5 Easy Landlord Tips You Probably Aren’t Following (Including the One I Failed At Last Month)

by | BiggerPockets.com

I call it my “Hell Month.”

I’ve just had the worst month as a landlord since I began leasing property almost seven years ago. I can’t explain exactly why – but I suppose it was due. After almost a year of minimal vacancies, no trouble, and no major repairs, I was suddenly hit with my first big eviction, 5 vacancies, 3 full unit turnovers, and a partridge in a pear tree.

So this list of five easy landlord tips is based on the lesson’s I’ve learned over this past month. The first four I feel I did a good job at, and it made the last few months not as bad as they could have been. However, the 5th tip, I failed miserably at.

Be sure to leave me a comment at the bottom and let me know which tip you haven’t been doing – or any other tips you can add to help others!

Alright, here we go…

5.) Hire Someone to Help You

If you are trying to do everything yourself – give yourself a small break. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to go out and hire a full time property manager, but perhaps simply start hiring people to do small tasks for you that you really don’t want to do. It’s not that you are too good for the work, and it’s not that you can’t do it… it’s because someday you won’t want to do it all, and by that time, it might be too late.

For example, if you never hire a maintenance guy because you can do all your own work – what happens when you are driving to the airport for that trip to Europe you’ve been dreaming about and suddenly your tenant calls with a problem that needs immediate attention? By hiring people now on a small scale, you can begin finding dependable help for the future.

4.) Store Up Reserves for Your Next “Hell Month”

This past “Hell Month” was not some freak, once in a lifetime event. It happens to all landlords at some points in their life (probably multiple times,) so don’t think it won’t happen to you. While it’s easy, on paper, to allocate 5% or so of your income toward repairs, those repairs don’t come at you in nice, even monthly intervals- that’s why they are called averages. If your rental business is anything like mine, your monthly allocation toward repairs probably looks more like this:

  • January: 3%
  • February: 1.5%
  • March: 2%
  • April: 0%
  • May: 0%
  • June: .5%
  • July: 0%
  • August: 33%

(For those math nerds out there- yes, that does give an average of 5%!)

If during the soft months I had simply kept all that cash flow and thought “yay! Another great month! More Starbucks for me!” – I would have been in some serious trouble in August. However, by building up significant financial reserves, you can weather the larger “Hell Months” that will happen.

3.) Set Up Your Google Voice Account

If your tenants are still calling your personal cell phone, you are missing out on one of the best tools for a landlord – and it’s 100% free: Google Voice.  Google Voice is a free service that gives you a phone number that can be easily set up to ring your own phone, or any phone you set up to take calls – and the tenant won’t know the difference. This is especially helpful for those times when you don’t want to, or can’t, answer the phone. Set up a schedule so it rings your phone at certain times, your spouse’s at other times, and goes to an answering message during dinner!

I recently hired my mother-in-law to answer phones for our rental business. It’s not a large inconvenience to her, but it frees up so much stress and time for me. She simply takes messages, deals with easy-to-fix problems, and communicates with me when the problem is more serious.  This is also extremely helpful when you want to take a vacation – and actually relax.

So go get your Google Voice number today and give it to all your tenants.

2.) Communicate Often With Your Tenants

Most tenants don’t know what in the world we are thinking – and as a result: drama happens!  I know a lot of landlords are afraid to call their tenants because they are worried about the list of repairs the tenant wants done, but those repairs wouldn’t pile up with more frequent communication between your tenant and yourself.   Let your tenant know about repairs or improvements you plan on doing to the property, upcoming changes in their lease, important safety tips they should be aware of, or local events that might be happening.

A newsletter is a great way to keep communication open between yourself and your tenants, especially if you have a large number of tenants. It doesn’t have to be fancy either – just a simple Word document with some tips can go a loooooong way.

Also, if you find yourself too busy to keep up with your tenants – outsource that (see #5 above) to someone who can do it. Trust me – it will save you a lot of drama in the long run!

1.) Get Written Bids from All Contractors

Okay, here’s the easy, simple tip that I know is important, but still failed to follow through with last month – and it hurts.  As I mentioned, I had several rental units that all needed to be turned over at once, so I hired my most reliable contractor to get to work on the needed items. Because of all the different projects I had going on at once, I just kept writing checks and assumed everything would be fine.  The problem was, however, that without a written bid, I just kept saying “yes” when the contractor called to find out if I wanted to have certain tasks done.

