Inexpensive Updates

When you’re trying to sell your home, you realize you may have ignored some cosmetic issues, repair issues, decorative updates … lots of things just tend to “slip through the cracks” over the years.

I was helping someone sell their condo recently and she had an excellent idea that would give this 90s kitchen sink area a little facelift, without costing her an arm and a leg. Here’s what she was working with:

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As you can see, the ceramic tile above the sink wasn’t damaged anywhere, but with the thin forest green line of tile, it looked dated. She decided to buy some 12×12 sheets of decorative tile, remove an entire row of the white tile (along with the narrow green strip) and freshen up the area, without replacing the counter top or cabinets.

 

 

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The finished look is fantastic. It updates the entire area, although she spent very little money in the process. The cabinet handles were also dated, so she invested in a couple of contractor 10-pack bronze handles from Home Depot and switched them out. I told her to make sure she took an old one with her to the store, so she could ensure that the holes lined up. (Some are 3″ apart, some 3 1/4 or more.) The hinges were close enough in color, so they could remain.

 

Small changes, nice effect! I’ve also painted older oak cabinets with semi-gloss white paint, for a fresh update. There are lots of options you can choose, aside from a total tear-out (and a total wipe-out of your wallet!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Putting Lipstick on a Pig?

This second bath in one of my rentals has been an eyesore.  It has cement block walls that always look dingy.  It’s in an otherwise decent basement that has a nice living area and extra room next to it.

photo[1] (2)I did a little research and came up with a product that might take care of the problem permanently … swimming pool paint!  Actually, it’s not really paint.  It’s a rubberized coating that applies like paint, and totally seals the walls.

It sounded like a great idea, and the guy at the pool store thought it would work well.  It’s the consistency of paint and you apply it with a roller and a brush, just as you would paint.  Fortunately, I only needed one gallon, because the stuff is costly … about $70/gallon.

Here’s a photo of the can:  It’s called Smart Seal SR Pro 7.

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Here’s the “after” picture: photo 3[1] (2)what a transformation, right?  I’d definitely recommend this product.  HOWEVER, this stuff is really toxic!  I had to wear a mask — which I hate doing — to be able to tolerate being in the area long enough to get the job finished.  And also, Smart Seal is an oil-base product, so I bought cheap a roller sleeve, pan and trim brush, and threw all of it away when I was finished.

Now the bath looks presentable, and I can charge appropriate (higher) rent!

I’m always looking for inexpensive updates I can do at my rentals … things that will make them more attractive to applicants without costing me an arm and a leg.

Inexpensive updates, attractive results, coupled with attentive landlording … a win/win for everyone!

Good Ol’ Midwest

American housing is some of the most affordable in the world.  Although many homeowners and investors took a huge hit in the ’08 (and beyond) collapse of our housing market, it’s been slowly creeping back.

Not only have foreign investors been scooping up US foreclosures over the past several years … individuals and hedge funds on both coasts and throughout the country have also been on the bandwagon and are reaping nice profits throughout the land.

Foreclosures aside, housing in the US is hugely affordable, with a median cost of a home at 3.5 times the median income.  Check out this chart I found in the latest issue of Personal Real Estate Investor magazine, detailing the least and most affordable major markets across the world … interesting stuff:

HousingHopefully, you can discern what it says.  Four of our west coast cities made the “least affordable” list.  But in the “most affordable” list, you’ll find six of the ten on that list are right here in the good ol’ Midwest!  Impressive, yeah?

And of course, Indianapolis is one of them.  With our vibrant downtown area that attracts large groups/conventions with its wonderful walking/biking paths, the canal, zoo, convention center, museums, symphony, fantastic cuisine and hotels, sports venues, etc., it has become a destination in and of itself.

No wonder I’m having to be more creative in finding great deals … Indianapolis isn’t “flying under the radar” any more.  It’s been getting its share of great publicity.

Well deserved.

 

Fakers and Frauds

How do you spot a fake or a liar?  I’ve had hundreds of people submit rental applications over the years and some of the crap they try to pass off as “truth” is incredible!

