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Cash Flow and Real Estate Investment Property

jim kobzeff

May 12, 2016

Cash flow is primary reason real estate investors make investments in rental income property. Whereas the decision to purchase a home might rest upon certain amenities and school zones, real estate investing is more influenced by the property's economic benefits. In other words, the physical property is a secondary issue. The bottom line is that investment real estate is about the numbers and investors are really most interested in buying the cash flow (or the income stream).

Fair enough. So given its importance, I thought it might be helpful to those of you new to investment property to have at least an elementary understanding of what is meant by "cash flow."

1. Simply put, cash flow is the rental property's revenue inflows less all its outflows. In other words, it's the money that remains after all the rents are collected and all the day-to-day expenses associated with owning the property are compensated.

2. Cash flows are generally going to be collected in one of the following two ways (and both are crucial to the investor).

  • Ongoing - This is the ongoing stream of income collected throughout the investor's holding period from rented units, coin-operated washers and dryers, storage facilities and so on.
  • One-time - This is the one-time cashflow (or sales proceeds) real estate investors collect as a result of selling the investment property.

3. Cashflow is not categorically limited to any particular time frame. They may be daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, semi-annually or annually. In our case, however, most real estate investors collect incomes monthly and most analysts evaluate a property's profitability on incomes collected annually.

4. Cashflows can be positive or negative. In other words, a deficient amount of income (when outflows are greater than inflows) do not change the label because both positive and negative incomes are considered "cash flow" regardless.

5. Cashflow is generally computed based on the investor's income tax ramifications. In other words, that income amount still subject to his or her tax payment, and that which still remains after said payment. It should be noted that this tax computation applies to both the ongoing income stream and the one-time amount collected resulting from a property sale.

  • Cash Flow Before Taxes - The money collected but susceptible to annual Federal income taxes (also known as CFBT).
  • Cash Flow After Taxes - The money the investor can really pocket once the IRS is satisfied (also known as CFAT).

6. Some other things about rental property cash flows you should always consider before making your final investment decision.

  • Always be realistic with all the income and expense numbers throughout your evaluation.
  • It's always safer to anticipate a little or negative income you are able to handle with enough cash on hand rather than expecting to cover it by the property.
  • Avoid cake-in-the-sky rents, overly-optimistic vacancy rates, and always include all the necessary operating expenses when you conduct your rental property analysis.

Here's to your real estate investing success.

james kobzeff author

James Kobzeff
Jim is a former realtor with over thirty years real estate investment property experience. He is the developer of ProAPOD's real estate investor software solutions.