How to Generate Passive Income and Retire Early with Property

by Nick Gentle on
Article appears under: About Property Investment, Goal Setting, Investment Strategy, Retirement, The Numbers


I believe a property is a fantastic investment vehicle for 3 reasons: access to leverage, the ability to improve your asset and passive income.

Leveraging other people's money and time is a whole separate topic and, fortunately, we have already written about it extensively. That link also includes a case study about improving an asset.

Over time investors leverage many factors to buy, improve (if needed), and ultimately pay for an asset that creates a passive income stream for themselves. 

Passive income is money that comes into your bank account irrespective of how you spend your time. You might be in a meeting or at the beach, it doesn't matter.

Over time, property investors can see passive income streams become a flood. They stop exchanging hours for dollars and become financially free, perhaps retiring early, or taking several years out of work to follow a pursuit that they love.

Not having to worry about money is liberating; you get your time and energy back, and how you spend every day is up to you. I bid my corporate job adieu several years ago and I believe that anybody with the right approach, mindset and team can do the same.

If you don't wish to go all the way to financial freedom or quit your day job, financial flexibility from even some passive income can be life-changing. 

Interestingly many people who are financially free find other projects to work on. The positive mindset and energy that go them to their goal doesn't just disappear, it gets channeled into something else.

That might be a new venture, a charity or NGO, a family project, or a community cause. Early retirement does not mean you sit around and watch re-runs of The Chase all day... it means you own your time again.

Some financially free people still work part-time as a consultant or run a small business, and many say that once they stopped exchanging dollars for hours in order to survive, their incomes increased "post retirement". 

In this article, I look at how real estate generates passive income and the steps you can follow to start to create passive income for yourself. However, I want to talk about mindset first, because we can be our own worst enemy when we seek to change. So before we jump into property investment, let's check in on ourselves, and make sure we are ready to accept life's opportunities that are hiding in plain sight...


Part 1: Mindset around wealth

You will achieve receive as much as you think you should and is fair, so we need to adopt an abundance mindset.

A person with an abundance mindset focuses on the limitless opportunities available in business and life. They choose to focus on the positive things in their life rather than the negative things. ... As a result of this abundant mindset they attract opportunities, people and creativity into their lives.

It is important to be comfortable with the idea of creating wealth and abundance for yourself before you invest. Many people believe that abundance for themselves is taken from someone else, which just isn't true. If you invest time and money into a property, instead of buying a car, who have you disadvantaged except for the car salesman?

Another popular myth is that rich people are bad, which if you believe consciously or subconsciously, will mean you self-sabotage every action and decision to the point of giving up. 

Negative attitudes about money and wealth and success are often inherited from our families and friends, or learned from an emotional event that we have been part of or witnessed, such as a bankruptcy, long period of unemployment, or other financial stress. 

As your life starts to change financially, be on alert for resentful feelings or emotions. If you don't see them in yourself, you will certainly identify them in others. When those thoughts arise, don't just bury them, acknowledge them and question out loud where they came from. You might have found something you need to address or a relationship that needs to change.

There are hundreds, if not thousands of resources out there for working on mindset and personal development. Successful investors continuously seek self-improvement. Property is not all about numbers and bricks and land... successful investment starts with ourselves.


Part 2: How a property generates passive income

A property is cashflow positive (creates passive income) when it brings in more income from rent than it costs you to hold on to. 

Here is a simple example. 

Property Income

  • Rent @ $500 per week = $26,000 per year

Property expenses

  • Mortgage interest = $14,000
  • Property management = $2,500
  • Rates = $1,500
  • Insurance = $1,500
  • Maintenance = $2,000
  • Total expenses: $21,500

Positive Cashflow

  • $26,000 - $21,500 = $4,500

So by investing in this property you have created $4,500 pre-tax income a year, or $90 per week. 

Not every property investment is made purely for passive income, some are made for equity gain or to create cash), however, I find it motivating to think of each deal as a % of my cost of living. 

So if you worked out that you need to earn $60,000 in passive income to be financially free, then $4,500 is 7.5% of that. 7.5% of financial freedom is better than 0%, good start!

