9 Steps I Took to Successfully Fill a Tenant Vacancy While Overseas

by | BiggerPockets.com

I am a self-managing landlord. Since Murphy loves me, that means that I get to work even while on vacation. I have handled tenants while I was in Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Singapore, and most recently, while on vacation in Fiji celebrating the holidays and my 28th (years young, of course) birthday. Over the years, I have had many questions. Therefore, I wanted to put together an article on how to successfully place a tenant — even while vacationing overseas.

A few background points and tips to keep in mind:

  1. I should have never had a vacancy. This house still had six months left on the lease. The only reason I even had to worry about it while I was on vacation was because my tenant could no longer get along. I had intentionally set it up so there would be no houses coming up while I was on vacation.
  2. Don’t feel bad about holding your tenants’ feet to the fire. These tenants were totally my problem children. They tried to use fake orders. I not only asked detailed questions of the admin person they had been working with, but I also told them I would verify it. In addition I followed up with housing and asked for help to verify that they were truly breaking the lease.
  3. Thank goodness for my break lease clause. I have learned the hard way that if you don’t have a break lease fee as a self-managing landlord, you can only charge for your expense. Unfortunately, your time is not considered an actual expense. Therefore, if it’s not in the lease, you cannot charge it in my experience.

Related: “Out of Sight, Out of Mind”— Real Estate Investing from Afar

Before we get started, even as landlord who has placed more than 15 tenants, looking back I did everything wrong. I overpriced the house (mistake #1). I had at first no pictures (and then later awful pictures) posted up (mistake #2) because work was nuts. So for the first time in a long time, my house was not rented before tenant transition. When I negotiated that the tenants move out, I gave them the choice of moving out before or after our vacation because their two month’s notice was right in the middle of our vacation (mistake #3).

Since the house hadn’t rented, I got the brilliant idea of saving $250 (in retrospect the stress was not worth the financial savings) by ripping all the carpet out of the house to get new carpet. Since I got sick the day I was leaving and the county screwed up the disposal of the large dumpster, I was left with two thirds of the house empty and the other third with disgusting carpet. Looking back, I would never again pull out carpet, but let the installer do it.


The tenants did not have the house professionally cleaned before they left, and the landscaping was a mess. I decided to just deal with the loss of rent and leave the house vacant. My plan was to deal with the house when I got back. Yup, that’s when Murphy loved me and decided I was going to place a tenant while on my vacation.

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9 Steps to Filling a Tenant Vacancy From Afar

So here is how I did it.

  1. I used Postlets. I always use Postlets.com. I list in one location as my primary.
  2. I wanted for a response. I was planning on just following up when I got back from vacation. I knew that was a huge risk, as with tenants you need to respond ASAP. Yet I needed a break, so it was a risk I decided to take — until I received multiple inquiries from my applicant.
  3. I called the applicant (using Skype and then my phone because of the awesome internet), and they were interested in seeing it right away. I had left a key with my best friend. She agreed to show the house, and they went and saw the house 20 minutes later.
  4. The tenant toured my opposite-of-make-ready house, but they were already in loved with it because of the location. They said it was exactly what they wanted. (Note: If it’s the right house, people, sign a lease even if it is not ready. I learned the valuable lesson to never not show a house because of the condition.)
  5. After they saw the house, I followed up by text to see if they had any questions or concerns. They said they had none, so I asked if they wished to proceed. They did, so I reviewed the checklist with them again. They sent me over the documents. I emailed them the application and credit/background check.
  6. Once I had all the documents, I let them know they were approved, and I asked if they wished to proceed.
  7. Once they agreed, I emailed a PDF copy of my lease over to the tenants. I then called them on Skype and later on my cellphone to go through the lease.
  8. We reviewed all 16-plus pages of my lease together, with me answering any questions. They only had clarification questions. No changes were made.
  9. I had them drop off the check and the lease with my friend. It was the quickest way to get it finished (mistake #4).

At the end of the day, it was pure success! I have a rented house. I only lost 10 days of rent, and I once again proved to myself that I can manage my houses from all over.

Related: Investing in Rentals Locally vs. From Afar: Which is REALLY a Better Strategy?

Still, the process wasn’t without a learning curve and mistakes. Here are the four largest mistakes I made.

