My rental property makes $650 a month, but there were 4 things I had to do before I ever saw a dime

kelly burch rental homeCourtesy Kelly Burch

Four years ago, I was beginning the process of buying my first home with my husband. Today, I pay two mortgages: One on the beautiful, rural New Hampshire home that we live in, and another on that first home in a small city about an hour away, which we now rent out.

In a short period of time, I've gone from lining other people's pockets with my rent money to turning a small profit on a rental of my own.

Here are the steps that helped me make the transition from renter to landlord in just a few years:

1. Put emotions aside

My parents never owned a home. For 20 years, they rented the same house in a neighborhood that looked straight out of "Leave It To Beaver." My childhood on those streets - with wide sidewalks, towering maple trees, and beautiful Victorians - was idyllic.

Still, I grew up thinking home ownership was out of reach for me because my parents were never homeowners.

When my husband and I started the process of buying a home, I was paralyzed by fear. I imagined everything that could go wrong and lead to financial ruin. In order to pursue home ownership, I had to make a mental switch and put those fears aside.

I knew that home ownership would benefit my husband and me, especially since our mortgage would be less than what we were paying in rent. Once I dealt with my emotional hangups and left behind my renter-for-life mentality, I was ready to move forward with home ownership.

2. Choose a home wisely

The budget for my first home was pretty low - about $120,000. My husband and I knew that with that budget, we were shopping for a "starter home" where we could live for less than five years.

Still, we wanted to take advantage of being in the real-estate market long-term. We decided to try to find a house that would make a good rental after we outgrew it. That meant actively shopping with the rental market in mind.

We chose to buy in a town that had an active and competitive rental market. We narrowed our location further to a good school district that we believed would attract quality tenants. Then, we chose a small house with a simple layout that would be easy to manage as landlords.

When we first toured the house (which is 900 square feet), I immediately ruled it out as too small. However, my husband pointed out that it checked all our boxes for a great rental property in the long-term. I remembered that was our main priority in choosing a home.

I was willing to buy a home that was smaller than ideal in order to reach our long-term goal of having a good rental, so we put in an offer.

3. Renovate for durability, not personalization

The house we bought was a fixer-upper. Although it was structurally sound, everything needed updating. Over the three years that we lived there, we replaced the walls, ceilings, floors, and windows. We gutted the bathroom and kitchen, and improved the yard.

While we were renovating, we didn't choose styles that fit our personal tastes. Instead, we focused primarily on materials that would hold up long-term but were cheap enough to replace through rental wear and tear.

For example, rather than choosing hardwood floors (which I love), we used laminate flooring, which is cheaper and more durable for renters with pets.

We also styled our renovations with renting in mind, choosing styles that were widely appealing. We put light colors on the walls, cabinets, and trims even though we personally prefer bold shades. All of this meant that when it came time to rent out our home, it appealed to a wide swath of renters.

4. Tap into home equity

Last year we had a second child and knew that we had officially outgrown our starter house. We wanted to move into a bigger home and keep ours to rent, but we didn't have a down payment saved for a new house.

Most people assume they have to sell in order to use the equity in their first home as a down payment on a new house. However, I made a call to the bank and realized I could take out a home equity loan to use as a down payment. This allowed us to tap into our equity while keeping our asset (the home).

Even with the additional monthly expense of the loan, we're able to rent out our first property at a profit, so it made good business sense to use this resource.

Each month, we pay $630 on the mortgage on the first house and $270 on the home equity loan for a total of $900, and we rent out the house for $1,550 - a profit of $650. Meanwhile, we live in a much bigger home in a nicer area and pay $1,450 to cover our mortgage.

Today, my husband and I are enjoying our new home. We love renovating it with only ourselves in mind, and we know the small sacrifices we made with our first home to work toward the goal of becoming landlords were well worth it.

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