Being a landlord for a dozen years teaches you a thing or two about the business and the human condition. It is certainly true that there is no better teacher than experience. You meet so many different people in this business. Some want to pay you money, others want you to pay them money and some want to scam your money away from you.
You have to learn how to deal with them all. You have to learn little things to make your life run more easily and your business tick more smoothly. You also have to learn ways to avoid being scammed. Sometimes things are learned the hard way, other times not. Here’s to hoping that you can learn from my experience and avoid learning the hard way.
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The Top 12 Things I’ve Learned From 12 Years as a Landlord
1. Call the Main Business Line to Check References
If a potential tenant lists a reference and provides a phone number, if it is at all possible call a main business number and get transferred to the reference. For example, if a tenant says Mr. X can verify employment at Autozone, call the main number for the store or office and get transferred to Mr. X. You never know if the number you were provided will just connect you to a friend who is part of the scam. People lie, and you do not want to be duped by the likes of Vandelay Industries.
2. Don’t Trust Pay Stubs (or Business Letterhead Either)
Take a look at this website. Pay stubs and other work related documents can and are faked. It happens more than you think. The moral to this story is to verify everything. Do not take anything on face value.
3. Use Your Smart Phone More Smartly
Put your tenants’ names in your phone’s contact list, but list them by apartment first rather than by name first. This will allow you to more easily identify who is calling and provide better service. So, for example, instead of Jennifer Tenant, list the contact as 123 Main Jennifer Tenant. Tenants come and go, and how many Johns and Jennifers do you know? It can potentially get confusing, especially as you acquire properties and more tenants.
4. Take Advantage of Video Capability
Use your smart phone to take a video of your property during a tenant’s move in and have them appear in the video. Not only will you have a great record of the condition of the property, but you will have evidence that the tenant was aware of the conditions when they moved in. It is pretty hard to convince a judge otherwise when they are shown in the video.
5. Build a Professional-Looking and Functional Website
Quality tenants are attracted to a professional-looking website. Plus, you can eliminate a lot of paper and busy work if your website allows tenants to apply for apartments and pay rent online. Make it easy for your tenants to find you, see what you have available, apply for your rentals and pay for them.
6. Hire Help Now
Do not wait to do this. You need help — be it a secretary, contractor, property manager, whatever — to give you the time to think about and work on your business rather than in it.
7. Get Rid of the “For Rent” Signs
Almost everything is electronic now (see “build a professional website” above). Use Craigslist and backpage.com to advertise your rental properties. There are all sorts of websites out there that will help you create nice-looking ads. Signs tell crooks your house is vacant and in my experience bring out the worst sort of applicants. If you can, ditch the signs.
8. Define “Emergency” Up Front
What an emergency is to you may not be the same to your tenants. Do you really want a call at 4 a.m. because of a drip under the kitchen sink? No, I do not think you do. Make sure you spell out exactly what an emergency is and place it in your lease. Otherwise, everything can become an emergency.
9. Use Texting as Much as Possible
It is just easier and less time-consuming to text rather than talk. If you get a call, try texting back to the person that you are in a meeting and ask if they could please text you their concern. Then respond promptly, and folks will learn that texting is the best method of communication.
10. Use a Changeable Cylinder System for Locks
I switched over to the Landlord Locks system several years ago. With this system, to re-key a property, you simply change the cylinder instead of the entire lock. This saves a ton of time and frustration. There are several differing types of lock systems. Check them out and pick one that fits your needs.
11. Place a Key Box on All Properties
Having key boxes is a great time saver. No longer do I have to run around and open up properties to allow trusted contractors in for a repair. Plus, if I am out of town and a tenant locks themselves out, I can always give them the key box code and change it later when I return. This is an awesome time saver.
12. Show Your Tenants How to Flip a Breaker
Believe it or not, many tenants have no idea how or are scared to do this, especially the younger ones. Showing them how to flip a tripped breaker upon move in can really save you some phone calls and hassle — and possibly your property. Don’t stop with just a tripped breaker, but also show them how to work water and gas cutoff valves. Now, if a breaker trips they can turn it back on without calling you. If a leak starts, they can stop it before more damage is caused. If they smell gas, they can turn off the source.
So there you have them — a dozen tips from a dozen years in the business.
What would you add to the list?
Please share with your comments!