What Is the 50 Percent Rule In Real Estate Investing?

Posted by Robert Cobean on Jul 9, 2022


Like many rules of real estate investing, the 50 percent rule isn’t always accurate, but it can be a helpful way to estimate expenses for rental property. To use it, an investor takes the property's gross rent and multiplies it by 50 percent, providing the estimated monthly operating expenses. That sounds easy, right? If the property rents for $4,000 a month, the operating costs should be approximately $2,000.

What Expenses Should you Include when Calculating the 50 Percent Rule?

Typically, investors should add up the operating costs related to the rental property:

  1. Property Insurance
  2. Property Taxes
  3. Maintenance/Repairs
  4. Utilities
  5. Property Management
  6. Homeowner Association (HOA) Fees

Notice that mortgage costs are excluded, as are taxes due on rental income and property depreciation. In some markets, investors argue for excluding the HOA expense, but most investors will include this as an appropriate operating cost. 

Does the 50 Percent Rule Work?

Like most "rules" associated with real estate investments, this one has value and limitations. Nevertheless, it can be a handy “back of the envelope” formula for determining how much a property will need in monthly expenditures. It can produce a rough estimate, but investors should evaluate the property and its potential operating costs individually.

Suppose you are considering buying an apartment building and using the 50 percent rule to assess the potential operating expenses. Let’s say that the calculation is as follows:

There are ten units, each renting for $3,000 monthly, for a total of $30,000. Suppose the expenses are estimated at $15,000, leaving $15,000. From that amount, you need to be able to cover the mortgage expenses, your overhead, and profit. This quick, albeit rough, calculation can help you decide whether to continue performing a more detailed evaluation of a potential acquisition.

The Rule Can “Rule Out” a Purchase

While the 50 percent rule doesn’t provide enough detail to move forward on a purchase, it might make it easier to decide to pass one up. Here’s another example:

You are considering buying a duplex as a rental property. Each unit will rent for around $1,200, providing $2,400 monthly. However, if the mortgage payment for the property is $1,800, that will absorb substantially more than 50 percent of the rent, leaving only 25 percent for expenses and profit. In that instance, the rule can help you decide it’s not a good investment.

Operating Costs May Change Over Time

One challenge with relying on the 50 percent rule for estimating deal attractiveness is the variation in operating expenses. For example, some buildings pass the utility costs to residents, which could significantly reduce costs. If the building is older, a series of costly repairs may boost the expenses past the 50 percent threshold. Similarly, if the property experiences a series of insurance claims, the cost of coverage may increase. HOA charges are subject to unexpected increases. On the other hand, if the previous owner was not frugal, they may have overspent on some things you can save on (like landscaping or maintenance). So, when evaluating the ratio, you may want to consider the trends and potential as well as the current costs attached to the property.


This material is for general information and educational purposes only. Information is based on data gathered from what we believe are reliable sources. It is not guaranteed as to accuracy, does not purport to be complete and is not intended to be used as a primary basis for investment decisions.
Realized does not provide tax or legal advice. This material is not a substitute for seeking the advice of a qualified professional for your individual situation. Examples are hypothetical and for illustrative purposes only. Withdrawal strategies should take into account the investment objectives, financial situation and particular needs of the individual.

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