As an investment, a duplex has a unique appeal. Owning one can give an investor a way to live in one side of the property while renting the other side out. Read on to learn how to find a duplex for sale and things to consider when buying one.
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Investing in duplexes is a great way for an investor to get started in real estate. These two-unit residential properties require less investment and management know-how than larger multifamily properties.
Duplex buyers can even get Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans. This government program lets owner occupants buy with as little as 3.5 percent down.
FHA will also help buyers with less-than-average credit histories get approved. Credit scores may be as low as 500.
To get FHA financing, buyers must occupy one of the duplex units for at least a year. Investors who aren’t owner-occupants can’t use this government-backed source to finance their purchases.
There are some other FHA catches. For one thing, the FHA has a cap on the value of purchases it will finance.
The FHA price cap on duplexes changes from year to year and varies by location. In high-cost areas, this threshold peaks out at $930,300. Lower-cost areas have a cap of $403,125 (in 2019 figures).
FHA also requires private mortgage insurance. This requires a one-time premium of 1.75 percent of the loan amount paid at closing.
Plus, FHA borrowers have to pay an ongoing annual mortgage insurance premium. This is included in the monthly payment for the life of the loan.
Mortgage insurance can add hundreds of dollars to the monthly mortgage payment. This makes it harder for a duplex or other property to generate cash flow and profits if bought with an FHA loan.
Whether FHA, conventional, or another form of financing, a lender will look at the borrower’s debt-to-income. If a buyer plans to rent one side, part of the rental income can be applied to this ratio.
However, duplex owners should plan for vacancies. When rent isn’t coming in, they’ll have to make the entire mortgage payment.
In addition to these financing considerations, duplexes present some other special challenges. First, they are far less common than single-family homes and even bigger multi-family properties.
This means investors have fewer opportunities to choose from. This is the fact that duplexes are less popular than single-family homes. So there are fewer potential buyers.
Living in one side of a duplex and renting out the other can make solid financial sense. And the fact that the income property is next door makes it easier to keep an eye on.
It also makes it easier to handle repairs and deal with tenants. However, at the same time, some investors don’t want to live so close to tenants.
Also, there may not be as many duplexes in desirable residential areas. So investors who want a property that provides living space as well as income may have to live somewhere they would rather not.
Finally, it’s not always easy to find a great opportunity to buy a duplex. Because they’re a small minority of housing units, there aren’t real estate directories devoted to only duplexes for sale.
Where to Find a Duplex for Sale
The major online real estate listing services include listings of duplexes for sale. Some of these services let you filter searches by factors such as lot size, square feet, school district, and whether there is a garage.
Others have financial detail to guide an investor’s dollars. However, a duplex may still not be easy to find in the listings. But with a little extra effort, it can be done.
Here are five places to look for duplexes for sale:
Realtor.com is mostly aimed at people looking to buy, sell, or rent single-family homes. By setting the property type, searchers can find multifamily properties.
Multifamily includes apartment complexes as well as triplexes and fourplex townhouses. Filtering searches to only find properties with four or five bedrooms can narrow results to only duplexes.
You can also filter searches by specifying “duplex” in the keyword search. Look under the “more filters” tab to enter a keyword to search for.
Realtor.com has many listings for nearly every real estate market. You can target geographical areas such as cities, counties, and ZIP codes.
Duplexes for sale are still relatively rare compared to single-family listings. If a given market has 1,000 single-family homes for sale, it may have 50 or fewer duplexes.
Realtor.com will likely turn up as many duplexes as any other free online directory. It’s a good place to start to look for duplexes for sale.
Zillow is another free-to-search listing of mostly single-family homes. Like Realtor.com, you can tweak it to find duplexes for sale.
Compared to Realtor.com, you’ll find more for sale by owner (FSBO) listings on Zillow. This can help expand your opportunities to locate an investment-worthy duplex.
To find a duplex for sale on Zillow, enter the location of your market. You can search by city, county, ZIP code and neighborhood.
