Rental Property Myths

When people ask me about owning and managing my Indianapolis rental properties, I get the same questions/comments again and again. Here are the most frequent  myths I respond to:

  • “I’ll bet you’re always getting calls in the middle of the night!”  No, in my 21+ years of doing this, it’s rarely happened. Yes, I’ve received calls on the weekend and/or in the evening, if someone has an emergency, like if a furnace goes out. But fortunately, I have my trusted contractors to call, and they can take it from there. I’m not making trips to my rentals on those calls. And if it’s something minor (which it sometimes is) I have them wait until the next working day.
  • “Don’t you get tired of your tenants totally trashing the places?”  Well, I’ve had tenants leave trash behind after a move-out, for sure. When I’ve evicted a person, sometimes they take what they need, and leave the rest. This happens more often in the lower economic demographic. But as far as vandalizing/destroying the apartment, out of anger or resentment, no. If you treat your tenants with respect, this doesn’t occur.
  • “I’ll bet you’re making a ton of money!”   Uh, no … When you buy rental properties, you’re buying for income, yes, but also for long-term investment. It’s not a “get rich quick” proposition. If you’re buying with a loan, you want to make sure your rent will cover more than your loan payment and other expenses (i.e. taxes, insurance, utilities, etc.). You can make a “ton of money” if you buy a ton of rentals, for sure. But the commercials you see on TV are totally exaggerated! Don’t buy into that crap!
  • “You’re a slave to those properties…you don’t have a life of your own!”  That depends on a couple things: if you fix them up well in the first place, you shouldn’t have many major repair issues going forward. And also, you have the option of hiring out the management if you don’t have the desire, personality or time to do it yourself. The cost per month is usually 8-10%/monthly rent, plus a percent of the first month’s rent. But beware — good, honest property management is hard to find.

So there you have the comments/questions I get most often — all myths. This business is intricate, demanding, frustrating, and very rewarding. I don’t regret beginning my journey all those years ago, and I do my best to educate others before they jump in. It isn’t for everyone, but for many, it can be part of a smart, long-term investment strategy.

Onward and upward!  :-))

 

Rent to Own?

Seller financing, rent to own, land contracts … these are creative ways to achieve homeownership if you can’t qualify for a mortgage. As a real estate investor here in Indy, I’ve sold a few of my rentals this way. It can be a positive route for both the seller and buyer. Laura Agadoni included me as one of her sources in the following Trulia article about seller financing. If you — or someone you know — is in the market for this type of financing, her piece is a good way to get familiar with the process:

http://www.trulia.com/blog/pros-cons-seller-financing/

Personally, I enjoyed giving people the opportunity to become homeowners when they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do so. For the most part, they took excellent care of the properties, knowing the home was “theirs.” I even had one family make multiple repairs and updates as they moved through their contract.

The downside was that occasionally, tragedy strikes. People get sick, lose their jobs, split with their spouses, etc. But as I stated in the article above, they usually just “bow out” gracefully and apologetically, pack up, clean up, and leave. The seller keeps the down payment, and moves on.

Bottom line? As Laura states, seller financing can work well for everyone. The seller earns good interest on the loan, and the buyer achieves the American Dream … home ownership. It’s a win/win. 🙂

 

 

 

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!  🙂

The Case For Rentals

I’ve owned and managed low and middle income rentals in Indianapolis for over 17 years now, through the good times and the bad.  My goal was to purchase these rental properties for income and long-term investment.  I’ve flipped a few along the way, but that’s never been my model.  Through the years, I added property management to my list of skills … other people’s homes or rental properties.

Why invest in rentals?  There are a couple reasons:

1)  Housing is a universal need.  Regardless of fluctuations in the economy, people need a roof over their head.  And even when everything in the housing market went to hell through 2008 and beyond, my rentals held strong.  Yes, there was more turnover (people were losing their jobs and/or getting laid off more frequently) but I had no trouble filling my vacancies.

2)  There’s a segment of the population that will never be homeowners … those who earn less than $30,000/year will most likely be renters throughout their lives.  And according to the last census, that segment included about 35% of the population.  Furthermore, since the housing collapse, many people have become more wary of buying homes, and even those who can afford it (and get financing) are choosing to rent instead.

Indianapolis is a wonderful city in which to work and raise a family … it didn’t see the horrible downturn in the housing market that some other areas experienced.  Our rental market is strong and will continue to be strong in the foreseeable future.

