I recently left the country for a week, headed to a place where I literally had no phone service and limited access to email. That wasn’t a one-time-only event. I plan to do it again at the end of this month. Oh yeah, and once more in August.
Every landlord who read that first paragraph is either cringing or gaping in awe. Because, as we all know, the moment your feet leave U.S. soil is the precise moment that your pipes burst, toilets overflow and a tree crashes into your roof. The correlation is near-scientific.
Here’s the part where I mention that I oversee 5 rental units. One of these has a property manager — an excellent, highly experienced, self-motivated manager, someone whom I hardly need to manage (you know, “managing the manager.”) So I barely blinked when it came to leaving that property behind for a week. My gal’s got it.
The other four properties, however, posed a different story. Under normal circumstances, when I’m in town, I don’t mind overseeing these myself. One is a triplex, so all the units are consolidated under a single roof. The other is in great condition and occupied by the world’s best tenant. So when I’m in town, its not worthwhile for me — at least at this early stage in my landlording career — to outsource that management.
But of course, I can’t leave the country for a week without finding an “interim property manager.” And step one was figuring out who to ask.
Here’s what I looked for in my “interim” manager:
2) experienced at managing properties,
4) eager to watch your units for a week,
There’s one quality I keep stressing (I’ll let you guess which one), and I’m doing it for more than just the sake of a weak attempt at humor. When you’re away — when you’re really, truly unplugged — the person you leave in charge back at home isn’t immediately accountable to anyone. No one is managing him. No one is pressing him to finish the job.
And if you return to your hometown and find everything in disarray, your interim manager is probably capable of weaving and spinning some type of he-said, she-said story that will leave your head spinning. You’ll play detective, piecing together the details of what happened from your tenant, the neighbors, the physical evidence left behind. It’ll be a mess. You’ll want to avoid this.
And so finding a reliable person is — in my opinion — more important than experience or enthusiasm.
How do you gage reliability? That’s more art than science. Promptness (is that a word?) in answering phone calls and emails is a good start. Following through on appointments is key. But, again, let you gut be your guide.
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Prepping the Interim Manager
Okay, so you found Mr. or Ms. Reliable. How do you best prep this person?
I give my interim property manager a spreadsheet with contact information for every type of trade imaginable. Column A lists the person’s name. Column B lists their trade — landscaping, plumber, HVAC, general handyman. Column C, their phone number. In Column D, I write extensive notes outlining each tradesperson’s strengths, weaknesses and idiosyncrasies.
(Now that I think of it, I hope none of them get ahold of this spreadsheet. That’s the type of situation that sit-com episodes are made of.)
I leave the keys to all the properties, including keys to access points like the basement. (I learned this the hard way last year, when I left my interim manager the keys to the unit, but not to the basement where the furnace resides.)
I leave instructions on how to pay for any necessary purchases and repairs while I’m gone. I give clear, written directions about what expenses I’ll authorize blindly (i.e. almost all of them, since I trust my manager’s judgment, and since I can’t be reached).
I give all of my tenants my interim managers’ phone number, email address, and the dates I’ll be gone. I instruct them not to contact him unless there’s a serious issue that simply can’t wait until my return.
Wow, it sounds quite extensive when I write it out. But it’s fairly simple. Finding the right, reliable person is the tough part. The rest is details.