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Calculating Return on Investment in Real Estate

Calculating Return on Investment in Real EstateHow do you know if you are getting a good return on your real estate investment?  Calculating the ROI on your investment property is critical to knowing how your investment is performing, or when comparing one investment to another.

In order to successfully decide whether a property is worth buying, an investor must run the numbers to calculate two types of returns: Cash-on-cash return on investment, and total return on investment.

Cash on Cash Return on Investment

The cash on cash return on investment is the before-tax cash flow (BTCF) divided by your initial cash investment. The formula looks like this:

Cash on Cash Return on Investment  =  BTCF / Initial Cash Investment

Your before-tax cash flow is calculated by subtracting your annual mortgage payment from your net operating income (NOI). The net operating income is simply the total income from the property minus the total expenses.

Let’s take a look at an example using a $150,000 income property purchased with a 20% down payment of $30,000. Let’s assume your mortgage of $120,000 is fixed for 30 years at a 7 percent interest rate.

Let’s assume your BTCF is $3,000 per year ($250 per month):

Cash on Cash ROI  =  $3,000 / $30,000  =  10.0%

Through the “magic” of leverage using financing to purchase your property, you have created a cash on cash ROI of 10%. This would be quite attractive to most investors in today’s market.

The cash on cash ROI is a good measure of a property’s first year financial performance. However, it does not include the additional benefits achieved through real estate such as the amortization of the mortgage and any future appreciation. The total return on investment addresses that.

Total Return on Investment

The total return on investment (TROI) provides a better and more complete measure of a property’s financial performance. That is because it factors in amortization and appreciation gained over time.

Total ROI  =  (BTCF + Net Sales Proceeds – Initial Cash Investment) / Initial Cash Investment

In order to calculate the total return on investment, one must project the BTCF for each year of expected ownership as well as the net sales proceeds from the sale of the property.

Let’s take our example above and assume that we plan to sell it in five years with an average annual appreciation rate of 4% per year. After five years our $150,000 property would be worth $182,498, and our mortgage balance would be $111,665. Let’s also assume that our selling expenses total 5% of the sales price, or $9,125.

Using the figures above, our net sales proceeds from the sale of the property in year five would be $61,708 ($182,498 – $111,665 – $9,125). Additionally, our before tax cash flow after five years would total $15,000 assuming no annual increase in rents or cash flow. Now our formula looks like this:

Total Return on Investment  =  ($15,000 + $61,708 – $30,000) / $30,000  =  156%

Note that some investors calculate their TROI using their after-tax cash flow (ATCF) instead of the BTCF. This can provide a deeper “bottom line” measure of the return on investment; however, it does not provide a good measure to compare one investment to another since tax liabilities will vary between individual investors. Calculating the TROI using ATCF is best suited for investor specific use.

By projecting a property’s future cash flows and appreciation, you can calculate the potential gains on your initial cash invested (down payment). Assuming the property is not declining in value, the TROI should increase in each successive year.

However, total return on investment can be a little shortsighted when used in isolation. This is because total return on investment does not measure the property’s financial performance as it relates to its equity. For this we must calculate the property’s return on equity (ROE). Similar to the TROI, the return on equity calculation replaces the initial cash invested with the properties equity in a given year. We will take a closer look at ROE in a seperate article.


  1. Comment by Real Estate
    July 15th at 11:47 am 

    The return on investment provided by real estate here has been found to be more attractive than that offered by developed nations.

  2. July 15th at 11:50 am 

    Great post!

    <3 Lindsay

  3. Comment by HOA Management Charlotte
    July 17th at 9:16 am 

    Hi,
    Interesting post. I have been wondering this issue, so thanks for sharing. I will definitely be coming back to your blog.

  4. Comment by Prime Targeting
    July 30th at 11:55 pm 

    According to me people should invest after considering all investment factors like liquidity, returns and risk. Liquidity will give you the info about how faster you can convert your stock in real money, there most important factor is returns. Everyone invest money for some good returns and last one is risk. There are always some chances of risk in any type of investment, to earn more returns you have to take more risk. So, always invest after considering all the above important factors.

  5. Comment by Dan
    August 19th at 9:28 pm 

    Hi, we have recently launched an online community for real estate investors. It provides tools an investor can use to evaluate investments, such as financial projections and financial assumptions modifications.
    I invite you to use it (free) on www .icginvesting.com.

  6. Comment by Lansing REOs
    September 17th at 10:01 am 

    Once you get what you had invest when you started your real estate business can also be concluded that you didn’t loss any, but rather you gain.

    You may also use this formula to know your ROI.

    (Income from Investment – Cost of Investment) / Total Cost of Investment = ROI

  7. Comment by Remrie Arrie
    February 24th at 6:38 pm 

    It’s not likely going to get a reply here but I have something to share…

    The formula used above assumes that the property has no operating expenses…. If your property manager got your tenant to agree to pay all the maintenance, taxes, repairs, etc… I’d love to know who they are!

