On this episode, we are grateful to have Dr. John Ramey from DrMoves.com with us. Listen in to hear Dr. Ramey talk about the advice he gives to medical students and residents about:
- What to look for so that you can sell your home when you are ready to move
- Why neighborhood may be more important than the home itself
- different strategies for renting out a room to cover your mortgage or utility costs and help protect your investment in real estate
- What to consider if you are thinking about becoming a landlord
- Ways for physicians to make additional income and where to find that information
Josh Mettle: Hello and welcome to the Physician Financial Success Podcast. My name is Josh Mettle, and this is the podcast dedicated to advising physicians how to avoid financial landmines. Today, we’ll be talking with Dr. John Ramey, together with his wife Mikki Ramey. They run DrMoves.com, a one-stop shop to help doctors relocate, as well as offering info on job and earning opportunities for physicians. John, welcome to the show! How are you doing today?
John Ramey: I’m doing great. Thanks for having me.
Josh Mettle: Yeah, my pleasure. I’m excited to chat with you a little bit about what you and Mikki offer, and Mikki couldn’t join us today but we’re looking forward to find out a little more about what you guys do. Do you mind starting us off with just a little bit of background, John? Tell us your history and maybe how you and Mikki got started down this path to matching physicians with realtors nationally?
John Ramey: Yeah, sure. So I am actually a board certified allergist-immunologist, and Mikki and I when we finished up the training, we moved back to Charleston, South Carolina, and I got very involved with the medical school here. I’m giving financial lectures. I was a math economics major in college and always have a lot of interest in financial topics. So I got involved in that and for the last 11 years has been giving lectures both residents and medical students on how to save money, how to invest, looking at real estate as an investment, and I’ve done that for the last 10 years. We also about 8 years ago, my wife formed a real estate company here in Charleston called Healthy-Realty, where we originally started off as a real estate company just to help medical professionals relocate. Over the years, we’ve helped hundreds of medical professionals find housing in the Charleston area and also help them find great realtors in other parts of the country.
In the last year, I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I decided that why don’t we do what we’ve been doing locally and share it nationally. We went and created a website and kind of shared a lot of the lectures and information we’ve been sharing here in Charleston for years now and I’m sharing that with medical students and doctors and residents nationwide.
Josh Mettle: Well, I think that’s great. In my book, Why Physician Home Loans Fail, there is a whole chapter that I designated to finding the right realtor. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a family’s transaction blow up because the realtor that they had selected may have been great at doing short sales, may have been great at doing the transaction across the street, but when it came to navigating a transaction where you’re dealing with a remote buyer, in other words, someone’s in South Carolina buying a house in Nevada and they don’t understand all the nuances around the local community, drive times to hospitals. That realtor becomes the fiduciary for that client and through inspections, through appraisals, through the timing of the closing, right down to the intricacies of wiring the money when somebody is in the U-Haul trying to relocate across the country, so I appreciate what you’re doing and I can attest that I’ve seen the fallout from bad realtors. I’ve seen transactions be saved by good realtors who know to navigate that remote closing situation.
John Ramey: I totally agree with you. We see that every day in the Charleston area. Many of the realtors in the area they’ve never heard of doctor’s loan. You ask them what a doctor loan is and they never heard of that like you can still get 0 percent financing. You can get your PMI paid for, and they don’t understand about those products. Most of our clients, they buy a house and keep it for like 3 to 5 years because they’re moving to a different location.
Josh Mettle: Yes.
John Ramey: It’s really important when you’re making a decision to pick a house that can resell easily 3 to 5 years later because if not you’re sitting on a house and you want to buy another one and you can’t. So you need somebody to kind of afford trying to help you make good decisions that are not going to help you in 3 to 5 years.
Josh Mettle: You know I want to go deeper on that conversation point. That’s actually one of my questions but I think that is probably one of the most important things we’re going to uncap in this podcast. I’m excited to get to that. Thanks for the background. I want to switch directions here a little bit. I read a blog post that I’m not sure if you authored or Mikki authored, I think maybe you co-wrote, but you were talking about during residency and fellowship, you too had purchased two homes and sold both of those homes and from the sale, you guys netted about $150,000 through those two transactions. Tell us a little bit about how that happened and did I get it that right? Are my facts straight?
