Is it worth buying a small apt for investment (renting it)? I want to avoid all possible repairing issues, since I live overseas

Asked by harry, Cambridge, MA Mon Dec 17, 2012

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Thomas von Zabern’s answer
Thomas von Z…, Agent, Cambridge, MA
Mon Dec 17, 2012
Hi Harry

Being a landlord can be a very rewarding experience in Cambridge, where rents are strong and demand for apartments is high. That said, there are some things you should be aware of before you delve into investment property ownership. I have a few suggestions for you to maximize your likelihood of success.

1. Hire an agent with investment experience to find the right property for you. Rents in Cambridge vary dramatically from one neighborhood to the next. For instance, a property in walking distance to the Red Line subway will nearly always rent for appreciably more than one that is not so located. Also, an experienced investment agent will be able to guide you to the most appropriate type of apartment. One example might be an apartment in a managed building rather than one in a multi-family house. Most importantly, invest in a building that a) allows rentals(!!) and b) is in good financial health. A first rate agent will be able to steer you through the process of handling home inspections, choice of the right lawyer, contract negotiations, choosing the right financing option, and making sure you take clean, insurable title when you close, along with receipt of the necessary title qualifiers (6d certificate, municipal liens certificate and so on).

2. Buy something in excellent (not merely good) condition. Apartments are subject to wear and tear over the years and your investment in a property that has been well maintained and updated when necessary will minimize future maintenance hassles and expenses. Before you commit, have your agent help you determine the rental value of the property, as well as monthly expenses (condo fee, tax escrow, landlord insurance, management fee, vacancy factor) to arrive at a net operating income (your net income before debt service). This will allow you to calculate the capitalization rate of return of your property, and will allow you to compare it to the return of other investments you may have, i.e.: stocks and bonds, mutual funds, etc.

3. Hire a good rental agent (not necessarily the same person as the sales agent through whom you bought). This is important. A good rental agent will perform multiple tasks for you. (S)he will price the property appropriately, photograph it well, present it in the correct on-line media to generate the greatest levels of interest, select the most qualified 1 or 2 applicants, perform a thorough vetting and background check, collect the appropriate deposits and assemble the correct lease giving you the protections and powers of enforcement you need.

4. You will need a good management company to oversee rent collections and to orchestrate the maintenance of the apartment. Again, the manager could be a different person or company from the your purchase or rental agent. A competent manager is your liaison with the tenant, and will not only take care of minor complaints and issues that the tenant may have from time to time, but will also be your watchdog, if for any reason the tenant needs to be reminded to comply with the terms of the lease. An expert property manager will have a full roster of plumbers, carpenters, electricians, cleaners, painters and lawyers (who will hopefully not be needed). Before you engage a manager, be sure to ask about the number of update reports you will receive. A good management company should have a website that allows you to log in at any time to check on the status of your rental account.... whether rents have been paid for the month, whether any money was deducted for repairs or maintenance and so on. Be prepared to pay 10% of each month's rent for this service and be sure to take that into account when you calculate your return on your investment.

It may sound like a lot of work to have three separate people helping you handle your purchase, rental and management of your investment, but the truth is, these are all separate tasks that are best handled by specialists in their field. For instance, a top notch investment agent would not dream of presuming to manage a property for a client, unless (s)he is really an expert at doing so. I own out of town income property, and have it in the hands of a dedicated manager who hires a rental agent when one tenant's stay comes to an end. The system works very well, and it is a matter of setting it up just once and then it sort of runs itself.

Before you do start any of these steps, talk with your accountant, and has him/her to explain the various options of how you might hold title to your investment, and which ones offer the greatest tax advantage. For instance, if you are thinking of adding other investment properties, you may wish to consider forming an LLC or S-corporation to do so. The tax savings can be considerable.

I hope this was helpful. If you have any additional questions, I'm happy to answer as best I can.