  • “Sure, go ahead and replace the shower walls.”
  • “Sure, go ahead and remove that window.”
  • “Sure, we need better range vent hood – the old one is ugly.”

However, when the bill came I was blown away with the amount – but it wasn’t my contractor’s fault – it was mine. My contractor didn’t charge me for anything that I didn’t agree to do – but I wasn’t keeping good enough track of the costs as we moved forward. I ended up spending double what I should have spent, and many of the things simply didn’t need to be done.

Instead, I should have created a plan of exactly what needed to be completed and received a bid before the work started. At that point, I could have made more informed decisions as to what was necessary and what could wait until I wasn’t in “Hell Month.”  Instead, I’m cringing as my hard-saved repair reserves go out the window entirely.

Next time, I’m getting a written bid ahead of time.  


So- now you know my story of Hell Month. Have you faced a similar month? Are you going through one right now?

Hopefully these five tips can help you in your rental business! So, to return the favor, do me a quick favor and leave me a comment below and let me know which of the five you don’t do yet, or leave a comment with some other easy tips that you think people can benefit from!

Also – don’t forget to share this on your Facebook, Twitter, G+, LinkedIn, or whatever!

Photo: Lolly man

About Author

Brandon Turner

Brandon Turner is an active real estate investor, entrepreneur, writer, and co-host of the BiggerPockets Podcast. He began buying rental properties and flipping houses at age 21, discovering he didn’t need to work 40 years at a corporate job to have “the good life.” Today, with nearly 100 rental units and dozens of rehabs under his belt, he continues to invest in real estate while also showing others the power, and impact, of financial freedom. His writings have been featured on Forbes.com, Entrepreneur.com, FoxNews.com, Money Magazine, and numerous other publications across the web and in print media. He is the author of The Book on Investing in Real Estate with No (and Low) Money Down, The Book on Rental Property Investing, and co-author of The Book on Managing Rental Properties, which he wrote alongside his wife, Heather, and How to Invest in Real Estate, which he wrote alongside Joshua Dorkin. A life-long adventurer, Brandon (along with Heather and daughter Rosie) splits his time between his home in Washington State and various destinations around the globe.


  1. Brandon just be glad this large turnover happened In August/ September and NOT at the holidays. That can be your silver lining. Around the holidays toward the end of the year nobody wants to move. You get a bunch of deadbeats to chose from and an occasionally good tenant that is transferring and have to offer move in specials to get them filled.

    I am glad I do not have my apartments anymore. I would only do it with 50 units or more again and a full time PM and maintenance person. I would factor in costs for structure of a system where I am hands off plus unlike other investors I keep rents below market.

    If you push rents on the high end any hint of trouble financially a tenant jumps ship. Reducing turnover is key. By always keeping slightly below market you retain long term tenants. You raise just enough for them to complain but not to leave to another alternative. It’s an art form mixed in with some science. I really believe a PM company is worth their weight in gold.

    • I actually found it was EASIER to rent in the winter versus the summer, mainly because MOST landlords weren’t renting out places in the winter. So when people needed to move, there were LESS places to move to. My rental became more attractive because it was really nice (all mine are) and available when others weren’t.

  2. Sharon Vornholt

    Brandon – Sorry about your month.

    Your last tip also applies to rehabs. That final bill can get really “surprising” if you haven’t gotten prices for each change. Everyone should fill out and sign off on a “change order” each time there is a change in the scope of the work for the rehab. Those can then be entered into a spreadsheet so you always know your numbers.

    One thing a lot of my landlord friends do is to not have any leases expire between October and January. They will do specials for leases that are longer such as 15-16 month leases which happen to originate in those months. These folks just don’t want vacant properties in those months that fall around the holidays.

    I hope September is a better month for you.


  3. Brandon,

    We just had a similar situation with our contractor. Our pm was set to handle the scope of work, except I kept adding to it. I nearly choked when I saw the bill. Thank god for reserve funds. One item I would add to your list is an upgrade fund. For instance, I am slowly changing out my carpet with vinyl wood. The turnover was a great time to do this, but rather then use my maintenance budget, I used my upgrade budget and knocked another upgrade off my long list.

    Another good post Brandon.


    • Hey Jason, thanks for commenting. Ironically, we actually just upgraded one of the units with that wood-vinyl stuff (I think the same stuff you are talking about.) It was a bit more spendy, but hopefully I’ll never need to do it again. Not sure it was the smartest move this time, now that I’ve drained my repair fund, but oh well 😉

    • Hey John – definitely try it. One other trick – you can port your other cell phone number INTO Google voice, so you don’t need to change phone numbers on your tenants. Then, you only have to carry around one phone and have one cell bill. I did just that!

