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Dana Bull

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again: A first-time homebuyer’s story of perseverance

Growing up, my mom had countless expressions to keep us grounded. She would be the first to point out that “life isn’t fair” when any of us kids complained about something not going our way. You would have thought she was a back up singer for the Rolling Stones based on how many times she would break out the lyrics of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” As difficult as it is to hear (especially in a Mick Jagger impersonation) that “life isn’t fair” and that “you can’t always get what you want”, these are important lessons to learn. These themes are a constant in life and in real estate. Ironically, they couldn’t ring more true throughout my own sister’s home buying story.

Anyone who knows my younger sister will tell you that she’s charismatic, determined and high achieving. When Sarah sets her mind to something, she really goes for it. At 25, she decided it was time to buy her first home. Of course, she enlisted her big sis (yours truly) to represent her in the transaction. Sarah was a dream to work with, but due to high demand and low inventory her target markets proved to be any buyer’s worst nightmare.

Her condo wish list was minimal; all she needed was a pet-friendly building with parking and two bedrooms. Based on her budget and the desire to be halfway between downtown Boston and her office in Framingham, we decided to narrow down our search to Waltham.

It seemed like the perfect plan. The only problem was that every young professional under the sun seemed to share our same idea. Waltham is a happening place and home to several big names in tech and pharma. There are some trendy local spots as well as easy access to Boston. While the Boston area is a great area to live, the process involved in getting a place is easier said than done. (Spoiler alert, it’s not impossible!)

Sarah quickly fell in love with one of the first condos she looked at and we put together a strong offer. Not surprisingly, we weren’t the only ones and she lost a six way bidding war. I hate delivering bad news, especially to my sister. It doesn’t seem fair to want something badly and to be outbid by a cash investor. It’s a tough reminder that life isn’t fair and that you can’t always get what you want.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Sarah and I worked extremely hard for several months to nail down the most perfect condo. We wrote up countless offers, only to pull out when they escalated outside of her budget. She wound up opening her search to other areas and was able to negotiate winning bids in several towns, including Waltham. Ultimately, Sarah had her choice between a condo in Waltham and a beautiful home in West Roxbury. After going through the whole process, she discovered that when you try sometimes well you just might find that you get what you need.

Below are some of the techniques that helped Sarah win. They can help you too:

Be realistic about your competition

First, you want to size up your competition. Track recent inventory and look at trends in list price vs. sold price. Attend open houses and watch and listen to other buyers to gauge their interest levels.

Build rapport with the listing agent

Introduce yourself to the listing agent and leave them with a good impression. You always want to present yourself professionally.

See if the seller has any hot buttons

Does the home have sentimental value? Sometimes writing a cover letter to the sellers goes a long way. Are they looking to move quickly? Try to accommodate their timeline.

Figure out your absolute max budget

Assign a value to the home and do not go overboard when you start to get emotional. At some point, you have to draw a line in the sand. The hardest part for buyers is being able to let a place go if it’s outside their budget.

Fine-tune your terms

While you may be stuck on max price, are there other ways to strengthen your offer? Weigh the pros and cons of tightening up the language around the inspection and financing. There are ways to strengthen these terms without slashing them entirely.

Be the squeaky wheel

The squeaky wheel gets the oil is yet another one of my mom’s favorite expressions. Make sure that you’re reiterating your enthusiasm for the property. Often times, the “over communication” is what keeps your offer on the table.

Think outside the box

Sometimes you need to get creative. We found a great place in Waltham that had been sitting on the market because of some tight restrictions in the condo docs. For that reason, everyone else had skipped over it. By offering to pay an attorney to have the condo docs rewritten, we could have put a deal together.

Put irons in the fire

I always say, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Don’t be afraid to put in an offer. Any offer is better than no offer. There are times when the first in-line buyers fall through and the listing agent comes back to other bidders.

Need help buying in the Boston area? I’m taking on a limited number of clients and would love to know how I can help you make a purchase. Drop me a line today to discuss your real estate goals.

