For many real estate investors, it’s tough to make a profit. It’s not as easy as the TV shows make it seem. But with some basic best practices, you can make some serious money.
I’ve invested in rental property for over 10 years now, and I’ve learned some tough lessons. However, I’m more bullish on real estate investing than I ever have been. There has never been a better time to be a landlord in America.
Real estate doesn’t change much, as it can take decades for a property to appreciate. What can change rapidly is how you manage your properties.
Before modern technology, tenants would:
Drive around and/or read the newspaper classifieds to find available rental properties.
Call and schedule a tour of the property.
Fill out a paper application.
If accepted, they would meet you at the property, an office, or a coffee shop to sign the lease.
If you’ve used any kind of technology in the past five years (like a smartphone), you’re aware of the benefits.
Real estate is prime for disruption because many agents and investors are using technology from the 90’s.
If you like the idea of using technology to save time, here are some ways to make your real estate business more profitable:
1. Install A Programmable Thermostat
Housing is a commodity and isn’t, by itself, personal. However, people crave personalization and want to feel special. If you are targeting a particular demographic, think of how you can offer extra and personalized features to the property. One of my friends caters to senior citizens, for example. He makes sure his doors are 33 inches wide and that the properties have security systems.
I like to target energy-conscious tenants. Even if you don’t personally care much about the environment, you probably don’t like having a high utility bill. I suggest getting the first-generation Nest to save money.
Nest is a programmable thermostat. Although programmable thermostats have been around a long time, the Nest is different because of its simplicity of use. My wife installed ours in less than 10 minutes and had it integrated on her iPhone in fewer than five minutes. And best of all: The Nest learns your behavior and automatically adjusts its settings. A Nest pays for itself in about a year.
Another great item to personalize a property for your energy-conscious tenant is the Philips Hue lightbulb, a programmable, color-changing LED bulb that gives users flexibility over the color of light emitted. This allows you to set the mood for any occasion.
2. Install High-Tech Locks
What happens when one of your tenants gets locked out?
Many tenants live on their smartphones and enjoy the productivity benefits. So consider adding a smart lock that can open with a key or bluetooth. This is a benefit to tenants in case they need to let a friend in, and it’s a benefit to you as you can grant temporary access to maintenance workers.
3. Use Online Systems
Offline and paper-based transaction methods are time-consuming and costly.
The cost with using a paper-based system is with the extra time it takes to sort through paper-based applications, screen tenants manually, and process checks. This problem is exacerbated in my business, since I have a business partner and we like to share information.
To solve this, I use Cozy. With Cozy, all these processes are fast and easy because we have a company log-in that we both use.
4. Collect Rent Electronically
The number one complaint I hear from tenants is that their landlord doesn’t accept electronic payments. Making tenants write a check and mail it to you is not timely, efficient, or convenient. Other tenants want to pay in cash, which requires you to collect in person, which is also inefficient.
Cozy offers a way for tenants to pay their rent electronically.
If your tenants set up an ACH transfer, payments are deposited within 3-5 days of the tenant initiating the payment, and it’s free for them.
If your tenant pays with a credit card, they pay 2.75%. The money is deposited 1-2 days after they pay.
I encourage you to visit the “How Payments Work” section on Cozy’s website for more information.
5. Develop a Niche Brand
Branding your business by clearly communicating who you are to the public can be beneficial.
I’m a coffee fanatic, for example, and I make it a point to buy a coffee mug from every title company I have a closing with. Recently, a title company was trying to get my business, and they brought my team and me branded glasses. I told them this was unique. They responded with:
We know you have everybody else’s coffee mugs, so we thought you should get glasses.
I guess my brand is getting around!
Business cards are often thrown away, but coffee mugs with the name of your company and phone number are incredibly useful.
You can also offer a monthly giveaway for local products and services. The cost of this branding doesn’t have to be expensive, and the payoff from longer-leasing tenants and referrals can make this a huge return on investment.
6. Upgrade Your Computer’s Security
With wireless connectivity for several applications in your properties along with Wi-fi that is sometimes public, security will be the forefront of any conversation about technology advances.
As landlords, we collect a lot of information about our tenants: names, phone numbers, address, income, workplace, next of kin, references, etc. It’s not too farfetched to think of personalized services based on this information. However, what would happen if this data were stolen?
I recommend taking extra security precautions with internet-based tools such as using a password manager like 1Password, which saves all your PINs, passwords, and even credit card information in one place. When you need to sign into something, you just have to click once. 1Password information is encrypted, so you never have to worry about that information being hacked.
Credit to Jimmy Moncrief
Jimmy is a multifamily real estate investor and bank credit officer.
I got into the landlord business purely by accident. Everything was going well, at least, for a while.
