How to Be a Landlord: Top 12 Tips for Success
[Note from the editor: Dealing with tenants is kind of like knitting (stay with me here): It requires a lot of learning, some people will have no idea why you’re spending your time doing it, and it’s a lot easier if you have an expert around to help you avoid a big, tangled mess. This article was published a few years ago, and since then, we’ve grown significantly. We’re republishing these tips (plus two new ones!) today in hopes of helping out a few more landlords learning the ropes. Please leave your comments below!]
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Sometimes I don’t like tenants.
OK, that’s a lie. A lot of times I don’t like tenants. I’m sure individually those tenants are decent people. However, as a whole, I don’t always like tenants.
When I first wanted to enter real estate investing, I heard time and time again all the reasons why landlording is a terrible idea. I’m sure you’ve heard them, too:
- The tenant won’t pay rent
- The tenant will trash your house
- The tenant will make you go bankrupt
- The tenant will make you clean toilets at 2 am
- The tenant will drive you crazy
These generalizations are not unfounded. Many investors become landlords and quickly find they are overwhelmed by the amount of work it takes to manage tenants — especially in low-income areas or in multifamily properties (both which I own.) These landlords often find themselves burned out because they never learned how to be a landlord.
Over the past five years I’ve made a lot of mistakes, learned a lot of lessons, talked with a lot of other investors (both successful and not), spent a lot of time on the BiggerPockets Forums, and read an absurd amount of books. During this time I’ve learned a lot of “hacks” from these sources that have made landlording much easier to handle. I finally feel Like I know how to be a landlord – and can help others feel the same. Some of these might work wonders for you – others may not work at all. However, these are all tricks that have helped me manage dozens and dozens of properties and still love investing in real estate.
(Before we get too deep in this post, we want to invite you to download our book “The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Real Estate Investing” which will help you build a solid foundation for your financial future. In other words – you are going to learn exactly how to get started building wealth with real estate! To get the book, just click here and join BiggerPockets, the free real estate investing social network!)
Like a new puppy or a new employee, tenants need to be trained to act the way that fits your business model. Many of your tenants are coming from a background with terrible landlords who let them do whatever they want. Unless you want the same problem – you need to train your tenant to perform the way you want.
How to Be a Landlord: Top
10 12 Tips for Success
12.) Be Smart About Rent Collection
Are you still trekking around the city collecting rents from your tenants physically? Stop! Not only is showing up at your (potentially financially strapped and therefore stressed/angry) tenants’ doors possibly dangerous, but it’s incredibly tedious, time-consuming, and inefficient!
Instead, check out alternative options, from electronic pay systems to an ACH (automated clearing house) to withdraw money from the tenant’s bank account. Get more insight from this article.
11.) Start Adding Systems NOW
You’re just a “mom and pop” landlord looking to make a little side income, right? No need to hone your methods or organize paperwork.
WRONG. If your ultimate goal is to achieve more free time and not be tied to your day job (and yes, landlording can definitely be a demanding day job), you’ll do yourself a HUGE favor to start building systems now. That way, when you’re the proud owner of 10, 20, maybe even 50 rentals down the road, you’ll be able to step away seamlessly for that early retirement — and your business will still run like a well-oiled machine.
Learn more about building systems here!
10.) Be Knowledgable
To make landlording an easier task, you need to be well equipped to handle the problems that you will face. The best way to do this is through education. Books, courses, and mentors are all great ways to improve your abilities. When you have questions, don’t just shoot from the hip. Head over to the BiggerPockets Forums and ask your question in front of thousands of seasoned investors to learn what works and what doesn’t. Listen to podcasts, talk with other investors, and teach others what you know.
Education doesn’t end with high school or college — it simply becomes more important. (Click here to tweet this quote!)
9.) Create a Policy & Stick to it
If you are running your rental business off the top of your head, making up the rules as you go, you are opening yourself up for a lot of hassle. Tenants will know if you are making rules up on the spot (no, you cannot pay rent in quarters) so having a written policy — that your tenant has — will make life much easier. Rather than trying to explain why a certain action is not allowed, you simply can refer to the policy.
“I’m sorry Joe, our policy states that rent must be paid by a cashier’s check or money order.” People tend to not question “policy” even if you are the one who created that policy. Once that policy is created, don’t deviate from it.
8.) Quality Product = Quality Tenants
While this isn’t a hard and fast perfect rule, in general the quality of your tenant will depend largely on the quality of the home you are providing. I’m not suggesting that you offer granite counters in your Section 8 rental — but providing a better-than-average home you will set a standard for the kind of tenant you attract and keep. As a landlord, your product is not only the rental itself. Your business is part of the product, and the way you run your business will affect how your tenant views your product. Fix repairs promptly (hire it or not), maintain strict professionalism, and stay organized.