4 Mistakes I Made (And What I Learned)

Mistake #1: Overpriced House

I priced the house $50 above the previous price, which was already $100 high. A week before the house went vacant, I lowered the house by $150. It got rented, but it was definitely a slight bummer to lose $100 a month. This is why that break lease fee is even more important.

Mistake #2: Awful Photos

I made the mistake of allowing my house location sell the house. I should have put the effort into making sure the pictures were awesome early in the experience. Unfortunately, I let my crazy day job get in the way. In this case, it cost me $467.


Mistake #3: Middle of Vacation

I will always have the tenants move out once I get back if I can choose again. Having them move out was silly even if I had already had a tenant in place. I wasn’t thinking, because if I had I would have remembered that one of the highest volume periods of tenant calls is when they first move in. Little issues always seem to be coming up. So lesson learned, time of year or not, never install a tenant right before vacation.

Mistake #4: Dropping Off the Lease With a Friend

I took the easy way out. I should have had them scan the lease and send it to me. I also should have required them to direct deposit the funds. I told them I required a certified check, and I came home to a check. While I knew better, I took the easy way out. While it appears to have worked out, it’s not my first choice .

Overall, while it certainly wasn’t the most perfect placement, it was successful. So to answer the question, yes, you can manage your houses from overseas. The more you practice, the better you will do.

For landlords who manage from afar: What has been your experience?

Let me know with a comment!

About Author

Elizabeth Colegrove

Elizabeth Colegrove is a passionate "buy and hold" investor who specializes in turning her once-negative transient lifestyle (Military) into a positive lifestyle. She self manages her entire real estate portfolio from long distance while holding down a full time job. When she isn't finding new real estate deals, she enjoys traveling, hanging out with her awesome boat-building husband, playing with her mischievous kitty, or writing on her newest project, her blog.


  1. Elizabeth, kudos to you!

    I also self-manage and continued to do it while I lived in Germany for 4 years. I only once had a tenant express concern that I was the landlord and lived in Germany.

    I even filled a unit while I was on safari in Zambia, Africa! I remember sitting at the computer at the lodge, thinking “Wow, technology is amazing!” as I communicated with my new tenants. The application was done over the internet and I verified everything just like I do when I’m sitting in my home office. It only took a few minutes of my vacation and then I was back to viewing the amazing wildlife!

    Happy 2016!

  2. Brock Adams

    Good story Elizabeth.. Your thoughts …..Mistake #4 I have often wondered about direct deposits. I like the idea however my bank tells me I should not provide my account number to anyone. I understand at first that would make good sense but as I explained to my banker, It is only for direct deposit and consequently the rental account is set up separate from my other accounts. I like the idea of going online to see deposits and reduce any downtime. My banker suggested paypal. I have never had a tenant yet ask to pay this way. I filled a vacancy once while out of town and had one surprising request by tenant….It was a legitimate request. They wanted verification that I was the owner. They were worried about being scamed on property.

  3. Payal Z.

    I do long distance management on one property, and am in the process of buying another across the country. Like you mentioned, almost everything can be done online and over the phone. I do, however, hire an agent to help me show the unit to prospective tenants and inform me of the condition of the house in between tenants. Technically, I don’t have to do that as I can just put a lockbox, but I don’t feel comfortable with that.

    • Elizabeth Colegrove

      My tenants do show the houses for me so I have been lucky in that regard. I personally am a huge believer in putting eyes on your property. While I have had others tell me the condition, it has still almost cost me over $4,000. That is why I like to fly out and do the transition.

  4. Richard Cook

    Hi Elizabeth – great article and a good review of how to PM from afar! Thanks for sharing your lessons learned and advice! Quick question: have you had to worry about an eviction from afar? Do you fly out and take care of it or do you have an eviction attorney in the local area that takes care of all that for you? Have you ever had tenants that attempt to take advantage of the fact that you’re geographically separated?

  5. Nathan Carter

    Good article Elizabeth,
    Good advice on interviewing a tenant from a distance so you property does not sit vacant. I also invest from overseas, looks like we have a few countries in common, I live in Fiji and before that Abu Dhabi. Thanks for the post and best of luck as you grow your real estate business. Nathan

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