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Who is Responsible for Cleaning Dirty Carpets?

Swatches_of_carpet_1

Is that chocolate ice cream, or something the previous tenant’s baby left behind? Ah yes, the joys of renting a unit with carpet.

While landlords are responsible for ensuring that their rental units are safe and inhabitable, it’s difficult to argue that a dirty carpet is dangerous or makes a house unlivable.

But what exactly is meant by a “unlivable“, and how do cleaning carpet stains fit in?

Aren’t carpet stains considered “normal wear and tear”?

If you, as a renter, are confused about your rights, you’re not alone. This is a common problem, and one that can cause to you live in less than ideal living conditions. Livable conditions typically refer to necessities, such as having a roof over your head, hot water, and heat during the winter.

But you might, for example, be asked to live with a drip in the bathroom or an unsightly stain in the carpet.

Although those problems are pretty minor and are unlikely to be a reason for you to leave your rental property, those irritants can make a living situation unpleasant.

Who Made it Dirty?

Did you, the renter, spill red wine, or drop your spaghetti dinner onto the carpet? If so, then you’ll likely be responsible to fix/clean it.

Even though most of America eats dinner in front of their TV, food spills are never “normal wear and tear”. That’s why we have dining rooms, and if you choose to each on the couch, you do so at your own risk.

…though common, food spills are never “normal wear”

Was the stain there when you moved-in? If so, then the landlord certainly can’t hold you responsible for it – but he also might not have to clean it.

Be sure to document the condition of the property, including the stain, when you move in so there are no issues later. And while it might be unsightly, the landlord still doesn’t have to fix it unless it’s causing a health issue.

Here’s a related podcast episode:

Lucas Hall        
How Much Can a Landlord Charge for Carpet Damage?           How Much Can a Landlord Charge for Carpet Damage?          
Janitor Cleaner Vacuum Carpet Cleaning Shield

Know the Laws for Cleaning, Maintenance, and Repairs

A stain in the carpet, or generally dirty carpets, do not make a rental unit uninhabitable (obviously); therefore, the rules surrounding whether a landlord has to clean a carpet can seem hazy.

Cosmetic repairs are usually not legally required. But in some cases, such as issues with mold or health risks, landlords may have to make such repairs.

If the carpet stain or condition is a threat to human safety, then the landlord should intervene.

To help you determine whether your landlord is legally required to clean or repair your carpet, you could do some research to see if this is addressed in the following:

  1. County building codes
  2. State tenant-landlord laws
  3. Written or oral promises that your landlord has made
  4. Terms of your lease

If you find out that your landlord is legally required to clean the carpet every X years, or deal with the unsightly carpet stain, then the next hurdle is to actually get your landlord to do it.

Although withholding your rent or using a “repair and deduct” procedure might be allowed by law in some states, it is not advisable to do either because these methods can result in eviction.

Instead, why not try out an alternative to get your landlord to clean your carpet (or make other minor repairs)?

Here are four ideas to get your carpet clean:

1. Speak with Your Landlord

Ask your landlord about cleaning the carpet or doing another minor repair job. Your landlord might be very willing to fix the problem, especially if it prolongs the life of the carpet.

Plus, it shows that you take pride in the condition of the unit and your landlord will likely want to make things better for you.

2. Write a Repair Request

Even if you have spoken with your landlord, writing a letter or an email can be helpful.

It gives the landlord time to think over the request. Additionally, a repair request gives you the opportunity to describe the problem and to explain why it is in the landlord’s best interest to clean the stain in the carpet.

Let them know that the stain may become worse and thus more costly to clean later.

3. Propose Mediation

If you can’t get your landlord to cooperate, you can propose a formal mediation.

This is probably one of the last resorts that you should consider with regards to cleaning carpet stains. But in some cases, contacting a mediation service can be the only way forward, especially if oral and written requests are ignored.

Mediators work with both you and your landlord to come up with a solution that you both agree is fair.

With that said, if your landlord is a slumlord, they will just ignore your request and act like you are crazy.

4. Clean Carpet Stains Yourself

If the landlord is not required by law to clean the carpet stain (which is common), and they are not willing to do so, you could try to clean the carpet stain yourself.

There are many methods to clean carpet stains; one of the most effective is by using a combination of vinegar and baking soda.

  1. Soak the carpet stain with vinegar.
  2. Sprinkle a little baking soda over the vinegar.
  3. Pour vinegar on the pile of baking soda (expect a carpet volcano).
  4. Wait until it absorbs the stain (approximately 5 minutes).
  5. Wipe up the mixture, and vacuum.

This method should remove most carpet stains, so it is well worth a try, especially if your landlord is likely to withhold your security deposit if such stains are evident.

Credit to Jimmy Moncrief

Jimmy is a multifamily real estate investor and bank credit officer. He has written a complimentary bank negotiating guide on how to get around the 80% LTV rule.

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6 Home Improvement Flubs That Cause Inspection Headaches

homeinspection

Do-it-yourself household projects have become increasingly popular, but home inspectors are finding a host of safety problems caused by overconfident home owners seeking shortcuts. “Home owners now see these DIY TV shows, which make these household remodeling projects look easy. They can go to a big box store and easily get the materials too,” says Randy Sipe, president of the American Society of Home Inspectors in Spring Hill, Kansas. “They think: ‘How hard can it be?’” Howard Pegelow, a home inspector in Arizona and Wisconsin, says home safety is a top priority in his inspections. He looks for loose carpeting, uneven steps, and water temperature extremes, among other common risk factors. Here are additional concerns noted by Pegelow, Sipe, and others in the field:

Wobbly decks

Look for: insecurely attached railings and wobbling or improperly sized posts.

“Decks shouldn’t move,” says Scott Patterson, an inspector with Trace Inspections in the Nashville area. Wood decks can collapse if they’re not properly attached to the house or if they rely on the house too much for support. “Fasteners can corrode, which could result in failure of the deck. Many times owners are unaware all these problems exist,” Sipe adds.

