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Should You Buy a Home While Still Renting?

By Alene Laney · April 27, 2023 · 7 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

Should You Buy a Home While Still Renting?

Buying an investment property before your first home can be an interesting and financially sound plan. There are clear advantages — generating cash flow or building equity in your asset could benefit you and your family for years to come. You may be able to qualify as a first-time home buyer and take advantage of programs that allow you to buy a multi-family property. You may also be able to produce a strong enough income for the unit to pay for itself.

Yet, there can be significant sacrifices you may need to contemplate in order to make this dream happen. Here, learn what needs to happen if you’re planning on buying an investment property before your first home, including:

•   Is buying an investment property before your first home a good idea?

•   What are the steps for buying a house to rent?

•   What are the benefits of buying a house as an investment while still renting?

Purchasing an Investment Property 101

Purchasing an investment or rental property is similar to a regular home purchase. When you’re looking at buying an investment property for which you qualify as a first-time home buyer, however, there are some special considerations. Here is a guide:

Step 1: Decide if you’re going to live in a part of the investment property.
One of the first things you should decide when purchasing a rental property is if you’re going to live in a part of the investment property. This decision will affect what types of properties you’re going to look at, how you’re able to finance the property, and how much down payment you’ll need to come up with.

For example, if you can buy a house to rent with two to four units and live in one yourself, you may be able to finance the purchase as an owner-occupied property. This may qualify you for lower interest rates, lower down payment options, and more favorable loan options. However, you do have to live on the property. You cannot finance a property with an owner-occupied loan without living on the property as this is considered a type of mortgage fraud.

Here’s a quick summary of the difference between owner-occupied and non-owner-occupied rental properties.

Owner-Occupied Non-Owner-Occupied
Down payment options from 3.5% Down payment typically around 15%
Lower interest rates by about half a basis point Interest rates higher by about half a basis point

Step 2: Get preapproved for a loan.
Before you go shopping, make sure a lender is willing to give you a mortgage. Qualifying as a first-time homebuyer has some positives. On the one hand, you may have a better debt-to-income ratio since you don’t own a home yet. However, you may have a shorter credit history or a smaller down payment. Whatever the case, it’s helpful to get some numbers from your lender to assist with your investment.

Factors your lender will take into account when deciding what to lend to you include:

•   Amount of your down payment

•   Owner occupied status

•   Credit score

•   Debt-to-income ratio

•   Employment history.

Your lender will also take into account what programs you qualify for. Financing options for an investment property are wide. Some may include:

•   FHA

•   VA

•   USDA

•   Conventional

•   Private lending

•   Seller financing

Quick note: If you do decide to purchase a rental property and live in part of your investment property, your lender may be able to use the potential rent from that to qualify you for a mortgage.

Step 3: Find a property that meets your criteria
Now that you have your budget and parameters set, you’re ready to find a property. You may want to enlist the help of a real estate agent who can serve as your first-time homebuyer guide, especially since you want to buy an investment property right off the bat.

Your agent can help you write an offer while your lender may be able to help you apply for a mortgage online. You’re well on your way to buying a house to rent at this stage.

Step 4: Start your rental business.
Be sure to check local ordinances and business requirements for becoming a landlord. If you’ve got a plan and do your research, you may see success. Just don’t believe what you may see on TV, which makes owning a rental property look easy. Landlording is a tough job, and there’s a lot you need to know about the business before you start. Buying a house while renting is an endeavor that takes time and effort.

Buying a House While Still Renting

The benefit to buying an investment property before your first home is that your debt-to-income may be more favorable than for someone who has a mortgage. What this means is it’s possible you don’t have too much debt to qualify for a rental property.

The possible downsides are that you may not have the cash reserves to protect yourself from the risks of being a landlord. There’s always something that needs to be repaired or replaced.

What to Know As a New Landlord

Unlike what you may have heard or imagined, becoming a landlord can be anything but passive. You’ll also want to research all you can and put proper systems in place. Here’s a little of what you can expect to encounter as a new landlord.

•   Learn local housing laws. Housing laws can make or break you. Are short-term rentals allowed (if that’s what you’re planning)? What rights does your tenant have? If you need to evict a tenant, what does the process look like? Will you benefit by putting your property in an LLC?

There’s a lot to navigate, and you may want to consider hiring a property management company that specializes in this.

•   Determine how much to charge for rent. You’ll want to look at what other properties in the area are charging for rent and position yourself competitively. Also, consider what other landlords are allowing and charging when it comes to pets.

•   Prescreening is key. The reliability of your tenant is so important. It’s incredibly stressful when you’re not paid rent. Don’t rent to someone who “feels” like they would be a good tenant. Do your due diligence. Check credit and their background, and call references.

•   Create a plan for home maintenance, repairs, and other issues. If you’re hiring a property management company, plan for the expense. If you’re doing it yourself, make a list of contacts to call for the different issues that come up (electrical, plumbing, locks, handyman, etc.).

•   Have procedures in place for unit turnover. It’s an incredibly intense time when a tenant leaves and another needs to move in. How are you going to handle inspections? Cleaning? Deposits? You will need a system for logging such events and being prepared for turnover.

Recommended: Fixed-Rate vs. Adjustable-Rate Mortgages

The Takeaway

While landlording has a lot of responsibilities and risk, there can also be a lot of reward. If you’re really interested in buying a house while renting, you’ll find a way to make it work.

If you’re starting to shop for a new home and need a partner to help with your lending needs, see what SoFi has to offer. With a wide range of loans to choose from, low down payment options, and competitive interest rates, SoFi Mortgage Loans can be a great fit.

A SoFi Mortgage: Smart, simple, and flexible.


How much profit should you make on a rental property?

There’s no easy answer for how much profit you should make on a rental property. Some investors buy property for the appreciation alone. There are also a number of methods for determining how much profit investors want to make on an investment property, such as cash flow, the 1% rule, gross rent multiplier, cash on cash return, cap rate, or internal rate of return. Those can help provide guidelines.

Should I buy an investment property and live in it?

If you’re able to live in your investment property, you can qualify for owner-occupied financing, which means lower down payments and better interest rates. But it also depends on your plans. If you want to renovate an investment property, living in it during renovations could be challenging.

Is rental property a good investment in 2023?

Rental demand is strong in 2023, but buying property is more dependent on your individual situation rather than market conditions.

Photo credit: iStock/luismmolina

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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

This article is not intended to be legal advice. Please consult an attorney for advice.


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