John Ramey: Yeah, I mean that’s pretty close. So I started in med school at the Medical University of South Carolina and we rented for the first 2 years and our landlord actually agreed to sell our townhouse to us, and we were real fortunate 2 years later to flip it and make about $40,000 on our first transaction.
Josh Mettle: Wow!
John Ramey: We then went to residency and bought another house. That one fortunately we only broke even on that one. We didn’t lose any money but we broke even, then we moved to Tampa, Florida and were able to buy a house where we made about $120,000 in 2 years. That’s kind of one of the things to help get us to the point that we were that we had some really good realtors for some of the transactions. We had some really bad realtors. So after all those experiences, I talked to Mikki. I said, “Mikki, you really need to make your real estate license. I mean you can do better than a lot of these people that we’ve worked with.” That’s kind of where Healthy-Realty and DrMoves got it start with just our personal experience with realtors.
Josh Mettle: Yeah, I love it. So what did you do with the net proceeds with that? Did you guys pay off your student loans or did that become a nice down payment for the next house? How did you move that equity forward?
John Ramey: Yeah, so most of the equity we put into other houses. When I finished my training, finally I was able to buy a nicer house than I would have if I hadn’t started investing in real estate earlier, so a lot of that went forward to help us buy a nicer house. Fortunately for me, I did have a lot of scholarships through medical schools. I had very little student loan. Actually, I took a lot of my student loans to help invest in the real estate during medical school and residency because I have a lot of 0 percent loans that I didn’t have to pay anything, so easy to help invest in some real estate with some of those.
Josh Mettle: So you actually used student loans at very low interest rates to finance rental properties?
John Ramey: Well not rental properties, the homes that we were living in.
Josh Mettle: Got it.
John Ramey: It helped us buy some of those because we were able to use forbearance and techniques like that where we weren’t paying any interest on a lot of loans, so it was pretty much free money for a few years, so that was real nice at that point.
Josh Mettle: That’s the first time I’ve ever heard of someone using that strategy. That’s very interesting, so you were doing in those first two homes that you successfully bought and resold, where you doing extensive remodel projects on those properties? Were you adding value into the properties or did you just buy right?
John Ramey: Yeah, so most of them was buying right. I mean they’re picking good neighborhoods. One of the things I always try to tell medical students and residents is you really, like you said earlier, you need to know the neighborhoods that residents live in because if you pick a neighborhood that residents like to live in, then the likelihood you’ll be able to sell to a resident increases a lot. Also a lot of times the values of those neighborhoods go up more too, so. We pick good neighborhoods that people like to live in, that were close to the hospitals that we didn’t have to make long drives in every morning.
Josh Mettle: Well that’s the perfect transition to my next question, and you alluded to it earlier. But I think there’s got to be a strategy and you offered some great advice in the blog post that you and Mikki had authored that I read to residents and fellows about being very cognizant about the surrounding area values and the values of homes surrounding your home and how that strategy plays into reselling easily and probably avoiding the biggest pitfall or landfall of all, which is you get to the end of your training and you go to sell and you find yourself in a negative equity position. Then you’ve got a long haul of trying to figure out how to get out of that, so give us some advice on how to make sure that people don’t make that mistake.
John Ramey: I think it’s several things to think about if you’re buying a home for a short term. I hear a lot of advice on these doctor websites and stuff that – don’t buy during residency and don’t buy if you’re going to be there for short periods of time, but I think just like stocks, each person is an individual and yet you look at your individual situation. When we formed our real estate company, Healthy-Realty, we picked the name for a couple of reasons.
One we were focusing on healthcare profession, but another thing, we kind of started our company when the recessions started so when we wanted to help people make healthy decisions and that’s what we saw over the years that a lot of medical students or residents didn’t make great decisions. One of the best decisions for a resident may be to rent a house. It may not be to buy, and we’re totally fine with that if that’s what good for that individual. They might not have the credit scores to get a loan. They may have other debt they need to deal with. That’s the first thing is make the right decision for you and the right decision is not always to buy, maybe to rent; and so that’s one of the first things.