Watch out, Waltham! There’s a new female real estate investor in town.

It’s not every day that you meet a young woman looking to get into real estate investing. Whenever I do, it makes me smile. (I promise this isn’t another one of my feminist landlady rants!)

After a few set backs trying to break into the Waltham multi-family market, Diana reached out to me for my expertise. Diana is an extremely smart and motivated individual who gets things done. Even with all these attributes, it’s hard to land a solid piece of property in a highly competitive environment without the right people backing you up. I was thrilled to work with her as her buyer’s representation and create a winning team.

I am driven to see each and every one of my clients excel. My goal is for each buyer to feel in control of their purchase, which is why I spend a significant amount of time mentoring new investors throughout the process.


I am currently taking on a limited number of investor clients in the Boston area. Please contact me, if you are looking to buy or sell a two, three, or four-family.


During my initial meeting with Diana, we discussed her goals and came up with an executable plan. In just a few weeks she had an accepted offer on her first place and officially became a home owner this summer. I have no doubt that she will be extremely successful in this business. Go Diana!!

In Diana’s own words, here is a recap of her story:

I recently worked with Dana to purchase my first two-family property. I reached out after reading a few articles on Business Insider about the work she had done in the Boston area. As a first time homebuyer, I was anxious about the entire process. With prices sky rocketing in the Waltham area, the financing it took just to get my foot in the door, made me uneasy. In the past, I had been outbid with cash offers or offers way over ask. Moreover, finding a relator to help facilitate the process of transitioning from tenant to landlord made me that much more perturbed. Dana, however, made me feel comfortable and made every step seamless.After meeting to discuss what I was looking for and what my goals were, she set up a couple of different contenders to look at.

Right off the cuff, we ended up putting an offer in on the first property we saw: a two-family in my favorite neighborhood in Waltham. Even though we had put in a competitive offer, I had no expectations of it being the winning bid given how hot the market was/is. To my pleasant surprise (shock), Dana called me in the following days to tell me the offer was accepted. Sure, there had been other offers, but our positioning set mine apart. What sealed the deal was Dana’s finely crafted cover letter introducing me as a buyer.During my due diligence stage, Dana recommended an inspector that provided a thorough walk-through and report. He uncovered potential issues that made me nervous. Dana expertly negotiated so that the sellers agreed to some monetary concessions and agreed to fix the problems. Crisis adverted!

From the negotiation through to the purchase, through the demo and renovation, to screening tenants and transitioning from tenant to landlord, Dana is the number one reason as to why I will be successful. Through every stressful phase in the process, Dana has been a great and reliable resource answering my calls/texts within minutes 95% of the time if not within the hour the other 5%. It felt as though I was her only client. Dana has shared her expertise, honest opinions, and her own resources in the field to ensure that I will efficiently continue to build my real estate portfolio. She is an invaluable resource.

DIYers Dive into West Roxbury

Emily and Kevin Hoffman became accidental real estate entrepreneurs by buying more space in Boston than they needed at the right time (6 years ago), renovating it for fun, and now renting out one floor of their three story home.

Young professionals by day and home improvement DIYers by night, the couple has dabbled in general contracting, carpentry, interior design, and 3D modeling while turning a below grade portion of their home into a bed/bath Airbnb suite.

A few months ago, the Hoffmans contacted me to discuss their plans for purchasing another property. A two-family style home made the most sense for the duo, as having the additional rent would help them to build equity on a prime piece of real estate.

Multi-family purchases can be difficult transactions for many reasons — they can require serious elbow grease; come with a hefty price tag, and are hard to find.

Fortunately, both Emily and Kevin had a shared vision for seeing the potential in cosmetically dated properties. The challenge was not in finding homes to fit their design style, budget and location, but how to get an accepted offer amongst all of the other buyers.

