“So You’re a Slumlord!” (How to Respond…)

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How many of you have been here before?  You are making small talk at a party or other social gathering and someone asks, “What do you do?”   I do not try to hide anything and am pretty proud of what I have accomplished so I usually will tell people something along the lines that I am a real estate investor that buys and holds rental properties.  Nine times out of ten the next line is something like, “Oh, you’re a slumlord.”  This happened again the other night and I began to wonder where this line of thinking comes from.  I used to think that it was just a joke but I hear that response too much and appears to be a natural reaction for many.  Why do people automatically assume I am a slumlord?

After some thought, I came up with the following possibilities:

  • It is a misunderstanding.  People do not understand or make assumptions about the business.
  • It is ignorance.  People are ignorant about what it takes to successfully own and operate rental properties.
  • It is disdain.  A disdain regarding other folks making money.   Money is somehow dirty.  I am exploiting people.
  • It is resentment.  Resentment from frustrated ambition perhaps?
  • It is envy.  Envy because we have created a successful business.

My response is usually something along these lines, “No, I provide very nice housing at an affordable price.  Plus, I do it while providing jobs, cleaning up and rehabilitating my neighborhood /city and pumping money into the local economy.  We have worked very hard at it.”

That usually is enough.

Sometimes the conversation will continue.  I then talk about how difficult it can be maintaining quality properties, finding and keeping good tenants, working with contractors, finding new investments before your competition does, fighting city hall, fighting with appraisers, bankers and insurance agents, all while making a little extra to put food on my table and gas in the car.

I try to help folks understand just how difficult running this business (or any business) can be.  I try to show them that I do not go home every night and sit in a tub of gold coins.  If they want to listen, I will tell them how I got started and show them how they can get started.  Or I will explain our private investor program and how they can benefit from real estate.  Some folks really listen and learn.   Some have even bought a few properties of their own.   Many however just nod their head and walk away, refusing to get over their assumptions, disdain, resentment, envy.  Was it something I said?

Landlords of BP, has this scenarios ever happened to you or is it just me?  What was/is your response?

Photo: dmealiffe

About Author

Kevin Perk

Kevin Perk is co-founder of Kevron Properties, LLC with his wife Terron and has been involved in real estate investing for 10 years. Kevin invests in and manages rental properties in Memphis, TN and is a past president and vice-president of the local REIA group, the Memphis Investors Group.

53 Comments

  1. Hi Kevin,

    I’ not a landlady yet, but trying to get over my fears and jump. I have been reading and learning a lot from the different forums on BP and it has been a God’s sent for me to validate my desire to jump in.

    Thank you for posting1

    In your post you mentioned fighting City Hall, appraisers and insurances. Can you explain a little what you mean by that?

    Thanks again!

    • Kevin Perk

      Horizon,

      In this business, it seems like someone is always trying to get a little bit more into your pocket, and you have to fight to keep them out.

      In regards to city hall, I am talking about the government in general and their power to tax. For example, I have a rental property which I argued successfully last year that the tax value was $60,000. This year they raised the tax value to $132,000, so I have to fight again. Really, it more than doubled in value in a year? Really !?!?!

      Appraisers are so scared now to give true values that they always lowball. It wrecks the deal.

      Insurance, well it is just insurance.

      Thanks for reading and commenting,

      Kevin

      • Matt Sheridan on

        Kevin,
        I had the exact same thing with almost the same dollar amounts happen to me. I bought a place for 58k and the appraisal went to 132k. I called and told them that I just bought it for 58k which should be about fair market value as you can get. I truly believe that they do that in hopes that the majority of people will just shrug their shoulders and pay it.

        • Kevin Perk

          Matt,

          I hear you. It seems that may be a strategy of theirs.

          Crappy thing is I have to pay the taxes at the higher rate. If I am successful at my appeal, I will get a refund sometime in January (without interest of course).

          Kevin

  2. Kevin,
    I’m not a full time investor, but I get the same from my work colleagues. The people that know me know understand and are curious. I’ve found that keeping a couple of pictures on my smart phone of my properties is a great way to show the quality of property I provide. Once they see the picture, the conversations can sometimes change to how they can become my renter .

    A picture is worth a thousand words and in this case, and attitude reversal.