Incorrectly removed walls

Look for: sagging roofs and ceilings.

Open floor plans are appealing, but not when they overlook structural issues, which can happen when home owners fail to identify load-bearing walls. Pay attention to the age of a home, Patterson says. In newer construction, homes tend to have greater side support, which can accommodate open floor plans. Older homes relied more on the center for stability, which can mean trouble for amateur wall-busters.

DIY plumbing

Look for: wrong pipes used for connections.

A common error Patterson sees in plumbing jobs comes from home owners who purchase a sink and cabinet from a big-box store and handle the installation themselves. Using the wrong pipes often results in costly water damage. Patterson says he commonly sees flexible, accordion-shaped pipe under the sink for the drain, even though they do not comply with residential plumbing codes. Pipes should be smooth and unridged to prevent clogs or waste buildup.

Missing garage door sensors

Look for: sensors missing or not facing one another.

Garage doors can pose a big safety threat if improperly installed, Sipe says. The safety sensors must be connected and aligned correctly for the garage door to go down, and if it doesn’t, the owner may just uninstall them. Additionally, a poor connection could be the culprit of the sensor malfunction. Sipe says he often sees the safety cable being threaded incorrectly, which could cause it to break and send the garage door door crashing down.

Disarmed alarms

Look for: missing batteries or disconnected alarms.

Home inspectors aren’t always required to test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, but many do. Municipalities often suggest installing them within 15 feet of the primary entrance to each sleeping room. Home owners often remove them if they start chirping or disconnect them to prevent false alarms as they cook. “Many times I’ll open it up and find the battery is gone,” Pegelow says. “That is a big safety concern.”

Faulty electrical

Watch for: exposed wiring and overloaded circuits.

Electrical problems often emerge when an addition has been made to a home, such as a basement or attic remodel. Home owners may add two wires to one circuit breaker where there should be only one. Or, Sipe says, he sees amateurs using a wire that’s too small in the breaker, which could pose a fire hazard.

 

Credit to Melissa Dittmann Tracey
Contributing Editor

Melissa Dittmann Tracey is a contributing editor for REALTOR® magazine. She can be reached at mtracey@realtors.org.

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Top 20 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Property Manager

Property puzzle concept

It takes a talented and unique skill set to be a professional property manager. Not everyone is cut out for it, but this article will help you tell the amateurs from the pros.

Property management is a complicated, fast-paced business, but generally speaking, there are some of the traits I see in successful property managers

  • Pleasant, but firm
  • Communicative, but not aggressive
  • Detailed oriented, but not in the weeds
  • Organized, but not obsessive
  • Calm, but not seemingly apathetic
  • Truthful, but does not overshare
  • Is always learning, but is not arrogant
  • and lastly, is passionate about real estate investing

Obviously, there’s more to being a successful manager, but I’m going to stop there. You see, most of the managers I’ve met only possess half of these traits (at best), and as such, it causes the business to struggle.

I’m not saying that they need to be perfect (I’m sure not!), but there needs to be a pursuit for something bigger and something greater. Managers who push themselves professionally towards these traits are the ones that will be able to keep your rental property occupied, meticulously maintained, and your tenants happy.

A good property manager is worth his or her weight in gold.

Top 20 Questions to Ask a Property Manager

Questions to ask

Recently, the folks at Active Renter put together an in-depth guide to interviewing a property manager before you hire them. While I think 74 questions is a bit much (okay, way too much), the premise is solid.

With their permission, I’ve picked my top 20 questions to ask a property manager – which would still take 30 minutes or more to ask. In my opinion, these are the most important questions to ask a property manager that you are thinking about hiring.

1) What are the various services that you offer to your clients?

You want to make sure that you find a property management company that can market, lease, manage, and sell your property. It is also important to make sure that this company can provide top-notch maintenance, conduct inspections, and administer in-depth background checks.

2) How many rental units do you manage?

This will help you understand their size. Too few rental units and they are either inexperienced or have lost clients due to poor service. Too many rental units and you will get lost in the shuffle. Look for a property manager with 200 to 600 rental units. That’s when you’ve found your Goldilocks level of “just right.”

3) What experience does your company owner have in managing rentals?

Some company owners have never even managed a property. If the company owner has never managed a rental, what is the chance that he or she runs a company that can effectively help you with your investment property?

4) How do you determine rent amount?

A property manager should be able to complete a comparable market analysis of all the other available listings near your property. They should use properties that just went off the market and properties that are currently on the market to determine the highest possible rent. They should also have the expertise and experience needed to factor in the unique aspects of your rental property, like a pool or a new kitchen.

5) Are you currently an active real estate investor in your market?

The company’s leadership should be investing in the real estate market themselves. Period. If they don’t invest in your market then they lack the understanding they need to help you excel.

6) Under what conditions can I cancel my management contract?

Never get locked into a contract you can’t escape. Some companies will try to hold you captive with a contract and others will keep your business with great service. If a company is offering you an inescapable contract, it’s time to look elsewhere.

7) What are the management fees and/or pricing options when the property is being rented?

This question will help you understand your average monthly fee, if any. Some companies will offer a flat rate and others will offer a rate based on the rent amount. Others will offer 3 levels of pricing, which includes a lease only plan, standard plan, and a premium plan.

Again, you’re best off looking for a percentage of collected rents. This motivates your property manager to fill vacancies because they don’t get paid if you don’t have a tenant. It also motivates them to fight for higher rent amounts because this helps their bottom line too. Flat rate companies will get the same pay no matter what, so why would they be motivated to get you a higher rent?

8) Are their fees when the property has no tenants?

This is a very important question to ask for two reasons. One, many companies will offer a “flat rate,” which sounds great until your property is empty…and they still continue to charge you. If a company is taking money with the property empty, how motivated do you think they are to fill the vacancy?