Tom von Zabern
RE/MAX Destiny
1 vote
Linda Balliro, Agent, Cambridge, MA
Sat Feb 2, 2013
YES! You can get a property manager to handle the day-to-day issues for you. Buying in the Cambridge area seems to withstand all economic woes - with major universities and hospitals here, you will always have tenants!
0 votes
Jeff Stephens, Agent, Cambridge, MA
Fri Feb 1, 2013
I believe it is a great idea to purchase a small 1 bedroom or studio apartment in Cambridge for the purposes of investment property! Cambridge is one of, if not THE best place to think about investment opportunity. Institutions like MIT & Harvard along with major companies like Google setting up shop along the RED Line make for a lasting and growing need for housing. Not to mention all the NEW construction of lab space and high-end LUXURY apartment rental buildings going up in Kendall Square due to the need to service the Bio-Tech Industry located there. ALSO, there are multiple NEW CONSTRUCTION luxury rental projects developed and completed in North Cambridge this year!

Being an overseas Landlord can be tricky, so it is important to consider a unit in a managed condo building here. Working with a good agent and real estate TEAM is crucial to help navigate the best options for you. I specialize in residential condo SALES and RENTALS and have helped many understand the the relationship between the two to find the right Investment Property or Home. I can suggest great people to assist in the "end game" for financing, legal matters and even property management. See what others have said about my Level of Service and Professionalism here:…

Please contact me for your Real Estate needs at:

Jeff Stephens
Real Estate Consultant
830 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139

cell: 617.733.9635

office: 617.864.4600 x314

fax: 617.864.4601

email: OR

0 votes
Territory.c…, Agent, MA,
Sat Jan 12, 2013
Yes, it is worth investing in a rental unit especially in Cambridge where rents are through the roof.
As an example, check out these statistics we posted recently on our Facebook page on multi family sales in Cambridge (relevant because investment properties): The Cambridge multi-family market has surged in the last 6 months, with investors capitalizing on the high rents. In the last 3 months alone Cambridge multi's have sold at an average of 3% over list price!

If you want to avoid repair issues it will be difficult to be a landlord because stuff does happen however you will have much less to worry about in a rental unit versus owning the entire building. You could also simply hire a local maintenance person in the event there are any problems.

Here is everything actively on the market in Cambridge:…

Good luck!
Massachusetts Premier Buyer Brokerage
617 848 5407 x701
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0 votes
Heath Coker, Agent, Falmouth, MA
Tue Jan 1, 2013
Being a landlord is not easy.
Being a landlord over seas is not easier.
Being a first time landlord can be more not easy.
Being a first time landlord over ses can be most not easy.

It can be and is done well and effectively, but only with an experienced team of professionals including legal, banking, and management aspects of real estate.
I would look for a broker who specilizes in Management.
They will have a list of legal, banking, and maintenance professionals.
They will also be the best advisors for what a "small apartment" is and what is a worthwhile investment.

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0 votes
Rhonda Romeo, Agent, Cambridge, MA
Mon Dec 17, 2012
Dear Harry,

Small condos with reasonable condo fees can be a great investment IF the building and systems are in good condition and there are no pending assessments. Even in this scenario, there still may be times when you will be out of pocket for maintenance, either for assessments to the common areas of the building or to the unit interior.

When you own a condo, you are responsible for the 'walls in', so if a tenant breaks the garbage disposal, the owner pays to repair. If the breakage is due to misuse, the cost could come out of the tenant's security deposit.

It's important to have a knowledgeable and dedicated broker like myself to help you navigate the nuances of buying investment property here in Cambridge.

I specialize in small Cambridge condo investments that offer excellent rate of return and I have extensive knowledge of properties with good maintenance records and solid rents.

Call me anytime to discuss how I can help you acquire and manage an solid condo investment in Cambridge- 617 694-6997.


Rhonda Romeo Amir
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0 votes
Katie Malin, Agent, Cambridge, MA
Mon Dec 17, 2012
Now is a great time to invest. My family owns many investment properties in Somerville and Cambridge (which I manage), but then decided to branch out into Sales territory. Rents are incredible. I grew up here, went to school in Cambridge, and have never really seen the values go down. The investment is here-- MIT, Harvard, and Lesley aren't going anywhere! More T stops are coming to the areas--please call if I can help - Katie Malin Century 21 Avon (Cambridge)- 781-799-5981
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