  4. La Nae Duchesneau on

    I just found your blog today! So Glad. I really like what you have written, some I know and some I did not. I have been in the rental business for 13 years or so. I have a question for you and your readers. Do you still supply refrigerators and stoves? I have spent a small fortune on appliances the last two months and I was thinking of not supplying them. What are your thoughts on this?

    • I do supply aplliances. I find it is pretty much expected that I provide a refrigerator and stove. I provide a washer and dryer as well. I have a real easy time getting appliances on craigslist for a great price.

      • La Nae Duchesneau on

        I use craigs list as well but the last few fridges I bought have not worked and I got discouraged so I went to the used appliance store but they are more expensive. I used to supply Washer and Dryer and got more rent because of that. But sometimes, they took them when they left so I stopped that.
        I have some mobiles as well as houses and the mobiles have window AC units usually. I have been supplying them but am wondering if I should. They can walk out with those as well but that hasn’t been my experience as of yet.

  5. Stephanie Dupuis on

    Hey Brandon – Yup, you have company. Also having a hell month. Not quite like yours, but sending you sympathy and condolences. I wasted a month trying to do everything myself and finally hired a PM as well as maintenance guys when I realized all the time I would have back.

    The usual rental stuff was coupled with odd tenant applicants, a volatile market and we must remember our personal lives (I’m a personal representative for an estate – that can be time consuming and often needs your time when your units are vacant and I run a business as a j.o.b. – of course this got busy during this time).

    I initially listed a property at its usual rate (which ended up being $50+ below market) and was getting 20-30 calls/day from weirdos!! I tried not to laugh at times from some of the calls (when I’d ask how many ppl they planned to be in the rental, one lady said, “Myself, my momma, my boyfriend, my other boyfriend, my daughter, my daughter’s boyfriend, my daughter’s daughter (that’s how she said it)…” and some others. I stopped tallying. Wow. One nice clean cut guy brought his dog with him so I could check out the dog and it pooped on the floor!

    Was tough keeping up with the calls. So I raised prices (a lot). That helped. But…I hired out (one of many things I hired out on this month – I’m now following Chris Clothier’s advice from his podcast “hire right away”).

    Now back on track looking at properties this week. So…I failed to hire out fast enough. I hope I hired well with the property management. I sure did all the research and interviewing I could do. So…we’ll see. They never move as fast I do. I hustle my tail off. But, you gotta get help in order to grow or else it will crumble around you.

    • La Nae Duchesneau on

      I get those calls with the 12 people in one unit too! Ha.
      And the dog pooping while there, too funny…..
      I don’t use a PM, I do it myself but I have people I hire to do everything so it does not get overwhelming. The only thing I do is I clean the rentals so I can make a list of repairs for my handyman.

  6. I have stressed over communication in every aspect of my business so that takes care of a lot of it. I always try to get agood understanding of price for work done before anything. Usually it is written but sometimes not. I have not been bitten yet but I have also been very involved onsite while work is being done as I have my own tasks. I have had a crazy busy year. Switched jobs twice ( now back in a long term job until I go real estate fulltime at least), bought a new house for my family where we moved out of my first home beimg the lower of a duplex, the old place needed to be rented, refinanced 2 properties from land contract purchases, bought another single family house that needed extensive interior work which I was one daily for 31 days although I did hire out a couple jobs, new garage and driveway at my new house, lots of landscaping, new siding at my house, new large deck at my house and now turning over a unit that I asked the girl to leave which has been a ton of work ( just filthy, food on walls in all rooms they just never cleaned it seems), still have a couple projects to complete yet and this has also been during working 50+ hours a week at my day job. It is amazing how many days you can go on 4 hours of sleep if you are motivated enough, I was up 34 hours the other day.