9) What miscellaneous fees could I be charged for the management of my property?

Again, some companies will try to get you to sign because they offer a low rate. As the saying goes, if it is too good to be true, it probably is. Once you’ve signed, a company that seemed inexpensive will now charge you lots of extra fees. Remember, a property management company has to make money, so if they aren’t making money from the low monthly fee they will find another way to do it.

10) Do I have to sell my property with you if I want to list it?

Some property managers will ask you to sign a contract that forces you to sell the property with them. Don’t fall for this. A quality brokerage would never require this- but rather they would be available if you wanted to use their brokerage services.

11) Do you offer direct deposit for your owners?

Unless you’re living in Back to the Future and you’ve traveled to the 1800’s, your property manager should be able to deposit your check in your account. This saves you time and effort, which is the whole reason you hired them.

12) How do you collect rent from tenants?

Asking tenants to bring checks to an office is a lot like wearing acid washed jeans, it might have been okay in the 80’s, but the times have changed. If your property manager isn’t having your tenants pay online that is a red flag for two reasons. One, it slows down the speed at which you can get paid. Two, it makes it easier for tenants to miss paying the rent. If payment is online, tenants can automate their payment and these two problems are avoided.

13) Do you conduct property inspections and, if you do, what charge is associated with them?

Your property is at risk if your property manager doesn’t conduct inspections. This should require a small fee and it will be one of the best investments you can make. It ensures you catch problems before they spiral out of control.

14) Do you offer eviction warranty (also called a “screening guarantee”?

Some companies, such as ourselves, will offer eviction warranty. It is only a small fee, but it will give you major coverage should you need to evict a tenant.

15) What steps do you take to market properties?

Your property manager should be advertising properties through a variety of channels. If they are still just placing newspaper ads and hoping for the best then you should steer clear.

16) How long are your properties typically vacant?

The average vacancy time after a property is ready should be about 2-4 weeks. Any longer than this suggests the property manager is struggling to find tenants, any shorter than this suggests that your asking rent amount is too low and you might be leaving money on the table. Either of these scenarios is bad for you and your rental property.

17) What are your income and screening requirements for applicants?

If they don’t set a standard then how can they be sure this tenant will make rent? It should go without saying that a tenant needs to have enough income to pay the rent.

18) What control do I have over the tenant lease agreement?

Your property manager should give you some input into the lease agreement if there are one or two issues that are important to you. However, if you are putting in lots of additions, you should have just written it yourself. Make sure your prospective property manager is confident in the leases that they have written for tenants by asking this question.

19) Do you mark-up maintenance and repairs?

You need to make sure that a prospective property management company doesn’t make a profit any time they do maintenance. If they are willing to charge you for maintenance then your profits could greatly diminish.

20) How often will I get updates on my portfolio?

Just like payment statements, you should be able to get updates on your portfolio as often as you need them. Your properties are your business and to not offer updates as often as you want would be the equivalent of telling your property manager that they can’t check their email for a week. It is a situation that would guarantee failure.

Credit to Lucas Hall

Lucas is the Chief Landlordologist at Cozy. He has been a successful landlord for over 10 years, with dozens of happy tenants and a profitable income property portfolio.

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Getting and Staying Organized Through the Summer

Between vacations, BBQs, and pool parties, we can lose track of routines, projects and “stuff.”

Inscription Summer on beach sand

Sometime about now in mid-summer we begin asking ourselves, “Why do things seem to be out of control? I planned on organizing my photos, painting that cute dresser I picked up at the yard sale last fall, and waking up without an alarm clock on Fridays. None of it has happened!”

This scenario is all too common — and yet there is good news. It’s never too late to get and stay organized for the remainder of the summer.

People tend to get busy with outdoor activities and become distracted by vacations, plus household schedules and routines tend to be different than during the school year. The most common areas that seem to spiral out of control are:

  • Summer clutter
  • Project procrastination
  • Sleep routines

Here are my tips for getting and staying organized through the summer.

Summer clutter

We’re conditioned to create traditions and rituals. We buy new outdoor furniture and decorations for our backyard barbecue, and bring friends and family together for camping trips chock full of new-fangled gadgets and equipment. We have family reunions and summer vacations.

We’re used to buying, creating, and preparing for events — yet we don’t really have a method or system to deal with the aftermath.

It may be time to say goodbye to the stuff we buy “on the fly,” like walkie talkies for playful banter on road trips, floaties for the swimming pool,  collapsible picnic tables for the beach, croquet sets for the backyard, and rain ponchos for the fast-moving and sudden rainstorm.

I recommend two steps for handling summer clutter:

  1. Collect all the summer clutter. Empty the souvenir bags, toiletry kits, suitcases, and backpacks. Get it all in one place.
  1. Evaluate it. I do this by using a value-based point system. Rate each item on a scale of 0 to 5. Zero means you have no real use for it in the future and don’t like it at all. Five means you really love the item and can use it, or it brings you great joy to keep it.

Project procrastination

Often we feel more disorganized or confused about our perceived “free time” during the summer months. This can happen because we spend the first half of the year postponing projects until summer vacation.

Each year we stack the projects-in-waiting for summer, and each year we seem to forget that we would really rather enjoy some time off in nature, traveling, or getting together with friends.

If you want to reduce the pressure for yourself, release yourself from too many good intentions, like repainting the powder room; reading the stack of books you’ve collected; and that wishful photo-organizing project.

Instead, pick just one project and focus on it. By making one project the priority, you can do little bits of it from time to time. So, instead of putting off the project and feeling badly that it isn’t getting done, break your priority project down into doing one small step per day.

Sample summer project

Want to paint that dresser? Allow yourself 13 “moments” to complete the project and never miss a bit of summer fun. Use this project breakdown to make any project fit in around your unpredictable summer schedule.

