By Max Gross

Renters generally look at their landlords in two ways. Either as people they’d like to drop in a vat of molten lava, or as people worthy of their unyielding envy.

“Hey,” goes the reasoning, “why can’t I get paid to let someone else live in my property?”

Well, now might be your moment. For $1.8 million, you can buy an eight-unit, 19th-century rental building in Brooklyn Heights and take in as much as $144,984 per year from your renters. Or, if you have a bit more moolah, $4.895 million can buy two buildings with an owner’s triplex, four apartments and two commercial spaces in the East Village.

“I thought it was an opportune time,” says Jordan Vogel, who started buying properties with his business partner, Aaron Feldman, in October 2009. “I’m only 31 years old, and this was the first time in my career that there were depressed prices and distressed buyers . . . Now you can buy properties and make a good return.”

The analysis most landlords make when buying is to look at the gross rent roll multiple. This is how much your building can expect to make every year in rent.

“When we bought all these properties, [the building’s prices] were 10 times the gross rent multiple,” says Vogel. “But to put it in perspective, the types of properties we were buying were 18 times the rent roll two years ago.”

Last year, Vogel and Feldman (who once worked for the real estate acquisition firm SG2 Properties) founded Benchmark Real Estate Group and closed on a 26-unit building with two commercial spaces on MacDougal Street for $5.2 million, and a 28-unit building with two commercial spaces on Sullivan Street for $5.9 million. Last month, they picked up an 18-unit building with one commercial space on East 10th Street for $3.35 million.

And while some disagree as to how much New York real estate prices have slid (and, with it, how much of a bargain rental properties are), there’s no question prices have come down.

“It’s really market-specific,” says J.D. Parker, regional manager for Marcus & Millichap, which is selling roughly 150 apartment buildings in the tri-state area. “But some [NYC areas] have gone down 30 to 40 percent.”

In December 2009, Marcus & Millichap sold an eight-unit building on Marcy Avenue in Brooklyn for $425,000, with a rent roll around $60,000 per year — proving you don’t need to be a millionaire to become a landlord.

Indeed, a lot of the best deals, for now, seem to be in the fringe areas.

“Manhattan is still [expensive] as far as I’m concerned,” says Eric Margules, president of Margules Properties, which has 40 rental buildings around the New York and Miami areas. “But I have seen things in Long Island City and upper Manhattan — like Harlem and above, Washington Heights [that are bargains].” (The company recently closed on an eight-unit building on West 187th Street for $550,000.)

So, what tips can landlords offer landlords-to-be?

“Buy in a neighborhood that is up-and-coming and stable,” advises Dorothy Somekh, a broker with Halstead Property, who bought a four-unit building with a commercial space in Sheepshead Bay in 2005. Somekh paid roughly $600,000 and put in a couple hundred thousand dollars in renovations. She’s been taking in approximately $110,000 in rent every year — even after reducing the rent on the commercial space.

“Make sure it’s close to transportation,” she adds.

And while prices have come down, buying a building hasn’t gotten easier. “Getting a loan is much, much more difficult than it was two years ago,” says Parker.

When evaluating rental properties, banks tend to be far more vigorous in making sure the buildings can be profitable. “Before, I thought the mentality [of the banks] was, ‘OK, we’re looking to make a loan to make money,’” says Parker. “Now it’s, ‘We’re making a loan to own it if the borrower defaults.’”

Banks now look at rent rolls, the number of rent-stabilized tenants and the number of building code violations, as well as the neighborhood. And, Parker adds, the banks will also wonder what qualifications you have to manage the building.

“You will need to be well capitalized,” warns Halstead Property’s Robert Cabrera, who has worked with Vogel and Feldman. “Because issues always arise.”

“I would suggest [a buyer] get familiar with the neighborhood first,” says Margules. “Get to know not just the people who are there, but the [city] regulations there. At that point, call a local broker.”

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