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Finding an “Interim” Property Manager When You’re on Vacation

by Paula Pant on June 5, 2013 · 8 comments

  
Interim

I recently left the country for a week, headed to a place where I literally had no phone service and limited access to email. That wasn’t a one-time-only event. I plan to do it again at the end of this month. Oh yeah, and once more in August.

Every landlord who read that first paragraph is either cringing or gaping in awe. Because, as we all know, the moment your feet leave U.S. soil is the precise moment that your pipes burst, toilets overflow and a tree crashes into your roof. The correlation is near-scientific.

Here’s the part where I mention that I oversee 5 rental units. One of these has a property manager — an excellent, highly experienced, self-motivated manager, someone whom I hardly need to manage (you know, “managing the manager.”) So I barely blinked when it came to leaving that property behind for a week. My gal’s got it.

The other four properties, however, posed a different story. Under normal circumstances, when I’m in town, I don’t mind overseeing these myself. One is a triplex, so all the units are consolidated under a single roof. The other is in great condition and occupied by the world’s best tenant. So when I’m in town, its not worthwhile for me — at least at this early stage in my landlording career — to outsource that management.

But of course, I can’t leave the country for a week without finding an “interim property manager.” And step one was figuring out who to ask.

Here’s what I looked for in my “interim” manager:

1) reliable,

2) experienced at managing properties,

3) reliable,

4) eager to watch your units for a week,

5) reliable

There’s one quality I keep stressing (I’ll let you guess which one), and I’m doing it for more than just the sake of a weak attempt at humor. When you’re away — when you’re really, truly unplugged — the person you leave in charge back at home isn’t immediately accountable to anyone. No one is managing him. No one is pressing him to finish the job.

And if you return to your hometown and find everything in disarray, your interim manager is probably capable of weaving and spinning some type of he-said, she-said story that will leave your head spinning. You’ll play detective, piecing together the details of what happened from your tenant, the neighbors, the physical evidence left behind. It’ll be a mess. You’ll want to avoid this.

And so finding a reliable person is — in my opinion — more important than experience or enthusiasm.

How do you gage reliability? That’s more art than science. Promptness (is that a word?) in answering phone calls and emails is a good start. Following through on appointments is key.  But, again, let you gut be your guide.

Related:Want to Get Away? Tips for Taking Time Off as a Landlord

Prepping the Interim Manager

Okay, so you found Mr. or Ms. Reliable. How do you best prep this person?

I give my interim property manager a spreadsheet with contact information for every type of trade imaginable. Column A lists the person’s name. Column B lists their trade — landscaping, plumber, HVAC, general handyman. Column C, their phone number. In Column D, I write extensive notes outlining each tradesperson’s strengths, weaknesses and idiosyncrasies.

(Now that I think of it, I hope none of them get ahold of this spreadsheet. That’s the type of situation that sit-com episodes are made of.)

I leave the keys to all the properties, including keys to access points like the basement. (I learned this the hard way last year, when I left my interim manager the keys to the unit, but not to the basement where the furnace resides.)

I leave instructions on how to pay for any necessary purchases and repairs while I’m gone. I give clear, written directions about what expenses I’ll authorize blindly (i.e. almost all of them, since I trust my manager’s judgment, and since I can’t be reached).

I give all of my tenants my interim managers’ phone number, email address, and the dates I’ll be gone. I instruct them not to contact him unless there’s a serious issue that simply can’t wait until my return.

Wow, it sounds quite extensive when I write it out. But it’s fairly simple. Finding the right, reliable person is the tough part. The rest is details.

Photo: HRC

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Sherry Williams June 5, 2013 at 9:01 pm

We only have one rental right now, but we have a duplex under contract. I have been trying to figure out a system for when we are away. This is a great article. Thanks for the advice. The only thing I would be a little leery about is telling all of my tenants that I am going to be gone. I know someone who did this and one of their tenants broke into their home when they were away. They are very thorough with their background checks and due diligence when renting their properties, so they were caught off guard. So I personally probably won’t tell my tenants that I am gone, but I will definitely implement many of your suggestions.

Thank you,
Sherry

Reply

Paula Pant June 6, 2013 at 10:29 am

The tenant broke into their landlord’s home?! Whoa. That’s scary. And mind-blowing.

Reply

Shaun June 7, 2013 at 7:21 pm

Like Matthew said why would you ever give a tenant your home address?
PO Box is a no brainer if you don’t have an office.
If you want a street address I think most post offices offer them with a St address. You can definitely get ones at private companies like mailboxes ect and that kind of place.
I’m sure this is very rare but it is an unnecessary risk to take.

Reply

Mathew Wray June 7, 2013 at 11:49 am

That’s why I use a PO Box! The other side of that is, if you don’t trust your tenants why did you rent to them in the first place? But I digress…as an up and coming property manager I’ve been trying to find ways to expand on my business and have other options to offer owners. I think billing myself as an interim manager would be a great way to get myself visibility and be a “trial period” for some owners. Thanks for the idea (and happy traveling)!

Reply

Jonna Weber June 9, 2013 at 12:48 pm

Hi Paula – great reminders. I am looking for a person like this myself for some upcoming travel. I was just wondering how you handle what you pay the interim property manager? Do you pay them per incident they need to handle, or a flat fee for just being on call during the time period? Thanks!

Reply

Paula Pant June 10, 2013 at 9:08 am

@Jonna — Great question. I pay him a flat fee for being on call. I’ve also never left in the middle of a major tenant dispute (e.g. I’ve never left in the middle of an eviction), so the most that he’s ever had to do was field a phone call or two, coordinate with a handyman, etc.

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Paul June 13, 2013 at 1:19 pm

Before I owned any rental properties I used to go on 2-3 international trips per year. Now that I own/manage 20 properties (and now have a 1 year old) my travel has decreased dramatically. I left on vacation this past February (to a small Island in Panama) and gave all my tenants the contact information for my maintenance guy. Everything worked out okay but I did have a bit of a difficult time letting go while I was on vacation. If I had someone I felt very comfortable with it would make it much easier to leave AND enjoy my time away.

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Julie August 31, 2014 at 8:12 pm

I own five rental properties and would like to manage more. I think this is a terrific service for landlords. Can you please provide more details on the payment/fee structure? Do you pay a flat fee, if so how much? Do you pay any additional fees if there’s a major issue?

Reply

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