Select properties “For Sale.” Now you can narrow your search by including “duplex” as the keyword.
Zillow has an easy-to-use interface. It shows properties on the map and also displays them in thumbnail pictures and brief descriptions. You can also see the history of previous sales and price changes.
Brevitas is a commercial real estate listing site. To find duplexes for sale, start by entering “multifamily” as the property type.
Now enter your location as city, county, ZIP code, neighborhood or specific street address. Press enter and enter “duplex” in the keyword box and search.
As a commercial real estate site, Brevitas has information that non-investor sites won’t have. For instance, in addition to the usual filters for price and property type, you can filter for cap rate.
Also because it’s for investors, Brevitas may find and display investment portfolios that consist of more than one duplex for sale.
Some of these may amount to sizable townhome complexes with dozens of buildings, each containing two duplex units.
Loopnet is another commercial property listing site. It’s among the largest commercial real estate directories, but it doesn’t have as many duplex listings as some others.
To search for duplexes on Loopnet, follow the same procedure as you would on Brevitas. Specify location and property type then search for “duplex” as a keyword.
A Loopnet listing has a great deal of useful information for real estate investors. For a given duplex, this includes average rent, gross rental income, vacancy losses, and net operating income.
Loopnet is a good place to look for market research, if nothing else. You may not see a single duplex on Loopnet that fits your buying criteria.
But you can learn a lot about the financial characteristics of similar investment properties by examining their listings.
Real estate is just one of numerous categories of items for sale on Craigslist. But along with used musical instruments and antique collectibles you’ll find quite a few real properties for sale.
To find duplexes for sale on Craigslist, select the “real estate for sale” category. Then enter “duplex” in the text box and click the magnifying glass search icon.
Your search is likely to find a large number of irrelevant listings. You can also try “duplex for sale” in the text box to narrow it down.
The Craigslist listings don’t normally include as much information as those on real estate-specific sites.
However, you’ll find more FSBOs on Craigslist than on the others. So it’s a useful part of your search for a duplex for sale.
Other Ways to Find Duplexes for Sale
None of these real estate directories is likely to be the only one you’ll use for your search. While there is plenty of duplication in listings, each directory also has different listings from the rest.
To cast your net wide, use a few of the listing sites. Try different approaches to the way you search.
For instance, use keyword “duplex” on some searches. Then, on the same site, try filtering multifamily searches to locate properties with only four or five bedrooms.
You can also search for off-market properties. To do this, you can drive neighborhoods looking for duplexes that might fit your needs.
Then you can contact the owner to see if he or she would be interested in selling. To do this, you may be able to mail a letter to the address or identify the owner through tax records.
Off-market properties can be easier to buy because the competition is much less. But it can take a lot of searching for off-market duplexes to find one that could be purchases.
Getting Professional Help
Another way to go about it is to connect with a professional who has a lot of experience in your market. Knowledgeable real estate agents and brokers may know of properties up for sale before they hit the market.
Agents also have access to the multiple listing service (MLS). This is probably the single most comprehensive place to find new listings of for-sale properties.
MLS also has lots of data on taxes, homeowner association fees and other important matters. Few sites can match MLS, but only licensed real estate agents have full access to it.
Paid Real Estate Information Services
Yet another option is a site like Reonomy. This real estate investor website can identify desirable properties that aren’t on the market.
You can also obtain considerable data and analysis about individual properties and local markets. Reonomy isn’t free to use like these other sites.
The starter subscription is $49 a month. There is also a free trial as well as more advanced and costly options.
The trial and starter let you find and research opportunities and markets. A professional subscription, at $249 a month, adds outreach to help you connect with property owners.
Final Thoughts on Finding a Duplex for Sale
Many successful real estate investors have gotten their start by purchasing a duplex. The ability to rent one side while living in the other is an attractive option other investments can’t match.
Duplexes do have some drawbacks from the real estate investment perspective. They’re not as common or easy to find as single-family properties.
But a duplex can be a great investment. If you’re looking to build a real estate portfolio and willing to start small, a duplex can open the door.