What are your best "hacks" as a landlord?

17 Replies

        I've owned rental property for over a decade, and have learned some tips and tricks from experience, forums, books, and friends.  I no longer manage my own properties.  I've hired a property management company, and just review their reports every month. I figured I would share some of the lessons I've learned here, and see what kind of "tricks" or "hacks" other people want to share.

        • Tenants pay their rent at the bank - they can deposit it 24 hrs a day in person, either at the teller or through the night depository, or they can mail it to the bank.  This isn't available at every bank, but I made it one of my qualifying questions when I was shopping for a bank years ago.  
          • If I'm out of town, the rent is still deposited. 
          • Tenants don't ask me to come get it because they don't have stamps, or tell me they stopped by and put it in my mailbox.
          • I can see when they paid their rent, and can use my bank statements as legal proof if needed.
        • I have a google number that I give to tenants
          • It rings to my cellphone, so I get the call wherever I am
          • It's free
          • I can set it up to go straight to voicemail during non-business hours
        • I schedule inspections every 9 months
          • I see the condition of the property every year
          • Each year, I'm viewing it in a different season
        • Every property is within a short drive (5-10 minutes for me) - when I started buying properties, I wanted to learn my market well before expanding.
          • When I was managing my own properties, I didn't want a long drive to deter me from responding to a maintenance call.
          • I drive by every property at least once a month to see the condition from the outside.
          • I really know the market rents, the neighbors, building codes and laws without a lot of effort.
        • I automate whenever possible.
          • When I managed my own properties, I setup google forms so tenant information was pulled from their application into the lease, it asked me a few questions, and I could print the lease with the tenant information filled in instead of filling in blanks by hand.
          • I can forward the google phone number to my handman when I go on vacation.
          • Quickbooks pulled the information from my bank so I was just verifying rent income and expenses, rather than having to manually enter it.
          • I have accounts setup at the hardware store and other supply vendors, and have them send copies of receipts with their monthly statements. No more lost receipts!
        • I read every word of the lease to the tenant when we're signing the lease, and walk them through and show them the smoke detectors, water shutoffs, breaker panel, gas valves, window locks, how to use the washer and dryer, how to clean a lint trap, etc.
          • They can't say "I didn't know that was in the lease" - I read it to them!
          • I think that showing them these things helps them to better take care of the property, and helps to reduce potential damage if a pipe breaks
        • I schedule showings 15 minutes apart
          • I waste less time driving to and from the property, and between applicants
          • They see other applicants arriving or leaving, so they know there are others interested
        • I ask them to call to confirm at a specific time a few hours before their appointment
          • I don't have as many no-shows (believe it or not, there are still no-shows even when they called 1/2 hour earlier to confirm)
        • I print our standards on the application (600 min credit score, 3x rent as income, no smokers, we do background checks, etc)
          • Allows applicants to decide if they want to weed themselves out
        • I encourage applicants to take the application home to fill it out
          • I offer to pick it up at their home so I can see how they live
          • It requires them to follow up and return it if they're interested, so I don't have to screen through people who apply everywhere with the shotgun approach
          • If they insist on filling it out on the spot, I call to confirm a fact from their application before further screening to make sure they're still interested
        • When they turn in their application, I tell them I'll be conducting background checks and ask if they have any surprises I'll hear about that they want to discuss.
          • They've often told me about things that didn't appear on the report
          • They've asked for the application back, said they wouldn't qualify if I'm going to do a background check
        • All of my units have pass-through knobs and deadbolts
          • The tenant has to actively lock the door behind them
          • They can't lock themselves out by pulling the door shut behind themselves
        • All of my units have been changed over to a master key system
          • I have one key that unlocks every door that I own, including padlocks
          • Instead of replacing the whole deadbolt, I can swap out the core in 30 seconds
          • No more softball of keys
          • I have a lock core in a different color that I can put on vacant units that are being worked on so I can give contractors a key
        • I have a standard set of 4 colors that I paint every unit
          • It makes it feel more like home if the walls aren't stark white
          • It doesn't cost anything extra to paint rooms different colors
          • They're all earth tone colors that go with any furniture
          • When tenants ask if they can paint their unit, I tell them yes, but here are my standard colors
        • I've eliminated carpet - I use tile, snap-together vinyl laminate, concrete, hardwood (if it's existing) or linoleum (rarely)
          • Tenant can bring their own throw rugs if they want
          • Reduces allergens
          • Easier to clean
          • I don't use the old snap-together pressboard laminate that would curl up with moisture
        • I pay contractors as soon as I receive an invoice and I know the work is done to my satisfaction
          • Contractors don't want to chase down customers any more than we want to chase down tenants
          • I get a quick response in an emergency because they know I'm going to pay right away
        • I never say "no" - I always give them an option of how to get it done
          • Pets are okay, but there's a monthly fee
          • If a pet is sneaked in, there's a fine plus the monthly fee
          • If a pet is deemed dangerous to the property or neighbors, they can get rid of the pet or move out
          • If you're caught smoking, there's a large cleanup fee
          • If they want to paint, I let them choose from my colors
          • If they're going to be late, the late fees are clearly defined
          • If they want to move in another roommate, that person has to apply and be qualified
          • If they want to move because they need more space, they can move into one of my larger units without breaking the lease
          • If they don't mow the lawn or clear the snow, we can arrange to have a service take care of it at an additional charge