So, how to prevent this?  Here are a few tips:

  • Have them show you a photo ID and check the address against the address they put on your application.  Also, make sure the name matches, of course.
  • Have them bring a paycheck stub or proof of income. And then, take a good, hard look at it.  Are there shadowy areas on the paper?  Typos?  Different fonts?  These items can indicate photo-copying and tampering.  Requiring this piece of supporting evidence of income will exclude many scammers.
  • Make sure there’s a spot on the app that asks for names/ages of people to live in the property.  And try to have all of them meet you there before you commit to a rental agreement.  If they’re not willing to do this, I’d be suspicious.
  • Check out the company that employs them; do a Google search.  Addresses and numbers should match what’s written on the app, and on the paycheck stub.
  • Although I don’t do credit checks for my lower income properties, I use National Tenant Network (NTN) for my credit/background checks on all of my middle/higher-end  properties I own or manage for others.   I cover the cost by charging my applicants $35 as a fee for applying.
  • Charging an application fee weeds out people who aren’t serious about renting from you.
  • In addition to the above list, I always try to drive by the place they currently live.  Is it a dump?  Is there trash in the yard and on the porch?  Does it look filthy?  Is the home in decent repair?  I find it funny that, quite often, people say they want to move because they have a slumlord who doesn’t fix things, etc.  Really?  You chose to move into that dump in the first place, right?  Doesn’t make sense …

If you add the above items to your checklist, you’ll be more likely to weed out the frauds and scammers.

Good luck, and happy hunting!  :-)

 

 

Finding Good Contractors

I do a lot of the work on my rental properties, but there are certain things I don’t know how to do, or just don’t want to do on my own.  So, how does a homeowner find good, honest contractors?

  • Networking — I’ve found some wonderful people through other investors.  I’d much rather use someone my friends have been happy with than take a chance on a complete stranger.
  • Angie’s List — I used to think this website included mostly higher-priced contractors, but I’ve actually found a couple of high quality people through Angie’s List, and their prices were reasonable.

I’ve had a few bad experiences after hiring workers who approached me, offering a good deal.  For example:   Someone offered to paint the trim on my big four-plex several years ago, and the price was fantastic.  He gave me references and of course, I checked those references.  He got glowing reviews so I went with him.  He asked for 1/2 the money up front, which is fairly common, and began work the next day.  And after that first day, I never saw him again!  Another hard lesson learned … His “references” were most likely friends or family members.

So over the years, I learned to rely on friends and other investors/landlords when looking for new contractors.  That system usually works well every time.  And if an unknown offers you a deal that seems too good to be true, don’t be tempted to grab it … you’re probably being scammed!

 

Success Story

Meet Jesus, Hilda and their family … when they first rented from me, their oldest daughter, Karina, was an infant.

photo 1They were wonderful tenants and fantastic people.  Kind, hard-working, excellent parents.  Jesus approached me in 2004 about purchasing the double in which they lived.  (His sister and her son lived in the other apartment in the duplex.)

I set it up as a land contract and charged him 50K for the home.  (I’d bought it for 20K, did 15K of repairs/updates before renting it out.)  I continued to carry the insurance and property taxes, but I passed these expenses on to Jesus, by adding those amounts into his monthly payment, and also charging him 9% interest.  He gave me 7K down, and paid on time every month.

Within seven+ years, he became the proud owner of that home.  Throughout those years, he also improved the property, inside and out.  Here are a couple of before and after pictures:

#22, Ch12photo 2I’ve been invited to their children’s confirmations, graduations, etc., and every time I stop by, Hilda is offering me some kind of delicious Mexican concoction she has whipped up that day.

Throughout my real estate investing journey, I’ve forged relationships that will last a lifetime.  This is just one of many examples.  Although there are plenty of scammers out there, this family and other tenants like them more than make up for the “rotten apples.”  They’ve enriched my real estate investing experience more than they can ever know.

Income is essential, of course, but these relationships are truly the icing on the cake!  :-)

Before You Buy …

When new investors consult with me about getting started in the rental business, the first question they usually ask is, “How do I know where to buy?”  After I ensure they have the finances for the purchase figured out, my answer is pretty straightforward:

1)  Make the property within a 30-minute drive from your home.  Gas is expensive, and if you buy a fixer-upper, you’re going to be spending enough money on the rehab without driving all over town to get there!

2)  Check the schools and amenities in the area.  Good schools and access to conveniences and the bus line attract renters and enable you to charge higher rent.

3)  Stop in at the local police station and get a crime run covering the past year.  Petty stuff like theft or disturbing the peace isn’t a huge deal, but if you see armed robbery, stabbings, drug crimes and worse, run!

4)  Drive your chosen neighborhood at various times of day … morning, noon, evening, weekends.  Notice who’s walking the street and “out and about.”  What do the residents’ vehicles look like?  How about the residents themselves?

5)  And lastly, TALK to people.  It’s incredible what you can learn this way.  Talk to neighbors, tell them you’re considering buying a home there (don’t tell them it’s going to be a rental … some may suspect you’re a slumlord).  Stop in at a local restaurant/bar and speak with a server or bartender who’s been there a while.  They’ll be a wealth of information … they may tell you more than you want to know.  LOL.  But that’s okay, you’re on a fact-finding mission.

If you do your “due diligence” prior to the purchase, you won’t suffer buyer’s remorse when the deal is closed.  It’s worth the time spent, trust me.

And, happy hunting!  :-)