Desirable multi-family properties in and around Boston are extremely competitive. I have submitted offers for clients where we are one of 30+ buyers. In these situations, bids with no contingences are commonplace. It certainly is not easy to be a young couple, with a modest down payment when you’re up against developers and cash buyers. That said, I have a proven track record for scoring my buyers their dream multi-family homes! Nabbing a property can be a process and you certainly need to be realistic, understand the market and how to work it. More importantly, you can’t get discouraged when things don’t work out straight out of the gate.

The Hoffmans did not get their dream house on their first try. They had two rejected offers in the rear view mirror before a seller accepted a bid. Third time is the charm! After tracking the inventory for a few weeks, “the one” hit the market.

Their future home, an over-sized two-family in the highlands area of West Roxbury, is steps to the commuter rail station, local shops and restaurants, and minutes to Millennium Park, Legacy Place, Chestnut Hill Shopping, highways and downtown Boston!  The 1920’s house has beautiful period details like pine floors, built in cabinets and molding.

Not only was the house ideal, so was the situation with the sellers and offer submission timeline. Having been a family home, the owners wanted to see the property go to a buyer that would love it as much as they did. Plus, by identifying a property that did not have an offer deadline, we were able to submit an aggressive bid and lock down the property before it escalated to a competitive situation. It was the perfect storm. In order for this to play out the right way, Emily and Kevin made themselves available for the first tour of the home and made sure to have their lender queued up. They squeezed in the showing right before heading up north to a friend’s wedding.

When it comes to writing up offers, leveraging technology to facilitate the most streamlined process is key. By utilizing screen share technology, hotspots, and electronic document signing, I am able to get offers to the table from anywhere! The Hoffmans were able to sign from their iPhones at the wedding reception and we had the documents packaged up and out the door within an hour.

The next morning, we had a fully executed offer in hand and the property was under agreement before the public open house. Queue the celebrations!

We had a few other hurdles to cross during the transaction. Some rough spots came up after the inspection. Then, the Federal Housing Association mandated the property be brought up to certain standards in order for the loan to close. After a fair amount of negotiating, both parties were able to work together to keep the sale right on track.

The Hoffmans have already started sprucing up the units and are looking forward to many years in their stately home! Make sure to follow their progress on instagram @humbleabodeboston.

 

Client Testimonial  

“My husband and I recently worked with Dana to find our first two family property in the Boston area. Throughout the process, Dana gave us honest feedback that allowed us to approach decisions with realistic expectations rather than based on what we wanted to hear or thought we knew. Dana was always available to us through email and text to answer questions on everything from negotiating points, to contractors, to permits, and so much more.

Dana’s experience as a realtor, investor, and landlord was invaluable and helped us to feel at ease as first timers. Dana went above and beyond the expectations we had for a realtor – helping us to forge relationships with lenders, attorneys, and contractors. She helped us get into the home of our dreams and we look forward to continuing to consult her in the future.”

 

Dana Bull on Real Estate Talk Boston – “Boston Power Players”

Tune in to REAL Estate Talk Boston for some of my home-buying tips:

  • Finding the right area – up and coming
  • Attending an open house/first showing and what to look for to make smart a decision as an investor (touching on serious issues versus cosmetic/easy fixes)
  • Smart upgrades to make on a rental
  • Unique ways to get income out of a property (ex. the Airbnb suite)
  • First time buyers in the competitive Boston market. Why finding the right agent is important when you’re a first-time buyer. (Many young buyers DIY with Redfin, etc. so what’s the advantage of an agent?)
  • Some tips on finding the right agent
  • How to put together an attractive offer when you’re NOT a cash buyer in a competitive market/multiple offer situation
  • Markets around Boston that are great for first time buyers right now

 

Four-Family in Salem, Mass…Closed!

Four-unit residential buildings are a rarity in Salem. They seldom hit the market, and when they do, they typically need some TLC. 50-52 Roslyn Street was a rare gem – meticulously well maintained, in a desirable location, with both short-term advantages and a solid long-term play. The property required little work out of the gate. Sprucing up of the units will help to secure much higher rents and immediately improve the cap-rate to a projected 10%. The unfinished attic presents a perfect expansion opportunity, making this an ideal purchase for a condo conversion down the road.