You might have noticed that I haven't included principal repayments here. How you manage your loans is discretionary, as is how much deposit you pay for a property. A property does not become "a better deal" because you paid a 30% deposit and I didn't (because I bought using spare equity in another home for example).

Rule of thumb: When "doing the numbers" to compare properties, we assume interest only loans and a 100% mortgage.

Important: Tax and Principal

Passive income is wonderful stuff but you need to allow for a few things when you invest in property.

Income Tax: You will pay income tax on any annual surplus cashflow, which is rental income minus expenses. We recommend engaging a property accountant to help you manage your ownership structuring and end of year filing to make sure you are not paying more than you need to.

Principal repayments are NOT tax-deductible, so you will need to factor that into how you structure your loans.

Part 3: Set your Passive Income Goal

What is Financial Freedom?

I believe you are financially free when you can "stop showing up" and cover your cost of living for the rest of your life. You do this by having enough wealth to simply pay for your costs each year, or by earning an income that more than covers everything.

So financial freedom means either (or a combination) of:

  1. Earning enough passive income to cover your annual cost of living year on year.
  2. Having enough in liquid assets to cover your annual cost of living for the rest of your life.
  3. A bit of buffer to cover any emergencies. 

Important: Inflation

Property investment is a fantastic way to "hedge against" (manage) inflation.

  1. Inflation will generally increase the value of your asset but not your mortgage, so effectively erodes your debt.
  2. Rental income (and your costs like rates) should rise inline with inflation over time, meaning that if you achieve financial freedom today that should hold true going forward.

Of course, there are other factors that could impact your portfolio in the future and not all costs rise inline with a national CPI; this is a high-level summary.

I don't equate financial freedom with excessive amounts of wealth, such as big homes, sports cars, lots of travel, or anything else of the sort. To me, that stuff is extra; fun, but unnecessary. I'm trying to get you to where you don't have to work for the man. If you want to also travel the world non-stop and alternate between a Porsche and a BMW each day, then keep working, set your sights higher, invest more and you will get there... It might take a bit longer, so make sure you've got enough life left to enjoy all those toys.

Life hack: Cut your cost of living to reach retirement faster

This is a no-brainer that many simply don't think about. If you can lower your cost of living then it takes less passive income to fund your lifestyle!

"Thank you Captain Obvious", you might say, yet many, many people work out roughly what they spend now, add some just for fun and imagine they can't get by on anything less. 

Ask yourself these questions to start to think about what a lower cost of living would mean for them:

  • If you didn't have a commute what would you save each year on petrol and car costs?
  • If you didn't need to buy work clothes what would you save each year? 
  • If you had time to cook more at home what would you spend a year on entertainment?
  • If you could travel at any time and not need to pay for convenience and speed, would your holidays be cheaper?

When you're really ready to go all-in on this journey, ask yourself these questions to think about why you can't start living that way now...

  • What would you give up or change if it meant you could stop working sooner? Because it does mean you can stop working sooner, what is stopping you from making that change now?
  • If your incomes were to halve, would you be able to adjust and survive? If yes, why not adjust and invest?

I am not saying that you should skip enjoying life while on this path, my point is that a lot of investors imagine that they can't possibly give up working until they are able to afford a very opulent lifestyle. I beg to differ; you can give up working when you can afford to give up working; the rest is choices. 

Set your freedom number.

With all this in mind, you should be able to work out what level of passive income you need to reach a level of financial freedom that gives you back control of your time. 

Are you feeling motivated yet?


Recap to this point

  1. Property is one way to create passive income.
  2. A property is cashflow positive when the annual income is more than the expenses. 
  3. Financial freedom is your ability to survive with reasonable comfort without working. 
  4. In order to do so, you usually need passive income to cover your living costs. 
  5. When you plan what amount of passive income you need, consider what you would be willing to go without in order to get control of your time back (it makes the goal easier).

So far so good? Lets get on with the "how" side of things.


Part 4: Plan your Strategy and Team

It is time to plan the portfolio you will need to achieve your passive income goal. To reach financial freedom, one property usually isn't going to cut it, unless it is a high-income, multi-unit whopper of a property.

Interestingly, from here everybody's paths will start to differ. 

