What Are Operating Expenses

Definition of Operating Expenses


What are operating expenses 

Operating expenses in real estate are the costs incurred by property owners to manage and maintain their properties. These expenses include property taxes, insurance, utilities, maintenance and repairs, management fees, advertising and marketing expenses, legal and accounting fees, capital expenditures, and reserves. These expenses are necessary to keep the property functional and profitable.

Proper management of operating expenses is vital for real estate investors and property owners to maintain profitability and value. By forecasting and budgeting operating expenses, investors can identify areas where expenses can be reduced, such as implementing energy-efficient systems or preventive maintenance programs. 

Understanding and properly managing operating expenses is essential for maintaining the property’s profitability and value.  Effective management of these expenses can increase the property’s net operating income (NOI) and overall return on investment.

What is the difference between capital expenses and operating expenses real estate?

Capital expenses are long-term investments that enhance the property’s value, such as significant repairs, renovations, or additions. These expenses require substantial costs but provide lasting benefits, such as improved functionality or energy efficiency.

In contrast, operating expenses are ongoing costs that ensure the daily functioning of the property, such as utilities, maintenance, and repairs. These expenses are typically smaller in scale than capital expenses and recur regularly.

One key difference between the two is that capital expenses are considered an investment in the property, while operating expenses are necessary expenses to keep the property operational. Another significant difference is their tax treatment, as capital expenses are capitalized and depreciated over a specific period, while operating expenses are deducted from the property’s income for the year.

However, determining whether an expense is a capital or operating expense is not always clear-cut. In some cases, an expense that seems like an operating expense may have a lasting impact on the property’s value. Property owners must carefully evaluate their expenses to ensure they classify them correctly.

What are examples of operating expenses?

  • Property taxes

Property taxes are a major operating expense in real estate that property owners must pay to local governments. These taxes are calculated based on the property’s value and can vary depending on the property’s location. 

Property taxes may increase over time due to changes in local government policies or fluctuations in the property’s value. Property owners must track these changes and adjust their budgets accordingly to account for these expenses.

  • Insurance

Property insurance generally covers damages to the property’s structure and liability for injuries that occur on the property.

Managing insurance expenses effectively is crucial for real estate investors and property owners to maintain profitability and value. By comparing rates and coverage options, investors can reduce insurance costs while ensuring adequate protection.

Property owners must review their insurance policies regularly to ensure they have the appropriate coverage for their needs. Maintaining a positive relationship with their insurance agent can also help stay informed about changes in insurance rates, coverage, or requirements.

  • Utilities

These expenses generally include electricity, gas, water, and waste removal services.Property owners can manage utility expenses effectively by monitoring usage and implementing measures to reduce consumption, such as using energy-efficient appliances or implementing conservation measures.

Property owners can also explore alternative energy sources like solar or wind power to reduce reliance on traditional utility services. Additionally, depending on the property’s location and other factors, it may be possible to negotiate lower utility rates with providers.

  • Maintenance and repairs

These expenses include routine tasks such as cleaning and landscaping, as well as major repairs to address plumbing, electrical, or structural issues.

The cost of maintenance and repairs varies depending on the property’s age, condition, and location. To manage these expenses effectively, property owners must conduct regular inspections and address any necessary repairs or maintenance tasks promptly.

Investing in preventative maintenance is crucial to minimize repair costs and maintain the property’s value over time.

  • Advertising and marketing

These expenses include various forms of online and offline advertising, such as website listings, social media campaigns, print ads, and signage.
Investing in effective advertising and marketing is essential for real estate investors and property owners to attract potential tenants or buyers and maximize the property’s occupancy rate and return on investment. By highlighting the property’s unique features and benefits, property owners can differentiate their property from competitors and attract high-quality tenants or buyers.

  • Legal and accounting fees

These expenses include fees for legal services, such as drafting leases and contracts, and accounting services, such as bookkeeping and tax preparation.

Investing in professional legal and accounting services is crucial for real estate investors and property owners to minimize legal and financial risks and maximize the property’s profitability. By staying up-to-date on legal and financial requirements, property owners can avoid costly penalties and fines and ensure that the property’s financial records are accurate and up-to-date.

Factors that Affect Operating Expenses

  • Location

The expenses related to taxes, utilities, and labor costs can vary depending on the location. For example, properties situated in urban areas usually have higher operating expenses due to higher property taxes, utility costs, and labor costs. In contrast, rural areas may have lower operating expenses as these costs are generally lower in such areas.

Additionally, the location can also impact insurance premiums, especially in areas that are prone to natural disasters or high crime rates. Such areas may result in higher insurance costs for property owners.

  • Property type

Each property type has unique operating costs that property owners must consider to maintain profitability. Commercial properties, such as shopping malls or office buildings, typically have higher operating expenses due to their longer operating hours and higher demand for utilities. In contrast, residential properties, such as apartment buildings or single-family homes, usually have lower operating expenses due to their lower maintenance costs.

  • Property size

Larger properties usually require more utilities and maintenance than smaller properties, leading to higher operating expenses. For instance, commercial buildings that are bigger in size consume more electricity and water, resulting in higher utility bills. Similarly, larger properties require more staff, leading to higher labor costs.

Moreover, larger properties often require more frequent maintenance and repairs, which increases the expenses for property owners. Cleaning a larger property is also more expensive due to the larger surface area. However, larger properties can generate higher rental income or sales revenue, which can offset some of the higher operating expenses.

  • Age and condition of the property

Older properties typically require more maintenance and repairs, leading to higher expenses for property owners. Outdated electrical or plumbing systems, as well as wear and tear on the roof and building structure, may result in more frequent repairs and higher maintenance costs.

Furthermore, older properties are often less energy-efficient, leading to higher utility costs. However, newer properties are generally more energy-efficient and require less energy to operate, resulting in lower utility expenses over time.

The condition of the property is also a vital factor that can impact operating expenses. Poorly maintained properties require more frequent repairs and maintenance, leading to higher expenses. On the other hand, well-maintained properties tend to have lower operating expenses due to fewer maintenance and repair needs.

  • Tenant turnover

When a tenant vacates a property, property owners must incur various costs to find a new tenant, including marketing and screening fees, as well as brokerage commissions. Moreover, property owners may have to spend money on upgrades such as fresh paint or new carpets to attract potential tenants.

Furthermore, tenant turnover can lead to lost rental income, as vacant units generate no revenue for property owners. Additionally, property owners may need to spend time and money on cleaning and repairing the unit before a new tenant moves in, increasing operating expenses.

  • Energy efficiency

Buildings that are energy-efficient consume less energy to maintain comfortable temperatures, resulting in lower utility costs. On the other hand, less energy-efficient buildings may require more energy, leading to higher utility expenses.

To reduce their operating expenses, property owners can invest in energy-efficient features such as double-pane windows, insulation, and LED lighting. Installing energy-efficient heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems can also help lower energy consumption and utility costs over time.

Moreover, energy-efficient buildings are often more attractive to tenants, as they offer comfortable and cost-effective living or working environments. This can help property owners retain tenants, reduce tenant turnover rates, and lower the costs associated with finding and securing new tenants.




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Renters insurance
Security Deposit

These resources are for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Landlords and Tenants are encouraged to seek specific legal advice for any of the issues as found in this blog.


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