Reluctant future landlord seeks advice.
February 10, 2009 8:04 AM   Subscribe

I'm getting a house I inherited ready to rent out since I don't want to try and sell it in the current market. I've never been a landlord before. The house is in St. Petersburg, Florida in a desirable neighborhood.

The place is pretty old (1926) and a bit run down on the inside but looks pretty good outside. I'm in the process or patching and painting the interior. When done with that I'll have the floors refinished/replaced (hardwood and sheet vinyl) and the place should be ready to rent. The exterior needs paint but I think I can do that after I list it. It has curtains, but they are quite shabby, should I get new ones or expect the tenant to? Should I leave the washer/dryer? The refrigerator is kind of junky looking but works fine, should I get a new one? Same for the range. After I rent it should I expect the tenants to do the lawn work or should I get a service? Would it be weird if I just went there and did it myself? I've been taking care of the lawn work there for years. Someone I know in the property management business wants to handle the rental. Should I go that route?
posted by lordrunningclam to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Being a landlord isn't an easy get-rich-quick route, so if you're not willing to deal with the hassles of finding and vetting tenants, dealing with their housing emergencies as well as your own, and caring for the property, go with the management service. However, landlording can be markedly easier if you put in your elbow-work upfront, mostly in the "finding good tenants" part. (Note, this involves both work and luck)

Leave the appliances as-is. Replace them if and when they *need* to be replaced, or if they are so old and shabby that they are preventing the unit from finding desirable tenants. Otherwise, just clean them up, tighten loose screws, replace broken handles, etc. If you manage to find desirable tenants, then you can make the judgment call to upgrade appliances in order to keep those tenants happy. Good tenants are a dream come true and it'll be much cheaper to buy them a new fridge, washer, or dryer than it will be to find new good tenants.

Take the curtains down and let the tenants do that themselves. Leave blinds where they are.

If you want the tenants to take care of the lawn, you're going to have to specify that up front, and you should really consider providing the lawn care instruments (I'm assuming the lawn care tools are already there from the previous owner, so this won't be an issue). I've known plenty of landlords who do the lawn maintenance on their sole rental property, so it probably wouldn't be considered "weird."

If the house is part of an HOA, of course make sure that the HOA rules are made known and available to the tenants.

Oh, and find a good accountant.
posted by coryinabox at 8:30 AM on February 10, 2009


Curtains are generally the responsibility of the tenant.

You can leave the washer/dryer and advertise it was part of the rental.

You can leave the fridge and advertise it as part of the rental.

The range absolutely should stay. Renters generally don't bring their own stove. Although they very well may have their own fridge or washer/dryer, especially for a renting a home.

Tenants may not want to be bothered with the landscaping, especially if it's a large yard... and even then, are they going to take care of it in a reasonable time to avoid possible fines from local government? I'd get some quotes on the lawncare and incorporate it into the monthly rent. You could certainly do it yourself if that's what you wanted. Either way, keep the landscaping fee into the rent because even if you do the labor yourself, you're going to have to maintain the landscaping equipment to do so. Doing it yourself gives you a chance to visit the property (the outside anyway) and see how things are going.

You are going to pay for the property management. I'd try it on your own and see how it goes. This is a decision you can make several months down the road.

The key to it all is having a good lease and thoroughly screening your tenants with background/criminal checks and several references. You can Google some examples of good leases online, but I'd still suggest you get yourself a lawyer that deals with tenant landlord law and have them review and markup the lease to protect your best interests and go over some issues with you. Ask your questions. There are also many online communities for landlords that are going to be great for this sort of thing.

If you are going to do the landscaping yourself or have a service, you need to put that in the lease ("Landlord will be responsible for landscaping and exterior upkeep unless other arrangements are made between Landlord and Tenant") Don't specify if you are doing it or a service. You may change your mind at some point and grow tired of paying for a service or doing it yourself.

As far as the appliances, you want to make sure there's a clause in the rent that states their current condition and that the tenant is to maintain their condition.
posted by jerseygirl at 8:39 AM on February 10, 2009


Nthing leaving the appliances as is (and definitely advertise the washer & dryer) and taking the curtains down.