Why? Because when you line up everybody's different goals, timelines, start points, viewpoints, skill-sets, appetites for risk, appetites for effort, family circumstances, available time and plain old financial resources... you will see that every investor is going to go about this in different ways, different speeds, starting from different places, and with different levels of urgency. Not to mention that everybody's end goal is different too.

Pause for a moment and let this sink in... it means that while you can learn from what other investors do and teach, it is important to come up with a plan that works for you

Fortunately, there is a neat two-part trick to help you do this...

a) Begin with the end in mind and let your goal deadline dictate your strategy.

 The "T" in the "SMART" goal system means "time-bound". A goal without a deadline is a "wish"; with a deadline, it becomes a project. "By this date I will do/buy/own/achieve X" creates the declaration, moving from wishful thinking to purposeful action. 

A goal of earning $20,000 passive income per year "someday", is a nice thing to look forward to. A goal of earning $20,000 passive income in 2 years starting with $X deposit means you had better get busy.

Decide on "your number" and start to work backwards from that and decide on concrete actions taken today.

How many properties will you need?

What yields?

Will you need to do a project to add value to go faster, or will a set-and-forget "buy and hold" strategy suit your schedule?

Confused? If you are starting to feel a bit lost, please take a look at our free online property course, which has a more in-depth introduction to the core concepts of property investment.

When deciding what to do today, in order to get results in the future, you need to understand how cumulative gains work, because results accrued over time will play a major part in your outcomes.

B. How time will be your friend

Cumulative gains are one of the great economic miracles of our time and when combined with leverage in property can deliver amazing results. A  2-3% increase in value doesn't look like much, but over several years it will result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in wealth.

Similar increases in rents will lead to a healthy income in the future.

If you are struggling to map your future goals into what you should buy and in what order, we have a cashflow and equity tool that lets you project the numbers on a property up to 15 years out into the future. You can see changes over time as rents increase, mortgages go down and values go up... heady stuff indeed.

If you start with your end goal, understand the role time in the market plays, and backtrack to today, you can confidently choose a property investment strategy to follow today.

Important: Allow for vacancies and other hiccups

It is prudent to have some buffer for when things go wrong (because something will go wrong). As you grow, make sure you have access to funds to cover a vacancy or emergency repair. This can be set up in an efficient way, such as via offset accounts or "flexi" facilities such as a revolving credit that you can draw down when you need it. Talk to your bank or mortgage adviser to learn more.

We recommend having enough cash on hand to handle an emergency repair and pay the mortgage for 2-3 months. Ideally, you will never use it, but when you do need it you will be glad that you planned ahead.

Put a team around you

You will succeed at property investment if you master leveraging other people's time and money. Again, if you have not read our article on leverage please check it out now.

Get a team in place to make things happen. Broker, accountant, agents, builder, property manager etc. 

Whatever you do, look for people who are investors themselves and specialise in property investment in their business. 

  1. Broker should be your first port of call to confirm your resources. You need two things to buy a property, equity (or cash) to pay your deposit and income to cover the servicing requirements. A good broker will help you secure lending approvals for you from a bank and will explain how a single purchase will affect your ability to buy further.
  2. A property accountant is a must and you should contact one early in your journey. It will never be cheaper to get your structuring correct than right at the start.
  3. A property finder or buyer's agent lets you work with a professional investor to go out and source properties anywhere in New Zealand to meet your long-term passive income strategy. iFindProperty offers a nation-wide buyers' agency service to Kiwi investors from all over the world .

You are making a 20-year bet with real estate; any extra cost associated with making a good decision will be dwarfed by your results over time. If you would like a referral to an industry professional please get in touch.


Part 5: How aggressive or careful should you be?

As you start to invest, be mindful of managing your risk, particularly with leverage involved, and not having any slack in your financial position. It can be dangerous to expand too quickly and take on debt without "rainy day" funds, even if that is set up as a revolving credit facility (or similar).

With safety buffers in place, I believe the right mindset for an investor is "trust but verify". It is important to be optimistic when out there looking for deals, however, property is buyer-beware so you must do your due diligence and make sure the property fits your own goals, not someone else's. 

