a property management company will have their own little black book of plumbers, handymen, cleaning services, etc. that increase the odds of a job well done. They also have the benefit of buying power – a soured relationship with them will mean a lot more to a service professional than a soured relationship with me. Additionally, we’ve had past projects that were “too small” to bid on, but I could see property managers having more influence. (Note: we will still have the option of choosing which repairs we want to do ourselves to save costs, and delegating the rest).
  • A Partner in Crime – I’m looking forward to having another individual I can reach out to for questions and second opinions. When contemplating this benefit, I’m a little surprised at the void I feel without it. As with anything new and a little risky, being a landlord can be downright scary at times – it would be nice for somebody else to have the answer every once in a while.
  • Eliminating Tenant Calls – I hate phone calls in general, and I really hate late night emergency repair phone calls. Being honest, most tenant requests aren’t all that bad or frequent – and then out of the blue you get that dreaded 10pm call about a broken A/C unit.
  • Tax Deduction – property management fees and leasing fees are tax-deductible; the value of my time is not.
  • More Flexibility – my repair process is currently limited to independent contractors who can make appointments evenings and weekends since I work elsewhere during office hours (not counting vacant units, which use a lock box).
  • Scalability Through Delegation – our intention is to expand our little real estate empire over time, and I don’t want frustration with day-to-day demands to cause me to second guess or delay this plan. On paper, this is still a strong investment for us long-term.
  • Travel Freedom – we traveled to Germany and Prague last May on a belated honeymoon, and had to coordinate our state-side emergency contact with each tenant. This would be a non-issue moving forward.
  • Less Work Discrepancy – because of conflicting work schedules, I end up covering the vast majority of weekday rental demands, which frankly adds up over time. Using a property management company will distribute that burden a little more evenly moving forward.
  • Security & Privacy – I know from personal experience that it only takes one disgruntled tenant to make you double-check the deadbolt at home. Having a primary point of contact off-site would reduce (but not eliminate) that risk. Our names will still be on the lease until we setup a LLP someday.

In the end, all of these points really boil down to the reduction of stress.

“I’m  going from doing all of the work to having to delegate the work – which is  almost harder for me than doing the work myself. I’m a lousy delegator, but I’m  learning.” -Alton Brown

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Investment Property Bookkeeping, Part 1

28 Nov

Happy Thanksgiving weekend… this holiday we’re thankful for our first rent checks!

This post details how we’re organizing the income we collect from our investment property to properly anticipate future expenses.

I should start by stating for the record one of my personal rental property goals: everything we spend on the duplex after the initial purchase should come from income generated by the duplex.

Put another way, with careful planning and a little luck, we won’t have to apply another cent of our work income towards the duplex. Future mortgage pre-payment would be an acceptable exception – but I’ll ignore that issue for today’s purposes.

First, I needed a new checking and savings account exclusively for rental property income/expenses. There are several good reasons to separate personal and investment funds:

  1. It’s easier to report your expenses and deductions at tax time.
  2. In the event of an audit, they want to see that you’re treating this property as a business.
  3. If I slacked a bit on our record keeping, we can still easily eyeball whether we’re making money or not.

I opened an ING DIRECT checking and savings accounts for our rental funds. I was already a customer of ING DIRECT, and I really like the savings sub-accounts where you can name each pool of money differently. The most annoying part about using ING DIRECT is that I have to mail my rent checks to deposit them, but hopefully that will be a short-term problem.

So now I have 1 checking account and 4 savings sub-accounts: Variable Expenses, Security Deposit A, Security Depsoit B, and Income Taxes. Some details about each of these accounts:

  • Checking Account – where all rent is initally deposited, and always holds the budgeted funds for PITI ($1,104), repairs ($87.50), and excess cash flow ($200). Cash flow we can apply to anything we want, like mortgage pre-payment, upgrades, miscellaneous expenses like office supplies, or saving for the next duplex. In the short term I’m going to use excess the cash flow to beef up our repair fund just in case something large breaks soon.
  • Variable Expenses – this savings account includes the budgeted funds for things that are irregularly paid, including: future vancancies ($87.50), HOA dues ($50), and professional fees ($25). This savings account is automatically funded $162.50 from our checking account each month. Because I’m a nerd, I then use Quicken to further allocate the money to each sub-category.
  • Income Taxes – I need to dig deeper into this, but my git-r-done way of estimating our tax burden was to start with total rent minus deductions for HOA dues, insurance, property taxes, and 75% of the principal/interest payment (only the interest is deductable). Then I take 25% of that number to get an estimated amount to save for each month, which comes out to $192.47. Rounded up, this savings account is automatically funded $195 from our checking account.
  • Security Deposit A & B – these were transferred to us at closing, and we named each one in ING as Security Deposit + the name of the address the security deposit applies to. I’m leaving those alone until a tenant moves out.

The amount allocated to each fund is directly related to the balance sheet I created previously, with roughtly half of the positive cash flow money being allocated to income taxes.

Update: be sure to check out part 2 and part 3 of my investment property bookkeeping series.

“Landlording is probably the world’s second oldest profession and certainly the most lucrative.” -How to Buy & Manage Rental Properties, 1986

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