Before and After

As the years have gone by, I’ve updated the insides and exteriors of most of my rentals. The result is that I’m finding more responsible tenants who are staying for years.

Even through Covid, I’ve been able to keep all my tenants — remarkable!

This is a duplex I purchased over 16 years ago. I’ve replaced the roof, windows and updated the interiors. However, the exterior left a lot to be desired. It has aluminum siding which wasn’t in terrible shape, and wood trim around all the windows, which required upkeep and repainting.

I recently had the exterior painted with a Sherwin Williams product. The contractor had to scrape and prep everywhere, so the paint would last 8-10 years. I chose a little deeper color for aluminum window wraps to cover the wood, along with acontrasting exterior door color.

What a difference!

Doing these updates has made my life so much easier as a landlord … Onward and upward!

Streak-free Cleaner?

One of my least favorite chores is cleaning the interior windshield of my car. No matter what I do, I end up with smears and streaks. I was on vacation last year and checked out a small art fair. One of the booths was demonstrating a product called “The White Green Cloth.”

This caught my attention right away. You don’t have to use ANY sprays with this cloth … all you do is wet it thoroughly and wring it out — really well — and go to town on glass, mirrors, stoves, eyeglasses, car rims, stainless, counter tops, chrome, etc. Hard to believe, right?

Well, I was impressed enough with the demo to purchase one for myself. Here’s what I’ve found:

  1. You have to wring it out ALL the way to avoid streaks or spots in the finished work.
  2. The more you use this product, the softer and more pliable it becomes.
  3. You don’t have to dry the surfaces after cleaning them.
  4. This cloth is truly safe on any surface … it doesn’t scratch.
  5. You can throw it in the washing machine, but of course, don’t put it with a load of towels.
  6. Let it air dry … don’t put it in the dryer.
  7. Even if all stains don’t wash out, the cloth still works just fine.

This little tool has sped up all kinds of cleaning tasks for me. Check it out at:

I still don’t enjoy cleaning my windshield, but now I don’t procrastinate, and I’m using it on many surfaces in my house. (It makes a fabulous gift, too!)

Pets in Rental Properties?

I’m a big-time pet lover. I grew up with dogs and cats, and my kids grew up with dogs, cats, a snake or two, turtles, fish, bunnies and lizards. But even so, when I began investing in rentals in Indianapolis 25 years ago, I decided I wouldn’t allow pets of any kind in my properties. Why?

— They can cause damage, to floors, window coverings, etc.

— They cause additional wear and tear.

— They can be a potential liability, if they threaten neighbors or other tenants.

Through the years, I realized I was missing out on a lot of really good tenants by not allowing their pets to live with them in my rental. After some checking around, I learned (through Zillow) that over 30% of renters in their database are pet owners. reports that around 70% are pet owners. Conversely, most apartments are advertised as “no pets” homes. So …. the shortage of units available for those who have furry friends creates a fantastic opportunity for me.

It’s always my goal to get my units rented asap, on a turn around. I’ve come to realize that I can charge higher rent (usually $25-40 more/month) for the privilege of having a pet on the premises. Also, it’s typical to charge a non-refundable pet fee, usually around $300-400. Because this amount is non-refundable, don’t ever call it a “pet deposit!” And by the way, tenants are more than happy to pay this amount.

I think the solution is to ask a lot of questions about the pet in your first conversation, and arrange to stop by the applicant’s current residence to do a “meet and greet” with the pet. You’ll learn a LOT about the pet’s (and the owner’s) behavior and cleanliness. After that visit, you’ll have a valid opinion on whether to go forward in the rental process.

Of course, the above comments don’t apply to service dogs. If I’m told the person has a service dog, I’ll ask to see the certification. (One of my daughters has a service dog, and the training is quite extensive. People can buy a $12 “service dog” vest and put it on any animal. Not cool.)

I’m also hearing quite a bit about “emotional support animals” — dogs, cats, hamsters, ferrets, lizards, pigs — and evidently, the owner has to provide a written letter from a physician regarding the support animal. Although I’m a pet lover, I don’t really want a pig in one of my rentals! Hopefully, I won’t be faced with that issue any time soon …

Onward and upward!

Hard Water Issues?

Most of my Indianapolis rental properties have extremely hard water. (I don’t install water softeners … one more thing to maintain and fix.) The sinks and toilets get stained pretty easily.

