“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.

Worst Landlord Mistakes

I’ve made my share of mistakes as a landlord of 20+ years. And I’ve heard others lament their own “dumbass attacks” as well. But that’s often how we learn. The sad thing I often see is people doing the same stupid stuff, again and again, and then complaining about the results they’re getting.

“Insanity is doing the same (dumb) thing over and over, and expecting different results.” Can’t remember who said it, but it’s so true!

Here are some of the biggest mistakes made by landlords:

  • Not having a comprehensive lease that covers all the crazy stuff that can happen at the rental. You have to protect yourself, so that you can evict people who mistreat you, their neighbors or the home.
  • Not following the lease. Even if you have a good lease, if you let people slide, if you let them violate the terms … then why have a lease? Make sure the rules/boundaries of your lease are clear, and stick to them!
  • Being a friend instead of maintaining a respectful business relationship. You have to draw the line between business and friendship. Of course you want to develop trust and a friendly relationship. But if you become emotionally involved, it’s hard to tow the line when things go wrong.
  • Being too quick to fill a vacancy. Yes, this business is about earning income. But filling that vacancy with a less-than-qualified tenant will come back to bite you. Save yourself the headache and wait on a good one.
  • Letting maintenance issues slide at the rental. I’ve seen this happen way too often. Exteriors fade, become a little run down, interiors as well. How can you attract good tenants when the place is looking tired and neglected? It’s not gonna happen!
  • Allowing people to stay too long, not paying. I’ve been guilty of this one, more than I’d like to admit. I’ve gotten better about it over the years. But I know people who have tenants that haven’t paid for 6-8 months. Whaaat? This is an income-producing business … this bullet goes hand in hand with the one on “not following the lease” but deserved a separate mention because it’s so common. Evictions aren’t difficult to file and complete. They’re an unfortunate part of what we do, but sometimes they’re necessary.

The main reason people leave this career is because of tenant management issues. It’s not an easy job. Landlords get burned out and just quit. But if they’d avoid the pitfalls above, maybe they’d find a bit more peace and sanity in their world!

Kitchen Update

This old kitchen had metal cabinets and an old, heavy porcelain counter and sink. The cabinets were starting to rust through … they were probably over 50 years old. They weren’t closing very well, I’d owned this rental for 15 years, and it was just time to do the update.

IMG_1723[1]

IMG_1645[1]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before and after: notice my pink tool caddy on the counter (LOL) — initially, I had decided I could probably make this last through one more tenant, then I abandoned the idea and ordered the new counter top, sink and cabinets. The counter was a pre-cut granite-look formica from my local Lowe’s store, and the cabinets were also one of their pre-finished, in-stock styles. I picked up the stainless steel sink at a surplus store — it was it great shape. Materials ended up being somewhere around $1100 total. Not bad, right?

As in real estate sales, the kitchen and baths are the prime rooms that “make the sale.” Doing this update made the duplex a lot easier to rent, and I was able to ask a higher price. A win-win situation for me and the tenants as well.

Every time a tenant moves out, I look for updates that could improve the unit — fresh paint, new flooring, light fixtures, or a mini-facelift like the one above can improve the return on your investment and attract quality tenants. Combine that with quality property management, and everyone’s happy!  🙂

 

 

 

Removing Cigarette Stains from Sinks

IMG_1717[1]IMG_1718[1]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a sample of what I run into when a tenant moves out of one of my places. Not everyone is a smoker, of course, and most people won’t put a lit cigarette on the edge of the bathroom sink. But when they do, this is what I’m left with … a nasty stain, or several nasty stains. Ugh! For years, I tried all sorts of products to remove these brown marks scattered around the edges of my sinks, to no avail.

Then, one of my contractors, who’d been employed by an large apartment complex for a few years, gave me a wonderful piece of advice … “Go get some plumber’s screen!” I didn’t even know what that was, but Bill told me I’d find it at any hardware store, so off I went.

It comes in smallish sheets — I bought a 12″ square piece, which will last me several years — and it’s very inexpensive.

I cut off a small piece of it and simply rubbed the stain out. Voila! The sink looks nearly new. If the light catches it just right, that area has a little less shine than the rest of the sink but it’s not really noticeable.

