Return on Equity

Real estate rental property investors enjoy many benefits from income tax advantages to resistance to damage from inflation and interest rate gyrations. If you're talking to an accountant, they tend to be deep in the numbers, and they want to know how you're doing for return on the money you have invested in your rental property. Return on Equity (ROE) is one way they like to measure investment performance.

A simple example of ROE is an interest rate of 5% on a Certificate of Deposit of $100,000, resulting in $5,000 that year in interest. Your equity is clear, the $100,000 you deposited. So, dividing $5,000 by $100.000, you get your 5% ROE. You received 5% on your equity in the investment. For rental property, it's more complicated, but the basic structure is the same.

Suppose you purchase a rental home for $150,000 with 20% for a down payment. You have a mortgage for $120,000 because your down payment was $30,000. This is the year you buy the home, so it's the ROE for the first year. Suppose your rents minus your expenses, pretty much your positive cash flow, come to $3,200 for the year. Dividing that $3,200 by your $30,000 in equity, you see that your ROE is 10.67%. That's a nice number, and you're satisfied.

Now you're a few years down the road. You've paid down your mortgage, and you've been able to increase your rents a bit, and this increases your positive cash flow or return. You've paid down your mortgage to $106,000, and your home has appreciated in value to $158,000. This gives you a new equity number of $158,000 - $106,000 = $52,000. With your rent increases, your cash flow or profit after expenses is now $4,100 for the year. Our new ROE is now $4,100/$52,000 = $7.89%. This is how ROE in subsequent years is calculated. It is simple, and there may be some extra pieces for some investors that their accountants will include.

At the beginning of this article, tax advantages were mentioned. That interest on your CD would have been taxed in the year earned. When it comes to the cash flow from the rental home, you can deduct depreciation, which is a major factor in how much money hits your bank account that you get to keep.

You can depreciate the structure value (not the land value) over 27.5 years. Using the example above, if the structure was worth $110,000 when purchased, you could depreciate approximately $110,000 / 27.5 = $4,000 per year as a depreciation deduction. You've just wiped out that positive cash flow profit for taxes. Later, when you sell the home, there will be some recapture of that depreciation depending on how long you owned it, but you get the tax advantage idea.

There are several other calculations for evaluating a rental home's investment performance, but ROE allows you to compare it to non-real estate-related investments. It's easy to see why so many millionaires hit that income level through real estate investing.