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Landlord looks for multiple-unit properties outside GTA

Margot Bai, 39

Occupation

Landlord and author

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The portfolio

Income properties, RRSP savings in a low-fee balanced fund.

The investor

Margot Bai is good at saving. She even wrote a book about it, Spend Smarter, Save Bigger: Finding BIG savings in your Home, Mortgage, Vehicles, Insurance and Investments. Ms. Bai lives in Markham, Ont., with her husband, James.

How she invests

She looks to buy homes that are set up with multiple apartments, but provide opportunities for "sweat-equity improvements" to increase future rental income. "With high real estate prices, multiple apartments per property are essential for profitability," she explains. "Single family homes don't generate enough income unless you rent by the room, which is too labour intensive for me. Condos have maintenance fees that can increase substantially over time."

Properties providing sufficient income are rare in the Greater Toronto Area, but "outlying communities with lower prices offer some opportunities." Examples are Hamilton, Barrie and Oshawa. Within these areas, she focuses on neighbourhoods that are improving and have lots of employment opportunities.

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A recent purchase was arranged through an exclusive listing by an agent representing both buyer and seller for a discounted fee. "Because of my previous relationship working with this agent, I got the inside scoop on a great rental property and bought it without competition," she says.

Best move

It was acquiring a semi-detached home in a desirable neighbourhood by outbidding two other buyers and waiving the inspection condition, all without her husband viewing it. "After some minor improvements, this beautiful home commands the highest rents of all our properties."

Worst move

"To avoid a vacancy, I rented a basement apartment to teenagers without the last month's deposit." She ended up losing just a month's rent, but it was a stressful experience until the tenants left.

Advice

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"Expect to spend time and money on repairs and improvements, and be prepared for major expenses such as replacing the furnace or roof. Ensure you always have access to cash for emergencies." More advice is offered in Ms. Bai's blog at margotbai.com.

Want to share your strategies? E-mail mccolumn@yahoo.com

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