Tordon!

With 22 rental units in Indianapolis, there’s a lot to take care of, including exterior trimming and cutting. I have my tenants take care of the grass cutting, but two or three times a year,   I go down there and cut back tree limbs, shrubs and weeds that have gotten out of control . It’s not a job I enjoy, but it needs to be done.

In a couple weeks, I’m having a tree guy go to six properties and do some major trimming. I have limbs overhanging roofs and gutters, etc. He’s also going to cut down several mulberry bushes that are growing in fence lines at a few of my properties. Annoying! Mulberries are nuisance bushes that grow like crazy, and the berries attract flies…more annoying!

So when I was talking to him about the mulberries and how to kill them, he suggested I buy a  product called Tordon. The nice thing about it is that you squirt it on. I’ve used Fertilome Stump Killer in the past, and I applied it to the exposed cut surface with a sponge brush, kind of labor intensive.

So after he does his “cut down” and I do mine, I’ll apply Tordon. I bought several quarts of it from http://www.treestuff.com.  It’s also effective on poison ivy, and I have a couple of big vines that I’ll attack with it.

Buy some, and say bye bye to those nuisance trees and bushes!

Flash From the Past

When I began buying rental properties in Indianapolis, cell phones weren’t common. Most people who needed to “be available” at the drop of a hat wore pagers.
All my tenants had my pager number, and contacted me that way when they had a repair or rent issue. There were days when I’d be working at one of my rentals,IMG_8989 and I’d get four or five pages in a four hour period. Here’s a sampling of how that would go:

  • My pager would start beeping while I was in the middle of a project at one of the rentals.
  • I’d put everything down, lock up, hop in my car and head for the closest pay phone.
  • After fishing in my purse for 50 cents, I’d put it in the slot. The pay phone would eat the money, but I wouldn’t get a ring tone. Dead.
  • On to the next closest pay phone.
  • Find another 50 cents, get out and realize the phone cord’s been ripped out.
  • On to the next closest pay phone.
  • Finally, one that works! But my tenant doesn’t pick up. Ugh ….

And imagine the hassle when it’s 10 degrees outside, or pouring down rain. What a blessing it was when I was able to lose the pager and rely on the cell phone. What a luxury to be able to stay put and keep working, while taking care of issues that might arise during the day!

Driving by this old pay phone took me back 15+ years and I just had to stop and take a look at it. Technology can be frustrating at times, but it certainly saves us time and energy.

Oh, and take a closer look at the picture … how about that doorway to nowhere on the second floor of the house in the background? LOL

 

Welcome, Felons?

In a recent phone call from a prospective tenant, Robert’s last question of me was, “So, do you rent to felons?” When I asked what his felony was, he replied, “Strangulation.” I told him I’d have to talk to my owner, and suggested he call me back in a couple days. (I’m the owner, of course, but keeping that fact private has saved me time, stress and hassle through the years.)

HUD Secretary Julian Castro recently released a 10-page statement, warning property managers, agents and landlords they can be held liable for discrimination if they deny tenancy because of criminal records.

He wants to protect the fair housing rights of people who are re-entering the housing market after leaving prison. He claims that colorblind policies — like screening all applicants for criminal background checks — have a discriminatory disparate impact on minorities that are arrested at rates higher than their proportion of the general population.

So, even though barring tenancy to felons serves a nondiscriminatory, legitimate purpose for our neighborhoods, we may be putting ourselves at risk to do so!

And although Robert never called me back, let’s assume I had rented to him, and three months later, he fought with and strangled my tenant on the other side of the double. Was it my responsibility to protect the neighbors? Would that tenant have the right to sue me for negligence?

Although I’ve given second chances to some who’ve had run-ins with the law, I’ve always had a policy of not renting to people with felonies. I’m a single woman, I work alone much of the time, and I care deeply about my neighborhoods and tenants. With this new missive from HUD, maybe a conversation with my real estate attorney is in order …

Another Great Paint Option

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20 years ago, when I began my real estate investing career, I started using Walmart brand paint, satin finish. It was very adequate, covered well and didn’t splatter much. Through the years, it declined in quality and I switched to Behr, after checking out the comparisons in Consumer Reports.

I’ve really enjoyed their product. I don’t go with their top-of-the-line. I’ve used the Premium Plus satin and eggshell finishes and have been very impressed with the durability of each. Nice, thick formula, great coverage, for around $27/gallon. And considering the price of the Walmart paint had gone up to $18/gallon and I was having to recoat rooms and clean up splatters … totally worth the switch! I was frustrated with Walmart brand.

But then I came across a great deal at the Porter paint store near me. Their paints have always ranked highly as well, but I simply can’t justify spending over $40 for a gallon of paint! Then I found out that, if I opened a business account with them, I could purchase a gallon for around $28. What a fantastic deal! Definitely worth a try. So I’ve been using their Hi Hide satin for the past few months.

I’m going to stick with it, for sure. I can call them ahead and they’ll have it mixed and ready to go, and I totally love the paint. I think it more than measures up to Behr, and the friendly service and other great specials they run at their store are an added bonus. As a small business person myself, I seize every opportunity to support other small operations. “Here’s to the the little guy!”

Onward and upward ….  :-)

Best Primer

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I’ve tried many primers through the years — Kilz is probably the best known, and most of the big paint names (Behr, Valspar, Sherwin Williams, Porter, etc.) have their own primer they recommend — but I keep going back to Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 water base primer.