I’d used everything, trying to remove the stains. Barkeepers Friend did a pretty good job, and someone advised I use Tidy Bowl or other stronger bowl cleaners. But some of those were so toxic, I couldn’t handle the smell.

I happened upon a product called Pumie Scouring Stick, and thought I’d give it a try. And voila! It worked better than anything I’d tried. My own house is on well water, so I have the same problem at home, and this stick has done wonders. It doesn’t have a bad smell. You just scrub it along any hard-to-remove stains. You can find pumice stone at any hardware or big box store.

It also works on rust, grease, mineral deposits, tile, tubs, grout,etc. Now, I always have one of these on hand!

Before and After

I bought a four-plex rental in Indianapolis in 2000. It had been vacant, utilities were turned off, and it was kind of a mess. The basement apartment had water in it everywhere, and a huge family of rats had taken up residence.

So, I bought it anyway and started the rehab, with the help of a trusted contractor. Immediately after closing, I bought four rat traps. After loading them with peanut butter, I put them in the basement apartment. Every day, for about two weeks, I’d unload the dead rats, and reload with peanut butter. Got rid of ’em!

Through the years, I’ve made small and large improvements as I’ve had the money to do so. I’ve updated flooring to vinyl plank laminates throughout, installed new cabinetry and baths. And as a result, I’ve been able to up the rents quite a bit, and am getting a good, responsible tenant mix. And the ROI (return on investment) on that house is 20%+ year after year. Woohoo!

This year, I had a new roof installed, had the aluminum siding painted, and got new windows. Here’s the result … totally worth the money and hard work!

Flash From the Past

When I began investing in rental properties here in Indianapolis, I usually communicated with my tenants via phone (land line) or in person. To make my life easier, I got a pager. When my tenants had questions or a repair issue, they could call my pager, and I’d see their phone number on the read-out.

That was the easy part. The hard part (before cell phones) was finding a pay phone in the area so I could call them back. Typical scenario:

  • I’m working at one of my empty rentals, trying to get it rent ready. It’s the middle of winter, and there’s 8 inches of snow on the ground.
  • I get a page from one of my tenants.
  • I go to the pay phone a few blocks from where I’m working.
  • I put my quarter in — yes, a quarter — and the phone eats my quarter. I try it again. Same result.
  • I go to another pay phone, a few blocks from the first one.
  • I put my quarter in. I get a dial tone — yay! But the push buttons are frozen and I can’t dial out.
  • I go to a third pay phone, and there’s a handset in the holder, but the cord is missing.
  • I abort the mission entirely, and decide to just call them when I get back home.

I think back on those days, and I’m soooo grateful for the technology that allows us to communicate through so many platforms — email, text, and all that’s made possible  through cell phones. Everyone has one, including people who work minimum wage jobs.

Technology … it’s simplified my life and my business. Love it!

Ground Clear!

I try to keep up with all the trimming, weed control, etc. at my Indianapolis rental properties. It’s a challenge.

At my own home, I’ve had the same issues … the back of my property runs along a small creek, and weeds, undergrowth, etc. have crept up into the yard. I finally had someone come and clear it all out. I asked him how to control regrowth, as I don’t want to lose any of my property to weeds!

He suggested I purchase Ortho Ground Clear. He sprayed it all along the back edge of my property after he’d cleared out all the undergrowth. Thistles galore, mulberry, etc. That was about a month ago. Evidently, this product keeps weeds away for a up to a YEAR! Just to make sure, I purchased a gallon myself and went down to respray last week. There was NO evidence of thistles resurfacing, and all the small junk saplings showed no “rebirth.” Another nice feature … The sprayer has an “on” switch, so no pumping.

When spring rolls around, I’ll recheck the area, allow some grass to grow, and respray the areas I’d like to remain clear. Of all the weed removal products I’ve used at my rentals over the years, Ground Clear is the big winner. I plan to take Ground Clear to my rentals as well, because this stuff definitely works!

Weapons of “Mouse Destruction”

Over the years, as I added to my Indianapolis rental portfolio, I came across a myriad of pests that found their way into my units … ants, fleas, bedbugs a couple of times, cockroaches, and mice.

I’m not afraid of any of these, but I certainly don’t want my tenants to share their space with them! So, I’ve done lots of research on eradicating all kind of infestations.

20 years ago, I purchased a fourplex that had been empty for quite a while. There had been squatters in the second floor unit, and they had left all kinds of drug paraphernalia and a toilet full of human waste and dirt. Utilities had been turned off for months.