Working on the buy-side of this transaction, I had to overcome a few small hurdles to get this property to close. Most notably an easement had to be negotiated to legitimize access to the parking area from the street. These challenges reaffirmed the importance of having not only a knowledgeable realtor®, but a solid team of lenders and attorneys on the buyer’s side of the court. The situation delayed the closing several months, but well worth the wait.

Condo Buying in Neponset – Timing it Right on the Dot.

It’s all about timing. How often have you heard the expression? In real estate, it couldn’t be truer. My new clients, Pat and Lauren Henderson, are masters at nailing the timing of their transactions.

Back in 2010, the couple started their investment portfolio in the soon-to-be-hip South Boston neighborhood. This was right before the area underwent a massive gentrification. A couple years before Southie’s property values joined the highest in the city, Pat and Lauren had two condo purchases under their belts. In terms of timing, it couldn’t have been a better play – the rise of Southie, compounded by the end of the recession.

Fast forward to Thanksgiving of 2016 and and they found themselves itching to make another move. After hearing nothing but positive things from friends and coworkers about Neponset, they decided to take a hop, skip, and a jump over to Dorchester. After weighing the pros and cons of purchasing a multi-family, the buyers decided to stick with what they knew: the condo market.

“We considered the benefits of buying a two-family – the cash flow, appreciation, and condo conversion story were all very appealing. Ultimately, we opted for a condo. We know condos, and have had success with them in the past, so it was an easy decision,” said Pat.

Why Dorchester? In comparison to other parts of the city, the Dot has a lower barrier to entry. With current inventory starting as low as $217 a square foot (compared to $500 in Southie), buyers can stretch their dollar and get a bit more for their money. All eyes are on Dorchester and there are high hopes that it will follow in Southie’s footsteps. Only time will tell, but there are strong indications that Dorchester is prime for a boom.

“The neighborhood has a great vibe,” comments Lauren. “It feels similar to the way Southie felt back in 2013. With countless development projects underway, there’s great energy, and I’m definitely optimistic about the direction.”

After meeting up to discuss the strategy, we moved full steam ahead to find a property. After touring just three places, Pat and Lauren were ready to pull the trigger.

Perched on the top floor of a recent three family condo conversion, the unit they fell in love with offers three bedrooms, two full baths, two-car parking and a back deck. An additional perk is deeded roof rights with water views.

“I knew it was the one! We both just had a great feeling about it and wanted to get the deal done,” said Lauren.

Since renovated properties are selling like hot cakes, the Hendersons were prepared to act fast. Timing, of course, played a critical role in locking down the unit. In order to beat everyone to the punch, we submitted a polished offer that afternoon. Knowing that we were competing against a few other buyers, we played the timing card right. It was the day before Christmas Eve, and therefore we knew we had a good shot at getting an accepted offer before things escalated to a multi-bid situation.

Within hours, we heard good news from the listing agent. Over the next month, the Hendersons worked closely with their lender to secure financing. For young buyers, and especially young investors, this can be the trickiest part of the transaction. Fortunately, my network of lenders are extremely experienced in navigating challenging situations that can arise with millennial buyers from student loan debt, to commission-based income and self-employment.

Pat and Lauren received the keys to their new pad a few weeks ago and have already started with some value-add projects! They put in a larger closet in the master bedroom and have reached out to a roof deck specialist to get the ball rolling.

A big congratulations to the Hendersons on their new home…I’m already looking forward to celebratory drinks on the roof deck. Cheers!

Client Testimonial
“My wife and I reached out to Dana after hearing her on the Bigger Pockets Podcast.  We had one rental and were thinking about moving out of our current condo and renting that out.  She replied right away and set up a meeting for us to talk over our options.  From that first interaction on, we knew Dana was the right real estate agent for us.

