So you’re thinking about taking your savings and investing it in real estate, but other than your own house, you have no experience and you don’t know how to go about it. Here is a list of great real estate websites, books, and mobile apps to get you familiar with the process and what to look for in an investment property.
Although the popularity of mobile apps continues to rise, the most robust data for specific properties and real estate in general, is still found on the good old Internet. Here are some of the best online resources.
Chances are you are already familiar with many of these sites, like Zillow and Trulia. In addition to finding properties for sale, Zillow’s search engine is particularly helpful in that it allows you to pull up a visual of neighboring properties and obtain statistics on all of them, giving you a full picture of what property values in your target area look like.
Property assessments are rapidly getting consolidated into regional databases such as www.vgsi.com orwww.patriotproperties.com. These websites are enormously helpful when evaluating the condition of a particular property, the tax expenses to expect, and what other comparable properties in the area last sold for. To find where your local assessment records are kept, see your city, town, or county website or call your mayor or city manager's office. If you have trouble finding a local government website, check out State and Local Government on the Net.
The easiest way to find pertinent records regarding your investment property is to Google “your county’s” registry of deeds. Counties across the country are increasingly putting all of their records online, including any deeds that have been filed, mortgages that have been taken out, and liens against a particular property. If you are working with an attorney, he or she should verify that the property has a clean title before the sale is complete, but doing your own homework before putting in an offer can help you steer away from properties with issues, saving you time and money.
Nolo offers a variety of leases, including state-specific forms (see the Leases & Rental Agreements section of the Nolo site for details); Nolo also offers many other landlord forms, such as rental applications (check out the Landlord Forms section of the Nolo site). And for dozens of free articles on landlording and property management, see theLandlords & Rental Property section of Nolo.com.
Several other websites enable you to create legal documents for your property--for example, zipForm from zipLogix is extremely useful for creating purchase contract documents for Realtors.
Should you take on the task of running credit checks yourself, LandlordStation has a very clean and simple process for obtaining credit checks without giving you the responsibility of acquiring your tenant’s Social Security number.
Houzz is a very popular website and an easy way to see what people like in a home today. If you are investing in residential properties, knowing what people like is important for ensuring you buy value (or know how to create it).
Whether you’ve heard a new term and want to look it up or need a refresher on how a simple capitalization rate is calculated, Investopedia is a good site for tracking down definitions with examples and lots of other useful information.
To find good investments you need to be outside looking, not glued to your computer. These mobile applications are particularly good for finding solid investments, and managing properties once you get them.
LoopNet is a well-known commercial real estate listing website that provides users some listings, but not all of them, unless they are willing to pay for premium membership. LoopNet’s mobile app, however, has no such restrictions on its users and is very handy for finding out what commercial properties are available in an area. You can find properties through this app that are not listed freely on the Internet. Trulia’s mobile app is also very good at pulling up homes for sale, in the same manner. Finally, Homesnap from Sawbuck is a fun tool that allows you to simply take a picture of any property you are interested in and discover what the sale price is, or what the current value estimate of the property likely is.
Zillow’s mortgage calculator app helps you quickly determine what your monthly mortgage payment would be for a property, which when combined with other known property expenses, enables you to complete a quick “back of the envelope” calculation on a property you are looking at.
Liberty Mutual’s Home Gallery app can help you track inventory such as appliances or furniture that may be rented out with the property. It’s better than traditional inventory sheets for tracking items because you can take pictures of any items held at the property, giving you a visual reference for the condition of an item before it was rented out. The app’s key downfall is that it only allows you to track three separate properties per account.
In today’s world of technology one might expect there is an app that can help you invest wisely in real estate in the blink of an eye, but alas, there is still no substitute for doing your homework with some good books.
Real Estate Finance & Investments, by William B. Brueggeman and Jeffrey D. Fisher, is a resource used to teach real estate Investment classes at many universities and colleges in the United States. It covers all of the math and reasoning one should expect to apply when investing in real estate. Though it’s a textbook, it reads well and has clear examples.
Every Landlord’s LegalGuide, written by Marcia Stewart, Ralph Warner, and Janet Portman and published by Nolo, will give you a common reference point for managing your investment property, no matter where you live (or invest in residential property). It includes extensive details on landlord-tenant laws in all 50 states, and serves well as a reference for any additional self-help books you acquire.