At both houses that I've rented, I've been responsible for lawn care, but this only really meant I needed to mow the grass. If there is any other more intricate landscaping you want done, you should not expect the tenants to do it.

And be prepared to have to come fix things. At my last house, the basement would periodically flood, and the landlord had to come clean it up (and had to eventually pay for the pipes to be cleaned out so it would stop flooding).

Also, as a tenant I found it really difficult to find places that allowed me to have pets (and I have two declawed cats which have never done any damage). You may find you can have an even better pick of tenants if you allow pets (within reason, of course).
posted by All.star at 9:38 AM on February 10, 2009


Yeah, definitely think about this carefully. Being a landlord can be a terribly stressful experience. Whatever you decide on, get everything in writing, no matter how honest and kind a tenant seems. And get used to the fact that the law is usually in the tenants favour.
posted by scarello at 9:39 AM on February 10, 2009


Do the hardwood really need to be refinished? Hardwoods can be damaged by irresponsible tenants. Rental houses need to be fitted with items selected for durability and economy.

What is the price point of the rental? In a desirable neighborhood you can probably go for a higher rental rate that's still competitive with the market. If that's your plan, you should go with nicer appliances, etc to secure tenants. If it's lower-end rental rate, then the appliances you have are fine. Definitely leave the washer/dryer; renters love those.

Save your receipts and get an accountant. You'll be stunned at how much is deductible.

Do a thorough background check on your renters. You are handing them an expensive asset and one they will have extensive rights to as a tenant. Call every prior landlord. Run the credit check. Skim askmefi for apartment tenant/neighbor issues. Every one of them has a landlord who's pulling his hair out due to frustrating renters.
posted by 26.2 at 9:47 AM on February 10, 2009


I have rented a few houses. I am the type of person a landlord would want--very stable, high income and credit scores and generally long term. I would never again rent from an individual, especially one that wanted to take care of the yard work themselves. That would be a huge red flag for me.
posted by free pie at 10:30 AM on February 10, 2009


Do the hardwood really need to be refinished? Hardwoods can be damaged by irresponsible tenants. Rental houses need to be fitted with items selected for durability and economy.

Yes, I think the hardwood floor needs to be re-finished because the varnish is worn through in most of the high traffic areas and I want to avoid permanent stains caused by stuff soaking into the wood, especially if the tenants are really horrible. I don't think they've been touched since the house was built 83 years ago. Also, it really isn't that expensive, IMO. As for the rest of the house, I'm just doing the minimum to get to where I would consider it an acceptable rental for myself, plus overdue maintenance. Just cleaning it up, fixing old damage, and applying a couple coats of paint.

Also, the last time I rented the norm was first month rent, last month rent plus security deposit to move in. Is this still the case?
posted by lordrunningclam at 10:35 AM on February 10, 2009


I don't know the specific area in question, so I'm not sure what's acceptable there or not. I'm merely responding as a lifetime renter.

"The exterior needs paint but I think I can do that after I list it."
If this is still in process after a tenant has agreed to move in, let them know when this will be going on, how much noise they can expect, and how long it's supposed to last. Some tenants will have concerns for themselves, pets, or children based on smell, fumes, or where the paint will be wet, so you'll make it easier on yourself to plan to be done before anyone can move in unless someone specifically says they don't mind.

"It has curtains, but they are quite shabby, should I get new ones or expect the tenant to?"
Tenants can provide their own. If there are neighbourhood rules about street-facing window-dressings, make certain you aren't placing an undue burden on the tenant (for example: some neighbourhood associations require blinds on front windows; some will send a letter/fine for sheets hung as curtains) - let them know any expectations of this type and make sure they're prepared for this before completing lease-signing.

"Should I leave the washer/dryer?"
If it works and is not in danger of ruining anything belonging to the tenants, yes, leave it. You can charge a slightly higher rent than properties without. If you get an opportunity to upgrade these for energy-efficiency reasons (you can often get appliance discounts from the local power company), the tenants will be grateful to have lower energy bills.

"The refrigerator is kind of junky looking but works fine, should I get a new one?"
See above.

