A rental real estate investment can seem like a great way to build your wealth (and maybe generate a little extra income), but how often does it really work out that way?

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Owning a rental property in addition to your primary residence can be a way for you to build wealth, especially if you may be averse to investing in the stock market. Data released in 2017 shows that 47% of rentals were owned by individual investors. In theory, it seems to make sense. With a rental property, someone else pays your mortgage, and over time your equity grows. You can eventually own a physical piece of property outright that also produces income. However, rental property investments aren’t always a sure thing.

The first home my wife and I bought was a condo in 2004 in Stamford, Conn., which we then in turn rented out when we bought our first single-family home. Our situation didn’t work out for a number of reasons, mainly because 1) the property, after a rising as high as 30%+ over our purchase price, ended up selling for only a 5% gain. 2) We needed to make updates (kitchen countertops and floors) and repairs (HVAC system) that ate away at our profit. 3) With the great recession rental prices dropped and lowered my expected return, and we also had a few months where the property was empty.

So, as you can see, things that seem too good to be true often are. So, before you decide to invest in a rental property, consider calculating the return on your investment to see if investing in a rental property is really the deal you thought.

How to Calculate the Return on Investment of a Rental Property

Like any investment, you need to understand the expected return on investment (ROI). ROI = (Net Profit/Cost of Investment) x 100. Therefore, before you purchase a rental property, ask what return is reasonable to expect on your money, and what do you need to earn in order for the investment to be worthwhile?

Calculating the ROI of a rental property can be complex. While there are many different ways to do this, the point of this exercise is to provide you with a “back of the envelope” calculation to help you quickly assess whether or not a rental property has a return potential that is worth pursuing. If your calculation reveals that the return is small on paper, it’s likely going to be small in reality, too.

Before you can calculate the true ROI of a rental property, you have to factor in all the costs associated with holding that property, not just the purchase amount.

For illustrative purposes, I’ve put together a rental property…