Am I land lording wrong?

13 Replies

Hello All!

My wife and I purchased our first duplex ~4 years ago, and overall it's been a pretty good experience for us. We bought a place that was in great condition for the most part so we have rarely had to deal with any issues with the place.

However, we just re rented a few months ago, and little things are starting to happen. Currently the dishwasher is kind of leaking but it's a small amount. So we called an appliance guy to come out. He couldn't find anything and said it was just plugged up since the previous tenant was using too much soap. We though that was the end of it, but it's coming up again!

Our place is owner occupied, and I wish I had the skills to just fix a dishwasher or the A/C if it goes out (fan outside the house broke like a year ago), but sadly I cannot fix any of this stuff. I know computers, not so much the blue collar skills that I so desperately need. 

So onto the question of this thread. When an issue pops up on the tenant side. Should I'd be making more of an effort to try to fix stuff myself/learn how to fix it? Obviously I know learning how to do this stuff will save me tons of money down the line, but I'd also like to maintain a professional feel to our house, and have professionals work on anything broken.

At the end of the day, is this ok? I absolutely hate telling my tenants 'oh hey sorry about that, let me call a repairman to fix it, and oh, they won't be out for another day'. It makes me go crazy because I want to offer excellent service, but then having to outsource and worse, wait an extra day or more because the guy I called is booked.

Has anyone else gone through similar feels? Am I doing this completely wrong? How should I go about repairs so that it's more efficient and effective? Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

P.S. - I'm sure some will advocate for a PM to take over, but we aren't really making money on the property as is and would have to just passively give money to a PM just for that ONE occasion that might pop up a year. 

As another example. I need our gas fireplaces inspected, and the soonest I could find is 3 weeks out from now. These are the kind of things I wish I could just knock out myself, but I'm handcuffed to whenever these guys are available. Bah!

@Brian Johnson I have never been a super handy guy either but I have found that YouTube has videos on pretty much everything.  I would suggest trying to learn some of the simple stuff via YouTube or some basic home mechanics books you could get from the local library.  For more complex stuff it is probably better to stick with a professional or see if there is a local handyman.  Do you know other investors in your area?  Maybe ask him who they use for quick turnaround items.  If you know something is going to have a long lead time (fireplace inspection, furnace inspection, etc...) then put it on your annual calendar to get those scheduled several weeks or a month in advance of when you need it.

@Brian Johnson When you did your profit projections for this property did you project for maintenance cost? If so, having someone else doing this work doesn't mean you're not a good landlord or doing it wrong, If anything you're doing it right if you never have to spend any time working on this property and it runs perfectly as a passive investment property which should be your ultimate goal. 

If maintenance is covered in your cash flow reserves but you really like doing things like this it's never too late to start learning the handyman skillset.   

@Matt Long Yeah I think that is my take away lesson with the fireplace inspection this year. I just need to be a little more proactive. Thanks for your insight!

I think I kind of missed the whole point of what I was getting at in my original post. I guess I'm more curious if this is how other rental properties are? Does it potentially take a few days before a landlord can get to an issue? If so is that ok? Maybe I'm simply just caring too much haha.

@Ray Johnson Hey Ray, yep we are putting money aside each month for repairs. We aren't even close to depleting those funds yet, but I try not to use them and save it more for an emergency situation.

So at the end of the day I'm not worried about having to fork over money for the repairs. I'm more concerned that my tenants might get pissed at me because I can't fix the dishwasher in a day since it'll take 2 days before the repair guy gets out to our place. 

Dishwashers aren't usually worth fixing.  You can find them for around $350ish an they are easy to install.  You can landlord by making a phone call and writing a check but when starting out you will make more money if you know how to make repairs.  Also if you know what it take to repair something then when you own a hundred doors you stand a better chance of not getting ripped off if you choose to pay someone to make the repair.  

Learning some repair/maintenance skills is definitely something you should try to do. YouTube is amazing for this - I am sure you can look up "how to service and maintain my gas fireplace" and find a bunch of videos - you can probably find one with your exact unit. Google "basic dishwasher maintenance" you'll find 1000 videos. It's incredible. 