    The one rule I do not follow is google voice. I can’t let a ringing phone go unanswered. I like to get issues taken care of immediately. When I work overnight at work I will still answer the phone while I am getting my 4-5 hours of sleep that day. I pride myself on that and the few times it has really been an inconvenience doesn’t outweight the benefits for me. My tenants or contractors like that I solve issues immediately and I like that I don’t have anything hanging to get back to later. It would be something to develope later when it becomes advantageous to do so. Great post and keep up the good work. I always look at it this way, it is way better to be busy than have nothing to do 😉

  7. I really feel for you Brandon, been there done that and NEVER gotten use to it. I don’t know if it’s me or my father Murphy but everything comes in 3’s. Such as vacancies, HWT’s, appliances, etc…. This month 3 vacancies plus clean up and repairs, one 12 square roof and it’s only September the sixth. I am #5, do all the repairs/remodeling, can not see $85-150 an hour for labor. Might have to buy more rentals just to keep up with inflation. The PM handles most of my headaches but not all. Being real estate rich and pocket poor doesn’t help me in my retirement, the next noise you hear is me hitting the fan!
    Brandon, you made my day. Thanks!!!!!!!

  8. That’s a bad month? What a cry-baby waw waw waw I want my mommy…

    Doing my 4th eviction in 6 months right now – inherited tenants; all of them. Turned over 7 units. 2 more leases coming up on move-out. Definitely gonna write an eBook about this when done. Title – Real Estate is Easy…

  9. Kasey Villareal on

    That’s funny Ben. BTW, learned a lot from your podcast with Brandon and Josh. Really liked it.
    Speaking of bad months, just got a call that one of my tenants is being physically abused by her boyfriend/husband (???). Pretty sure it’s true. Sticky. Any advice/experience with this one?

  10. Cheryl Carrier on

    Thanks Brandon, misery loves company! I am in the middle of evicting a hoarder. Oh, he was a wonderful tenant! 10 years and zero repair requests. I asked if he had any repair issues a few times a year – but did not inspect. The hot water heater went last month and that is when I (as well as the County Code Enforcement and Condo Management) discovered a situation that puts my tenant as a solid 6 on the hoarder scale. No wonder he didn’t call me 2yrs ago when his garbage disposal rusted out or 2 months ago when his hwh stopped working (according to the plumber’s assessment of the rusted coils). When the hwh collapsed onto itself I went over immediately. What didn’t I do? Inspect, inspect, inspect!

    My tenants call me when a light bulb is out (true!), so it’s hard to dream of a tenant living with cold water for weeks or months. He was never late and always very pleasant. Over the years, I have offered new paint and carpet, etc. He always said that he was fine. It is one of those stupid, lazy things that I did with this tenant/condo and it’s a full-blown nightmare. Allstate won’t cover the water damage and mold remediation due to the fact that I did not inspect and my tenant breached his lease in not timely informing me of needed repairs (the place smells strongly of mold and mildew and has some black mold – I have hired a licensed remediator). I’ve been talking about setting up a schedule for inspections for some time. I am doing that tomorrow. Now, I have had tenants stay 10-15yrs and not had anything out of the usual upon move-out. It’s best not to count on luck. btw – how often does everyone inspect? The crazy Allstate adjuster told me that landlords are REQUIRED to inspect every month or two or face denial of a claim due to failure to take necessary steps to protect their property. I am awaiting a copy of this language from the policy.

    • Crazy Cheryl! Sorry for the mess you are dealing with. That doesn’t sound cheap! And I can’t imagine that being true what the adjuster told you. I can imaging annual inspections being required, but not every few months. I think 6 months is probably about right.

  11. Enjoying your post Brandon. I have been in the rental business here in Texas since 1986. I completely feel your pain and have experienced most of those problems at one time or another. Summers get Hot! around here and each year its a roll of the dice on how many outside condensing units I will have to replace. Those central ac units can eat up your funds in a heartbeat among other things. I recommend home inspections every 6 months unless you have been on a repair to that unit and got to look it over. Some Tenants are just not very observant of problems with the rental and small problems unattended can lead to disasters later.

  12. I don’t always do the Communicate often with Tenants part. I know I have to, but sometimes get too busy and put it off. The next thing I know, it’s months since I’ve spoken to them. Thanks for the reminder.

  13. A long time ago I was told to use a dedicated cell phone for rentals so that’s what we do.

    We usually see the units at least once a year unless the tenants call us. (So far no major problems.) We do an interior and exterior inspection in spring when the lease is signed inside the unit. We also ask how things are going. Then we make up a repair list and work on the units over the summer and into the fall. (We send text messages letting the tenants know when we are coming, what work we are planning to do, and when it has been completed. Even though we have an old cell phone with just a number pad, texting is great!.) We talk to the tenants while working to make sure no further issues have come up.

    During October safety month we send out text message reminding them to check smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, furnace filters and turn on their furnace if they haven’t done so already. (We rent single family homes only.)

    I have access to maintenance people as I belong to several real estate groups and have friends who are also in this business.

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