Painting a dresser purchased at a yard sale

  • Take a “before” picture: 30 seconds
  • Make a list of supplies needed: 5 minutes
  • Buy paint and supplies: 1 hour
  • Stage the area where you plan to paint: 15 minutes
  • Pull the drawers out of the dresser: 3 minutes
  • Remove the knobs from the drawers: 10 minutes
  • Sand the dresser and drawers: 35 minutes
  • Wipe down the dresser and drawers: 10 minutes
  • Paint just a drawer or two (repeat): 30 minutes
  • Paint the frame of the dresser: 1 hour
  • Re-attach knobs: 20 minutes
  • Move dresser to preferred location: 20 minutes
  • Take picture and post for friends to see: 3 minutes

Sleep routines

Most of us realize instinctively that sleep is important.

“You know that babies and children need sleep to grow,” says Val Sgro, a professional organizer and author. “You know that an injured body heals itself faster with good sleep. You know that if you don’t get enough sleep, you become sluggish and cranky, and you have trouble thinking straight. That old saying, ‘I’ll sleep on it,’ comes from the realization that the solution to a problem often seems to reveal itself after a good night’s sleep.

“Contrary to common belief, your brain does not rest when you sleep,” she continues. “It is often more active than when you’re awake. It’s busy — busy making sure it stays organized.”

Kid on sleeping bed, happy bedtime in white bedroom

And therein lies the key to getting and staying organized in the summer months. Though our sleep routines will likely be off kilter, it’s worth asking the question, “How will I be able to get seven or eight hours of sleep tonight? How will I fit it in?”

Maybe you need to grab a mid-day nap or put yourself (not just the kids) to bed an hour earlier. Getting more sleep will help you make better decisions when you pack (and thus have fewer items to “buy on the fly” while traveling).

More sleep means being more alert driving on road trips; consuming less sugar or caffeine for a mid-day boost; and showing up with an overall better outlook for the day. And in the middle of summer travel or hosting guests who are visiting for a week, that couldn’t be a more welcome benefit.

Credit to DorothyTheOrganizer

DorothyTheOrganizer (Dorothy Breininger) is America’s most innovative organizer and can be seen weekly on the critically acclaimed, Emmy-nominated show “Hoarders” on A&E. She also appears on The Doctors, The Dr. Phil Show and The View. Creating organization solutions that change people’s lives is her passion. DorothytheOrganizer.com features tips and home organization solutions that will finally let you rid yourself of the clutter that holds you back from success.

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5 Considerations Before Buying a Rental Property

The rental market has seen a boom and decline in recent years. In the US, home prices peaked in 2007/08 and then plummeted to suffocating levels – causing foreclosures and abandonment nationwide.

In the UK, the rise of buy-to-let mortgage programs have allowed individuals to buy homes for the sole purpose of renting them out.

For better or worse, this caused a surge of new landlords in the US and the UK. According to the Wall Street Journal, the percentage of cash buyers (largely investors) make up about 32% of property sales in the US, which is higher than the average from 2000 to 2010.

If Paul Revere were alive today, he would proclaim “The landlords are coming!

Buying a property for the purpose of renting it out can be a fantastic source of monthly income and a strong return on investment in the future. However, before you sign your financial life away, there are a few things you need to consider first:


1. Crunch the Numbers

Financial report
Before you start looking at houses it’s a good idea to sit down and calculate the amount you can afford to spend on a rental property.

  • Financing: If you’re not paying with cash, do some research by talking to a mortgage broker/bank to find out how much money you could borrow.  You’ll also need to find out how much of a deposit you would be required to put down. It’s also a good idea to work out how much return on investment or rental yield you can realistically expect in the current market.
  • Transaction Fees: Factor in additional costs such as tax, legal fees, stamp duty, etc., as they will vary between different states and even countries. If you are an international investor, the website Global Property Guide is really useful in for researching real estate data in other countries.
  • Management Fees: How you would manage the property once you own it? Some landlords choose to manage the property themselves to save money, but this can cost  a lot of time. Other landlords choose to pay a property management company to handle the property – everything from finding the tenants to arranging repairs once the tenants are in the property. Either way, these costs need to be considered in your budget.

2. Choose a Desirable Location

typical ranch style home built in the 1960's in small Americ
Once you have an idea of how much you are able to invest into a property, it’s time to choose the right area to invest in.

  • Attractive Neighborhood: Here’s the secret: Invest in a rental property that is located in an area that people actually want to live in (it’s really that simple). It may seem like a good idea to buy a cheaper property but if it is in a run-down, neglected neighborhood then you’ll struggle to find decent tenants.  I always try to buy the “worst house on the block” because I know it will give me the greatest amount of appreciation when I fix it up.
  • Transportation and Local Amenities: You should consider how close the property is to quality transport routes, good schools, and amenities like shopping malls and supermarkets. If you’re planning on renting to students you’ll need to think about how accessible the property is for the college or university.

3. Choose your Target Tenant

As mentioned above, it’s important to consider who you’re likely to rent to, as different types of tenants will have different needs.

  • Students: If you’re renting to students they’ll be looking for a clean, comfortable property – nothing too fancy or high maintenance. Students usually don’t have much furniture (or money) so they tend to look for fully furnished accommodations that they can move straight into. In a previous article we discuss the Top 5 Amenities When Renting to Students.
  • Single Families: Renting to a family is different. They’re more likely look for an unfurnished property that is neutrally decorated; a blank canvas that they can make their own mark on. If you allow tenants to paint walls or hang pictures etc they’ll be able to make the house feel like home and are more likely to stay there for longer, which means more rent for you. We also discuss some great tips on maximizing your rental income through renovation and decoration when buying property for the purpose of renting it out.

4. Select the Property based on Return on Investment

business partners concept with businessman and businesswoman handshake at modern office indoors
Once you’ve chosen an area and considered the type of tenant you’d like to attract it’s time to find a house that meets your requirements.

