How to Start an LLC for Real Estate? (In 10 Easy Steps)

Jon Morgan
Published by Jon Morgan | Co-Founder & Chief Editor
Last updated: April 9, 2024
Methodology
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Forming a limited liability company (LLC) for real estate ventures can provide numerous benefits. The benefits include asset protection and flexibility in managing your properties.

Thus, you need a proper guide to gain valuable insights and avoid common pitfalls when forming a real estate LLC to set a solid foundation for your real estate enterprise.

As real estate and business formation experts, our team provides a comprehensive guide to starting an LLC specifically tailored for the real estate industry.

Whether you're an investor, landlord, or property manager, this article will provide valuable insights into establishing a real estate LLC, covering essential steps, legal considerations, and practical tips.

Quick Summary

  • To start a real estate LLC, select an appropriate name, appoint a registered agent, file the Articles of Organization, and understand state-specific regulations.
  • It's crucial to create a solid business plan, which should include market research, a financial plan, and strategies for growth and risk management.
  • In the United States, 38% of the 106,548 real estate brokerage firms operate as LLCs within a $222.3 billion industry.
  • Starting an LLC for real estate can, in my opinion, offer substantial legal protections and tax benefits, making it a strategic choice for many entrepreneurs in the real estate industry.


How to Form a Real Estate LLC?

To form an LLC for real estate, you should consult with a lawyer in your area who specializes in this field to ensure you are following all the necessary steps for forming an LLC in your state.

You may need to file paperwork at various government agencies and review it carefully. In most cases, setting up your real estate LLC will require a few steps.

1. Choose the Type of Your Real Estate LLC (Mandatory)

A popular question for property investors is how to choose the right type of real estate LLC.

There are two options: real estate holdings and real estate investment LLCs.

A real estate LLC holding company is the most common type of LLC. It's designed for investors with multiple properties they intend to hold or develop.

This structure allows them to protect their personal assets (e.g., their house, bank accounts).

A real estate investment LLC is for investors who want to establish a separate business entity and invest passively, similar to other investment companies.

2. Choose a Name for Your LLC (Mandatory)

Real estate companies must use a business name different from their partners' personal names.

Here are the key requirements to keep in mind:

  • Your LLC name must be distinct from existing businesses registered in your state. Conduct a thorough LLC name search on the state's business name database to ensure availability.
  • Check for any specific requirements mandated by your state. Some states may require including terms like "Limited Liability Company" or "LLC" in the business name.
  • Opt for a name that reflects the professional nature of your real estate business. Consider using words like "properties," "realty," or "investments" to convey your industry specialization.
  • Choose a name that is easy to remember and pronounce. This will help potential clients and partners recall your business when needed.
  • Consider selecting a name that aligns with your future branding efforts, allowing you to build a strong and recognizable identity within the real estate market.

Choosing an available business name for your LLC is important to avoid future problems with trademark infringement or other issues related to unfair competition.

If you are unsure whether your desired company name is taken, search online and check state records before filing other LLC documents.

3. Select a Registered Agent (Mandatory)

A man smiling while talking to the phone

Choosing a good registered agent is crucial when starting an LLC for real estate. They help fulfill crucial legal obligations on behalf of your company.

A registered agent is an individual or entity responsible for receiving legal and official documents on behalf of your LLC.

When selecting a registered agent, there are several requirements to consider:

  • Residency or Physical Presence: The registered agent must have a physical address in the state where your LLC is formed. This ensures that they can receive important legal and government correspondence.
  • Availability and Accessibility: The registered agent should be available during regular business hours to receive documents and notifications. They should have a reliable system to forward any received correspondence to you promptly.
  • Eligibility: They must be authorized entities to conduct business in the state where your LLC is formed.
  • Reliability: Select a registered agent who can reliably handle sensitive and time-sensitive documents. The agents should also promptly forward the documents to the LLC's designated contact person.

4. File Articles of Organization (Mandatory)

A man smiling while talking to the phone

Articles of Organization are articles that outline the details of your LLC.

This document officially establishes your LLC as a legal entity with the state authorities. The articles are filed with the state in which you are going to operate, and they serve as public notice regarding the formation of your LLC.

To ensure a smooth filing process, you should gather the necessary information and carefully complete the required forms.

Begin by researching the specific filing requirements of your state. Some states require a statement regarding your company's business operations and whether it will be run by member managers or elected officers (such as the president and secretary).

