Regarding equity and ownership in real estate, knowing how investors make money is essential. If you’ve followed our articles, you know real estate investors can make money in four ways.

  • Cash Flow
  • Appreciation
  • Tax Benefits
  • Principal Paydown / Amortization

Of the four, appreciation and amortization are sources of equity growth. This article will focus on how to get the most out of real estate ownership by increasing your equity and putting that equity to work for you.

What is Equity in Real Estate? 

To start, let’s define equity. In the simplest terms, equity is the difference between how much your property is worth and how much you owe. People are expected to talk about home equity based on their home’s value and the remaining balance on their mortgage loan. The more their home’s mortgage is paid off, the more equity the homeowner has in that property. 

To calculate the owner’s equity in a real estate property, you can take its fair market value (the price it would sell for in the current real estate market) and subtract the remaining balance owed (mortgage loan and any liens/debts). What’s left over is the owner’s equity in the property.

For example, if a home is valued at $500,000 and has a remaining mortgage loan balance of $200,000, the homeowner’s equity would be $300,000. 

It can get more complicated with different financing options, ownership percentages, preferred equity, and equity sharing for joint ventures. But, for this guide, we will focus more on growing your ownership equity in a home or real estate investment and how to put that equity to work for you to make more money.

Assess Fair Market Value for Your Investments 

If you’re going to own resident-occupied real estate, you should know how to assess its fair market value. The two most common methods are the comparison or “comp” and rental income models. 

The “comp” model is used for valuing residential properties (single-family homes, duplexes, triplexes, and quads). In the “comp” model, appraisers search for properties far from the subject property. To determine the property’s value, those properties should have a similar fit and finish, build year, school district, etc. Ideally, those properties should also have sold within the last three months.

If they meet enough criteria, they are considered comparable to the subject property. Appraisers look at the prices for comparable properties sold. They divide those numbers by their square footage to create a price per square foot range. Then, they multiply that range by the square footage of the subject property. 

That is the range you can expect to receive for the subject property. The downside of the “comp” model is that it limits your ability to force appreciation. Short of adding square footage to the property, very little can be done to increase the property value.

The income model is used for more significant resident-occupied real estate (multifamily) and commercial properties. It recognizes that these properties are businesses that make money. And just like any business, the more money it brings in, the more it is worth. 

The equation the income model uses is:

Value = Net Operating Income (NOI) / Capitalization Rate (Cap Rate)

In the above formula, NOI is the annual revenue from the investment minus all reasonable and necessary expenditures (not counting the principal and interest payments).

The Cap Rate is the annual rate of return one would expect from their investment if they owned it outright (without debt).

How Do You Build Equity 

There are several ways to build equity in a property. Among those ways are:

  • Purchase the property below market value
  • Applying a large initial down payment
  • Increasing the amount or the frequency of mortgage payments (debt service)
  • Improving the property

Purchase Property Below Market Value 

Finding properties below market value may sound impossible, but it’s not. Extensive research, strong negotiation skills, and deep resources can all be helpful. Typically, these sellers are desperately looking to offload their property.

The property often has one or more problems they cannot fix. You probably shouldn’t buy the property if you can’t fix it. These problems can be structural, environmental, managerial, or tenant-based problems. But if you’re experienced in solving such issues, you could be well on your way to finding a good deal.

Spending less money to acquire a property relative to its current market appraisal allows you to build real estate equity. 

Larger Initial Down Payments

When you buy a property, it’s common to finance that purchase. The terms of financing will require you to submit an initial down payment. With residential real estate, that down payment can be meager.

However, to avoid private mortgage insurance (PMI), 20% of the property’s value must be placed as a down payment. In this scenario, your loan-to-value (LTV) will be 80%.

For more significant multifamily real estate, 80% LTV would be considered high leverage. Multifamily owners have a host of lending products available to them. Many mortgage lenders will lend at an LTV range of 55%—75%.

Whatever amount you put down represents your private real estate equity in the property. The more money you put down, the larger your owner’s equity in the property. Higher equity allows for a lower debt service payment and potentially more cash flow.

The amount you decide to put down is the initial capital contribution.

Increasing Mortgage Payments

Once you’ve purchased the property and taken over operations, rental checks will start. That rental property income should cover all expenses with money left over. One expense it will cover is the debt service or monthly mortgage payment. Part of that monthly payment includes payment toward the principal balance. This amortization builds equity over time.

The money left over is your cash flow. You can do what you want with it. Some people roll that money into debt service and pay down the debt with extra payments. This is one way an investor can build real estate equity faster. 

Because of prepayment penalties, this is often more viable with residential mortgages than more significant multifamily properties. 

Improving the Property

Increasing mortgage payments and making a more significant initial capital contribution are both ways to increase private equity real estate ownership. However, one requires a higher initial capital injection, while the other reduces investor cash flow. That’s why improving the property is my favorite way to grow equity. 

As discussed, commercial multifamily real estate investors can force appreciation through strategic improvements based on the income valuation method.

It all starts with a rent survey. 70% of your future renters live within a five-mile radius of your property. So, it’s essential to know your competitor’s properties. What are their rents? Which amenities do they offer? What is the fit and finish of their interiors and exteriors?

If you find similar-grade properties that command higher rents, it’s important to understand why they’re getting more money. Maybe they have upgraded appliance packages or modernized flooring. There are a myriad of enhancements that can justify higher rents. 