    This is what I see after playing with the numbers….

    FMV: _______ $150,000
    Down:_______ $30,000 (20%)
    Mortgage: __ $120,000
    Rent: ______ $11,420 ($951/mo)
    Expenses:___ $18,000/yr ($1,500/mo) [$9,580/y = P.I] [$8,420/y T.I,etc]
    NOI:________ $
    BT-CF:______ $3,000/yr
    BT-COC: ____ 10%
    BT-ROI: ____ 156%

    Now if you are an investor, you will find yourself missing 3 critical data points in order to measure the performance of the property… Rent, expenses, and net operating income.

    Expenses are easy, we can assume expenses of Principal, Interest, Taxes, and Insurance (PITI)are 1% of the purchase price. $150k home will likely have around $1,500 monthly expenses; give or take depending on the market.

    Next, and much harder, is the rental income…much harder. Even more so because you are using BTCF as the NOI which is excluding (at the very least) principal and interest of the mortgage, it does not appear to compensate for property taxes….)

    A $120k 30/yr fixed rate mortgage at 7% is $798.36/mo for principal and interest… That’s $9,580 year.

    Your BTCF = $3,000/yr
    Expenses of $18,000/yr without principal and interest ($9,580) is $8,420

    If your BTCF (NOI) is $3,000, that suggests that’s a NOI of -$6,580/yr!!! (-$6,580 + $9,580 [The $798.36 mortgage payment X 12] = $3,000…

    In order for your NOI to be -$6,580/yr, the rent on your property has to be $11,420/yr…

    Remember… A $150,000 property will likely have $1,500/mo expenses. including principal and interest. We will assume it is. That’s $18,000 yr…

    $11,420/yr Rent
    -$18,000/yr expenses
    =$-6,580/yr NOI

    $-6,580/yr NOI
    +$9,580/yr mortgage that you are no longer counting
    =$3,000/yr BTCF

    I don’t think you can count negative rent as “income” even if you pay out of pocket, so if your capital gains is $61,708 upon sale including closing costs, then your total walk away profit is $28,808.

    All I can say is THANK GOD the property appreciated! If you bought that in 2007, sat on it, and lost your job, you can forget paying out of pocket for a toxic asset.

    And when you count the $32,900 (6,580 NOI x 5 years) as an expense out of your pocket, your ROI using your method will be an impressive -4%…

    $61,708 (capital gains)
    -$62,900 (30k down + 32.9k negative NOI)
    =$1,192 (Net losses after all income)

    $-1,192
    /$30,000 down
    = 0.0397 or 3.97% “BT-ROI”

    That’s a -4% ROI excluding $9,580 in expenses….

    Something strange is, your calculation of $15,000/yr in rents which leaves you -$6,580 is $250 in rents if you were to actually have a positive $3,000 BTCF.

    But that can’t be the actual rent to produce that kind of return because the numbers don’t add up…

    In order to have $3,000 BTCF, rents have to be $11,420/yr ($951/mo)

    Here’s why

    $11,420 Rent
    -$8,420 Expenses (not including Principal and Interest)
    =$3,000 BTCF or BT-NOI

    If you include the principal and interest, that 156% ROI goes to hell, fast!

    This is what it would really look like….

    FMV: _______ $150,000
    Down:_______ $30,000 (20%)
    Mortgage: __ $120,000
    Rent: ______ $11,420/yr ($951/mo)
    Expenses:___ $18,000/yr ($1,500/mo, explained below)
    NOI:________ $-6,580 (OUCH!!!)
    BT-CF:______ $3,000/yr
    BT-COC: ____ 10%
    BT-ROI: ____ 156%

    Now if we take the actual numbers all together…
    Actual Cash on Cash return appears to be -21.93% ($6,580 NOI / 30k down
    The actual total ROI may actually be that instead. I am having a difficult time figuring out what the actual total ROI would be with all income and out of pocket expenses included would be… Probably -10.5% ROI unless I’m getting the COC and the ROI mixed up.

    This is some food for thought since I decided to play a game with this as an exercise. Please let me know what you think.

  8. Comment by Dan
    February 25th at 12:33 pm 

    The numbers above would be way off in today’s market for most locations. Obviously if your monthly expenses are $1,500 and your rent is $951, it’s not a good investment. In many markets you can buy homes for $50k and get $950/month in rent. Using expenses of 1%, that means BTCF would be $450/month. Assuming 20% down ($10k), and BTCF per year of $5,400 ($450*12), your ROI would be 54%. Also, most investors don’t put down 20% if they are buying distressed properties. They may put no money down or at the most 5-10%.

  9. Comment by Don
    April 17th at 4:46 pm 

    The Principal portion of your mortgage payment is not an expense and needs to be separated from interest (expense) and added to your equity position.


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