How to Get 29 Rent Checks Out of 28 Units (A Case Study)

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Yep – for the last four months I’ve been getting 29 rents out of a 28-unit portfolio.  Here’s what happened:

The Call

I own a beat-up, white, 8-foot bed Dodge Ram pick-up truck.  I don’t drive it full time; in fact, most of the time the truck sits at the curb in front of my house.  I keep it around since it comes in handy when a stove or a refrigerator needs to be moved.

But, for some reason unknown to me, all of the best calls about the best opportunities seem to come in while I am in the truck.  It is virtually impossible to talk on the phone when I drive since every ding, rattle, and whistle known to mankind is present inside the cabin of this thing.  So – I inevitably excuse myself and take a few minutes to find a place to pull over.

This is what I did this past October when a call came-in while I was in-transit.  The gentleman on the other end introduced himself as a representative of a national relocation company which specializes in finding suitable living accommodations for national and international corporate transfers.  He explained that his company was engaged to source a 2/1 rental unit for three months for an international executive-level transfer that was coming to work for one of the main employers in Lima.  He said that the client was going to buy a home here, and the rental was only needed for a short time – would I be willing?

My Unit

At the time I had one vacancy.  This was a no frills duplex in a solid B Class residential area.  It had been vacated the week of by a nurse who had been with me for three years and got a great gig out of state – she left the place in perfect condition; all I did was order the carpets to be cleaned.

The unit is in a brick duplex; two bedrooms/1 bath on each side with a garage for both in the middle – very standard set-up.  The kitchen is equipped with a refrigerator, stove, and dishwasher, and there is a washer and dryer hook-up off the garage.  In terms of finishing surfaces, I use the same plush carpeting in a shade of beige, and matching rolled vinyl in the kitchen and bath in all of my units.  I also use the same paint scheme, which I cannot tell you since it is trade-mark.

Food for Thought:  Rents in Lima range from $375 to $1,200, and I like to operate in the $600-$700/month price-point for apartments and $700-$850/month for SFR.  Incidentally, in similar locations and quality of structures, I can get into apartments at no more than $45,000 all in, typically less, while singles would set me back about $60,000+, even if I were buying distressed.  Seeing that I am a cash flow investor, I don’t see paying $20,000+ extra in exchange for about $150/month of rent as a value proposition, which is one of many reasons why I choose to operate in the multi space…

Does this sound like your marketplace, or are things different where you are?

Related: Tips for Renting Property During the Slow Winter Months

Back to the Telephone Conversation

I asked him how he found me.  He said that he had spoken to every land-lord and broker listed in the yellow pages and nobody would entertain a three-month lease.  His last hope was and this is where he saw my listing – I had just placed the ad on the site the day prior.

I told him that I would not rent the unit for three months, unless he solved the problem that that I had.  I explained to him that I simply was not prepared to try and re-rent the unit in the middle of the winter (in retrospect, this was a good move considering the kind of winter we’ve had).  The conversation was taking place in October, with the client needing to move in November, which meant that a three-month lease would have left me vacant in February…

I could not agree to that knowing that I won’t have any trouble renting the units on a 12-month leasehold.  But, I told him that because I am a nice guy I would indeed rent the unit for 6 months – long enough the get it back on the other side of cold season.

Win – Win

Well – even though his back was to the wall with having to produce, he was not authorized to engage for 6 months while only needing 3.  He did, however, have a lot of latitude relative to the price-point, and this is the offer he made me:

“So – if we rent the unit for 3 months, but pay you for 6 months, you would be OK with that?”

My answer – how do I sign-up…?

Yes indeed – this company placed a high-ranking executive into a rental unit that I advertised on Craigslist at $625/month and paid me $1,250/month.  Furthermore, they asked and I agreed to extend 1 extra month, and thus for the past four months I’d been receiving 29 rents out of a 28 unit portfolio.

While the company is paid-up through the end of the month, the resident moved on to better and greener pastures 4 days ago, leaving the unit in perfect condition.  Having placed the ad on Craigslist I was able to re-rent the apartment in 1 day to a well-qualified person with leasehold starting on the 1st of the coming month for $700/month – 0% vacancy rate, and increase in rent from $625 to $700.  This unit generated 16 rents within a 12-month cycle…

A Couple of Teachable Moments

Apparently, this is a good time to be a landlord – who’d have thought…  There are lots of tenants out there looking for good product, which is driving rents up and vacancy down.

However, rents are not going up across the board.  A week ago I published an article entitled Newbies Take Note: Why You Shouldn’t Buy Houses for Under $30,000 which set off a firestorm of comments.  In that article, I made the point that aside from Cash Flow, there are many other value centers which exist in higher caliber properties that do not exist at the bottom of the market.  The current article showcases this reality…

I still own a few houses that I bought before I knew anything, and I keep them nice.  However, what they are and where they are is not conducive to either steady rent increases, or especially a scenario that I just described.  Sure – the corporate rental thing was pure luck; at the right place, at the right time kind of a thing.  And I realize that they agreed to it only because they were out of options and the unit was “nice enough” relative to location and structure.  But, there is no way in hell that they would have ever agreed to one of those junkers I’ve got, no matter how nice they looked, as an acceptable corporate rental – they would have placed the client in a hotel!

Related: How to Find Cheap Houses for Sale: 10 Tips for Smart House Shopping

For Your Information

I purchased this duplex in a package deal about 7 years ago.  The deal was creatively financed 100% (surprise, surprise).  My current equity position in this duplex is no less than 20%.  The rents in this duplex went from $550/month at the time of acquisition to now $700/month.