Understanding which upgrades command higher rents and which ones do not is critical. Armed with that information, you can craft a capital improvement plan that returns multiple dollars in cash flow and appreciation for every dollar of capital injected. 

That is how you force appreciation. That is how you increase equity.

Why is Equity Important in Real Estate? 

There are multiple ways to make money in real estate. When done right, an investment property should produce current and ongoing cash flow (yield) and equity growth as its value increases. 

The goal is to have your initial capital investment grow in equity. Multifamily apartments have a long history of superior returns.

Equity Offers a Convenient Way to Borrow Money

Private equity offers a convenient way to borrow money, and real estate professionals will utilize this fact to grow wealth. However, using your properties as an ATM is not always a good idea. Therefore, I consider it an advanced strategy best used by professionals. I’ll discuss my reasoning below.

As equity in a property builds up, the loan-to-value (LTV) declines. But that equity sits there as lazy equity. So, it can be tempting to refinance the property, ratchet the LTV back up, and withdraw lazy equity in cash. 

But what you do with that money may or may not warrant the extra risk that you’re taking. 

You can use it to buy more assets, increase wealth, pay off high-interest debt, or buy liabilities. Unfortunately, too many people use their equity to purchase boats and cars or finance vacations. 

I know it’s tempting, but you’re losing wealth when you do that. Using it to pay off high-interest debt can be wise in certain circumstances. This is especially true when that debt comes at a higher interest rate than the rate of return you’d make by investing it. 

However, without reformed spending habits, the benefit that is extracted from your real estate or home equity may only be temporary. 

I prefer to use that equity to buy more real estate assets. It’s a way for one investment property to become two, and two properties can become four over time. In the right hands, securing debt to harvest equity can be a wise investment strategy for building wealth.

Common Uses for Real Estate Equity 

There are a myriad of ways to spend private real estate equity. Some of those ways are better than others, and they generally fall into one of three categories:

  • Finance more assets
  • Finance more liabilities
  • Pay off debt

Financing Emergency Expenses

We all know that stuff happens. Life can get complicated and messy. Unfortunately, when stuff happens, it’s often expensive too. 

It can be tempting to tap your real estate equity to finance emergency expenses. Instead, you’d be wise to have a robust emergency fund. Many financial experts recommend holding an amount equal to 3-6 months’ worth of your salary in liquid reserves. 

An emergency fund should finance your rainy-day needs. If you don’t have an emergency fund or are inadequate, you could consider tapping your real estate equity. But if you do, you’re making yourself poorer and not richer. 

Home Improvements and Maintenance

Owning your own home has long been considered the American dream. But homes are expensive. In addition to the monthly mortgage payments, you also have to factor in property taxes. Over time, houses need maintenance and improvements. Sometimes, they need to be modified to accommodate special needs.

Ideally, one saves for those expenses. However, if need be, using equity from real estate may or may not be preferable to financing those improvements.

Consolidation of Debt

Credit cards allow one to live above their means. If that becomes a habit, that debt can spiral out of control. It’s easy for credit card debt to become an albatross around your neck. 

In worst-case scenarios, the high interest rates charged on credit card debt can make it nearly impossible to make monthly payments. 

So, if the interest rates charged on that debt are higher than the rate of return from real estate, an argument can be made for deploying that real estate equity to pay off the credit cards. 

If one decides to do that, they should consider switching to paying cash for their expenses and forgoing credit cards as much as possible. 

Can You Lose Equity in Real Estate? 

Multifamily real estate has a long history of escalating values over time. And with one of the best risk-adjusted returns available to investors, it can be a low-risk investment. Nevertheless, all investments have risks, and you can lose equity.

It even has a superior performance record during recession (including during the COVID-19 pandemic). 

That doesn’t mean it hasn’t had periods of short-term downward fluctuation in value. For that reason, investing in apartments for the long term is essential.

Increasing Your Loan Amount 

As discussed earlier, refinancing a property is a way to exchange debt for lazy equity. In the right circumstance, tapping that equity and redeploying it into another real estate asset can enhance your cash flow and increase your wealth over time.

In the wrong circumstance, it can result in an overleveraged original property and harvested equity that was misspent. 

37th Parallel Professional Real Estate Equity Investments

37th Parallel Properties is a private real estate acquisition and asset management firm offering high-quality apartment investments for accredited investors.

We’ve been in business since 2008 and have a 100% track record for making our multifamily investors money.

We specialize in multifamily investments, and our private real estate income and equity investment funds have a track record that speaks for itself.

Our private real estate investment fund owns and manages multi-family real estate properties in some of the best real estate investment locations throughout the United States. To learn more about the 37th Parallel advantage and how to get started, simply click the link below.

Contact Us for More Resources on Equity and Ownership of Real Estate Properties 

Do you have questions about equity and ownership of real estate? As leaders in the real estate industry, 37th Parallel Properties is here to help you learn more about real estate investing. You can find helpful resources, expert webinars, and more information about our real estate private income and equity fund throughout our website. 

Schedule a free consultation with 37th Parallel and one of our private equity real estate experts can answer any questions. 

To learn more about commercial multifamily real estate investing, download your free copy of Evidence-Based Investing from 37th Parallel Properties.
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