"Same for the range."
If the range passes all safety checks (if gas: burners light immediately, no leaks; if electric: no shorts, all burners light; either: oven works), leave it & see washer/dryer comments. If anything is off with it, either replace it or give tenants an option to replace with their own. If you want them to leave whatever range they select for a discount on rent spread over a few months, you'll need to specify that in the lease or a lease addendum.

"After I rent it should I expect the tenants to do the lawn work or should I get a service? Would it be weird if I just went there and did it myself? I've been taking care of the lawn work there for years."
Depends on your tenants, especially in this economy. If they can meet the local guidelines for keeping it mowed with their own mower/effort, let them do it. Some renters are dying to get to do lawn or garden work. It isn't weird for the property owner to mow the lawn, but you should definitely tell them if you plan on doing it and give them a reasonable expectation of when this will be occurring. Be prepared for them to negotiate on time of day or even day of week based on what works better for their schedule.

However, you shouldn't charge extra to maintain the property, which is what lawn maintenance falls under. Few tenants I know would sign that lease, and we live in an area where the grass grows fast. They'd be more willing to sign a lease where they're expected to take care of the lawn fullstop without a discount. If you factor lawn maintenance as part of the property overhead, you can offer a slightly lower rate to renters who take care of it all themselves - that takes care of the DIY folks and the "I rent to avoid this" folks without looking like you're nickel & diming them.

"Someone I know in the property management business wants to handle the rental. Should I go that route?"

Depends on a few factors. These are the typical obligations of a property manager:
• Collect rent.
• Keeps account of rent for tax (and other) purposes.
• Post notices for late rent.
• File eviction notices, if it comes to that.
• Receive notice of intent to vacate premises.
• Provide updated lease for signing upon conclusion of prior lease.
• Property maintenance - either completing it with their own employee or through contracted labour/tradepersons. You'd have to trust that they won't be overcharging, will be choosing competent contractors, will follow all applicable laws regarding property condition/safety, and will take tenant comfort into account.
• Property emergencies - broken pipes, that sort of thing; same as above, but taking into account fast response required on some emergency types (plumbing, for example, generally requires a one-day max response time).
• Walk-through before/after rental period to determine condition and adjudge any charges for damage beyond normal wear & tear.
• Looking for new tenants if given notice by current set.

...if you think you can handle all of that for a single rental (if you live in the area, shouldn't be too much of an onus), you may not need a property management company. Paying a property management company to do these things isn't as useful if the place doesn't need a lot of looking after and the tenants are paying on time. I'd give it up to three months to see if I needed the help before hiring property managers, especially since they're just the first-tier responders to these issues and you'll still have to deal with whatever happens, ultimately. If you've got a super-busy life beyond this rental, though, having a middle-man might be worth it to you. They definitely charge for each level of service, though, so be aware of that - with a single property, this can seriously erode any financial gain.

Good luck!
posted by batmonkey at 10:39 AM on February 10, 2009


I have rented a few houses. I am the type of person a landlord would want--very stable, high income and credit scores and generally long term. I would never again rent from an individual, especially one that wanted to take care of the yard work themselves. That would be a huge red flag for me.

Really? Why? Would they think I'm spying on them or something? Honestly, it's no big deal for me I've been taking care of that lawn for many years, along with my own. The yard isn't that huge.

Honestly, I would be spying a bit in any case. I think I'd have to be some kind of fool to rent out a house and not drive by now and then to see if anything is amiss. The last time I rented either a house or apartment the landlord or one of the landlord's offspring lived either on the premises or next door and it was no big deal to me. Also when I was a kid my grandfather owned 5 or 6 apartment buildings in Brooklyn and did most, if not all, of the maintenance himself - often with me in tow.

I assume that means you think I should go the property manager route?
posted by lordrunningclam at 10:48 AM on February 10, 2009


As a occupant landlord of almost ten years, I strongly recomend this book.

Agree with getting an accountant. Save EVERY receipt, including gas and meals while working on the unit.

Take down the curtains. Make the place as neutral as possible for the tenants.