We landlords and investors are lovin’ it!   🙂

What Does it Take?

I’ve owned and managed my own rentals for 17 years now, manage other properties, have written a book about the business, recently got my realtor’s license, and am going to be getting my broker’s license soon.  I’m frequently asked, “What does it take to be a property manager?  What personality traits are essential?”

I’d never thought about it but here’s the short list:

  • You must be very organized.  There are records to keep, tenants to manage, etc.
  • You must be laid back.  Things happen that are beyond your control and you have to roll with it.  (Hmmm … organized and laid back?  Those qualities don’t appear very often in one individual.  Most laid back people aren’t organized.  Most organized people aren’t laid back.)
  • You have to be willing to evict people quickly when they get behind in their rent payments.  This is an income-producing business, and although tenants run into rough situations, you can’t let your heart rule your head.  You can’t just hope they’ll get caught up next week, or next month.

Tenant management issues are the main thing that drive people out of this business.  I’ve learned — the hard way — to stick with my lease agreement.  I’ve modified it through the years and it’s short but air-tight.  It protects me from all of the “sticky” situations that can pop up, and I know that if I adhere to it, I’ll be okay.

So for those who are considering buying their first rental, my advice is to educate yourself before jumping in.  Look at your finances, your personality, your risk tolerance.  And if you’re still excited about the possibilities, go for it, and enjoy the journey!

Landlord Intervention

For those of you interested in rentals, I wanted to let you know about a new book recently released, titled Landlord Intervention: How to Acquire and Manage Rental Property, available (paperback) on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0615643213/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=therefofath-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0615643213

and also on Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B008KA0TDA/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=therefofath-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B008KA0TDA

It’s written in a straightforward style by a no-nonsense guy, Joseph Brown.  He lives and works in PA but the material in his book is pertinent to investors across the country.  He’s been in the business for over 25 years and knows all the ins and outs, ups and downs.    He’s “been there,” and tells it like it is.

I’m very picky when it comes to books written about owning/managing rentals.  I decided to write The Landlord Chronicles: Investing in Low and Middle Income Rentals because I hadn’t found any books that would educate people about all the facets of this business without boring them to death by the second chapter.

Landlord Intervention succeeds in holding your attention and educating you at the same time.  Well done!   Brown takes the reader through the entire process … buying managing, exit strategies, pitfalls, etc.   I was impressed enough that when I was asked to write the foreword for this book, I gladly agreed.  If you want to explore the idea of investing in rentals, pick up a copy of this book — oh, and maybe a copy of mine as well — you’ll be glad you did!

Before and After

Many of my rentals are 100 years old.  I know, that sounds scary … 100 year-old houses must be nearly falling down by now, right?  Not at all.  Actually, they were built better than a lot of the new construction we see today.  They’re sturdy.  They’ve had the plumbing and electrical updated (thank God) and of course, they have newer furnaces and windows.

But I do have issues from time to time, with flooring, leaks, etc.  This rental had a leak under the bathroom floor, from the toilet.  When my tenants moved out, I discovered the toilet actually rocked like a rocking chair!  And the floor around it was very soft.  The floor had to be torn out because there had been a slow leak which eventually rotted the subfloor and part of the joist underneath.  Here’s the before picture — not good!

The bath vanity had seen its better days, so I found a new one on clearance for $30 at Home Depot, and got a piece of sheet vinyl on clearance as well.  My wonderful handyman Craig did the dirty work and within a couple days I had a brand new bathroom.

This is the finished product:

And voila!  The house is now ready for my next tenant.  Craig put down a new subfloor, along with a couple new joists, and it’s ready to go.

Older homes have their own issues . . . the windows may be older, and drafty.  The walls may be plaster, and uneven in places.  But they were built to last.  And they do.

If the major updates have been done, I don’t hesitate to buy an older house.  They have character, and they have a lot of quality built in.  I like that.

So don’t be fearful of those oldies . . . they’ll be around long after you and I are gone!