What I love about it:

  • It is a much thicker base than most primers, so it doesn’t splatter or drip all over the place.
  • It sticks to most surfaces.
  • I use the water-base product, and it’s a great stain blocker, and doesn’t have the toxic odor like the oil base primers do.

For spot treatments, I still prefer the Kilz oil base spray over the Zinsser product. It covers more evenly, and although there’s a definite odor, it dissipates after about an hour.

Happy priming!  :-)

Caulk Gun and Caulk … The Search

Pictures of my best finds, in a caulk gun and water-base caulk:

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I always try to save myself time when working on my rentals, and I’ve bought several caulk guns through the years. They leak caulk — even the ones that claim to be “dripless.” I end up with white caulk on my dark carpet. (Ugh.) They’re heavy, the handle isn’t user friendly, etc. This gun, made by Newborn, is excellent. The handle is ergonomic, allows you to work with the gun for a prolonged period of time if necessary. It’s also very light weight. It has a tip cutter, of course, and it really is dripless. I bought it at my local Porter Paint store (PPG)  for about $14 and it’s been worth every penny!

So while I was there, I decided I’d try their water-base caulk as well. It’s actually cheaper than the cheap Alex or DAP brands I’d been using. It’s called Top Gun 140 acrylic sealant. What a pleasant surprise! It’s a lot stickier consistency, but still went on smoothly and I’m thinking it’ll probably hold up a lot better than the others. It’s the same soap and water clean-up.

As I said, I’m all about making my life easier … hope this tip makes yours easier as well. Onward and upward!  :-)

Rents Are Up …

Across the nation, rent prices took their highest jump (over the past year) since before the recession that started easing up somewhere around 2009. According to a recent Wall Street Journal report, they went up 4.6% last year, to an average of $1,179/month. But — good news for renters — apartment construction is way up, so this may create an oversupply in some urban areas, and those rent prices may even out a bit.

And as you might imagine, given the above statistic, homeownership is down. As of the third quarter of 2015, it was at 63.7% — a 30-year low.  The percentage of first-time buyers is also at a 30-year low.

So, what accounts for the shift? I think there are a couple major factors at work here:

  • The collapse of the housing market in 2008 scared the crap out of everyone. Many potential homeowners are still scared, and expect this may happen again. They imagine buying a home, having the market tank, and finding they owe more than the home is worth.
  • People are much more transient now than ever before. They change jobs frequently, and are transferred with their work more often. They don’t want to be “tied down” by homeownership when they know there’s a good chance they’ll be moving in a year or two.

Personally, I still feel real estate is a good investment. I don’t believe we’ll see another 2008 debacle, and owning real estate — whether you live in it or use it as a rental property — is a great addition to other assets in a balanced portfolio.

 

Cheap and Effective

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I often use Easy Off oven cleaner (fume free) to clean porcelain or fiberglass tubs and showers. I can spray it on and come back the next day to finish up the job. But I’ve also found this product works extremely well, in less time.

The Works can be found pretty much anywhere … Walmart, dollar stores, Menards and other big box stores, etc. The secret is to spray it on and let it sit for five or ten minutes before you clean it off. Make sure you totally coat the surface.

As you can see from the picture above, this tub had a mother load of dirt, soap scum and hard water build-up on it. I was actually able to get most of it off with just a terry cloth rag! For the worst areas, I did use my Scotch Brite dark green scrubber, but didn’t have to use much “elbow grease” at all.

I’m definitely adding The Works to my bag of tricks … I’d suggest you add it to yours as well … less time at work means more time to play.  🙂

Onward and upward!

Another Nice Upgrade

 

IMG_3416FullSizeRenderMost of my rental properties are 100 years old. The major operating systems (heat, wiring, etc.) have been updated, of course. And with some of them, I replaced cabinetry along with the initial rehab. This duplex had older wooden cabinets that had a few good years left in them. I had ceramic flooring and a new bath installed last year, and after a recent move-out it was time to update the kitchen.

I used stock, pre-finished oak cabinets from my local big box store, and one of the formica “grant lookalike” countertops they keep in stock. I think they look fabulous, and this place should rent quickly.

My investment goal 20 years ago was to buy and hold, for income and long-term investment. And with each improvement I make beyond the initial rehab, Im:

  • Making my rental more attractive to potential tenants, thus drawing a better quality renter.
  • Improving the value of the home itself, thus making it a more attractive purchase to a buyer, when it comes time to jump into my exit strategy.

So, every improvement I make, I keep these points in mind. Is it adding value in the eyes of my next tenant? Is it adding value down the road, when I decide to sell? If so, then go for it!

“Thanks” Goes a Long Way

As we move through the holiday season each year, it’s easy to get caught up in the stress of schedules, gift buying, rushing to get through items on our lists, etc. It can be overwhelming and frustrating — not at all representative of the season!

I try to be mindful, especially throughout December and into January, of the blessings that exist in my life, and thank those who make my work easier:

  • Tenants who pay their rent in a timely manner and keep their places clean
  • Contractors who are reliable, show up on time and don’t charge me outrageous prices for their services
  • Business associates who respect me enough to refer others to me
  • My friends and family who lend a listening ear after a particularly difficult day, and who love me “no matter what”

Life is tough. But in a sense, struggles and loss help us appreciate and savor the things that really matter. So take a minute and think about the people who matter in your work/personal life. And thank them.  :-)

Onward and upward!

And a happy, prosperous 2016 to you all.