  • Make the Best “Business” Decision:  Unless you plan to live in the property one day, you should look at every property from a business/investment perspective.  If you make a purchase based on a “feeeeeling”, you will end up broke.  Run the sales comps with an Agent, and check craigslist for similar rental properties to figure out the rental potential.
  • Use an Agent: I will often use Redfin or Zillow or New Star Realty to view properties in my area, but I still prefer to use a real estate agent to close the deal, because they have insights and experience that I don’t.  If real estate investing is going your full-time job, then you’ll want to get your own license to save on agent fees.  In the US, the fee for a real estate agent is usually 3% of the purchase price, and paid for by the seller.  The buyer will have other fees, but an agent fee is not one of them.
  • Negotiate a Deal: When you find a property that you like and you’re ready to make an offer, it’s a good idea to try and haggle on the price. If the property needs any extensive cosmetic or building repairs, then you may be able to use this as a negotiating tool to nudge the price down a little.
  • Using all Cash: You’ll have more leverage if you can pay with cash because your offer will appeal to a seller who is looking for a quick sale. Often, the seller will discount the price if you can close the deal within a week or two.
  • Using Financing: If you’re using someone else’s money, you should shop around for the best mortgage rates. Don’t just take the first offer you get from local bank because there are hundreds of different lenders, each with their own incentives.  A mortgage broker will have access to multiple programs and will help you compare your options.

5. Be Prepared for the Worst

The property market can fluctuate greatly at times so it can be difficult to know when (or if) you’ll see a good return on your investment.

  • Vacancy: Even in the most popular areas, properties can sometimes sit empty for several months.  For example, the town of Vail, Colorado is home to some of the best skiing in the United States, however even the most luxurious rental properties are vacant for approximately 100 days a year in Vail. As a general rule of thumb, you should plan for your property to be empty for two months of the year, therefore providing you with a good buffer of cash.
  • Late Rent Payments: Renting will always come with risks. The majority of tenants pay their rent on time each month. But there is always the risk that your tenants will fall on hard times and fail to meet their rental obligations. There are multiple types of landlord insurance that can cover missing rent, if your tenant fails to fulfill the lease agreement.  Alternately, if you create an “Emergency Fund” of 2-3 months worth of expenses, you’ll be able to absorb the risk of non-payment if it occurs.
  • Use a Debt Collection Agency: If a tenant fails to pay rent, they abandon the property, or you have to evict them, you will probably need help from a debt collection agency to recover your losses.

Credit to Sergio Bonaducci

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5 Ways Landlords can Maximize Profit from Rentals

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Recent developments in the real estate industry are proving to be a mixed bag for landlords.

Vacancy rates are increasing for the first time since 2009 as the number of empty properties grows. Although they only rose by 0.1 percent in the last quarter, it’s concerning because empty units are one of the largest drains on profit that landlords face.

The good news is that increased supply isn’t putting a damper on rent amounts, which continue to rise as newly built homes and apartments tend to command a premium.

But savvy landlords know that they need to act now to future-proof their profits against the potential for losses from higher vacancy and home-ownership rates as the economy recovers.

Here are five ways that landlords can maximize profit from their rental properties:

1. Increase the Rent, but be Competitive

If you price your unit too low, you’ll fill it quickly, but might miss out on thousands of dollars in rent. You need to ensure that you’re correctly calculating the cost vs. revenue on each property.

Location is the greatest influencer of price, but an excellent condition and updated decor also helps to maximize rental income.

In summary, start advertising 4-6 weeks out from lease end, and try to get the most you can for the rental. Check Craigslist and Zillow and New Star Realty for current market rent rates.

2. Work Smarter, Not Harder

Technology offers modern landlords opportunities to significantly reduce their property management overhead. One particularly useful platform is Cozy, which provides simple end-to-end rental management software for landlords and tenants.

Cozy reduces the amount of time you need to spend collecting applications, screening tenants, and collecting rent. Not only are tools like Cozy a better overall experience, it allows both the landlord and tenant to “set it, and forget it,” thereby making rent collection automatic.

You could also try uploading videos of your properties to YouTube or Vimeo and having your application link to those videos, year after year.

Tax concept

3. Take Advantage of All Tax Breaks

This is a no-brainer, as writing down every possible allowable expense reduces taxable profits and therefore your tax bill.

Landlords can claim all the maintenance and repair costs on their properties. Keeping your properties in excellent condition makes it much easier to find tenants and allows you to charge higher rents, too, making this a win-win situation.

You can also deduct mortgage interest as well as the costs you incurred buying your properties. You can’t deduct the latter all in one year, so you need to do it through annual depreciation, as property is classed as an asset like vehicles or machinery. Unlike other assets though, provided you did your homework when buying, your rental units should increase in value over time.

Other deductible expenses include insurance, business-related travel, contractors and the expenses of a home office, if you have one.

4. Target Your Ideal Tenant

Getting the perfect tenants for your property is a triple financial bonus; you’ll be able to set a higher rent and if they’re suitable they are less likely to leave, saving you costs associated with vacant units and tenant turnover.

Find out what your ideal tenant is likely to want, in terms of fixtures and fittings and décor, and give it to them.

This sounds simple but just make sure you do you research first: if your best tenant is a professional twenty-something then they’re likely to want different facilities and interior design than retirees or a family with young children.

Location is key too. Someone renting a luxury apartment in Los Angeles is quite likely to have different needs, expectations and tastes from someone renting a modest family home in Philadelphia.

Be realistic about how attractive your apartment is to potential tenants. Unless the neighborhood is rapidly improving, a rental property in a low-income area is unlikely to attract affluent tenants, no matter how well it’s decorated.