I thought I was lucky since my screening process consisted of a neighbor knowing a person who needed a place. Eventually, not surprisingly, my tenant stopped paying rent.
Since I didn’t have much experience as a landlord at the time, I listened to my tenant’s excuses and regularly took rent payments late. Before too long, my tenant was six months behind on rent.
I learned a thing or two since then, and now I know what to do when a tenant stops paying rent. If you’re a landlord, you should know, too.
1. Talk With Your Tenant
There’s a phrase I learned from Dr. Phil: “You teach people how to treat you.” By being a pushover with my tenant, they learned that when their bills piled up, rent could be skipped here and there without any repercussions.
Instead, I should have talked with my tenant. I should have asked what the problem was. It’s a good thing to be understanding, but tenants need to realize that they need to pay rent on time, or they can’t stay.
If you don’t pay, you can’t stay.
Let them know that you still need to pay your bills and, therefore, can’t afford not to receive rent.
The first time rent is late, let your tenant know that because you understand that renting this place has become a hardship, you’re willing to let them out of their lease early without penalty if they leave by the end of the week. If they don’t want to do that, let them know that you’ll be giving them a formal eviction notice.
That might be all it takes to get your tenant back on track and paying rent on time. When faced with the idea of needing to leave the property, quickly finding another place, and coming up with moving costs (not to mention paying rent and security deposit elsewhere), paying rent to you will probably become a top priority.
2. Send a “Pay or Quit” Notice
Almost every state requires a landlord to send a “Notice to pay or quit” when a tenant fails to pay rent. Basically, this is a formal letter (or email) that says “Hey, you forgot to pay rent! You have X days to pay it in full, or your lease will be terminated and you’ll have to move out.”
In most states, this “X” notice period is short, in the range of 3 to 5 days. If they don’t pay, and they don’t move out, then you can formally terminate their agreement and they lose the right to occupy the dwelling. If they still refuse to leave, then you have to file an action with your local eviction court.
3. File an Eviction Action
The only way to legally “force” a tenant out of a property is with the sheriff’s help. A landlord is never allowed to lock out a tenant or turn off essential utilities.
If you have a rogue tenant, you might have to go down to your local courthouse and fill out the proper paperwork for an eviction hearing. They will likely want to see the “Notice to Pay or Quit” that you sent, so be sure to bring that with you.
Once you pay the court fees, the administrator will schedule your hearing, which is usually 2-6 weeks out. You might be responsible for serving the tenant the subpoena, but some courts will do this for you.
Then, show up on your court date, explain your case, and hopefully you will win a judgement against the tenant. Then you can hire the sheriff to remove the tenant by force.
4. Pay Your Tenant to Leave: Cash for Keys
If your tenant doesn’t pay the rent after your talk, you still have a chance to avoid the eviction process. You can make a deal. If your tenant isn’t paying the rent because of financial problems, they might be motivated to move pronto if you pay them.
Yes, I know that this idea feels wrong. They owe you money, so why should you pay them?
You need to get your emotions out of this, and weigh the costs and benefits in a businesslike manner to help you make the decision. An eviction will get the tenant out. But it won’t be immediate. Check with your jurisdiction to find out how long evictions typically take.
Hint: Evictions generally take longer than you want to wait, typically one to three months.
Evictions generally (always) take longer than you want to wait.
If your tenant leaves immediately because you paid them, say, $250, $500, or even $1,000, you will probably be better off, not to mention the stress you’ll save yourself over the next month or more from going through the eviction process then trying to collect on the judgment.
5. Consider Hiring a Property Manager or a Lawyer
If you just aren’t the type to deal with a tenant who stops paying rent, or if you aren’t enforcing timely rent payments each month, you might be better off hiring a property manager. The same tenant who might try to get away with not paying you for a month or two probably won’t try that once a professional property manager is in charge.
The management company is a neutral third-party with systems in place for handling unpleasant situations.
Alternatively, you could hire a lawyer who will try to hunt down your money and barrage the tenant with notices and formal letters.
Credit to Laura Agadoni
Laura is a landlord, journalist, and author of New Home Journal: Record All the Repairs, Upgrades and Home Improvements During Your Years at…. Her articles appear in various publications such as Trulia, The Houston Chronicle, The Motley Fool, SFGate, Zacks, The Penny Hoarder, and loanDepot.
Like rookie buyers, clients who are new to selling need extra hand-holding through the sales process.
Even the most steely-eyed sellers can get emotional when it’s time to list their home. It’s the place where they raised their children, gathered friends for annual holiday parties, or painstakingly executed their design vision over many years. The longer they have stayed in a home, the greater the challenges they may face getting up-to-date on the rules and regulations governing transactions. Those who have never before sold are, indeed, in uncharted territory. Here are suggestions for working with first-time sellers who may find the financial and legal complexities, as well as the emotional terrain, especially daunting.