If you make the decision to buy, pick a good neighborhood, pick a neighborhood that’s close to the hospital. Pick a neighborhood that resells easily. Pick a great house. One of the best strategies for buying a house a lot of time is picking one of the least expensive houses in an expensive neighborhood. You have a lot more room for appreciation than you do if you pick the most expensive house. We see that all the time that resident wants a really nice house and they buy the most expensive house in the neighborhood and 3 to 5 years later, they can’t sell it because they’re the most expensive house in the neighborhood. So that’s one thing to look at.
Then location does matter. You don’t want to pick a house most of the time on a real busy street. If you’re on a major highway, that may make it harder to sell. We have a client currently who didn’t listen to our advice a few years ago and they bought a house on a major street. The house is one of the most beautiful houses where we live but nobody wants to buy it because it’s on a busy street, so again you got to kind of look and you look at how long the house has been on the market. If it’s been on the market for 6 months, a year, there’s probably some reasons that other people didn’t want to buy that house.
Josh Mettle: That’s a great point. A couple of thoughts: I agree with you. It’s absolutely an individual decision, and I think that the comments on some of the websites that just talk about avoiding buying a house as a resident misses the mark just a little bit, although I do believe it’s well-intentioned. But where I think it misses the mark is, if you have two kids and two dogs, good luck trying to find a rental property. It is tough. I mean I know where we live. That is a really hard sell if you have a family that needs some space to find something. People call me all the time and say, “Hey, it’s just easier to find something that fits our family criteria to buy than it is to rent.
If we know that it is an individual decision and for some folks, you just have to buy for one reason or another, then I think the focus on some of these websites in general should be on education not risk-aversion. So it’s like, “Let’s just all rent.” Well that doesn’t work because some people have to buy because their family situation or they just have a strong desire to do so, we should be working more towards educating people on how to not make a mistake and how to be able to resell quickly. I completely agree with you there.
The other thing that you said that I thought was really important was and I’ll paraphrase but “location and neighborhood trumps the house.” So if I’m hearing you right, falling in love with the house on the busy street because you love the house is problematic as opposed to – this is a really good neighborhood, close drive times to the hospital, homes sell quickly. I’d rather take a lesser home, maybe even not as good a shape in that really healthy neighborhood. Would you agree with that?
John Ramey: Yeah, I totally agree with that. One of the things we try to tell our clients is that if you’re early in your career, you’re a medical student, a resident, you got your first job. If this is not going to be your final house, you don’t have to like everything about the house.
Josh Mettle: Right.
John Ramey: For me, it’s more important in looking at house as an investment and if you’re going to sell it, is this house going to resell or are there problems with the house. I’m going back to the house I was talking about earlier in the busy street. One of the things they messed up when they built the house and they didn’t put any bathtubs throughout the house. Well our clients, they want a bathtub in at least one bathroom and again you got to think it’s not what you like but what other people like in a house and make a good decision with that. It’s so important. We see it over and over that people make bad decisions about what they’d do in the house, how they remodel and stuff, so you get advice from realtors and professionals. Is this a good idea that I need to put this much money into the house?
Josh Mettle: Right. Like you said, if you’re going to be there for 15 or 20 years, time will cover up any of those mistakes. If you’re going to be there for 3 years or 4 years, you have to make wise decisions on your neighborhood and what improvements that you do in the house. I think that’s an excellent point.
John Ramey: Getting back to one other thing that you had said about the websites and advice to medical students and residents, I hate that when you give absolutes, and I think that’s the thing. I like your point about looking at rentals versus buying. We just bought an investment property that’s near the medical school. We’ve gotten a lot of phone calls. One common call is thing like you said is people have animals.
Josh Mettle: Right.
John Ramey: We’ve turned down every single one that called with animals. I like dogs, but I don’t like dogs when I’m the landlord because I have hardwood floors in those rentals and I’m probably going to have to re-sand them and refinish them in 3 to 5 years.
Josh Mettle: That’s right.
John Ramey: And so, as a landlord, a lot of times, you want tenants that are going to take good care of your rentals. Again, I agree with you. I think it’s hard when you know that somebody is going to bring pets into the house and maybe not take good care of it.
Josh Mettle: And kids — don’t think landlords don’t think through total wear and tear with the number of bodies in the house and that just makes it more challenging to find good rentals out there.
John Ramey: Yes, and I agree and again in our market at least, the rental prices have gone up more than what you can get the same price you can get a lot nicer house if you buy one, too. The other thing that I don’t think a lot of students and residents think about or are thinking about is another way to start thinking is could this property be my first investment property.