Don't mistake optimism with recklessness. Optimism is an attitude and recklessness is an approach. Successful investors might appear to be breezing along and having things come easily to them, however you don't see the work that every successful investor has done, or is doing, behind the scenes.

The better the advice you get, the faster you can safely expand. Successful investors surround themselves with seasoned professionals because those who have been in the game for a long time people know what is very important, and what is a minor issue. They are far less likely to get stuck because somebody who has done a similar transaction a dozen times over knows when to move quickly, and when to slow down and get technical specialists in to analyse something. 


Part 6: Strategies to Reach your Goal Faster

Visualizing financial freedom can be a rush and it is natural that you want to move fast.

There is just one problem... when you buy a property you need equity or capital to cover your deposit and income to cover debt servicing. So what happens when you hit a limit with the bank on either of these two measures?

Not much.... literally. Many investors have found themselves stuck at some level after they no longer meet the bank's criteria to keep investing.

Below are a few approaches to support your portfolio growth and move forward faster than "save up another deposit". The key is to know when you will reach your limits and put strategies in place before that happens, a good broker in your team is a must.

  1. Buying under value does help, however in a hot market that is very difficult. With knowledge and experience, you can however pay the market price and still come out on top because you understand the true value of the asset, which is often hidden in plain sight.
  2. Renovate your properties to increase equity and cashflow. This is a biggie and the "returns" not only help you buy again, but they also increase both your passive income and your net worth!
  3. Look for ways to add extra income streams such as extra bedrooms, minor dwellings, subdivisions. 
  4. Increase rent with different tenancy strategies: AirBNB, corporate rental, furnished rental, rent by the room, etc. By providing more services and flexibility you can earn a higher income. Be aware that there will be more effort required to manage and furniture breaks easily! 
  5. You may look at mixing in property trading or developments to increase your income and therefore buying power. This is active investment and I discuss the difference between passive and active, also point out tax implications, in our course
  6. You could look to do a joint venture, either for a short term project (better) or a long term buy and hold (more fish hooks). JVs can work very well - I have used this strategy - or they can go badly, straining relationships. Here are two articles on short- and long-term joint ventures that are worth reading.

Important: Leverage Carefully

When you take on debt to grow your portfolio, you need to understand risk. We strongly recommend investors do not take on debt without cashflow to support it, as your ability to hold onto your portfolio then depends on your employment. Many found that when Covid-19, or previously the GFC, hit, employment may not be as certain as you think.

I encourage you to read about the benefits amd risks of overleveraging in this piece and build a portfolio that can support itself.


Where you can learn more 

Our free online course takes about 3 weeks and delivers lessons by email. Topics include a deeper dive into goal-setting, how yield works, how cashflow works, mortgages, structures, property finding, managing and maintenance, and more. Register for free here.

Join your local Property Investors Association (PIA). This is the best tax-deductible bang for your buck you can get. The networking opportunities are beneficial to new investors especially, there are discounts on many trade suppliers and monthly meetings with speakers give you a chance to spend time with like-minded individuals. Learn more here.

Dig into a property book. Expert knowledge, broken down into easily understood chapters for the price of brunch. We sell a few in our online store and more books are frequently available at your library.

Get in touch. We hear from many, many investors and help them plot their next (or first) move. Some have started with property and feel stuck, others are trying to work out where to start. I can be contacted here.


The perfect moment to start never arrives

This might be the longest article we have ever published and it still feels like I skimmed the surface. 

That's because...

  1. What will work for you may not work for somebody else, so I haven't explained every possible strategy in-depth. Get in touch if you'd like to chat about the right approach for your property goals, timelines, and resources.
  2. There is a lot that only experience can teach you, which is why working with experienced people is so important. 
  3. There will never be a point when you have all the information, know every possibility, and have the future all mapped out. What investors do is make a plan, get advice, minimise risk, and make calculated bets.

So don't get bogged down with the details and waste time trying to do everything yourself to save money because you're only as strong as the weakest member on your team. You're trying to save something far more important than money here: your life.


Nick Gentle

Nick Gentle
Business Owner & Operations Manager
nick@ifindproperty.co.nz
027 358 3855

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