Tips For Buying a Rental Property

Buying rental property is a great investment right now.  Thousands of foreclosures have flooded the market and are dragging prices down, and the end is not in sight.  But where do you start?  It doesn’t have to be overwhelming if you break it down:

  • Get your financing in line first.  How’s your credit?  Trim down on that extra (unnecessary) spending and start planning for your first purchase!  Figure out what you can spend and how you’ll pay for the property.
  • Find your target neighborhood.  Before I bought my first rental property I drove several neighborhoods, none of which were further than 30 minutes from my house.  Drive through at all hours of the day, talk to homeowners . . . they will give you precious details about the area/residents.
  • Talk to other, seasoned investors who’ve been there, done that.  Join a landlord association.  Read books.  (Mine is a good one. Lol . . . but seriously, it offers tools, tips, techniques, forms, products and advice to simplify the process.)  In other words, don’t go into this blind.
  • Decide on multi- or single-family rental properties.  Multi-family will bring in more money but is more labor intensive.
  • Look at your personality, work life and home life — do you have the time, etc. to manage your own properties?  Not everyone is equipped to do this work.  Some people have time constraints that prevent them from doing it, others have personality constraints that make it difficult.
  • If you’re not going to do much of the work yourself, find honest, reliable subs before you buy.  You’ll want to hit the ground running as soon as you close on a property, so you’ll need to have your workers all lined up and ready to go.

There’s so much involved in buying rental properties, especially as a first time buyer.  But it’s fantastic for income and long term investment, and now is an excellent time to consider jumping in . . .

So prepare well, trust yourself, and go for it!

Zoning Hell

I bought a cute tri-plex back in the late 90s and operated it as such for several years.  There were a couple duplexes across the street so I never dreamed that zoning violations would be looming in my future.  I was so wrong.

Out of the blue, I got tagged with a letter from the zoning board saying my house wasn’t in compliance with the local zoning regulaltions.  That’s when I entered “Zoning Hell.”  Evidently, my tri-plex had once been a single family home (so what?) and the zoning people wanted me to take it back to what it was.  Needless to say, it would be very costly to do that, and my ROI (Return On Investment) would suffer terribly.

I decided to fight City Hall, as they say, and I jumped through hoop after hoop, submitting measurements, specifics, rifling through documents at my house and the court house.  What a nightmare.  I also appeared and spoke in front of the five-person board, pleading my case.  I’d been told I didn’t have a chance in (zoning) hell, but I gave it my best shot, passionately telling them this city needed more  multi-family housing like mine, accompanied by  more attentive landlords like me, etc.

I won my case by a vote of 3-2.  Whew!  The moral of the story?  Even if it looks like your potential purchase fits in with others in the area, you’d best check on it to make sure it’s zoned appropriately.

A side note … I always wondered how or why I got tagged for this violation.  Much later, I found out through a neighbor that one of my tenants (who I eventually evicted) used to get drunk and run around the front yard naked.  Hmmm …. maybe someone called the city and complained?  Too bad they didn’t call me instead!

Mother Nature Rides Again

We’ve had some pretty wicked storms around here this summer and, with the age of some of my rentals — 100+ years — I’ve found myself holding my breath a few times!

No matter where you live in the country, you’re susceptible to some kind of weather issue: tornadoes, hurricanes, snow and ice, intense heat, mudslides, etc.  When I purchase a rental, I pay a lot of attention to the exterior material.  I never buy homes with wood siding unless my plan is to reside them with vinyl.  Brick is best of course — neither the Big Bad Wolf nor Mother Nature can blow that house down! — but it will cost more money.  I also check the condition of the roof, because a good strong wind can do a lot of damage.  So can a fallen tree.  Check out the picture below:

This happened a couple of weeks ago.  The tree didn’t appear to be dead or rotten but it just snapped in half during one of our bad storms.  I check the trees on the property after I buy a rental, and have dead and overhanging branches removed, especially from areas around the house or garage.  In this case, thank God it just fell on the garage, not on the house or my tenant!

She called me immediately and I had my “tree guy” remove it quickly.  Unfortunately, it pierced the roof in a few areas so I had that repaired as well.

Since the entire cost was under $1000, I didn’t file it with my insurance company.  I have $1000 deductible to keep my premiums low, and I take a consevative approach re: filing claims.  I like to hold out for larger claims, and in almost 17 years now, I’ve only had to file twice with my insurance co.  Really, if you do a good solid job on the rehab after the purchase, you shouldn’t have much trouble down the road.

However, do protect yourself with a good insurance policy.  You just can’t trust Mother Nature . . . she’ll sneak up on you when you least expect it.