Josh Mettle: Yeah.
John Ramey: This may be a great investment property that I want to keep 20 and 30 years and rent out to future medical students and residents. I have a friend, who is an attorney, and when he went to law school, he started buying duplexes, so he would live in one side and rent out the other side. He’s kept all his property. He’s my age and in his 40s and he’s got 200 properties now.
Josh Mettle: Wow!
John Ramey: He just started doing that and had great success with it, so one of the things that I think is really true about investment, investing in general is you need to find something you enjoy investing in. When I was in medical school, I started with stocks. I didn’t do very good at stocks. I liked it but I didn’t do very good in the stock market. I had stocks that I thought were good buys, but sometimes I lost a lot of money on. I started learning over the next 10 to 20 years that what I was really good at was real estate. So we’ve done a lot more of real estate over the years than we have stocks because I just kind of figure out that’s what we enjoyed and that’s what we’re good at. So I think again, that’s what you need to look at and investing is finding something that you’re good at, that you enjoy and kind of stick with that.
Josh Mettle: Well, yeah let’s move just a little bit down that road. I want to circle back to investing and that concept of turning that property into a rental long-term. But let’s talk a little bit more that blog post. You guys had mentioned something else that I felt was pretty interesting. You mentioned that you had clients who have rented out a room or two in their home during their training. I’m not sure that that’s a familiar concept to a lot of folks. Do you mind just maybe telling a little bit about how that works and then maybe follow-up questions that would be how would an incoming resident or fellow find those people, the correct people to fill those rooms.
John Ramey: Yeah, so especially for single residents and doctors, you buy a three-bedroom house. You have two bedrooms available. A great way to cover your mortgage and maybe even your utilities is getting renters in there, and there is a lot of different ways to do that. You can get long-term renters that rent for the whole year, a lot of times through your medical school you can advertise on their website for people like that. The other way now that’s so great is you can advertise short-term rentals. You could do Airbnb. You could put your room up in Charleston. We have so many people that want to come to Charleston for vacation, and you can put one of your rooms up on Airbnb and make a good bit of money doing that.
There’s also a website called RotatingRoom.com that a lot of the medical students and residents use when they go into a month rotation in a different city. You can advertise on there and a lot of times you can rent a room out for anywhere from $5,00 to $1,000 a month. I mean it’s good money and stuff, so it’s a good way to lessen the risk of possibly not wealth-buying house. I mean I think it’s a no-brainer when you get renters in there, they buy a house. You decrease your risk of losing money. You’re not making money when you sell, when you do that. It turns into an investment when you do that.
Josh Mettle: Yeah, yeah absolutely. I think that’s an interesting thought that a lot of people haven’t thought through, so great resources there. Thank you. You also mentioned earlier. Let’s talk about the forward thinking as you put it thought process of what happens to this house after training, right? We’re either going to sell or we’re going to keep this thing long-term and rent it out. Just tell us a little bit about how that ultimately might play into the decision-making process of selecting a home and some of the experiences you or your clients have had with that strategy?
John Ramey: Yes, I think again if you start thinking of your house as an investment rather than the perfect place to live, I think that’s one way to start thinking in that direction. So if you do that, you start thinking forward, so if I had to rent this house out in 5 years, would this be a place that other students and residents would want to live, or am I buying in a neighborhood 45 minutes away from the hospital and it’s going to be hard to do this. Another thing that we run into is that especially a few years ago when the economy wasn’t doing so well, there were a lot of people who bought and the equity wasn’t there anymore. The conversation always came up at that point was it better to sell the house and take a loss at that point or was it better to rent and try to wait it out and hope that the market recovered.
One thing that we always recommended is it’s probably not a great idea to rent out your house just for one or two years because you’re going to have so much that you’re going to have upgrade and fix at that point that you may lose a lot of money doing that. A lot of times you’re going to rent out a house, you want to plan to do it for a longer term, so you can cover any kind of expenses you have from damages, replacing carpet, painting, the risks you take that maybe the property when one tenant leaves maybe 6 months before you can get somebody else in there. A lot of people think it’s easy to get tenants into a place and sometimes it’s not and also thinking do you want to be a landlord. I mean there’s a lot of headaches.