7.) Set Office Hours
Do you want to fix repairs at 10:00 at night? How about receiving phone calls at 6:00 a.m.? As a landlord, you get to set your own hours. I publicly let all my tenants know that I am only available between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. on weekdays. Of course, I have a cell phone that will ring any time. Tenants don’t need to know that, though. When they do call outside of office hours, I will always let the call go to voicemail. If it’s important, they’ll leave a message. If not, it probably wasn’t important. The main exception to this policy is when trying to show a unit. I try to answer calls any time, but that’s up to you.
6.) Get a Google Voice Number
A neat tip you can also try relating to the previous tip is to sign up for a free Google Voice account, which supplies you with a phone number that is forwarded to your own cell phone. Give all your tenants this number and set up a business voicemail on that line. All business related calls go to that number but your phone (or multiple different phones) will ring and can be answered.
On our “business voicemail” line, I include my personal cell phone number for “emergencies only” but have never had a problem with tenants abusing this. By having a Google Voice number, you can set a schedule of when the phone will ring and when you want it to simply go to voicemail.
5.) Know When to Outsource
Many repairs can be easily fixed. Many more cannot. If you are extremely handy with construction and tools you may be tempted to do all the repairs yourself. While this might be a good idea — it also may not. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. In order to be a successful landlord, you need to balance cost savings with enjoyment. If you hate fixing things, don’t fix things. Hire it out. There are too many ways to make money in this world than to be trapped doing something you hate.
4.) Be Organized
Have all the forms you need organized neatly in your file cabinet, have your procedure written down for all common problems (vacancies, repairs, etc.), and keep your maintenance contacts organized neatly for easy retrieval. Keep current with your accounting. Have a clean office. These and many other organization tools may seem small and trivial, but they are one of the most important ways you can keep your business a business that succeeds. Don’t underestimate organization.
3.) Always Charge a Late Fee
It may seem cruel, but I always charge a late fee — and I make it known ahead of time about this policy. I don’t know how many times I’ve had a tenant call with a claim of not being able to pay the rent on time but as soon as they discover I’m going to charge them a late fee — somehow they always seem to find the money.
Most tenants make a lot more money than just what rent is — but not enough money to live each month. As such, they must constantly prioritize what gets paid and what doesn’t. By being strict with late payments, you place “rent” higher on the priority scale than other obligations. Additionally, the extra income when rent is late is a nice compensation for the stress of not getting rent on time.
2.) No Family/Friends
Not a month goes by that I don’t get a call from a friend or family member asking if I have any place available for rent. My answer is always the same: no. As part of my “Seven Deadly Sins of Real Estate Investing,” renting to family or friends is one of the most common but most disastrous mistakes many new landlords make. I didn’t know this when I first began and rented to several close friends and even some family — each time I was faced with a choice: Get screwed over or lose the relationship. Every time I chose to get screwed over in order to preserve the relationship. I finally had enough and “put it in the policy.” No more stress from those relationships.
#1.) Don’t Be The Owner
Finally, my number one tip for being a successful landlord: don’t be the owner. This is especially true for those of you who, like me, are peacemakers and non-confrontational. As a landlord, you are going to face a lot of tough decisions and awkward conversations. When you are the owner, the blame is on you, and as a result, you will often make decisions based on convenience rather than common sense. (After all, you better not be the owner. The owner should be a business entity that you set up with your attorney.)
Instead, from this moment on, you are no longer the owner. You are simply the property manager.
“I can’t move my 200 pound dog into this studio apartment!?”
“No, I’m sorry — the owner doesn’t allow dogs here.”
Additionally, you can tell the tenant “I need to talk to the owner about this” to buy yourself time to think about odd requests. Instead of the tenant being upset with you, they are now upset with the mysterious “owner.” Feel free to play this up all you want:
Me: “Sorry, I tried talking the owner into it, but he is a stickler for the rules.”
Tenant: “Ugh, I hate that guy.”
Me: “Yeah, me too…”
What About You?
That’s all I got for now! I hope you enjoyed my tips. Each of these tips have become a huge partner with me to make landlording much less of a headache than it is for others.
What are your favorite tips on how to be a landlord? Or which is your favorite tip from above? Leave me a comment below!
Also, if you found this article helpful – please do me a favor and share this article on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, or any other social network you use!
Photo: Amanda Yepiz