A quick, easy fix for an annoying problem! Get some plumber’s screen today … I plan on using it for other tough stains/cleaning challenges in the future!

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!  🙂

Location is Key

We are a mobile society, and this trend will continue . . . According to Doug Matthews (COO of Right Management, a division of Manpower, the job placement firm), 84% of employees in the US plan to look for new jobs this year.  That fact is staggering!  At the start of 2010, that number was 60%.

The main reasons for job disappointment are increased work load and stagnant comensation.  So we’re a nation on the move.  What does that mean for us landlords?   The rental market will remain strong over the next several years, for sure.  It’s a fantastic time to buy.

In real estate, we’ve all heard it before.  It’s all about location, location, location.  When I look for a rental property to purchase, I consider the distance of the house to:

  • schools/college settings
  • grocery stores
  • retail shopping
  • hospital
  • businesses/industrial areas
  • daycare facilities

The closer the rental is to some of these, the more attractive it will be to prospective tenants.  With gas prices jumping all over the place, tenants want shorter commutes.  What a wonderful advertising point this would be:  “Walk to work/school!”

And when the rental is available, you can post fliers on bulletin boards at the places listed above.  I went to a factory a few blocks from a rental of mine, talked to an office manager, posted a flier with her blessing, and got a wonderful tenant who stayed with me for several years.

If yours is considered a middle- to upper-middle income rental and there’s a company headquarters nearby, make a flier with great photos and take it there.  Many times, companies have out-of-town people in for a few months and will pay top dollar for a nice home rather than an extended-stay hotel.   You might have to furnish it but this can be done inexpensively and, if you establish a long term relationship with the company, it can mean big returns for you on that rental and very little vacancy . . . definitely an idea worth considering.

So before you buy, think about location.  And if you’ve already bought, think about how you can maximize your current location.  Using local establishments to advertise and get the most exposure for your rental will decrease vacancy rates and increase your bank account.

Here’s to smart buying and creative marketing!

Primetime Ready? Hmm…

So, I’ve been working on driving awareness for my brand, my blog, book and expertise in real estate investing in general and landlording in particular.  So I was thrilled to get this interview on a local TV channel.

Susanne McAlister was doing a show on female entreprenurs and I was one of two women featured on the show.  Susanne used to be with Channel 4 for over 15 years and now has her own show.  I didn’t know beforehand what questions would be asked and was fairly nervous, but Susanne is a delightful person and did a fantastic job of putting me at ease.

I do wish that camera took off lbs. instead of adding them . . . lol.  Anyway, for my first attempt, I’m just glad to have survived!

Onward and upward . . .

When to Call it Quits

Landlord/tenant relationships are similar to marriages in some ways . . . The honeymoon period begins when you meet, they look great, their references are glowing, and they move in.  But then, a few weeks or months down the road the bickering begins.  They turn out to be slobs, or they disturb the neighbors with their nightly arguments, or they don’t take care of the lawn, or they’re repeatedly late with rent, and before you know it you’re in counseling . . .

The writing is on the wall.  You know you’re headed to divorce court.  Uh, I mean small claims court.  I have a great, one-page lease and if it’s not adhered to, I get tenants out quickly. 

I prefer to coax them out if possible.  My spiel goes something like this:  “If you can be out by the weekend and leave the place clean and empty, I won’t file eviction on you.”  Sometimes, if they’re really hard up for cash, or if I have a great tenant waiting for the unit, I’ll bribe them out by offering them $100 to be out quickly.  This tactic saves me time, and the eviction filing fee, and saves my tenant the burden of having an eviction on their record.

Even in the best of tenancies, stuff happens and things start looking bleak in your long-term relationship.  People get laid off, their cars break down, they develop major health issues, they get fired, etc.  When this happens with my best tenants, I try to work with them — ask a buch of questions to see if it’s feasible they’ll get back on their financial feet soon — and make a written plan to catch up the rent, which we both sign.  If they don’t stick to it, they have to move.    

When I started landlording, I allowed everyone to stay (dummie!) because I wanted to trust that things would work out.  Well, that didn’t work out so well, as you might imagine!  I’ve toughened up.

At the first sign of a problem, you need to start thinking about calling it quits . . . stay on it, follow through, and move on.  If you’re a good landlord, word will spread.  You’ll find someone else.

Onward and upward!