This was our third purchase and we’ve had great agents in the past, but Dana brings it to another level.  She is super responsive, knowledgeable and thorough.  Dana brought so much insight to the process- from pointing out key details during house tours that we wouldn’t have noticed, to figuring out the right offer to make, she guided us every step of the way with so much attention that we felt like we were her only clients.

We’ve now bought three condos, and used a different agent for each, but after working with Dana we won’t even think about using someone else on the next one!” – Pat Henderson

Doing What you Love in Real Estate Investing with Dana Bull and Joe Fairless

Funding large projects, carrying out rehabs, and putting together big deals may be your thing, and recently I had the opportunity to shed some light on why I do what I do…it’s because I love it! I was thrilled to be interviewed on the Joe Fairless Best Ever Real Estate Podcast earlier this month. In the 30 minute segment, I discuss tips for incorporating real estate investing into your lifestyle, how to get started when you’re working full time, and why you shouldn’t be doing what you hate in real estate.

> Click Here to Listen to the Show

The Joe Fairless show is one of the highest rated investment podcast on iTunes. He talks to successful real estate professionals and they give you their best advice ever with none of the fluff. Past guests include: Barbara Corcoran (star of Shark Tank and Real Estate entrepreneur), Grant Cardone (NY Times Best Selling Author of The 10X Rule), Robert Kiyosaki (author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad), Nela Richardso (Chief Economist at Redfin), Dean Grazios (NY Times Best Selling Real Estate Author).

New Guide: How to Spruce Up your Rental Units

The greater Boston area is home to some of the country’s most charming houses. When searching for your gem property, you’ll have to wade through a sea of dropped ceilings, bad paneling, and pink bathrooms to find your diamond. Don’t let bad design scare you away. There are countless ways to shine up dated properties.

As a landlord and property manager, I’ve developed a knack for designing on short budgets. Over the years, I’ve renovated countless properties – managing entire gut-rehabs to quick spruce ups. In partnering with my clients, I’ve advised on countless cost effective improvements for boosting value. My new guide is chock-full of before and after pictures to help inspire buyers. It outlines solutions for addressing the outdated designs commonly found in multi-family homes across Boston and the surrounding areas, such as:

  • How to work with dropped ceilings and paneled walls
  • Getting your wood floors into tip-top shape
  • Cost conscious kitchen and bathroom improvements
  • Adding the wow factor!
  • And more…

While the intended audience is for investment property buyers looking for ways to secure top dollar rent, many of the tips can be applied to your primary residence as well.

>> CLICK HERE to download the guide

3 Real Estate Formulas to Keep in Mind when Assessing Income-Producing Properties

There are many factors that go into buying a property — size, location, finishes — the list goes on and on. When searching for a multi-family there are additional considerations, one of them being cash flow. Depending on whether you’re looking to buy a pure investment or owner-occupy the property may impact where the cash flow factor stacks up against your other priorities.

When investing, there are no hard and fast rules. Everybody has their own investment objectives and a strategy for fitting real estate into their lifestyle. Perhaps your day job offers you flexibility, so you have time for a fixer upper. Another buyer may be tied to his desk during the workweek and is most interested in turnkey. There is no right or wrong answer and cash flow may compete with or compliment other important factors like appreciation, exit strategy, and ease of management.

No matter what, it doesn’t hurt to have an awareness of some common real estate formulas. Just remember, a house is lot more than a math equation. When buying a small multi-family, be sure to consider the entire picture. The math is just one piece of the puzzle. Below are some key formulas to familiarize yourself with.

The 1% Rule

My favorite financial measure for calculating ROI on a small multi-family is the 1% rule. I personally seek out properties that generate 1% of the purchase price + rehab costs per month. In simpler terms, gross monthly rent should be equal to or greater than 1% of the value of the property.

Here’s an example:

You purchase a two-family for $350,000 + $50,000 for rehab, so you’re into the house for $400,000. If you’re following the 1% rule, you should be striving for this property to bring in $4,000 in rent per month.