5. Install Solar Panels, Rent Storage Space, or Sell Ads

Take advantage of “green” tax incentives and rebates by installing solar panels on residential properties while they’re still available. Although at first glance it might seem that these benefit homeowners more than landlords, this is not necessarily the case. Once you’ve installed the solar panels, you can sell back excess energy to the grid, opening up another income stream from your property.

Your tenants will benefit from lower energy bills and as prices are predicted to keep rising, this is an advantage that could become even more attractive over time. This can be factored into the rent, allowing you to make a bigger rental income even as your tenant pays less overall.

If you have extra storage space, you could increase your profits by renting it to non-tenants. Further, there may be local businesses willing to buy advertising space. A simple banner hung on an exterior wall or side fence might bring in hundreds of dollars a month.

Credit to Guest Author – Ella Jameson

After graduating from university with a degree in English Literature, Ella worked as an editor and copywriter for several years before becoming a journalist.

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4 Behaviors That Could Get You Sued

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Neglecting to disclose material information.

The old saying that honesty is the best policy holds especially true when it comes to real estate. Be sure to let prospective buyers know key facts about a listing up front—even if they may cause some people to hesitate before making an offer—instead of waiting until later in the sales process or, worse, not saying anything at all.

“Disclosure upfront may be tough initially, but it’s better than a lawsuit,” says Robert A. Sayas, an attorney with Sayas, Schmuki, Rondini & Plum S.C. in Wauwatosa, Wisc. “Disclosing early is like a boxer taking a jab. You can recover. But a lawsuit is a knock-out punch.”

In addition, be sure to check with an attorney or title company if you’re unsure of anything you tell prospective buyers about a home, advises Terry Tremaine, an agent with Century 21 Mike Bowman in Grapevine, Texas. “It gives everyone a comfort level, and will project on to the sellers.”

Using an incomplete property description.

A property’s street address may be all you need to find it on a map, but you generally have to give more specific details—such as lot and block numbers—to properly fill out real estate paperwork. “Laws are very exacting regarding what constitutes a legal description,” and you could find yourself with an unenforceable sales contract if you don’t provide the required information, says Michael Baucum, a transactional real estate attorney in San Antonio. Check with local tax authorities if you’re not sure what you need to include.

Weighing in on a home’s condition.

You may be an expert on selling properties—but that doesn’t mean you should be in the business of advising people on their physical shape. If a client asks if a system in their home needs repairs before the property goes on the market, or a visitor inquires about a home’s condition during an open house, resist the temptation to offer your opinion. Instead, tell them to consult a certified property inspector, advises Brian Copeland, chief of broker services for Village Real Estate Services in Nashville, Tenn.

“Your job is to negotiate which [recommended] repairs to do,” not decide if something needs to be fixed, says Copeland. “We are not contractors or structural engineers. We are marketers. Our expertise is to keep the deal together and make the customer happy. Giving opinions outside of your expertise is a huge legal pitfall.”

Saying whether a neighborhood is “safe.”

You may have your opinions about whether a particular street is good for families with children or dicey after dark, but sharing how you feel could be a fair-housing violation. Your best bet is to let clients know that you can’t answer questions about whether a neighborhood is safe. Instead, point people toward crime statistics and other objective data, or recommend they look around the area at different times of day on their own to get a firsthand view of what it would be like to live there, says Copeland.

“It’s a slippery slope, so you have to be a steward of your words,” says Copeland. “You can’t let your guard down and start saying things that don’t have a place in our profession.”

 

Credit to Sam Silverstein

As a writer-producer for the National Association of REALTORS® based in Washington, Sam Silverstein develops articles and videos for NAR’s members and others interested in its activities, statistics and research

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Landlord Liability When a Tenant’s Dog Bites Someone

Military Working Dogs

There’s an old saying in journalism: When a dog bites a man, that is nothing new, but when a man bites a dog, that is certainly news!

If you’re a landlord, however, and your tenant’s dog bit someone, it’s newsworthy to you. You need to know whether you’ll be held responsible.

Like most landlord-tenant issues, the answer to what happens when your tenant’s dog bites someone is that it depends, and the answer can vary by state as well.

This post will go through some scenarios to help you determine what could happen if your tenant’s dog bit someone. Please know that these are just hypothetical situations and should not be taken as legal advice. But first …

The Importance of Renter’s Insurance

If you require your tenants to carry renter’s insurance, you most likely won’t need to worry about being sued if your tenant’s dog bites someone. The tenant’s renter’s insurance will cover that.

Renter’s insurance protects you if your tenant’s dog bites someone.

The exception is if the injuries to the bite victim are so extensive that they go beyond what the renter’s insurance covers, and that doesn’t happen too often. Even if you are sued for the balance, there needs to be a case against you.

The rest of the scenarios we’ll cover will be focused on tenants who do not have renter’s insurance.

Sample Lease Clause

Dog Bites: The Good News

In most cases, you are not responsible if your tenant’s dog bit someone. So breathe a huge sigh of relief.

In most cases, you are not responsible if your tenant’s dog bit someone.

You are also not responsible if you know there’s a dangerous dog on the property, but you can’t do anything about it. This could happen if you buy investment property that’s already occupied by a tenant who has a lease. As soon as the lease comes under your control, however, you need to correct the situation.

Dog Bites: The Bad News

There are some other instances where you could be held responsible if your tenant’s dog bit someone.

Scenario 1: You knew the dog was dangerous

Let’s say that when you interviewed a potential tenant, they had their dog with them. The dog was big, bared its teeth at you, and lunged at you. When you asked the potential tenant what’s up with the dog, they were honest and let you know that the dog had bitten someone before. They then explained that this is their guard dog.

You consider the story, and you like the tenant (who passed your background check). So you decide to rent to this person and allow the dog, even knowing the dog is dangerous.

In this case, if the dog bites a visitor to the property or bites someone in the common area, you could be held responsible for the injuries. Why? Because you knew the dog was dangerous and let the dog live on your property anyway. Some courts consider landlords who knowingly rent to people with dangerous dogs irresponsible and negligent.

