How do those self managing landlords handle affairs when unavailable?

8 Replies

I self manage my properties and this summer I am planning a month long vacation out of the country.

I will be traveling to several countries, with a time difference of 4, 12, 14 hours from my home.  For six days I would be on a boat in the Pacific and I believe there is internet but no idea if it's costly.

I will still have access to email, but not all the time.

My phone number won't work outside of the US.  I will be getting a local SIM card to use while I am in that country, but I don't any of my tenants would want to call (and pay for) long distance international to discuss things.

If nothing happens during my time away, fine, but that's unlikely.

So there are two issues.  One issue is communication and the other issue is resolving problems that can't wait till I get back.

I am thinking the communication aspect I am thinking to use Google Voice, whatsapp or email depending on the level of urgency.  GV has the ability to transcribe voice mail and text to my email.  I can reply to text from anywhere with a web browser even though my phone is not available.

However if there is an issue that needs to be resolved immediately how do you all address it?

Do you delegate a contractor, a friend for them to contact and leave all the decision making to that person?

Do you provide a list of your regular subs - HVAC, plumbing, electrical etc...contact information to your tenants and ask they only use it when absolutely necessary?  I don't think this is a good idea.

Or something else?

@Sam Leon , congratulations on the nice vacation.  

Let me first offer the disclaimer that I haven't actually had to be away for an extended period of time, so my plan has not been tested.  Okay, that's out of the way.

I'm always on the look out for someone to pitch in when I finally get away for an extended period of time.  One guy I think I've found for the task is the plumber I currently use.  First, he does great work as a plumber.  Second, he can do more than just plumbing, such as some light carpentry work and such.  Third, he handles a couple of properties for an aunt of his, mostly collecting the rent and being Mr Fix-it when the tenants call his aunt with a problem.  Fourth, as I've worked with him more and more, I have developed a real trust in him.  

Those four things pretty much make my choice kind of simple for me.  There is the additional point that over the past couple of years, he has gotten to know me enough to know how I like things done.  Also, he's met some of the other guys who work on my properties, and he'd be able to call any of them to handle anything in their areas of specialties.

I haven't talked to him yet about my plans to use him in this capacity, but aside from him maybe taking vacation for a few days during the same time I might be away, I don't foresee any problem.  I'll probably offer him something like $100-$150 as an upfront on-call fee, and pay him when I return for whatever he has to actually do while I'm gone. 

Hopefully, you have a similar type person in mind you might be able to ask.  I would not give my tenants a list of service people to call.  A tenant's idea of "emergency" and "cost effective" is always different than a landlord's idea of same.

Good luck in your travels and in your REI

We only manage 2 ourselves, and when we're out of the country or on vacation where cell phones don't work well, we ask a family member to take the calls and give the tenants their number.  We then give our family member keys, numbers for the plumber, electrician, handyman, etc., and tell them to contact us by email, then check our email when we can.  If we don't answer quickly or it's an emergency, they just call one of the workmen.  This worked well when a water heater went out and we didn't have internet access at the time.  But our repair guys are okay with scheduling appointments with the tenant then billing us, so you have to have that in place, too.  If you don't have a family member willing to do it, maybe a friend that you can do something nice for in return?   It's weird how nothing will be wrong for the entire year, but the second you leave the country or go camping where there is no cell signal, problems pop up.  

I manage quite a few units (over 20) and this past December I went out of town for a couple weeks.  Unlike you I was not in another country but a slightly different time zone (-2 hours).  I handled things via text and phone call.  Not much really came up.

I did 2 weeks in Vietnam in 2013. I gave my handyman $100 and told him to answer the phone and work with my HVAC guy if needed. The tenants all got a flier asking them to call my handyman if something came up as I would be "visiting relatives "

My contractor manages all our FL tenant calls for us when we're out of the country, and I tell the tenants in advance to hold off on anything that isn't an emergency until we get back. So far they've been good about what's considered an emergency ;) 

A friend in NJ, who is also a handyman, can take care of non-emergency things as well. The NJ tenants know our plumber and since it's not winter, there shouldn't be any boiler/furnace issues. Having a team in place is critical if you don't want to spend your vacation worrying or braced for an emergency call/email.

I like Randy E.'s suggestion of an up-front fee for someone to field all calls for that length of time.

Have a team - handyman, plumber, roofer that can communicate with you via phone and/or email. Continue to be the point of contact with tenants while away. Most issues are not emergencies. As long as you communicate with tenants in a timely fashion you will be fine.
Originally posted by @Sam Leon :

I self manage my properties and this summer I am planning a month long vacation out of the country.

I will be traveling to several countries, with a time difference of 4, 12, 14 hours from my home.  For six days I would be on a boat in the Pacific and I believe there is internet but no idea if it's costly.

I will still have access to email, but not all the time.

My phone number won't work outside of the US.  I will be getting a local SIM card to use while I am in that country, but I don't any of my tenants would want to call (and pay for) long distance international to discuss things.

If nothing happens during my time away, fine, but that's unlikely.

So there are two issues.  One issue is communication and the other issue is resolving problems that can't wait till I get back.

I am thinking the communication aspect I am thinking to use Google Voice, whatsapp or email depending on the level of urgency.  GV has the ability to transcribe voice mail and text to my email.  I can reply to text from anywhere with a web browser even though my phone is not available.

However if there is an issue that needs to be resolved immediately how do you all address it?

Do you delegate a contractor, a friend for them to contact and leave all the decision making to that person?

Do you provide a list of your regular subs - HVAC, plumbing, electrical etc...contact information to your tenants and ask they only use it when absolutely necessary?  I don't think this is a good idea.

Or something else?

 First of all, you won't be held liable for anything unless it's a habitability issue that you didn't take care of within a "reasonable time."  Which basically means, even in the worst case scenario, you should have at least 48 hours to deal with a problem.  And that would mean you then calling someone to deal with it as soon as they can.

Remember, that renter's insurance takes care of a tenant's loss of use, as well as their belongings.  Your biggest cost, as long as you act reasonably, would be a rent abatement for days your tenant can't use a property.  Which is based on their daily rate for renting your place.

And tenants are all capable of dialing 911, if their place is on fire or flooding.

So, what I'm saying is, I wouldn't even tell the tenants that you will be on vacation, as long as they all have your phone number and email address.  If you tell them, they'll be higher maintenance than if they had no idea you might not be available for a couple days here and there.

How do I know this?  The hard way, of course.  

OMG did we make a mistake several years ago. We left our handy woman in charge and went on a cruise.

Everything to that point had been good with her, but I reckon the moment the phone signal went dead, she got blindingly drunk and then proceeded to harass every single tenant. Thankfully I left the keys with our realtor (the sanity checker in all this). The tenants thankfully viewed this more as entertainment than anything particularly bad.

At some point she called our realtor who went out to find out what was going on at one of the properties. Apparently our plumber was ready to put the handy woman in the ground, the handy woman was drunk as a skunk and had signed paperwork with the local gas company to replace all the gas piping, $4k, and it went on and on.

When I got home we had to apologize to nearly every tenant, fired the handy woman, who promptly smacked a pregnant woman (not our tenant) when she got home after being fired and ended up in jail for 39 days.

Anyway, have a nice holiday!

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