First-time sellers who have never contended with buyer demands may not initially understand how neutralizing their home or adding small upgrades can make their property more competitive on the market. Using data to highlight comparable nearby homes and what they’re selling for is a good place to start, but make sure to explain how the data supports your argument. Andy Werner, abr, e-pro, associate broker at RE/MAX Realty Group in Gaithersburg, Md., says many first-time sellers don’t realize how minor repairs can elevate their property’s market value. Buyers typically expect a home to be in move-in condition, so sellers who choose not to upgrade could face a $10,000 to $15,000 price reduction, he says.
“I tell buyers that if you don’t fix up your house, the buyer will go around the corner and buy from someone who did—and they’ll pay $5,000 more,” Werner says. Such an explanation demonstrates market fundamentals to your clients and keeps them on track toward the closing table. The costs of modest repairs, such as repainting, installing carpet, and refinishing or replacing kitchen cabinetry, are often recouped at resale, Werner adds.
Selling After Decades of Owning
Some common seller issues become more difficult simply because of how long a first-time seller has lived in a home. Decluttering, for example, can be hard enough for someone who’s been in their home only five years. Imagine how challenging it is for sellers who have lived in a home for their entire adult life.
It’s not just emotional resistance they’re experiencing. First-timers may simply not be aware of how clearing out personal items improves the odds of a sale. Alice Chin, psa, a broker with Keller Williams Infinity in Naperville, Ill., recommends that sellers who have never dramatically decluttered their homes before do it in stages, clearing one room at a time. Slowing down the pace can ease the mental and emotional pressure involved in getting rid of personal items, she says, and once sellers see the results in one room, it can encourage them to continue working on the rest of the house. If your client needs more convincing, ask a professional home stager to weigh in, Chin says.
Patience Is a Virtue
All sellers benefit from practicing patience while waiting for the right buyer, but this is doubly true for those who are listing a vacation home in resort areas for the first time. They face different market dynamics than if they were selling a primary residence, says McKee Macdonald, a broker with Coldwell Banker Carlson Real Estate in the ski resort town of Stowe, Vt. Many of his clients who are new to selling are shocked to learn how long it can take to sell—an average of 250 days in his market. Some properties have languished for as long as five years, he says.
Therefore, first-time sellers require a higher degree of communication so they can be prepared for the realities of a niche market, Macdonald says. He explains that traditional marketing tactics such as open houses aren’t always effective because the number of skiers (who are prospective buyers) in town on weekends is unpredictable. Instead, he advises his clients to consider renting out vacation properties while they wait for a buyer. After all, selling a second home often isn’t urgent, and a seller’s motivation can change. “Some sellers say, ‘Throw it out there. If we get the price we want, great. If not, I’m still using it,’” Macdonald says.
Experienced Sellers Can Be Rookies
Even seasoned sellers can feel like newbies when market conditions have changed markedly since their last sale. A client who sold one property during a downturn may be ill-prepared for today’s tight-inventory environment and the stress of handling multiple offers. Though it’s a nice problem to have, it can still be overwhelming.
Ashleigh Fredrickson, sales associate at 8Z Real Estate in Denver, says the biggest challenge for sellers of all experience levels is determining which offers stand the best chance of holding up. In a strong seller’s market, buyers can get swept up in the heat of the moment and bid 10 percent over list price only to realize later they won’t be able to qualify for financing, she says. So it’s important to counsel sellers—particularly those who have never been in such a situation—that the highest bid isn’t necessarily the best. “You want to make sure you’re getting the most qualified buyer so that you’re not back out on the market again,” Fredrickson says.
She suggests using a spreadsheet to help sellers analyze competing bids, taking special note of any contingencies. Your clients need to understand that a higher offer with more contingencies may not be in their best interest. “Maybe the timeline is paramount, so the seller will sacrifice a couple of thousand dollars to ensure the deal is done by a certain time,” Fredrickson says.
Above all, directness and thorough education are what every first-time seller needs, Macdonald adds. When a sale isn’t going the way a seller had imagined it would, “you need to look for strategies to offset the negatives.” But always “give sellers the honest truth, and don’t sugarcoat it,” he says.
Credit to Judith Crown
Judith Crown is a Chicago-based freelance writer specializing in business, government, and education.
Every renter deserves peace and quiet. But people interpret “quiet” in different ways, which can lead to uncomfortable situations for landlords.
For example, consider this true story that I call “The Case of the Midnight Guitarist.” The landlord, a friend of mine who owns several properties in California’s San Lorenzo Valley, told me about a musician who lived in one of two rental units in a quiet, creek-side setting.
“One day I received a noise complaint from the tenants in one of the units. It seemed the renter in the other unit had a habit of unwinding from a long day at work by practicing guitar. Unfortunately, his guitar was electric and had to be plugged into an amplifier to be heard. He would play what he thought were peaceful riffs well into the night. My other tenants didn’t think the riffs were peaceful.”
