Landlording & Rental Properties

After Only Buying Locally, I’m Managing Remotely for the First Time Ever: Here’s How

Expertise: Mortgages & Creative Financing, Personal Development, Landlording & Rental Properties, Personal Finance, Real Estate News & Commentary, Real Estate Deal Analysis & Advice, Real Estate Investing Basics, Business Management, Commercial Real Estate
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For as long as I’ve been involved with real estate investing, I’ve held a certain set of core beliefs, which included the following:

  1. The reason to pursue real estate in lieu of another investment vehicle is because of the investment controls real estate affords.
  2. With that being said, real estate investing is all local. Don’t buy a duplex 120 miles away from your house because you won’t be able to keep an eye on it, and you will nullify the very thing that makes real estate attractive — fast response time.

This is what I’ve believed, how I’ve invested, and what I’ve taught. “Buy locally” has been the motto.

At the moment I am in Arizona — 2,300 miles away from my portfolio in Ohio. Yep, this qualifies as somewhat long-distance. And yesterday, I was asked in a telephone conversation how I manage to do this. Let’s talk about this.

The Plan

To preface this conversation, let me just say that I am not sure if self-managing long-distance for a decade is either workable or palatable. Time will tell how I play this in the end, whether I sell out or hold on. But for now, things are working, and in this article, I will hit the highlights on what I do.


Related: Why It’s About to Become a LOT Easier to Invest From Afar in the Next 5-10 Years

The Team and More

The main difference between what I do and what most people do as it relates to long-distance ownership of property is that for me, before it was long distance, it was local. I built my systems, my management infrastructure, and my vendor relationships while I was there. Every facet of what happens on a daily basis in the life of an investment property has been practiced for a decade before long distance was attempted.

More importantly, I know my assets. I am not walking into new acquisitions long distance. The things I still own in Ohio are known commodity to me — the good, bad, and the ugly. This makes it infinitely easier to manage!

More importantly yet, I know the market intimately. I know where my assets are positioned within this market. This makes a huge difference!

Having said this, while I am a distance away, which ultimately means that I am long distance, I am not sure that this is the same kind of long distance that a guy or gal with too much loose cash from California is looking at when considering buying assets in the Midwest. But in case it might be helpful to know what I do and how, here we go.

Management System

One of the absolute key elements in being able to remove yourself from physical location is to centralize as many of the tasks in one electronic place as possible. My payment portal, rental applications, security deposits, and maintenance requests all come to me online via (to learn more about Buildium, click here). There are other services out there aside for Buildium; I just happened to use them. The cost is minimal, yet it allows me to keep my finger on the pulse happenings without being there physically.


Does Buildium Put Signs in the Yard?

Don’t be stupid! Buildium is a cloud software system. It doesn’t have arms and legs. It cannot go stick the “for rent” sign in the yard. For that — and many, many other things — I have my handyman. This is truly, more so than Buildium, where the rubber meets the road as it relates to me being able to run my portfolio long-distance.

The guy and I have been together for six years. He has never lied about anything, and I have no reason to think that he ever will. He is one of those uniquely capable people who are at once well-spoken and good communicators and can fix most anything that the tenants can break.

And anything he cannot fix, he is my point man to professionals.

The point I need to drive home to you is this: My relationship with my handyman took years to develop. We kissed a lot of frogs together. He’s seen me at my best and my worst. Is it possible that you can find someone you can trust on the first outing — sure, though you’d have to be the luckiest investor alive…


As I am writing this, there is a 31-square roof going onto one of my buildings, units are being scheduled to be sprayed for bugs, leaky faucet are being changed out, widow are being replaced, and some carpet is scheduled to be laid on Saturday. The roof, carpets, and extermination is being done by vendors I’ve used for 10 years.

This is so important — having vendor relationships is absolutely key. I have them, which makes long-distance management an option.


Related: 28 Smart Questions to Ask a Broker When Investigating Out-of-State Markets

What About a Property Manager?

I am on the record stating that unless you are dealing in the 100+ space, you cannot afford a PM. You just can’t afford to give up 10% of your top-line and expect to make any money.

Short of this, the only option is to self-manage. If you are local, it’s no big deal. Long distance, however, is problematic. Still, with the advent of Buildium, Apfolio, and others, it is more possible than ever to systematize rental ownership workflow.

And from here, it’s all about having the right people on the ground, and this is where I do not have any advice to offer. I am lucky in that I built those relationships while on the ground. While I think it’s possible to do it in other ways, I just don’t have anything to suggest.

