Vacancy and Credit Loss in Real Estate Investing

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Definition: Vacancy and Credit Loss in real estate investing is the amount of money or percentage of net operating income that is estimated to not be realized due to non-payment of rents and vacant units.

Generally, a percentage that is comparable to similar properties' actual experience is used to estimate the vacancy and credit loss for a subject property.

Vacancy Loss

When an investor purchases a rental property, the goal is of course to keep it fully rented every day of every year.

 Of course, this isn't a realistic expectation.  No matter how much your tenants may love the home, at some point they're going to move out.  The time between when they move out and the new tenant begins to pay rent is vacancy with lost rental income.

How long you go without rent is going to vary based on a number of issues:

  • The property condition and time to get it ready for the new tenants.  Many times painting is required, and sometimes repairs to the structure.
  • Your marketing and advertising.
  • The current market condition, demand for rentals.

Does requiring longer leases help to lower vacancy loss?  It often does.  That's why many landlords want a one year lease instead of six months.  It increases their costs with more frequent move-outs.  However, when someone has to move for a job, they can and will break their lease, and often you only get to keep their deposit as damages.  Chasing them down for more is usually a waste of time and effort.

You can reduce your vacancy losses by continuously marketing your rental homes, not just when you get notice of a move-out.  At the very least, begin marketing the home three months before lease expiration, even if they may renew.  You don't know, and getting some prospective tenants lined up can get you a move-in within days.

Another way to cut the time between tenants, especially when you have new ones ready, is to have your inspection results and repair materials and labor ready to spring into action.  Get the painting and repairs done quickly and get that rent coming in again.

Credit Loss

This is simply someone not paying their rent.  This one can be really damaging to your bottom line, as if it gets bad, eviction can take a while.  You're not getting rent the entire time it takes to get them out of the property.  State landlord/tenant law determines the eviction procedure and timeline.  Most people are honest and will want to pay their rent in full and on time.  Some may run into temporary income troubles, but there are others who will use the law to occupy a home for months without paying rent.

The best defense here is a good offense, meaning credit checks and rental references.  You have a right to protect your interests within the state landlord/tenant laws.  A good application process and interview, as well as references and a check of their credit history is important.  The best defense against eviction is to never let them occupy the home in the first place.

The Calculation or Estimate

If you don't have historical data, call a local property manager and ask what figures they're seeing for vacancy and credit losses across a spectrum of rental homes similar to yours.

 "Similar" in this case should consider rental price range, as income levels can influence credit loss and even change how often people need to move for work.

If you're having trouble getting vacancy rates, you may try a local real estate investment club.  Some will have ready data, but you can often meet other investor members who will not have a problem sharing their data with you.  Even if you have to guess, something in your calculation of rent should be taken into account for these variables.

It's your home, even if you're not living in it, so protect your interests and factor in vacancy and credit loss for accurate ROI.