All of my experience with outside property management companies have been an disaster - If someone is responsible, scrupulous and skillset capable to maintain your property, they are capable of floating a loan and buying their own rentals and taking 100% of the profit rather than a percentage of yours.
posted by Orb2069 at 10:50 AM on February 10, 2009


Oh, and if it makes a difference I live about 15-20 minutes away, depending on the lights.
posted by lordrunningclam at 10:55 AM on February 10, 2009


I would never again rent from an individual, especially one that wanted to take care of the yard work themselves. That would be a huge red flag for me.

I also wonder why free pie considers this a "huge red flag." I'm in exactly this situation now--renting from an individual who does the yard work--and the arrangement is working just fine. I can imagine a situation where the landlord promises but doesn't deliver; you might think about how to give prospective tenants some reassurance on this point.
posted by Orinda at 11:51 AM on February 10, 2009


I think the hardwood floor needs to be re-finished because the varnish is worn through

You don´t need to go to the trouble of sanding, just put down another coat of polyurethane. Test a patch in the back of a closet to make sure it doesn´t interact in some odd way with the old finish before you do the whole floor. If you know how to operate a paintbrush, you can do this yourself.

There are a limited number of times you can sand hardwood floors before they fall apart, save that for when they need it.
posted by yohko at 1:19 PM on February 10, 2009


A friend of ours, who is a realtor and owns 3 or 4 rentals (has done so for years, with very few problems) always asks his tenants to provide him a current copy of their credit report. We're about to move into renting our house out, and don't know a lot of the logistics either (so watching this question with interest) but I thought this was an interesting tip. He said it's much easier for them to get it than for him, and shows him that they are serious about following through.

And I've been a renter in the past and have always assumed I'd do my own lawn maintenance; unless you live in a place with covenants, I would find anything other than that unusual. Of course, your community might be very different. I definitely wouldn't find it a red flag if the landlord mowed the lawn himself. However, if there was a private back yard, it might feel a little weird if the landlord was back there every week-for some reason, that does feel like more of an invasion of space.
posted by purenitrous at 9:20 PM on February 10, 2009


The one time I rented a house, the landlord's son, who lived next door, did the lawn work. There are some yard maintenance things I wouldn't expect the tenant to do, like trimming the big palm trees which has to be done a couple times a year, trimming bushes, etc. If they would just mow the lawn that would be very cool with me. I'd buy them a lawnmower to do it with.
posted by lordrunningclam at 8:33 AM on February 11, 2009


You live nearby and can do maintenance? I wouldn't pay for management.

Offer tenants a rent rebate for lawn-mowing and any other frequently-needed yardwork, if they want to do it.
Not weird to do it yourself.
If you can afford a new fridge, it will help the rent a bit. The more up-to-date it is, the better.
Put extra coats of varnish on the floors. I never had tenants who took care of the wood floors.
Crappy furnishings really hurt, so never leave curtains unless they're really nice. If tenants leave nice blinds behind, clean 'em & leave 'em.
Older house w/ longtime residents? Use a lot of a very pleasant smelling cleaning product. Get some Cinnamon sticks, whole allspice, and vanilla. Put a big pot of water on the stove, and simmer the spices to make the place smell nice.
Make sure all the light bulbs work, and load the toilet paper. (I always judged landlords on this.)
Water is expensive, so put a 16 oz. plastic bottle of water in the toilet tank, don't install a large-volume showerhead, and specify in the rental agreement that the laundry facilities are for tenants only.

Develop a good lease or rental agreement, and review it w/ tenants. I held tenants responsible for broken windows. Take pictures of the condition of the house at move-in, and make a list of the condition of each room. If there are questions about who's responsible for damage, this will help.

Be visible about taking care of maintenance; it makes them feel better.

Be intolerant of late rent. Incomplete rent is not okay. Impose a fine for late rent, like 5% of the rent if it's not in your hands the day it's due.

Craigslist is the place to post the rental, as well as a lawn sign. Best tenants I ever had saw the lawn sign.

I recently stopped being a landlord. Spend a lot of time and effort getting good, reliable tenants. Call their references. The children of your friends will be unreliable... The friends of your kid will be worse... The upstanding Christians will screw you... Unless you check them out incredibly thoroughly beforehand. Make your expectations very clear from the start.
posted by theora55 at 10:40 AM on February 11, 2009


« Older Did you hear news? From three years, two months...   |   Surfing in Tehran Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.