I'm sure there are other things I've added to my toolbox over the years, but this is a good list to start.  I'd be interested to hear other ways people have found to make life easier for ourselves and our tenants.  What are some of your best tricks?

It works better to issue a credit, vs waive a fee that way the fee is still charged. Also, deferral to higher power can help gain compliance. 

Example: Let me speak the boss to see what I can do about (insert whatever). Or, after speaking the boss, I'm able to offer you (insert whatever) solution.

Thank you for letting me know you're going to be late on rent, after speaking to the boss I'm unable to waive the late fee, but due to (insert something if you want) I'm able to issue a one time credit of (insert late fee amount).

Fantastic list. Only thing I can add are "hacks" are more physical, "hardening" I think someone else had called it..

During rehab, I put a thicker layer of plywood at the bottom of sink cabinets because particle board doesn't handle drips well.  Bigger gutters on the exterior and bigger downspouts, a strip of painted wood above windows to screw blinds/curtains onto, so the drywall doesn't get 5000 random holes and those stupid plastic drywall anchor dots..  Same thing with the shower curtain rod and toilet paper dispenser holder. 

@Keith N.  

Very good list!

I am doing 95% of what you do. I find that having systems in place makes it easy for me to self manage my properties. I use the same bank technique, no more checks mysteriously lost or late due to mail.

I like your 9 month inspection schedule.

I keep all my property and tenant info as well as my rent roll in Google Drive so I can access it from anywhere.

When I show a property I give a one hour window and have everyone come at once. I often have a line of people waiting to fill out an application. It creates a sense of urgency for the prospective tenant when they see multiple people there at the same time. I 15 people say they are coming only half actually show up.

I also have eliminated carpet. I use vinyl strips that look like hardwood floor. I have never had to replace any of this and it is very pet friendly.

I have found that having a strong support crew is crucial. I have trained tenants to text me and I then text a repair person to fix any issue. Phone calls encourage drama and them telling you their problems.

Also be quick to get rid of bad tenants and train new ones. I don't take calls. Instead I say I'm in a meeting and can't talk to text me what they need. Also file an eviction when your new tenant is late and haven't called to explain. If you don't do this they will pay everyone else first because they know the power company will turn off their electricity if they don't pay or their car will be repossessed if they don't pay. Don't chase rent. They pay or they get evicted. 

When I have a turnover or vacancy I put a lockbox on the door so my repair people can get in if needed. I don't want tenants to worry that other people besides myself can unlock their house. 

