CapEx in Real Estate: Everything you Need to Know

July 6, 2023

Adam Hoeksema

Unraveling the complexities of real estate investing can often seem like navigating a labyrinth with infinite pathways, and understanding capital expenditures, or CapEx, is one crucial piece of the puzzle.  This blog post is your comprehensive guide to demystify the world of CapEx. We'll dive deep into the fundamentals, explain how it impacts your real estate investments, and provide key insights on how to effectively manage it for optimizing your returns. 

Because CapEx plays such a significant role in creating real estate projections, I wanted to do a deep dive into the topic.  Here is what I plan to cover: 

What is CapEx in Real Estate?

In real estate investing, CapEx, or Capital Expenditures, refers to the significant costs associated with buying, improving, or maintaining a property beyond routine repairs and maintenance. These are typically large, infrequent expenses that extend the life of the property or increase its value.

CapEx vs. Capital Expenditures

In real estate, CapEx and Capital Expenditures refer to the same concept. They describe the large, significant expenses associated with acquiring, improving, or maintaining a property. CapEx is simply an abbreviated term for Capital Expenditures.

Examples of Capital Expenditures or CapEx in real estate include costs such as buying a property, making substantial upgrades (like adding a new room, renovating a kitchen, or installing a new roof), or making large-scale repairs (like replacing the HVAC system).

CapEx vs. OpEx in Real Estate

In real estate, CapEx and OpEx are two critical concepts related to the financial management of a property, but they represent very different types of expenses.

CapEx, or Capital Expenditures, refers to the large, significant costs incurred to acquire, upgrade, or maintain a property. This could include purchasing the property itself, making major renovations or improvements (like adding a room or remodeling a kitchen), or replacing substantial components (like a roof or HVAC system). These are generally infrequent, but sizeable investments aimed at increasing or preserving the property's value.

On the other hand, OpEx, short for Operating Expenses, refers to the regular, ongoing costs associated with managing and running a property. These expenses are routine and necessary for the day-to-day operation of the property. They can include costs like utilities, property taxes, insurance, routine maintenance and repairs, landscaping, property management fees, and any other costs that come with owning and leasing a property.

In essence, the difference between CapEx and OpEx lies in the nature and impact of the expenses. CapEx typically involves larger, less frequent investments that enhance or extend the property's life, while OpEx includes smaller, regular costs necessary for the routine operation and upkeep of the property. 

What Expenses are Considered CapEx in Real Estate?

In real estate, Capital Expenditures (CapEx) typically refer to large, significant costs that are incurred to extend the useful life of the property or increase its value. These are not routine maintenance costs, but rather infrequent, substantial investments. Here are some examples of expenses that are typically considered CapEx in real estate:

  1. Property Acquisition: The cost of purchasing the property itself is a capital expenditure.
  2. Major Repairs and Renovations: This includes significant work such as replacing the roof, installing a new HVAC system, repiping or rewiring the entire property, or replacing a septic system.
  3. Property Improvements: Expenses related to substantial upgrades and renovations can be considered CapEx. This could include renovating a kitchen or bathroom, adding a new room to the property, installing a new pool, or landscaping overhaul.
  4. Replacement of Major Components: Replacing major components like windows, doors, or a security system can be classified as CapEx.
  5. Structural Improvements: Any structural enhancements, such as reinforcing a foundation or altering the layout of a property, also fall under CapEx.

Remember, while these CapEx costs can be substantial, they're also investments in the property that can help maintain or enhance its value over time. From a tax perspective, CapEx is usually not fully deductible in the year they are incurred. Instead, they are capitalized and depreciated over the useful life of the asset according to IRS depreciation guidelines.

How Much Should you Spend on CapEx in Real Estate?

Determining how much to spend on CapEx in real estate isn't a straightforward process, as it's contingent on various factors such as the age, location, and condition of the property, as well as the strategy and financial goals of the investor.

However, as a general rule of thumb, some investors set aside a certain percentage of their rental income for CapEx. A common recommendation is to save anywhere from 10% to 20% of the monthly rental income for future capital expenditures. For instance, if the monthly rent of a property is $1000, an investor might set aside $100-$200 each month for CapEx.

For more precise planning, investors often perform a CapEx estimation on a per-item basis. This involves identifying the major components of a property (like the roof, HVAC, plumbing, electrical systems, etc.), estimating their remaining useful life and replacement cost, and then setting aside a proportionate amount each year.

For example, if a roof that costs $10,000 to replace has an estimated useful life of 20 years, an investor might set aside $500 per year ($10,000/20 years) for the roof's eventual replacement.

Remember, these are only general guidelines. The actual CapEx for a property can vary based on several factors, and unexpected events can always occur. It's crucial to do thorough due diligence when purchasing a property and to consult with a professional if you're unsure about estimating CapEx costs.

What Percentage of Revenue Should CapEx be in Real Estate?

Although it depends on the age and condition of your specific property, a common rule of thumb is to save 10% to 20% of the monthly rental income for future capital expenditures.

How to Reduce CapEx in Real Estate?

Managing and reducing CapEx in real estate requires strategic planning and proactive maintenance of the property. Here are a few strategies that can help lower your capital expenditures:

  1. Routine Maintenance: Regular upkeep can prevent small issues from becoming large, costly problems. For example, regular roof inspections and repairs can help extend its life and delay the need for a full replacement.
  2. Preventative Measures: Investing in high-quality materials and systems upfront can save money in the long run by reducing the frequency of replacements. This could include things like high-quality roofing materials, energy-efficient appliances, or a top-tier HVAC system.
  3. Competitive Bidding: When major repairs or renovations are necessary, get quotes from multiple contractors. Competitive bidding can help ensure you're getting the best price.
  4. Tax Deductions and Incentives: Take advantage of tax deductions and credits. For instance, energy-efficient improvements can qualify for tax credits. Additionally, remember that CapEx can be depreciated over the useful life of the property, reducing your taxable income.
  5. Buy Newer Properties: Newer properties often require less immediate CapEx because systems and structures are less likely to need major repairs or replacement.
  6. Thorough Property Inspections: Before purchasing a property, have it thoroughly inspected to identify potential CapEx items. This can help negotiate a lower purchase price or ask the seller to handle the repairs.
  7. Reserve Fund: Having a dedicated CapEx reserve fund can help manage larger expenditures when they do arise. It's easier to allocate a small amount each month rather than facing a large unexpected cost.

Forecasting Capital Expenditures in Real Estate

Because capital expenditures can have a major impact on the cash flow of your property, it can be helpful to include capital expenditures in a cash flow forecast for your property.  Our Commercial Property Financial Model Template allows you to enter in future capital expenditures as seen below which will integrate directly into your full cash flow forecast:

If you need any help forecasting capital expenditures for your property, please don’t hesitate to reach out! 

About the Author

Adam is the Co-founder of ProjectionHub which helps entrepreneurs create financial projections for potential investors, lenders and internal business planning. Since 2012, over 50,000 entrepreneurs from around the world have used ProjectionHub to help create financial projections.

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