Scenario 2: You didn’t enforce your own lease

You might not allow dogs in your rental unit, and you have a provision in the lease that states this policy. That is not enough to protect you if you don’t enforce your no-dog policy.

Let’s say that you know that your tenant is keeping a dangerous dog on the property — a direct lease violation. You’ve seen the dog when you stopped by for a maintenance call. The dog was chained outside and barked ferociously at you. Yet, you did nothing. You might be held responsible if that dog were to bite someone.

Scenario 3: You take care of the dog

You live on one side of a duplex and rent out the other side. You struck an arrangement with your tenant that you’ll take care of their dog when they need to go out of town for work. The dog bites someone while it was under your care. In this case, you would be considered an owner and would probably be held responsible.

Dog

Scenario 4: You didn’t fix the gate

Let’s say that you rented your property to a dog owner.

You have a fenced-in yard that you use as a selling point in your rental ad, even. But now the gate is broken and no longer latches.

The tenant let you know immediately and is concerned because the dog keeps getting out, and this dog is a pit bull who has a history of attacking other dogs. You plan to get around to fixing the gate, but the dog bit someone before you fixed it. You could be held responsible.

Scenario 5: Some people sue even when they have no case

People can and do try to sue for anything and everything, but that doesn’t mean they have a case. For example, if your tenant’s dog bites someone while your tenant is away from the property with their dog, you would almost never be responsible. However, if you know that your tenant keeps a dangerous dog on your property, and you know that the dog roams the neighborhood all the time, a court might find you responsible if that dog injures someone.

Take Precautions

If you allow dogs at your rental property, take the necessary steps to help ensure guests to the property and neighbors are safe. If you know the dog is dangerous, don’t let your tenant keep it if you have control of the situation.

Nolo has a fantastic list of historical cases regarding landlord liability for dog bites. If you want to see how judges have ruled in the past, check them out.

You may also want to suggest or require that your tenant carry renter’s insurance, and make sure that you have adequate liability coverage from your landlord insurance policy … just in case.

credit to Laura Agadoni

Laura Agadoni is a landlord and journalist whose articles appear in various publications such as Trulia, The Houston Chronicle, The Motley Fool, SFGate, Zacks, The Penny Hoarder and azcentral.

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Top 10 Pain Points for Landlords and How to Fix Them

Rent, property taxes, insurance

Being a landlord can be incredibly profitable, but also very difficult at times.

I don’t know about you, but my properties aren’t exactly on Easy Street.

Over the last 10 years, I’ve experienced many of the issues that plague owners, and cast fear into the hearts of wanna-be landlords.

Through endless reading, trial and error, and tenant feedback, I’ve learned that almost every rental problem has a solution.

Based on my experience, here are the top 10 pain points that most landlords will eventually experience, along with ways to fix or prevent them.

1. Loss of Rent/Income

  • Vacancy
  • Rent Default (Tenant Stops Paying)
  • Tenant Hold-over (Tenant Won’t Leave and Won’t Pay Rent)

Solutions:

  • To reduce vacancy, start listing your units for rent 60 days prior to the end of the current lease.
  • Screen your tenants better – make sure you don’t let a deadbeat or a scammer into your property.
  • Terminate the lease immediately for nonpayment – with proper notice for your state, of course.
  • Learn about your local eviction process, and be ready to file the paperwork immediately after lease termination.

2. Eviction

  • Court Costs of Eviction
  • Strict Legal Rules for Eviction
  • Tenant Retaliation by Damaging the Property

Solutions:

  • Require a large security deposit (1-2 month’s worth of rent, depending on what is allowed in your state) at the beginning of the lease to alleviate potential expenses of court costs and damages.
  • Learn about your local eviction process, and be ready to file the paperwork immediately after lease termination.
  • Include a clause in your lease that mandates court costs and attorney’s fees be paid by the prevailing party.

3. Stress of Property Management

  • Cleanliness of Tenants
  • Unintentional/Intentional Destruction of Property
  • Illegal Drug Use
  • Lawsuits
  • Chasing Down/Collecting Rent
  • Tenants Lying to You
  • Noise and Nuisance Complaints
  • Dealing with Disgruntled Neighbors of Your Rental
  • Police/Domestic Violence Issues
  • Ensuring Tenant Satisfaction
  • Ensuring an Unbiased and Fair Screening Process

Solutions:

  • Find a rock-solid lease and stick to it.
  • Stop by or drive by the property at least once a month.
  • List the tenant’s cleaning responsibilities in the lease.
  • Put everything in writing (or email).
  • Ask the neighbors to call you first, whenever there is an issue.
  • Don’t be afraid to call the police.
  • Find a local landlord-tenant lawyer and build a friendship with him or her, before you actually need an attorney.
  • Use an automated tool, such as Cozy, to accept applications, screen tenants, and collect rent online.

Resized_stress-concept_My8zvkPd_L

4. Stress on Personal Life/Relationships

  • Spouse or Partner Worried About Finances
  • Always Being On-call for Rental Issues

Solutions:

  • Include your spouse or partner in the financial decisions and respect their opinion.
  • Keep a three- to six-month emergency (or vacancy) fund for each property. Yes, it takes a while to build that up, but you’ll sleep better.
  • Ask your tenants to report issues via email or text, which only takes a second to review. If it’s urgent, you can deal with it immediately.

5. Tenant Turnover

  • Trying to Find a New Tenant
  • Cleaning up After a Previous Tenant
  • Feeling of Rejection When Prospective Renters Don’t Want to Rent Your Place
  • Exhaustion from Showing a Unit Week After Week
  • Handling, Storing and Disposing of Abandoned Personal Property

Solutions:

  • When looking for new tenants start early, while the unit is still occupied.
  • List your units for rent 60 days prior to the end of the current lease.
  • Refresh your listing on Craigslist every three to five days.
  • Don’t sweat the clean-up, just hire a maid service and deduct the cost from the deposit (excluding normal wear and tear).
  • Schedule showings back-to-back, every 30 minutes, in a four-hour block on a Saturday. I call this “The Landlord’s Open House.”

