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Calculating A "Sweet Spot" For Rental Rates In Your Market

By Donna S. Robinson | January 4, 2013

Wondering what kind of rental rates you should expect for your rental properties in your market? Here are some data and ideas on how you might go about estimating what kind of rents a tenant will be able to afford in your market.

© Dmitry Sunagatov -

© Dmitry Sunagatov -


Note that I did not say "what you should charge", but rather what your tenants likely can afford. Affordability is going to be a huge issue going forward, as renters fight the headwinds of increasing payroll taxes, inflation of food and energy costs, the new health insurance mandate, and stagnant incomes.

One of the challenges most landlords are facing today is the dwindling buying power of most of their tenants. Though not all tenants are in this situation, US Census data shows that the vast majority of wage earners in the U.S. are not making very much money...

Here are some facts it's helpful to know:

1. According to Social Security wage data, 50% of all wage earners made less than $27,000 in 2011.
2. An additional 16% of all wage earners make less than $42,000 per year.

This means that fully 66% of all wage earners make less than $42,000, with three-fourths of them below $27,000 per year.

As a rule of thumb for lower income renters or buyers, allocate no more than 36% of net take home pay, and that is what the typical tenant should be able to afford in rent. Of course this depends on other debts such as car payments, credit cards, and such, but generally, 36% is a commonly used percentage for calculating how much of a mortgage payment a buyer can afford. The same rule of thumb can be applied to a tenant.

Real estate agents and lenders commonly use the gross income number and calculate from that, but I prefer to keep things rooted in reality, so I strongly recommend using net take home pay for this calculation, because clearly, tenants or buyers cannot make use of income that will be deducted for payroll taxes. You are not doing yourself or a prospective tenant any favors if you try to stretch what a tenant can afford beyond what is realistic.

When looking at a prospective rental property you are considering buying, I recommend using the above rule of thumb to help estimate your likely positive cash flow on the property. Search online to find out what the median income is in the immediate neighborhood where your subject property is located, and calculate an affordable rent rate for the subject property.

For example, let's say that your property is located Albany, Georgia, a typical, midsized city in the south western section of the state of Georgia. According to the detailed Census Data that is available online here, Albany has a median income of $17,424, well below the average of $25,383 that is shown for the entire state.

Multiply $17,424 by .36 and you'll get $6272.64 - This is the amount that a person with the median income in Albany, GA can allocate to pay rent for an entire year. Taking $6272.64 and dividing by 12 months, I get $522.72 per month. This is what a single person earning median income should be able to reasonably afford in rent each month.

And conversely, if you are using the 1% rule as a guide for making an offer on a property to be used for rental, you could assume that a 1-2 bedroom unit might be worth $52,272. (The "one percent rule" states that a property should rent for 1% of it's value, or conversely, a rental property is worth it's monthly rental amount times ten.)

A three bedroom home rented to two adults, each earning median income, could be estimated to gross $522.72 X 2 or $1045.44 per month. Using the 1% rule as our guide, this property is worth approximately $104,544.

Knowing what your tenants can afford helps you insure that you do not pay too much for a rental property going in, and also helps insure that your tenants will be able to pay on time every month. And when tenants can afford their rent, they are likely to stay longer, which reduces your vacancy and turnover costs.

This is merely a way to work with the fundamentals in your market, because real estate investing strategies work best when your strategy is in line with the general market fundamentals in your area.
Donna S. Robinson is a real estate investor, author and market analyst located in Atlanta, GA. Follow her on twitter at donnaconsults. Her book, "Basics of Real Estate Investing" is now available on for Kindle Readers.

Donna S. Robinson has been involved in the real estate industry since 1996. A licensed agent and real estate investor, she is a recognized expert on residential real estate investing. Her course, "Fundamentals & Strategies For Real Estate Investing" is approved for CE credit by the GA Real Estate Commission. She has authored several books on real estate investing, and consults with residential investment companies. She also offers coaching services to real estate investors.

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