For most, paying off your mortgage is a personal decision that factors in comfort level of how much debt you have. For me, instead of paying off my mortgages, I leverage that debt to invest in more real estate. First, let me explain leverage.

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What Is Leverage In Real Estate?

Greek philosopher Archimedes once said:  “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.”

If you’re a home owner, then you’re well aware of what it means to use leverage in real estate. Leverage allowed you to borrow money to help finance your home in the form of a mortgage. Most millionaires and billionaires have real estate in their portfolio. Why? They know that a major advantage is something called financial leverage.

Leverage in real estate means buying property with debt instead of paying cash. This allows you to buy a much larger asset and increase the potential return on your investment than you could if you had to pay 100% of the purchase price upfront.

 Now that we understand Leverage, should you pay your Mortgage off.

I say No and here’s why.  Before I knew about Real Estate, my original investment strategy was to invest in index funds as it was all I knew about saving for retirement. If I put $100,000 into an index fund, then I could only purchase that amount as a shareholder. On the other hand, I could use that same $100,000 and leverage it to buy an investment property that was a much higher valued asset.

With interest rates at historical lows, there is an opportunity to use cheap debt as leverage to increase your real estate portfolio.  If you currently have a property that has equity in it, you should consider pulling that equity out with a refinance and taking advantage of the low interest rates. Instead of paying off your mortgage you can apply that equity and take advantage of financial leverage. Just like I mentioned above that most millionaires and billionaires do.

Let’s take a look at how I recently used leverage as an active investor after taking equity from one of my SFH rental properties.  Before refinancing this property, I was making about $350 a month in cash flow but had a high interest rate with a lot of trapped equity. After the refinance, I pulled out about $100K of equity, dropped my interest rate substantially but did reduce my monthly cash flow from $350 to $275.

You might be saying well that doesn’t make sense because you reduced your cash flow by $75 a month and took on more debt since you have to finance that additional 100K pulled out. ($75* 12 months = $900 a year in reduced cash flow).  Well, let me show you how I leverage that $100K instead of paying the mortgage off of the SFH rental.

With my partners, we purchased an apartment building as a joint venture and my investment of $100K was used as a portion of the down payment to finance this asset. After all expenses and mortgage, we projected this investment will produce 13% to 15% annual (CoC) cash on cash return. To be conservative, let’s say it’s a bad year and I only make 10% return on my investment. With only 10% return that means I made $10,000 return for the year and even after considering the monthly income lost of $900 from the refinanced property, I still cleared $9100. Let’s do the math.

10,000           (CoC on $100K investment at 10% return)

-900            (reduced cash flow on refinanced SFR)

$9100 (total return after accounting for reduce cash flow from refinanced SFH rental)

This is a very simplistic way to look at this but not only did this new investment make up for the lost cash flow in the refinance, but it greatly increased my monthly returns. What else to remember is I now own 25% of a multimillion-dollar apartment building that over time will appreciate as the mortgage is also paid down by the tenants. This scenario could easily be replaced with a SFH rental investment.

And that is the magic of using leverage in real estate.

Be cautious with debt.

First off, real estate investing should be viewed NOT as a liability but as an asset that is sustainable in paying all operating cost and debt while providing cash flow. Before taking on additional debt, you need to stress test the real estate investment to understand when it goes from being an asset to a liability. For example, in this multifamily investment if it went under 60% occupied it was longer considered an asset and instead was losing money – becoming a liability. In SFH Rentals, maybe over three months vacancy is when this creates a hardship and becomes a liability. Each investment is different.

By stress testing your investment, you can better understand the right amount of debt that is manageable and what reserves are required in an underperforming rentals. Underperforming rental properties may be manageable for the near term with being over leveraged but you also need to consider a downturn in the market. You need to ask yourself what if there is a major downturn in the market and this property is making no income. Worse what if this occurs across several of your properties and you are now having to pay several large mortgages out of your own pocket.

Summary

For me, I’d rather carry debt on my real estate investing and leverage that debt to grow my portfolio. Debt is cheap right now and I highly recommend that you use the equity instead of paying off the mortgage. Just don’t get carried away in over leveraging yourself.

If you have any additional questions, please email me directly at James@jcoreinvestments.com