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Scott Neal

Scott Neal, CPA, CFP, is the president of D. Scott Neal, Inc., a fee-only financial planning and investment advisory firm with offices in Lexington and Louisville. Reach him at or by calling 1.800.344.9098.

Building Wealth Through Real Estate Investing

Many years ago, a widowed client came in and said that she was faced with the dilemma of selling the family farm, worth about $1 million. She was hesitant to sell because the very low tax basis would produce a rather large capital gain tax burden upon the sale. I suggested that she consider doing a Section 1031 tax-free exchange into ten single family houses, each worth about $100,000. She looked at me and said, “Are you completely nuts? I am 85 years old.”

I explained to her that her age was why the strategy could work to her family’s advantage; her heirs would receive a step-up in basis upon her death. Furthermore, professional management could be obtained that would get her out of being a hands-on landlord. She ultimately went along with the idea.

Unlike many investment advisors, I have long been a fan of real estate investments, commercial as well as residential, to build wealth. This is because a) real estate tends to beat inflation over time, b) it carries favorable tax benefits, c) it is not correlated to the stock market or other financial assets, and d) it can effectively use debt to enhance return.

Navigating the complexities of real estate investing requires a solid understanding of the market, sound financial planning, and strategic decision making. We advocate having a solid team to assist. Here we will delve into the fundamentals of real estate investing, explore various strategies, and highlight key tips to help you succeed.

Tips for Success:

  1. Conduct thorough market research. Before making any investment decision, it is essential to know local market trends, demographics, economic indicators, and regulatory issues. This is essential to mitigate risks and is often better left up to real estate professionals who are attuned with the local market.
  2. Create a solid financial plan. It is imperative to establish clear investment goals, assess your own risk tolerance, and develop a budget that accounts for acquisition costs, ongoing expenses, allowances for vacancies, and the same sort of emergencies that can crop up in owning your own residence.
  3. Build a reliable network of industry professionals, mentors, lenders, and potential partners. By cultivating relationships within the real estate community, investors can gain insights, identify opportunities, and expand their network.
  4. Conduct due diligence. Before closing on a new purchase or even making an offer, investors should conduct thorough due diligence to assess the viability and potential risks associated with the investment. This may include property inspections, financial analyses, title searches, and legal review. Consider forming a limited liability company (LLC) or a series LLC if more than one property is to be owned (consult your legal counsel on that point.) Identifying potential pitfalls early on can help investors avoid costly mistakes.
  5. Diversify the portfolio. All too often we see real estate investors hold just one property or multiple properties in close proximity to each other. Diversification is key to mitigating risk and maximizing returns in nearly all investments but rings especially true in real estate. Rather than focusing on one type of property, strategy, or location, consider diversifying your portfolio. 6. Utilize the tax code to maximum advantage. It is imperative to know the tax impact. Your preparer should be wellversed in the rules related to real estate, depreciation recapture, and passive income. If you can qualify to be an active investor, that is usually to your advantage.

When a client agrees to go along with our recommendation to explore real estate, we prepare a projection that runs from purchase to sale. We consider four potential sources of return:

  1. cash-on-cash return from the net cash flow,
  2. tax benefits,
  3. appreciation, and
  4. effects of leverage (debt). Each requires a separate calculation, but they all add up to total return.

Common Pitfalls to Avoid:

While real estate investing offers tremendous potential for wealth accumulation, it’s not without its challenges. Some common pitfalls to avoid include:

  1. Taking on excessive to finance investments can ultimately strain cash flow, especially during economic downturns or periods of market volatility.
  2. Ignoring market trends can lead to missed opportunities. The assessment of market trends does not end with purchase. Neighborhoods can change quickly.
  3. Underestimating expenses can erode profitability and strain financial resources.
  4. Successful real estate investing requires patience, discipline, and long-term perspective. Be patient and do your homework.

In Conclusion:

Real estate investing remains a compelling avenue for wealth creation. By understanding the fundamentals of investing, implementing sound strategies, and adhering to key principles, investors can unlock the full potential of a vehicle for wealth accumulation and enhanced financial freedom.