Typically, you’ll need to provide details such as:

  • LLC's name
  • Registered Agent
  • Principal address
  • Purpose

You may also pay a filing fee, which varies by state.

Before submission to the appropriate state agency, double-check your forms for accuracy.

Articles of Organization contain important provisions about the LLC bylaws and details about its members.

Steps to Take After Forming an LLC in Real Estate

Forming an LLC is a significant move in real estate, offering liability protection and operational flexibility.

However, establishing an LLC is just the beginning. Given the real estate sector's low failure rate of 16.3% within the first year and 34.8% within the first five years as reported by Lending Tree, it's crucial to follow through with these key steps to ensure legal compliance and maintain financial stability, positioning your business for success [1].

An operating agreement is a written document that outlines operating procedures for your LLC.

The operating agreement is not filed with the state and must not be submitted when registering your company.

Still, it's important because it allows each LLC member to understand their rights and responsibilities.

You can use your Social Security number to file taxes as a sole proprietorship or single-member LLC.

Your SSN can also be used as your tax ID number.

However, if you're a multi-member LLC, plan to hire employees, or operate as a corporation or partnership, the state will require you to obtain an employer identification number.

This ID number will also be needed if you plan to open a business bank account.

Establishing a dedicated bank account for your real estate LLC is a strategic move, though not mandatory, but certainly advisable.

This step is crucial for maintaining clear financial boundaries between personal and business finances, a practice known as separating your personal liability from your company's liabilities.

An LLC bank account streamlines your business transactions, making it easier to manage property expenses, collect rent, and handle taxes. It also enhances your business's credibility with tenants, vendors, and lenders.

To open this account, you'll typically need your LLC's formation documents, an EIN, and possibly a resolution authorizing the account opening, depending on your bank’s requirements.

8. File Your LLC Annual Report (Mandatory)

Filing an annual report is a mandatory requirement for a Real Estate LLC in most jurisdictions.

This report, typically due annually, is essential for keeping your LLC in good standing with the state. It involves updating any changes in your LLC, like address changes, changes in membership, or management structure.

It ensures that the state has current information about your LLC, which is crucial for legal and communication purposes.

The specifics of filing, including the due date, fee, and the required information, vary by state. It's usually filed with the Secretary of State or a similar regulatory body.

Failure to file the annual report can lead to penalties, fines, or even administrative dissolution of your LLC. Therefore, it's important to understand your state's requirements and comply timely to maintain your LLC's active status.

It's often advisable to consult a legal or financial professional to ensure accuracy and compliance.

9. Obtain Business Licenses and Permits

Stamping a document showing approval

Many states require obtaining licenses and permits before you can form an LLC.

Because there is no national real estate license, you must fulfill your state's particular licensing criteria.

In most cases, you will need the Real Estate Sales License and possibly a few others.

Remember that your business license will probably need annual renewal; otherwise, you will risk LLC dissolution.

10. Choosing Your Tax Structure

Choosing the right tax structure for your Real Estate LLC is crucial, as it directly impacts your financial obligations and benefits.

According to the IRS, a business structure owner who puts real estate assets into an LLC may choose to pay federal taxes as a sole proprietor, partnership, S corp, or C corp on property earnings at the federal level [2].

Here are tax structures to consider:

  • Sole Proprietorship/Partnership: These default classifications are simple and involve fewer paperwork and compliance requirements. Profits and losses are passed through to owners' personal tax returns, avoiding corporate taxation. However, they lack the self-employment tax savings of S corporations.
  • S Corporation: This structure can reduce self-employment taxes, as income can be split into salary and dividends. However, it requires more administrative work and adherence to stricter regulations.
  • C Corporation: Offers the benefit of potential tax savings at lower corporate tax rates, but profits face double taxation—at the corporate level and again when distributed as dividends.
I lean towards the S Corporation for its balance of tax efficiency and compliance simplicity.
Keep in mind, the IRS allows LLCs to change their tax classification, but this must be done by March 15th to be effective for the current tax year.
The choice depends on your specific financial situation and long-term business goals, so consulting with a tax professional is advisable.