I manage multiple properties myself and I can tell you there are a lot of headaches. You think that sometimes a headache being a doctor, being called in the middle of the night, you get the same type of phone calls when you’re a landlord, renting things out. Do you want to do that or do you want to have a property manager to do that? Again those are things you need to think about if you’re going to one to out your property.
Josh Mettle: Yeah, I think those are great points. Two other things that we may want to touch on. The first thing is if you think you might be long-term with this property, you may decide to roll this into a rental pool and that’s going to be a part of your long-term retirement investment strategy. Carefully consider the type of loan you get going in. Most residents and throughout training would probably do fine with a 5- to 7-year ARM because they’re going to sell. But if you’re going to potentially keep this property long-term, think through the financing that you have on it, particularly right now where you can see 4 percent 30-year fixed loans with no mortgage insurance.
We have forgotten how incredible that is, but if you look back over the last 30 years, the average 30-year fixed mortgage annually if you want to go back and say what was the average this year over 30 years is 7.89 percent or 7.7 percent. It’s right in that high 7 range, so we’re about 50 percent lower in interest costs at this time, and we’ve been this way for such a long period of time. It’s been the last 5 years, rates have been this low. We’ve kind of forgotten that 6 percent, 7 percent, and 8 percent interest rates are kind of par for the course. So think through the financing strategy, and I think particularly right now that long-term hold strategy is wise because of how low the 30-year fixed interest rates are.
John Ramey: Yeah, I totally agree with you. We bought our second house in 2000 and I remember my rate on that house was 7.75 at that point. That looks terrible compared to what’s going on now, so I agree things do fluctuate. Like you said, now is a great time to look at rentals just because of the interest rates being able to get in the house at 3 to 4 percent. One thing to think about like you said is if you end up in an ARM and you have to rent for whatever reason or decide to rent, one thing to think about ahead of doing that is if the rates do go up, would you have the cash to pay off that loan. That would be an option, too. Most people don’t, so that’s something else to keep in your mind, too. At year 7, would you have enough cash at that point? If rates went up 2 or 3 basis points, could you pay it off? Again, like you said for rental properties, a lot of the gurus that Gary Keller especially they recommend going in the 15-year fixed loans when you’re doing real property, so you can get them paid off quicker and start seeing a better cash flow quicker.
Josh Mettle: Let’s just talk real quickly before we transition into the next question. Let’s talk about real quickly about tax benefits. Just out of curiosity, John, how many rental properties do you guys have right now?
John Ramey: So right now, I have three commercial and then we have three residential.
Josh Mettle: So I’m assuming that your wife fits the IRS definition of real estate professional and that you guys get to take advantage of all those deductions?
John Ramey: Yes, so as a real estate professional, if you are able to show a loss on the property, figure depreciation and things like that, then you are able to take a loss on your taxes each year, so you were able to do that, which is nice.
Josh Mettle: Have you run the numbers in terms of what you’re effective tax rate is and what the reduction and effective tax rate is because of that real estate professional designation and your depreciation and your properties?
John Ramey: I haven’t done that. Like you said, I know that we’re better off having her as a real estate agent to be able to do that, but also you know with any kind of property, you get to write off the taxes associated with it and also any of the interest associated with loans also which are nice. One thing that I think students or residents forget about and this one is one f the common things I tell them to think about it is that if you own a house, then hopefully you’ll be eligible for a home equity loan. A lot of times the home-equity loan rates are less expensive than what they’re paying on their rates for their education.
What I’ve recommended a lot of times is that it make some sense to get a home equity loan pay off some of your school loans and also the nice thing about home equity loan is the interest on that is deductible versus on your student loans that caps out at a certain income amount. So a lot of students and residents that become doctors, they make too much and they don’t get the benefit from the tax deduction from their student loans.
Josh Mettle: I think that’s an incredible point and we should maybe just go a tiny bit deeper there. I mean if you look at equity loan rates right now, let’s say they’re 4.5 percent. You figured you’re in a 33 percent tax bracket and maybe you’re like us and you got another 5 percent state tax, so now you’re running pretty close to that 40 percent mark in taxes. By the time you write that off, all you’re left with is paying about 3 percent in interest on that 4.5 percent interest rate because you’re going to be able to write off that other third off of your taxes, so I think that’s really important. If you can move some of that higher interest student debt that you’ve accumulated into an equity line and then write that off your taxes, that can be a major difference maker when you’re talking a couple hundred grand.