Throughout the years, I’ve creatively liquefied the equity in this building to bridge it into acquisition of more wonderful assets just like it that throw off cash flow and appreciate in value.  I plan on holding onto this building forever, or until someone offers me so much money that I’d be stupid to say no…


Success in investing is a function of options – pure and simple.  You should never place yourself in an environment whereby there is only 1 way to win.  It should never be – there is a way to win.  I should rather be – which way will I win first?

Having said this, relative to long-term rentals it is imprudent to own things that pigeon-hole you into one section of the market.

For most of us, therefore, it makes a lot of sense to own that which most people want and can afford.  Some of us want to be at the bottom of the market because it cash flows the best, while others want to be at the top because it’s clean and new.  There is a balance to be had:

  • Good locale, but not the best.
  • Higher rent, but not so high that most couldn’t afford it.
  • Not too old, but not too new.
  • Comfortably amenetized, but not every bell and whistle known to man.

Own that which people want and can afford, and in doing so you will find Cash Flow, Rent Growth, Value Appreciation, Financing Options, and a few nice surprises such as what I described in this article along the way.

Good Luck!

About Author

Ben Leybovich

Ben has been investing in multifamily residential real estate for over a decade. An expert in creative financing, he has been a guest on numerous real estate-related podcasts, including the BiggerPockets Podcast. He was also featured on the cover of REI Wealth Monthly and is a public speaker at events across the country. Most recently, he invested $20 million along with a partner into 215 units spread over two apartment communities in Phoenix. Ben is the creator of Cash Flow Freedom University and the author of House Hacking. Learn more about him at


  1. Congrats Ben –

    That was a really creative solution they offered. Every landlord should remember that. My daughter leases larger commercial spaces in addition to SFH homes and other commercial spaces. They often do really creative things.


  2. I can relate to your good fortune. My first rental had been my personal residence prior, and at some point it became vacant and I had a “For Rent” sign in the yard. One of my neighbor’s home burned down (very unfortunate), and their insurance company was looking for a place to house them for about a year as the claim was processed and the house rebuilt. Because the neighbor knew me, when he saw the for rent sign, he asked his insurance company if they could rent my house so his kids could stay in the neighborhood and schools.

    Well the offer they made me was astounding. Market rent at that time for a 3/1 SFH was $1700 (Calif)- they offered me $2500! So for about 14 months, I was making $800 extra on a property that already cash flowed – SCORE!! Boy was I sad when they left. Never could figure out how to become a regular on their list (and don’t think I didn’t try).

    Great article, Ben. I will be looking for Heaven on Earth multis when I get to Houston 🙂

  3. Sara Cunningham on

    Lucky you, great deal Another good article backing the case for MUltis leveraging economy of scale versus those junker houses as you like to call them. You asked about different markets. I have to say that I can’t imagine putting a corporate client in a duplex valued in the price range you talk about in my market. I own a duplex valued in that price range getting the same rent and having the same finishes and there is no way that any corporate client would want to stay there in my opinion. I worked in the corporate world for years and would expect to pay double that to purchase and then charge double the amount of rent for the appropriate location here. I need to come to your neck of the woods lol if a duplex good enough for a corporate client can be bought for that price. No wonder you are into Multi family.

    • Hey Sara!

      Mine was a bit of a better deal since it was a package deal. But, I sell my friends these duplexes for around $110,000 all day long. They rent for $600+/side and they are easy to maintain, which is why they hold their value through the years. Financed on a 30-year they CF well enough considering the hands-off nature of owning them without paying for management.

      Having said this, multi-units are just cheaper to buy – period. A C Class building will trade for $25,000 – $40,000/unit all-in in most parts of the country and bring-in $600+/month of rent. This is nothing out of ordinary – economies of scale! Guys are paying that in Texas, and I am looking in Ohio at the same price-point. It just makes sense…

      Thanks so much for commenting Sara!

  4. Sara Cunningham on

    Ben I am going to start seriously investigating the apartment route. I actually use PM s for all my places right now and know that one of them works in this area too. Happy hunting to me.

  5. Thanks Ben for another insightful article.

    As a real estate newbie it is good to hear multiple perspectives and successful real estate stories like this one.

    As an intellectual property attorney, I wanted to clarify a small phrase you used:

    “I also use the same paint scheme, which I cannot tell you since it is trade-mark.”

    Trademarks are for product association. A trademark is generally a word, phrase, symbol, or design, or a combination thereof, that
    identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. In your example, your paint scheme (a design) may identify you as a provider of rental units.

    Trademarks can be federally registered (ie. MARK®), state or municipality registered or unregistered (ie. TM or SM). Trademarks are public and are not kept confidential.

    You may have meant to say trade secret since trade secrets are kept confidential.

    I hope this helps and I look forward to more articles on real estate.


  6. Thank you for a good article and keep ’em coming. It has definitely opened my mind to include the ‘multi-family’ option in my master plan to take over the world! Lol.

  7. Ben,

    Great article, I often tell people that there is always some level of luck associatesd with being successful. People let fear consume them and they never get started, not knowing that you don’t have to know everything. I believe a lot of deals stall because some people are not using their creativity to solve problems. Nice way to hold firm and let corporate present you with an alternative. I’ve learned in every deal there is more than 1 way to remedy a situation.

    “Enjoying The Journey”

  8. Alan Mackenthun on

    It never hurts to talk to someone. Price is not the only thing people want out of a negotiation. If you can find someone who wants something that you don’t care about then you have a chance to get something from them while costing you little. In your case, they needed a place now for just 3-4 months. You didn’t want to risk having an empty unit in the middle of winter. You both won.

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