    KevinS

  3. Matt Rothwell on

    First, let me qualify this by saying that I don’t own any rental properties, and I’ve never even owned real estate. I’m mostly on this site to learn, and my long term goal is to be a landlord.

    So, with all of that said, I think that you’re reading far too much into the comment. My response, if someone said, “So you’re a slumlord!”, would be an immediate “Yup.”, followed by a smile. There’s no way you’re going to change their mind if they actually are disgusted by your career choice, you might as well assume that they’re joking and carry on talking about something else.

  4. Jake Kucheck on

    How does this bother you? At the end of the day, honor is in the dollar.

    All of these people have just been removed from my list of potential competition… so I’m happy to let them think whatever makes them the most comfortable.

    • Kevin Perk

      Jake,

      It bothers me because I am doing good in the world and these folks think I somehow am not. I want to give them some insight on how the world really works. Sometimes I can, sometimes I cannot. But I do try.

      Thanks for reading and commenting,

      Kevin

  5. Al Williamson on

    I feel your pain Kevin. You feel uncomfortable because you try hard to provide something of values and you don’t want to be lumped into the same sentence with the word “slumlord.”
    It’s almost a “when did you stop beating your wife” type of questions that makes you defensive.

    I get those questions//ribbings too. You’re in good company. I just smile and say “I’m not like that at all.” I don’t climb up on my soap box (like I do here on BP) – it’s a waste of time…. especially when my tenants and neighbors typically compliment me on how things look or are trending nearly every time we chat.

    The people that count know what’s up – and that’s good enough for me.

  6. I totally understand what you mean. I get that response and it bothers me, as well.

    My response is usually to look at them quizzically, as though I’ve never heard the term “slumlord” before and I’m not acquainted with its meaning, and reply:

    “I’m not sure what you mean by slumlord. I’m a landlord.” >> stated in a curious and earnest tone. If the situation warrants an additional sentence, I might add: “And I’m very proud of my properties.”

    That’s usually enough to get the point across, without making the other party feel uncomfortable.

  7. I get that occasionally and I believe 90% of the time it is said jokingly. I usually go into what I do and how it benefits contractors, local suppliers and businesses, my tenants, folks that need to get out of a house and yes my family. I usually joke back that I can’t be classified as a slumlord with the time and money I have put in through the last couple years. I am truly passionate about real estate thus I tend to talk about it a lot. It is always an interesting conversation and has lead to many leads for help on starting their own venture, which I love to help, or someone who needs to sell or someone who needs a place. It makes it really comfortable buying another property knowing that I will probably get at least a couple contacts looking for a place to rent from me. Great article…

  8. I just got that the other day. I think its because when you are a landlord to multiple properties, people assume “slumlord”. But if you have just one rental property, or are renting out the other side of a duplex, that somehow that’s “better”. The image of “slumlord” have been caused by someone who owns tons of properties and doesn’t take care of them.

    • Kevin Perk

      Dawn,

      Glad to hear it is not just me. 🙂

      But why does the image of the guy who does not take care of his properties apply automatically to me? Does this type of thing happen to other professions?

      Thanks for reading and the comment,

      Kevin

      • Kevin,

        I’d say it does happen in other professions. A lot of negativity is associated with lawyers as well. Also, bankers have received a bad rap in the last 5 years or so. I’m an engineer by day and even we see negative reactions. It’s usually frequently following a negative event in my field (e.g. a collapse of that building in Philadelphia).

        I believe that people resort to this comment because there are a lot of landlords out there that don’t take pride in what they are doing and are simply trying to milk the property dry (the guy I purchased my duplex from told the tenants not to use the back door since the lock was broken and it was about a $20 fix). It’s definitely unfortunate, but I see it in my area frequently in the hard-up parts of town. I think it’s easier for landlords to rationalize poor maintenance of buildings when the tenants don’t pay much and treat the property poorly. That doesn’t make it right, but I can understand it from the business aspect.

        I, personally, have not intention of putting myself in a position where I have to make the decision between business and pride. I intend on buying in certain locations that have high demand, low violence, and quality tenants. I’ve found this increases revenues (people are willing to pay for what they get for the most part!) and decreases the amount of maintenace since the tenants respect the property (no holes in walls, etc.).

