6 Common Mistakes Landlords Make When Budgeting & Monitoring P&L

by | BiggerPockets.com

Most landlords spend all their time dealing with tenant complaints, city inspections, putting out fires (hopefully not literally!), shuffling tons of paperwork and a slew of urgent matters.

There’s also an incredibly tedious side to property management that many never find the time to address. It’s tedious, but it’s absolutely no less critical to the job than averting disaster and discerning bad apples. Let’s call it Financial Management, and it should be no surprise to anyone that it’s very easy to ignore it, which can eventually lead to financial ruin. Many landlords are so buried in the day-to-day struggle of property management that they don’t even know if they’re really making money or slowly sinking.

Let’s look at some common mistakes that affect proper Financial Management.

6 Common Mistakes Landlords Make When Budgeting & Monitoring P&L

Not Keeping Meticulous Records

Record-keeping is one of the most annoying and necessary parts of watching your costs. Every penny collected or spent affects your bottom line. The challenge is tracking your income and expenses such that you can use the data to know where you are financially now and can budget for the future.

Related: 6 Common Mistakes Landlords Make During Rent Collection & Evictions

Mixing Funds

It seems a lot of landlords mix security deposit funds with tenant rent payments and use the deposits to run their business. We’ve been hired by DIY landlords who didn’t have the liquidity to transfer the proper security deposits amounts to us because they had spent the funds. Even scarier, we’ve encountered the same problem when taking over properties from competitors. If you have to use security deposits to stay afloat, something is wrong somewhere. Do you really know where the problem is and do you have a solution?

Not Having A Budget

It’s amazing how many landlords create spreadsheets with all kinds of numbers when buying a property, but then “wing it” thereafter. Landlords get frustrated with tenants who live paycheck-to-paycheck, but actually do no better themselves. It can be difficult to create a budget when you initially purchase a property, as there are all kinds of surprise expenses and events. After that first year, though, you should have enough data to put together a budget going forward.

Just Copying Last Year’s Budget

Last year’s budget is a decent place to start this year’s budget from — but every year is different. You probably had some expenses last year that you won’t have this year, and there are probably some projects you intend to do this year that weren’t on the table last year. Copying the format of a previous budget isn’t a bad starting place, but don’t ever just blindly assume that the same numbers and the same assumptions are going to serve you as well this year as they did last year.

Related: 4 Common Maintenance & Repair Mistakes Property Managers Make

Lacking Profit & Loss Statements

Most landlords think they know how much they’re making or losing on their properties, but really don’t know until they do their taxes and look at their Schedule E. A business that only looks at their P&L once a year usually doesn’t last long, as they can’t see a problem to fix it until it may be too late. Even if you keep meticulous records and have a budget, they’re useless unless you have a system in place that can generate at least a quarterly P&L statement so you know where you are financially.

Not Reviewing Your Expenses

Building a relationship with a vendor — like a plumber, electrician, handyman and so on — is generally a good idea for any business that intends to stay in business. At the same time, powerful market forces encourage competition between vendors, and sometimes switching can save you an impressive amount of money. Putting in the work to review your options once a year can be well worth your while. The same goes for professional services like attorneys and accountants. Lastly, don’t forget supply expenses like printer ink and paper. We saved a decent amount of money when we switched from buying new ink cartridges to refilled ones.

Thanks for sticking with us for all of these posts; it’s been a fun little jaunt down Colossal Screwup Boulevard. Hopefully you’ve learned about a few things that you should be keeping in mind — and hopefully you won’t make any of these mistakes going forward.

Good luck! Readers: What would you add to my list of common landlording mistakes?

Don’t forget to leave your stories, tips and commentary below!

About Author

Drew Sygit

While in the mortgage business, Drew rose to a VP position at the first broker he worked for and then started his own company. In the pursuit of excellence, he obtained several mortgage designations and joined mortgage & several affiliate association Boards. He also did WebX presentations and public speaking. It was during this time he started personally investing in single-family rentals, leading him to also start Royal Rose Property Management with two partners. He also joined the Board of a local real estate investors association, eventually becoming its President. The real estate crash led to an offer from the banking industry to manage a Michigan bank’s failed bank assets they acquired from the FDIC. The bank acquired four failed banks from the FDIC, increasing from $100M in assets to over $2B while he was there. After that, he took over as President of Royal Rose Property Management. Today, he speaks at national property management conventions and does WebX presentations.


  1. Jeff Arndt

    Hey great article! Unfortunately I suffer from problem #2, mixing funds. I’ve made it a goal for 2015 to separate them ASAP.

    I think a common P&L mistake is using financial spreadsheets that aren’t accurate. I used spreadsheets for a while to track expenses and when I would compare them to my bank statements they would never match up. This was tricky in the past because I lived in one of the units of my triplex and had to pay some of the mortgage with personal funds. I recommend to others out there that “house hack” to create a second bank account for property expenses only. Then, take money out of your personal account and pay “rent” to the rental property account. This way you can get a very clear picture of how the asset is truly performing.

    So to review you would need at minimum of three accounts:
    -Personal account
    -Rent collection and expense account
    -Security deposit and reserves account (I’m still working on this one…)

    • Drew Sygit

      JEFF: great additional info, thanks! Property managers managing their own rentals AND rentals for others, should take your advice and treat their own rentals just like the ones they manage for others. Otherwise, bookkeeping get very messy, very quickly:)

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