Benefits and Drawbacks of a Real Estate LLC

A woman signing a paper about asset protection

Benefits

  • Asset Protection: An LLC protects your real estate enterprise from creditors. The LLC owns all your personal assets, which cannot be accessed or touched unless you violate a contractual obligation.
  • Tax Deductions and Planning: A real estate LLC is a good option for tax deductions and planning for the real estate investor. You can deduct your business structure expenses automatically without needing to document them or file extra tax forms. The IRS allows real estate investors to treat their LLCs as a "pass-through" entity.
  • Personal Liability Protection: The real estate LLC separates the real estate owner's personal and business sides. This is smart for real-estate investors who face serious liability risks. An LLC could also benefit you if you are an entrepreneur or high-income earner with many investments in different companies.

"The bottom line: investing in real estate is smart because property is tangible. People always have, and always will, need shelter. This means it is very unlikely that our need for shelter will ever go away."

- Kathy Fettke, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of RealWealth

Drawbacks

  • Complexity in Financing: Securing loans through an LLC is often more challenging than as an individual. Lenders may view LLCs as higher-risk entities, which can lead to higher interest rates and more demanding loan approval criteria. This can be a significant hurdle for real estate investors looking to expand their portfolio.
  • Setup and Ongoing Costs: Forming an LLC involves initial filing fees, and there are ongoing expenses like annual report filing fees and potential state-specific taxes. These costs can add up, especially for smaller investors, making an LLC a more expensive option compared to operating as an individual.
  • Limited Liability Limitations: While an LLC provides significant liability protection, it's not absolute. In cases of personal wrongdoing or fraud, the member's personal assets might still be at risk. This means that the liability shield of an LLC has its limits, and investors cannot rely on it in all circumstances.

DIY vs. Professional LLC Formation

Filling up a form wearing a business attire

When forming a Real Estate LLC, you can choose between a DIY approach or hiring a professional service. Both options have their pros and cons, and the best choice depends on your specific needs, skills, and circumstances.

DIY LLC Formation

Pros:

  • Cost-Effective: Generally cheaper since you're not paying for professional services.
  • Educational: You gain a deeper understanding of the legal and business aspects of your LLC.
  • Direct Control: Full control over the process allows for immediate adjustments.

Cons:

  • Time-Consuming: Requires more of your time to research and understand legal requirements.
  • Risk of Errors: Without legal expertise, there’s a higher risk of making mistakes in paperwork or compliance.
  • Lack of Legal Guidance: You might miss out on specific legal advantages or nuances of real estate LLCs.

Professional LLC Formation Services

Pros:

  • Expertise and Accuracy: Professionals are knowledgeable about state laws and can ensure accuracy and compliance.
  • Time-Saving: Saves you time by handling most of the paperwork and legalities.
  • Peace of Mind: Confidence that your LLC is set up correctly.

Cons:

  • Cost: More expensive than the DIY approach.
  • Less Personalized Control: You might not have the same level of involvement or understanding of your LLC's setup.
  • Potential for Generic Solutions: Some services may offer a one-size-fits-all approach, which might not suit specific real estate needs.

FAQs

Why Real Estate Broker Cannot Be LLC?

Real estate brokers cannot be LLCs due to legal restrictions and licensing requirements. This is because the activity requires specific licensing and compliance with regulatory frameworks. Therefore, real estate brokers are typically structured as individual agents or operate under other business entities that meet the necessary legal and regulatory criteria.

What Is the Best State to Form LLC for Real Estate?

The best states to form an LLC for real estate are Texas, Nevada, and Delaware. Forming your LLC in a tax haven is best for real estate investing and will offer you more benefits than any other business entity.

What Is the Cost of a Real Estate LLC?

The cost of forming a real estate business entity may vary depending on the state's initial filing fee. Additionally, ongoing income is produced by the entity's assets and operations. A business's ongoing costs determine whether it will be profitable over time.


Reference

  1. https://www.lendingtree.com/business/small/failure-rate/
  2. https://www.irs.gov/faqs/small-business-self-employed-other-business/entities/entities

About The Author

Co-Founder & Chief Editor
Jon Morgan, MBA, LLM, has over ten years of experience growing startups and currently serves as CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Venture Smarter. Educated at UC Davis and Harvard, he offers deeply informed guidance. Beyond work, he enjoys spending time with family, his poodle Sophie, and learning Spanish.
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Growth & Transition Advisor
LJ Viveros has 40 years of experience in founding and scaling businesses, including a significant sale to Logitech. He has led Market Solutions LLC since 1999, focusing on strategic transitions for global brands. A graduate of Saint Mary’s College in Communications, LJ is also a distinguished Matsushita Executive alumnus.
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