I ventured into the basement apartment with my flashlight. There was quite a bit of standing water down there, and I could hear several critters skittering around. I caught a couple with my light — RATS. The basement was full of them. Babies, teenagers, moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas. Ick!

So I went to Lowe’s and purchased six rat traps. The next day, I loaded them with peanut butter and scattered them around down there. I unloaded them the following day. And reloaded. It took me about two weeks, but I got rid of those freeloaders. Here is the house today … I have great tenants there and the ROI on it is incredible. I recently replaced the roof and had it painted.

Formerly the rat house

Since then, I’ve found a much easier solution to mice/rats. I’ve never seen another rat in any of my rentals, but there are little field mice that somehow manage to get in when the weather gets cold.

The product is Final Blox. It can be bought on line. It’s a red pellet, about 1″x3″, and I just put one under the bath sink, behind the stove or frig, etc. (You wouldn’t want any pet or child to get to it.) A much easier solution than traps!

This product, and many others, have streamlined my journey into real estate investing!


Flip vs. Buy and Hold — Indianapolis

The real estate world is in a constant state of flux, as we all know. After the collapse of the housing market in 2008, values plummeted and there were thousands of foreclosed homes, sitting empty.

Smart investors started snatching up those homes, at bargain prices. They knew the major dip in the market wouldn’t last forever. The collapse enabled them to fix up/rent out these homes, because the rental market surged, everywhere. I was fortunate to be interviewed by CNN online and USA Today about the phenomenon: click on this section to view the whole article.

Well, those days are over for the most part, as the housing market everywhere has had a nice rebound. Now, it’s a lot more difficult to find a home, do the updates/rehab, and make much money on the flip. Inventory is down, the market has tightened up. And on a flip you have to consider these cautionary tips:Most of the time, you run into unforeseen issues after you start the rehab.

  • It’s hugely important that you find a reliable contractor (if it’s not you) that will show up every day and complete the work on schedule.
  • Don’t overspend on the amenities/updates. Stay above the surrounding homes, but don’t spend crazy money you’ll never get back.
  • Be aware that the house may not sell immediately. And when the house sits, you continue to have all the carrying costs — insurance, taxes, utilities, maintenance , etc.

If you’re risk averse, flipping probably isn’t in your wheelhouse. Much safer to buy, fix up, rent out, and hold it for income and long term investment. Although I’ve flipped a couple along the way, I never depended on those “big returns” you hear about on HGTV and informercials. (They make it look way too easy!)

My best advice? Buy and hold here in Indy. Our market is super stable, and growing. Investors from all over the world are very interested in what Indy has to offer, with good reason!

Flip vs. Buy and Hold

People from near and far contact me regarding buying flips, or buy and holds here in Indianapolis. Having been in the rental business for over 25 years now, I’ve had experience in both worlds.

I started with the idea of buy and hold, for income and long term investment. That strategy has been really good to me. At one point, I owned and managed 29 units near downtown Indianapolis. They were a mix of single- and multi-family homes. Even throughout the housing collapse and beyond, my rental properties stayed full. I also obtained my realtor certification, so that I could help other investors (and non-investors) find and buy properties. Because my real estate brokerage has gotten busier, I’ve sold a few of my personal rental properties, but I still own and manage most of them.

I’ve also gone the route of flipping a few times. Here’s what I see as the challenge of being a flipper:

  1. First and foremost, those HGTV shows aren’t realistic! Somehow, they manage to make really good money on every purchase/flip. That just doesn’t happen very often in the real world, regardless of where you live.
  2. Secondly, people tend to believe the rehab is going to take “X” number of days and cost “X” number of dollars. Beyond that, they also believe they’ll get it on the market and sell very quickly. (After all, that’s how it happens on TV.) Well, it RARELY happens that way. During the rehab, additional issues are often uncovered, which means more money and time spent. And when done, what if the house sits? Two months, three months, six months? All of those “carrying costs” fall on the owner — utilities, taxes, insurance, etc. And sadly, they watch that big profit they planned on disappear.
  3. Lastly, in this market today, there’s not much “room” for profit between the purchase and rehab costs, vs. the ARV (after repair value) and actual profit made after paying a realtor or giving someone a finder fee for locating a buyer.

If you’re planning on being a flipper, go into it aware of these downsides. With either option, educate yourself thoroughly before jumping in … you’ll be glad you did!

Onward and upward … 😊