Do you believe in remotely managing properties? What tools do you use to do so?

Let me know your thoughts with a comment.

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
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    Michael Walton Rental Property Investor from Tallahassee, FL
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    As always, good stuff Ben. What do you do about potential tenants wanting to view a vacant unit? Do you have a particular vendor that handles that remotely? Also, how do you handle unit move-outs remotely (handing over keys, inspecting the unit to see what needs are to make rent ready, taking pictures of any damage to the unit, etc…)? Do you use vendors who specialize in unit turns, or do you simply utilize your handyman to do these things for you?
    Ben Leybovich Rental Property Investor from Chandler/Lima, Arizona/OH
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Thanks indeed for reading, Michael! To answer your questions: For showings, there are lock-boxes on the doors. People call, I give them the combination, and they let themselves in. My handyman changes the combinations as needed. Now – can you trust people not to fuck up your property? Yes – if you’ve bought the right property to begin with… My handyman handles all turns. I haven’t seen a turn in years. He knows what I like and why. He also knows where to improvise and where to spend my money. Equally important is the fact that he knows all of my tenants and they know them. If I hear about something, it’s because I should! And, he and I speak at the minimum once per day. Hope this helps!
    Michael Walton Rental Property Investor from Tallahassee, FL
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    It does – thanks again Ben.
    Kari Piecuch Property Manager from Mobile, AL
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Great article, as always! We all have different view points and I own/manage two fourplexes. One is in a B+ neighborhood, which I manage from 2,000 miles away using my cell phone, google drive, email, and vendors on the ground. The other fourplex is in a C neighborhood and focuses on renting to Section 8 tenants (I love Sect 8, but that’s another article) and I pay a management company 8% to manage that building – which cash flows fantastically and saves me a TON of time. That is to say that with less than 100 units, you can make money using professional management services 🙂
    Ben Leybovich Rental Property Investor from Chandler/Lima, Arizona/OH
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Haha Tou-che’! I like Sec 8 as well 🙂
    Pat Tibbetts Investor from San Antonio, Texas
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Good article Ben, thanks. All of our properties are long-distance, and have been for over 20 years. They’ve all been local purchases — as owner-occupied SF houses — but their conversion to rental properties has always been prompted by long-distance career moves. Every one of them has not only cash flowed, but appreciated. As you stated, success from a distance is definitely possible if you buy smartly and have a solid team. Good luck!
    Jonathan Cope Professional from Jersey City, New Jersey
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Sterling stuff, as always, Ben. We found managing rentals from overseas completely achievable from 2011 to 2015. My day job took us from NJ to the U.K. in 2011, so by necessity our local rentals, and primary residence, became distant units. We established a local Skype number with which our tenants could reach me regardless of my travels (e.g., Europe, Dubai, India, etc.) In concert with a quality plumber we replaced a water heater by email and with strong tenant relationships prepared our places to handle hurricane Sandy. Having sourced high quality tenants, and treating them as such, meant that any bumps in the road for us collectively were of little significance or concern. Now that we’re back in the States rentals management feels far less burdensome and as a result has encouraged us to do more to build our business(es) with the extra mind share. I expect many of us can achieve far more than we initially expect by taking thoughtful risks like the ones you’ve taken, Ben, by moving to AZ. Good luck with what’s next. Best regards, Jonathan
    Sheree Hsu
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Thanks for your article, Ben. It’s very timely for me, as I have an out-of-state move on the horizon and am considering the options for my portfolio. I believe the trustworthy, reliable, think-a-like handyman is key. How did you find and build this relationship with your handyman? Did you have to train him or develop his skills to this point? Is he also a real estate investor, with other demands on his time? “He knows what I like and why. He also knows where to improvise and where to spend my money.” That’s a dream of a handyman – in fact, better than most spouses!
    Sandeep Jain from Minneapolis, Minnesota
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Is there a lock which can be opened remotely and combinations can be changed from your smart phone ? I think , there should be one. Let me know if anyone has used it. I am working on deal in Chicago and leave in Minneapolis.
    Krista Walker from Cave Creek, Arizona
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Thanks for the article. This makes it difficult for newbies that might be priced out in their local area.
    Karl B. Rental Property Investor from Columbia, MO
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    I agree about no PMs. Despite being far away from most of my properties, I want to get large enough where I can hire someone to be my in-house PM. That way I know it will be run correctly. I know there are good PMs out there but they’re the minority.