*In some areas of the country, the 2% rule can be applied for small multi-families, but in Boston and the North Shore, it’s difficult to find 2% rule properties.

 

Cap Rate (Capitalization Rate)

Another solid indicator is cap rate. The equation is net operating income divided by the cost (or value) of the property. In my personal investments, I strive for a 7%+ cap rate.

Here’s how to calculate cap rate on a hypothetical property:

You’re considering buying a three family house for $480,000. It needs about $50,000 in updates, and you estimate it could bring in $54,000 in gross income. First calculate the net operating income by subtracting the property’s operating costs from the gross income. Property expenses include taxes, trash removal, maintenance, water and sewer, utilities, capital improvements, etc. Then, divide this number by the cost.

  • Don’t forget to account for all income streams when calculating gross income, ie rent plus any additional cash from other sources (washer & dryer coin op, on-site parking/storage)
  • When determining property value, make sure to consider purchase price AND rehab costs.

$54,000 (total gross income) – $20,000 (operating costs) = $34,000 (NOI)

$480,000 (purchase price) + $50,000 (rehab) = $530,000 (Property value)

34,000/530,000 = 10.2%

Pros: This calculation takes into account all income and operating expenses

Cons: It does not take into account debt service costs

Loan to Value (LTV)

The loan to value equation applies when purchasing or refinancing. Loan to value is simply the percentage a lender is willing to give you based on the appraised value of the property. Typically, lenders are willing to give anywhere from 70 to 80%, and sometimes 90+% loan to value.

Purchase Example:

Say you want to buy a four unit for $600,000. Your lender is willing to finance up to an 80% LTV, meaning the bank will shell out up to $480,000.

Refinance Example:

Let’s say you purchased the above four family for $600,000. You then spent $100,000 on renovations to improve the property value. After the renovations were complete, the property appraised for $800,000. Depending on your lender, you could refinance to an 80% LTV, which is equal to $640,000. In this situation, you could pull out $160,000 ($640,000-$480,000) from the property through a refinance and apply this money elsewhere. Your new loan would be at $640,000 at current interest rates.

Next Steps

Contact me if you’re starting your search for a small multi-family. I am happy to help you assess properties and “dig into the numbers” on your investments.

Happy Holidays!

Greetings!

Happy holidays everyone and a special shout out to all of my first-time buyers enjoying the seasonal festivities in their new digs!

Winter is my favorite time of year to house hunt for deals. Whether you’re starting your search for a condo, single family or multi-family, I can help you at every step of the way and connect you to my network of personally vetted lenders and attorneys. If you’re looking to join my roster of happy clients, let’s meet up for some candy cane mimosas and get the ball rolling.

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Spread the Cheer.

With a new home base in the city, I’m taking on local clients here in the Boston area! If you’re not quite ready to make the jump, please forward this email to a friend, coworker, or family member that may need a Realtor®.

 

People on the Move.

It’s been a busy couple of months on the real estate front helping several clients score their first place. Check out a sample of their stories below, some of them you may know!

Harleigh
I never would have been able to find my diamond in the rough without Dana’s help…I could not be more grateful for her expertise and help!”

Learn More

Alex
Dana listened to me and worked with me to find a property that checked off every box on my wish list. She dotted every i and crossed every t.”

Learn More 

Adam & Jackie
“As first-time homebuyers and new to the Boston market, Dana was instrumental in helping us find our very first piece of real estate!” 

Learn More

 

Start the New Year off with a Bang.

2017 is set to be another competitive year for real estate. For all buyers and especially first-timers, navigating the market is about being creative and solutions oriented. I have a proven track record for successfully managing the strategic, yet “tricky” transactions that many agents shy away from — these include low-down payment purchases, as well as non-warrantable properties, off market deals, duplexes/triplexes — you name it.

To learn more about services, recent news, and to search properties, please peruse my website or drop me a line at dana.bull@sothebysrealty.com.

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