I use a standard color scheme, but I like the idea of having 4 or so approved colors that they can use if they want to change the color. People painting and planting flowers tend to want to stay long term.

@Nicky Reader , I like your idea of painted wood strips above the windows and for shower rods, etc.  I'm going to add those to my list for turnover upgrades!

I didn't think about it, but I also put plywood in the bottom of my cabinets and vanities on rehabs.  I'm glad you mentioned it!

@Keith N. Great post and good ideas.  I bet you have less turnover and fewer repairs than those that think rentals are passive income.

I manage 300 rentals and would say I agree with almost everything on here so far.

Love this post, as rental owner that's newer to the game this will be extremely helpful to think of before I get too deep into situations! 

@John Underwood

I like your idea about requiring text instead of phone calls.  I've found that many of my tenants prefer to text anyway, and it provides a written history of the conversation. 

Your point about starting the eviction process right away is something I do as well.  When they're moving in, I tell them that if they're late, I'm going to start the eviction process.  I tell them "If you get a 5-day notice, that doesn't mean I want you to move out. I want you to pay your rent."

If they call or message ahead of time and tell me that rent will be late and they have a plan to get it paid and get ahead, I'm very lenient.  If they don't call ahead, or if they don't know how they're going to get caught up, I start with the eviction proceedings and (in the case they can't get caught up) I offer to let them break their lease, move out, and make monthly payments to catch up on the back rent.  Their agreement has strict terms, late fees, and a provision that they may end up in court if they fail to honor their agreement. I would rather have a paying tenant in there as soon as possible, and give the past tenant a path to pay their debt.

Thanks for the good ideas, everyone.  Keep them coming!

Great list @Keith N. I wasn't expecting so much detail when I opened the post. I do most of the things you do. Apparently we have both learned the same lessons over the years. Here is a couple things I would add:

1. I have a very detailed lease. Too much to include here, but I go as far as telling people they can't cook with open grease on the cook top and can't use humidifiers. Any time something causes a problem in a rental, I add it as prohibited on the lease. It may sound like overkill, but they can't say later that they didn't know they couldn't do something.

2. After purchasing a house, I have the landscaping fixed. That includes building up the grade around the house to shed water and removing most any plant that requires care. I leave bushes and trees and maybe a couple plants in the rock up front. 

3. I use a mixture of bank payment and online rent collection. Online rent collection allows tenants to schedule payment. Once a tenant puts their rent on auto-pay, they just get comfortable and forget they are even renting. Going to the bank to pay rent is a regular reminder they are giving their landlord money. I like tenants to get comfortable and stay long term. Another advantage of online payments is a I can see the payment scheduled and I can add late fees or other charges on whenever needed. 

4. I put good tenants on two year leases. I know long term leases are controversial, but if I have a good tenant then I see little risk with locking them in. Years ago I had a great tenant that called me about renewing their lease. I told them they could just go month to month. Three months later they gave notice. They had not planned on looking, but they accidentally ran across a great property closer to work. If I had renewed their lease, they wouldn't have even considered the place. So my policy is good tenants stay in leases, bad tenants go month to month.

5. I downloaded a scanner app for my phone. I can scan documents on the go and e-mail a copy directly to the tenant. I like e-mailing copies of the lease because and request that they confirm receipt. That way nobody can claim later that they didn't get the lease.

Thanks for the contributions on this thread, what a great way to help each other.

@Joe Splitrock   I lIke " ... good tenants stay in leases, bad tenants go month to month" Good Advice!

We don't do traditional showings, we do open houses. It creates a feeling of urgency and people tend to apply more quickly. We also do renewal letters with two lease options, both with rent increases, but the tenant gets to choose. I have not had a discussion about a rent increase in years. 