        Thanks for the article!

        • Kevin Perk

          Patrick,

          My lawyer pokes fun at himself all the time.

          I think you may be right, some people do milk their properties, but they end up paying for it on the back end through higher repair costs or lesser quality tenants. Perhaps they have not learned that lesson yet, or most likely, they do not care.

          Good luck with your efforts.

          Thanks for reading and commenting,

          Kevin

  9. Great article Kevin.

    I really hate having to defend what I do. Part of this problem I think we can solve by helping to educate folks. The other part is to just do everything ethically and above board. I’m not sure what we do about those that refuse to follow the rules “up their game”.

    Sharon

  10. Kevin,

    When the “slumlord” label is tossed my way, I give a similar explanation to yours, but will often add that “we purchase properties that have been neglected by their previous owners and rehabilitate them”. I will then pull our my phone and show one of our properties that came to us from a landlord who had milked every last ounce of goodness out of the property and cared little about his tenants …. I have before and after pictures of the same rooms/views.

    This usually clears the air.

  11. To break the ice I usually just tell them I am a rich slumlord, that my black cape and top hat are in my car, in case I need to throw a single mom in the streets on the way home.

  12. I get that all the time too. Id say at least half of my coworkers call me that. I don’t think most people are inferring anything bad, they’re just joking. I never take that comment seriously. I usually play it off and comment about how my llc is actually slumlord inc (its not) or if I think they’re avtually serious ill make some awkward comment about a how many rats ive had to kill and they’ll never bring it up again!

    • Kevin Perk

      Doug,

      I get what you are saying. But I think maybe there is something deeper that drives many folks to the “slumlord” label, even if it is just in jest. Why is it so often the first reaction?

      Thanks for reading and commenting,

      Kevin

  13. Some of these comments are hilarious!! I only have one rental property (house) and I’ve been the recipient of the slumlord question as well. I feel like I have to defend myself by replying “no, it’s a very nice house in a nice neighborhood”. I think you’re on to something…I believe it is a combination of not understanding the business (I know I sure didn’t!) and perhaps being envious/frustrated at their own ambitions (I was!). Fortunately, those comments are few and far between and others are just curious as to how they can get started.

  14. I’m a tenant and I experience the flip-side of this – having people judge me because I rent. They tend to think of us as second class citizens who can’t afford our own home. In reality there are lots of reasons why people rent and not just because they’re ‘bums’. I prefer to rent a nice house in a good area because we travel a lot for my husband’s work and we’re here on a 2 year work visa. We own 5 properties overseas but I’ve chosen to use our spare funds for investing instead of buying our own home. So I think some of the ‘slumlord’ tag is based on their perception of tenants.

    • Kevin Perk

      Rachel,

      Interesting viewpoint. There are certainly many good reasons to rent rather than buy. I know folks here who wish they had never bought. But, there is a major effort in this country to make everyone a homeowner, even though not everyone should or wants to be a homeowner. I think that is what partially got us into that real estate mess a few years ago. But that is a topic for another post.

      Thanks for reading and commenting,

      Kevin

  15. Kevin,

    Just wanted to let you know I feel your pain. I took one of my co-workers to show him one of my empty units and he stated “you are FAR from a slumlord”. Now when someone mention’s my buildings and me being a slum-lord, my co-worker answers “not even close”.

    Thanks for the article. I may be in touch for some advice …

    Ken

  16. I live in an apt community, an older one with about 63 or so units. these units and other duplexs are owned by KPS. the laundry room only runs 2 units at a time for about 6 mo. now. blk plastic blowing in the wind, garbage everywhere and cig butts everywhere. bushes all over grown. a person can only take care of so much as a renter before it just makes ya sad. These people are real nice to you until they get your money then they get in no hurry to fix anything and basically ignore you, UNLESS you are a day late on rent. then they are NOT nice. unfortunately I can”t move b/c I knew you would probably say that. what can a a person do and its not just me. Is there anyone higher up that something like this can go to? Please keep this private so I don’t get into trouble, thanks.

    • Kevin Perk

      Molly,

      What can’t you move?

      If there are serious problems, you need to understand your state’s landlord/tenant laws. There are usually provisions in them that might help you address your concerns. But be sure you understand and follow them!

      Kevin

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