My landlord friend asked the guitarist to wear headphones, but he refused. All the renters had signed a standard rental agreement that failed to address noise issues, so my friend faced a quandary: How to ensure that every tenant experienced quiet enjoyment without violating the guitarist’s rights?
What is Quiet Enjoyment?
An implied warranty between the tenant and landlord, a provision for “quiet enjoyment” may contain the word “quiet,” but that doesn’t necessarily proscribe noise. It simply means that the tenant is entitled to undisturbed use of the premises. Courts read this warranty into every lease, whether or not it’s expressly stated.
Among the benefits it guarantees are:
Use of all amenities supplied with the unit.
If an appliance breaks, the landlord has to fix it.
Unimpeded access to the unit.
The landlord is expected to keep the driveway clear and all doors and lock sets in good working order.
Freedom from intrusion.
In the absence of lease violations or overt damage to the premises, tenants have a right to privacy, which includes freedom from an unreasonable number of landlord visits.
Peace and quiet.
The landlord must address any disturbing noise within his or her control, such as a chirping smoke alarm.
One Person’s Noise is Another’s Music
It’s difficult to make everyone happy all the time. In the case of the midnight guitarist, one set of tenants was disturbed. But the guitarist viewed the noise he created as inspiring. As far as he was concerned, his guitar playing constituted quiet enjoyment of the premises.
After my friend received several complaints, he voluntarily granted the aggrieved tenants a rent reduction to encourage them to stay. My friend lost money, because of his failure to address noise in the lease.
A properly worded lease can provide much-needed leverage.
The landlord’s bottom line was affected the most, because he failed to address noise in the lease.
Avoid Generic Rental Agreements
My friend used a generic California rental agreement downloaded from the internet. It contained no specific quiet enjoyment clause and did not address noise at all. Covering little more than rental payments, late fees, and security deposits, it left most other issues—such as maintenance and usage guidelines—open.
There’s nothing “free” about a free lease template. It’ll cost you thousands of dollars in damages.
More sophisticated leases usually contain a quiet enjoyment clause, but it generally covers the use of the unit itself—not the impact of the tenant’s use on other renters. It is possible, however, to include language concerning noise in that clause. Moreover, the clause can contain a caveat, such as “subject to all terms and provisions of this lease,” and the lease can address potential disturbances in a separate clause.
Enforce Quiet Hours
An effective way to ensure equal enjoyment of quiet time for all tenants is to specify hours during which noise is to be kept to a minimum. These hours may differ on weekdays and weekends, but they typically begin at 10 p.m. The lease should specify that “quiet time” applies to guests as well as tenants.
Also check with your local county or town code enforcement office. They might already have noise ordinances in place, which you could enforce. The great thing about noise ordinances is that if a tenant doesn’t comply, you can call the police and they will enforce it for you.
Even if all renters agree to a “quiet hours” clause, it can be difficult to resolve a dispute. Different people tend to have different noise thresholds.
Landlords typically use some of the following criteria to help them adjudicate noise complaints:
Has more than one tenant complained? Multiple complaints carry more weight than one from a (possibly oversensitive) individual.
Are complaints recurring? This points to a pattern of willful disturbance.
Source of the noise.
Is the noise a product of everyday activities? An 80% carpet rule can help prevent noise disturbances in the case of multistory dwellings.
Actions to remedy.
Have any steps been taken to address the source of the noise? The Midnight Guitarist, for example, may have tried turning down the volume.
Documentation and credibility.
Has the complaining tenant documented instances of disturbances? Dates, times, and estimates of noise levels are all helpful.
The quiet hours lease clause should also specify penalties for violation. Eviction should be an option but not the only one. A monetary penalty should prevent recurrences in most cases.
A Sample “Quiet Enjoyment” Clause
While the exact language to use in a quiet hours clause may vary from state to state, a typical one might look something like the following:
Quiet Enjoyment. The tenant may live in and use the apartment without interference subject to this lease. Tenant may not disturb the quiet enjoyment of any other tenant in the building or surrounding neighbors. The tenant is responsible for adhering to the building’s quiet hours. Quiet hours are from (Insert Quiet Hours for Property) on weekdays and from (Insert Quiet Hours for Property) on weekends. If tenant violates the quiet hours policy on three separate documented occasions, the tenant is in violation of the lease agreement. The landlord reserves the right to charge the tenant a penalty of $ (Insert Dollar Amount) and/or evict the tenant, the decision of which is the sole right of the landlord.
Credit to Chris Deziel
Chris has owned and managed 4 rental properties in Santa Cruz, CA, and Salida, CO. He is a DIY handyman expert for popular sites like Pro Referral.