6. Repairs

  • Knowing When to Do It Yourself and When to Hire a Pro
  • Finding and Evaluating Qualified Contractors

Solutions:

  • Create a handy tool bucket that you can keep in your trunk.
  • Your rentals will provide great opportunities to learn basic handyman skills, but don’t get in over your head. I’ve made small leaks much worse because I didn’t know what I was doing.
  • Buy an all-purpose DIY book, and skim through it regularly. Keep it in your car, so you always have it nearby.
  • Ask to observe every service professional that comes to your property. You’ll learn a lot through observation.
  • Research contractors on Angie’s List, Handy (formerly Handybook), Yelp, and the Better Business Bureau.

7. Compliance with Laws

  • Obtaining Business Licenses and/or Landlord Registration
  • Understanding Landlord-Tenant State Laws
  • Knowing Landlord vs. Tenant Rights

Solutions:

  • Don’t try to circumvent the government. You may get away with it for a while, but eventually it will catch up to you.
  • Learn your state’s rental laws.
  • Join a local landlord association, rental housing association, or real estate investor association to network with other landlords.
  • Attend landlord training in your city. Landlordology provides free guides and occasional online webinars. Join our newsletter to stay in the loop.

8. Adequate Insurance

  • Insuring Each Property
  • Insuring Against Rental Income Loss and Lawsuits
  • Insuring Your Portfolio

Solutions:

  • You might get a better rate if you insure all your properties with a single provider.
  • Inform your provider that your properties are rentals, and not homeowner occupied (critical!).
  • Sign up for “Fair Rental Income Protection” in your policy to cover the rent during a covered loss.
  • Make sure you have proper coverage.
  • Consider getting “umbrella” insurance to cover excess liability and risk not covered by the individual policies. An umbrella policy will insure your entire portfolio, not just your properties.

9. Leases

  • Finding a State-compliant and Bullet-proof Lease
  • Explaining Lease Clauses to Tenants
  • Knowing Whether or Not Your Lease Will Hold up in Court

Solutions:

  • Use a premium, state-specific lease that has been reviewed by lawyers. It’s worth the investment. Check our toolbox for suggestions.
  • Don’t ever use a “free lease” that you find on the internet. It could cost you thousands in lawsuits.
  • Review your state laws for any required or prohibited clauses.
  • Review the entire lease with the applications before signing.
  • Use online document signing tools, like SignNow, HelloSign, and Docusign, to digitally sign leases remotely.

10. Finances

  • Keeping Track of Security Deposits
  • Calculating Interest on Deposits
  • Commingling Funds

Solutions:

  • Keep the security deposit in a separate, interest-bearing bank account.
  • Open a separate security deposit bank account for each property.
  • Collect and give interest on the deposit money if you are required to by law. If the statutes don’t regulate interest, just give the tenant all the interest that is accrued.

BONUS: Taxes

  • Keeping Track of Income and Expenses
  • Calculating Depreciation
  • Sending out 1099s to Contractors
  • Deciding to DIY or hire a CPA

Solutions:

  • Use an all-in-one property management software that lets you track income and expenses. If not, there are other great tools, like Freshbooks, Excel, and Quickbooks.
  • Property Managers (not landlords) who pay a contractor more than $600 in a given year, must send out 1099s. Some tools like, Buildium and Appfolio can make this task easier.
  • TurboTax can easily prepare and file the taxes for most small landlords. If you have multiple business entities, joint ownership, or tax shelters, then you should probably hire a CPA.
Credit to Lucas Hall

Lucas is the Chief Landlordologist at Cozy. He has been a successful landlord for over 10 years, with dozens of happy tenants and a profitable income property portfolio.

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Are You Addicted to Your Phone?

If you’re tied to your phone all day and night, try these strategies for untethering yourself—even for a little while.

Close-up of a businesswoman sending a text while driving to work

Maria Azuaje admits that she can’t be without her phone. “I tried to turn it off at 8 p.m., but I have never been able to. I’m addicted, completely,” says Azuaje, a sales associate with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Properties Group in Miami.

If you take your phone to bed with you, can’t manage not to peek at it even when you’re with a client, and use it to scan social media whenever you have a minute of downtime, you’re probably addicted to your phone. But what if it starts to affect your business—or your life? Here are some tips to keep your addiction in check:

Shut it down during one activity each day.

Pick a time when you do something routine—eat dinner with family, play with your kids, or take a relaxing bath—and turn your phone off during it. After spending some uninterrupted time focusing on an activity, you might feel refreshed. If you’re really serious about ungluing yourself from your phone, pick a time each night to turn it off until morning. You’ll probably get better sleep.

Turn off the vibrate function.

You probably put your phone on silent when you’re with a client, but you might leave it on vibrate mode. Even when it vibrates, you instinctually reach for your phone, and you don’t want that distraction when you’re conducting business and it sends the wrong message to the person you’re meeting with. Turn the vibrate mode off, put it on silent, and put your phone away when a client needs your full attention.

Disable notifications.

Between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and every other app you have on your phone, you could get a new notification of activity every minute. Turn notifications off on your phone so you don’t feel compelled to keep up with every alert.

Create a social media hour.

Set aside an hour each day to focus solely on your social media channels. Even if it’s just to scroll through feeds on your phone for fun, put a time limit on it.

Hire an administrative assistant.

Let this person be the first point of contact for new clients so you’re not constantly fielding phone calls. You can also forward calls from your cell to your assistant during times when you need to minimize distraction. This approach provides callers with immediate attention without interrupting you.

Credit to John N. Frank

John N. Frank is former managing editor for REALTOR® Magazine.

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