@Keith N. This post is amazing thank you for sharing it! I love the idea of picking up the application at their home to see how they live that is very clever! The part about asking for surprises is great too! Last but not least I love the idea of never saying no. That is an incredible tip and a great mindset that I will surely adapt thank you!

"I never say "no" - I always give them an option of how to get it done!" That is great! I agree with everything on here and hope more landlords start doing this! Great advice. 

Originally posted by @John Underwood :

@Joe Splitrock   I lIke " ... good tenants stay in leases, bad tenants go month to month" Good Advice!

 I was on a month to month for like 5 years lol (after 1 yr lease, 1 renewal), always paid rent on time no issues. I figured at that point I had proved my self as a good tenant .... and wanted the flexibility.

Originally posted by @Matt K. :
Originally posted by @John Underwood:

@Joe Splitrock  I lIke " ... good tenants stay in leases, bad tenants go month to month" Good Advice!

 I was on a month to month for like 5 years lol (after 1 yr lease, 1 renewal), always paid rent on time no issues. I figured at that point I had proved my self as a good tenant .... and wanted the flexibility.

I just had a tenant leave after being month to month for 6 years, so yes in my experience not having a lease doesn't mean you will leave. I have two tenants right now that opted to go month to month instead of lease and pay extra each month. They like the flexibility and I like the extra money. I wasn't trying to imply that all month to month tenants are bad, but I sure wouldn't lock a questionable tenant into a long term lease.

Great post. Valuable tips here that can be used over an over to eliminate headaches and save $.

I’ll add:
-Due to the length & legal wording on my lease, I did up a parallel simply worded one for when we do signings. They don’t sign it, but I let them keep it for future reference. Their Lease copy gets emailed so they never lose it.

- digital deadbolts (schlage), one landlord code for all, one contractor code (rotating annual) for all. Lockbox w backup keys out of site (but on site).

- 5” eves. 4x4” treated post near property line ~10’ from the house. Discharge goes out to post then down. Get it away from the house first. It isn’t that pretty, but it’s effective.

- always double sink in kitchen. Always dishwasher when renovating. Even if it has to be 18” wide.

- no light fixtures that take anything other than a regular LED bulb. Ever.

- always sink 12’ posts & put a header over a gate entry. You’ll adjust the gate way less (basically never) even if you’re in the near arctic like I am.

- pre screen, and send the application before hand digitally. Tell them to bring it filled out and if They don’t like the place they simply don’t submit it once viewed.

- everything is in Dropbox. Within 5 minutes of getting noticed to vacate my add is posted.

- take pics of model/ serial # of all appliances. Use the same appliance parts supplier and they’ll likely have them on file, but if not, you will. Store in Dropbox or similar in the appropriate folder labeled by property address

- once you’ve got a few,.. buy a nice scanner that scans directly to Dropbox or similar. Phone apps work, but man my Epson is a heck of a lot quicker!

I’ll add a couple more:

-If you’re in furnace country, grab a spare thermocouple, and a Phillips screwdriver at the dollar store. Mark the thermocouple wire w electrical tape or similar. Leave the screwdriver on the furnace with the thermocouple. I could talk a 6 year old through replacing one so chances are your $20/hr handyman can do it and help you avoid an after hours charge of double time labour.

- some Gatorade in the toilet tank while you poke smoke alarms will let you know if your flapper is leaking and costing you $.

- grab a $5 ground fault indicator tool for new purchase walk throughs.. $5 might save you $5,000.

- welcome baskets.. $40 at dollar store and 99% of landlord won’t do it. I can grab what I need in 10 min max. Only two things not optional for my welcome basket are 2x picture hanging kits, and a bunch of those felt sticky things for furniture legs. If they have a pet, dog/cat treats. Batteries. Cleaning stuff. TP. Stove burner liners. Smelly candle. Some Lysol wipes. Anything handy when all your stuff is in a box “somewhere” goes in the basket.

Create Lasting Wealth Through Real Estate

Join the millions of people achieving financial freedom through the power of real estate investing

Start here