John Ramey: Yeah, most medical students and residents can only deduct their interest while they’re in residency because most of them make above $100,000 once they get into practice. It’s right around that level that you no longer can write of the interest from the student loan, so again using a home equity loan maybe a good strategy for a lot of people.
Josh Mettle: Well, John, this has been great. I’ve got maybe one more final question and I kind of want to flip the script a little bit. We talked a lot about the risk of owning and the upsides but the risks and the rewards. Let’s talk a little bit about the risk of renting and you alluded to this earlier about rental rates outpacing the cost of housing for owning, but what are you seeing nationally or what are you noticing in terms of rental rates and where do you think those are heading in the future?
John Ramey: Well, nationally if you look at the stats, rental rates continue to go up. Like you said, you’re not building any equity when you have a rental, so that’s definitely one of the risks is that all your cash is going to your landlord, and you’re not seeing any of that. That’s always the risk for renting. With the rental, you also dependent on your landlord, and I see a lot of physicians get into bad deals with landlords as people that don’t take care of the property and do other unethical things, so you always have that to deal with, with rentals, too.
Also your contract for your rental, you may have a one-year lease. I’ve seen a lot of medical students and residents get kicked out of the place they rent after a year because the landlord wants to sell and stuff. So you’re only guaranteed to stay in that rental for however long your contract is too; again, if you want some more stability and things like that, some of the benefits of being able to buy.
Josh Mettle: Yeah, I recently had a podcast with a gentleman by the name of Steve Harney and he runs a real estate education website called KeepingCurrentMatters.com. He is who the realtors go to nationally when they needed advice on home trends and he has a team of analysts, and he follows every economic data point that comes out having to do with residential housing, whether it be rentals or single family buy-sell transactions, and he made a very interesting point in our last podcast. He said, “You know, I’ve been involved in real estate either as a realtor or an advisor for over 35 years, and last year was the first rental property that I ever bought.”
I thought that’s pretty interesting. Why is that? And his son coincidentally also bought a rental property. He said, “Nationally, your demand for rentals is outpacing supply, and that is pushing people into rentals, and nationally there is not enough homes being built yet to keep up with demand. So you’ve got increasing demand for rentals. You’ve got lagging supply for homes, and I think that rents will continue to outpace in terms of going up, what our mortgage costs are, and because of those facts, I want to be a landlord.”
I think when you combine those things, when you combine the demand for rentals, the increase in rates, and the ability to have a 30-year fixed mortgage at 4 percent, I think that bodes very well for the real estate market overall.
John Ramey: I agree. I agree.
Josh Mettle: Well, John, thanks for your time. I appreciate you sharing your advice with us and your viewpoint especially being a physician and having traveled the road. If our listeners want to learn a little bit more about you and the services you offer, where can they find that info and how do they contact you?
John Ramey: Yeah. So our website is D-R- Moves, so Dr. Moves, DrMoves.com, and one thing about the site that’s a little bit different. There’s a lot of physician sites that out there, but what we’re trying to do is have an all-inclusive site for doctors that are moving. One of the big things that we’re trying to put a lot of content on there. One of the big things I’ve put on there is ways for physicians to make additional income. There’s a lot of physicians who are burned out. Sometimes we want a break from seeing patients, and I have several things on there to teach physicians how to develop different income streams.
One of those is doing medical surveys. A lot of pharmaceutical companies contract companies to get opinions of doctors from pharmaceutical products and stuff like that, so I have a list of all the companies that do that. It’s easy if you sign up for all these companies to make an extra $10,000 to $15,000 a year doing these surveys. I also have on the site a list of how to get involved in testifying for malpractice cases and medical cases. That’s another way to add income. I also have a lot of information there about locum tenens sites, too. Again, we try to have a lot of different information. We have information about real estate agents. We have information about physician loans. I’m trying to have anything associated with moving in the job search on the site is what we’re aiming for.
Josh Mettle: Great. I love it. Well, I’ll put those site links right into our podcast, and again I appreciate your time. It was a pleasure talking with you and we hope to connect with you again real soon, John.
John Ramey: Thanks for having us.