I am not overly-handy (I never owned tools until I bought a duplex) - so far I've done basic electric (installing an outlet, adding a junction box, putting in receptacles, removing breakers, fixing a 3 way switch -- all things an electrician wouldn't touch -- or would charge a couple hundred bucks to do, cost me about 7 dollars - literally), replaced an exterior door, removed rotten siding and put up new siding along with replacing the plywood behind it, re-built the rotten framing of a garage wall, installed a ceiling fan, and just about a thousand other things along the way. My next project is removing a skylight and replacing with shingle roofing - this has just become a necessity for me because I contact a bunch of companies whenever I have a project, most never respond, those that do are either booked up or never show up to give an estimate, etc etc - requires me doing it myself! I don't do all of it - I've paid for new windows to be installed, and new gas space heaters, but SO much stuff you can find out how to do on YouTube and just gives you more knowledge overall to prevent contractors from dicking you around too!

About feeling all guilty for the tenants having to wait a whopping two days for a repairman... in VT you're allowed up to 30 days to initiate a repair for anything that isn't an emergency... take a breath!  

Watch YouTube, fix yourself, cancel handyman, keep your $250 bucks. Repeat.

Originally posted by @Brian Johnson :

@Ray Johnson Hey Ray, yep we are putting money aside each month for repairs. We aren't even close to depleting those funds yet, but I try not to use them and save it more for an emergency situation.

So at the end of the day I'm not worried about having to fork over money for the repairs. I'm more concerned that my tenants might get pissed at me because I can't fix the dishwasher in a day since it'll take 2 days before the repair guy gets out to our place. 

It's been my experience that most tenants are reasonable and understand that "magic repair fairy dust" doesn't exist.  Most tenants are satisfied that I answer/return their calls promptly when there is an issue.  And I make calls the same business day or the next to get a repair person lined up...even if the soonest appointment is a few days later.  And I keep the tenants informed with what is happening.  With that said, my husband can fix most/all basic stuff the same day.  And, when we do need to hire out, I have some "go-to" people that can usually get out there within 1-2 days.

But, like anything else, sometimes you'll have an unreasonable tenant who doesn't understand basic concepts.  Like repair people don't work on Sat. nights.  Or, often, don't work on the weekend at all.  When that happens, I apologize for the inconvenience and explain (insert date) was the soonest I could get someone out there. 

I wholeheartedly agree with @Matt Long and @Megan Phillips . Their advice to scour YouTube and try to fix it yourself first is right on. What you will learn from YouTube (even if you are unable to completely address the situation yourself) are things like: what caused the problem in the first place (so you can prevent it in the future), what is the cost of fixing it yourself (as a reference point in the future to determine if it's worth hiring someone else to handle it), and basic diagnostic/problem solving skills relevant to whatever you are having trouble with.

In regards to how to handle the tenant: It is critical that you set and manage expectations. We are on-site at our property 10 hours a day and we still don't get to everything in 48 hours (excepting of course emergency repairs). 

Sidebar: The truth is that most of the calls take a matter or 5 minutes to fix. Often these huge "problems" are just minor things whose basic solution has been overlooked or can be fixed for relatively cheap. 

That being said, we give all residents a time frame as to when we can get there to handle the problem and can almost always get permission to enter to fix the problem while they are not there. If they insist on being there for the repair, we just let them know that it will take longer to address the problem as we need to find a time that works for both of us. Also, consider making a form email that you can send to a resident whenever they send you a service request letting them know that you have received their request and that if they will please send you an email with as many details as possible about the problem and needed repair you will contact them within xx hours/days to set up an appointment/do a preliminary evaluation.

I would encourage you not to feel embarrassed or unprofessional for going into a house YOU OWN to see if you can fix something. Prepare with YouTube videos, let them know you are coming to do a "preliminary evaluation of the problem" to "assess repairs and schedule vendors". As long as proper expectations have been set and it is not an emergency, getting there to do this "preliminary evaluation" within 48 hours is still excellent customer service. 

Many repairs take time, and you shouldn't feel bad about that as long as you are doing what you can do get the repair in process and let your tenants know you're working on it. If your tenant informs you of an issue, and you respond an hour later with "Thanks for letting me know; I have called a plumber and he is coming over at his first available time which is next Tuesday", you should be just fine.

A few days to get something fixed is fine.  If there is a huge water leak, you need to pay extra to get someone out there asap to prevent more damage, etc. but a few days for something is similar to what you would wait if it was your own residence.  

Sometimes if something isn't urgent, they may need to wait a week or two, but we try to get it done quickly for everyones satisfaction.   

I can do woodworking and carpentry projects. If I try to tackle appliances and stuff I just make things worse. So for me it is either a handyman-which I have-or call a pro. My handyman can do a range of fixing and diagnoses problems that are beyond his skills.