renting out your house
February 18, 2011 4:49 AM   Subscribe

Homeowners who own a single family house - I wanted to ask your experiences renting out a single family house? I own an older SFH in the DC area, and I was thinking (potentially) about the possibility of relocating for work in the future.

I was thinking about renting in the new location, which would not be within easy visiting distance. (several states away). I was wondering with either your experiences finding renters yourself (such as friends or colleagues) or using a property management company. It's an older house (early 1900s, like the rest of the houses in the inner DC suburb I live in), so there are quirks that would not be present in a newer property. Can anyone recommend a company to keep in the back of my pocket, or experiences they've had renting out in the DC metro area?
posted by waylaid to Home & Garden (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My wife and I renter our DC SFH while we lived abroad and similarly my brother is currently doing the same.

We rented privately and personally screened our tenants. They were a nice family. My father -in-law acted as our local agent, approving any major repairs and performing the minor ones himself. He also deposited the monthly checks in our US account. This was a bit of a burden on my father-in-law, though he would never admit it, and I wouldn't ask him to do it again.

My brother on the other hand has opted to go through a rental agency. While he does lose a little of the rental income and does not get to personally screen the tenants, he also does not have to worry about repairs or rent issues.

Both of us have had nothing but pleasant experiences, but I do know that luck has played a major part in that.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:59 AM on February 18, 2011

My experience is similar to The 10th's brother. We currently rent our house through a property manager. We did this when we were living abroad and had no family available that would be able to oversee the property. In the course of 4 years we had 2 sets of tenents with absolutely no issues whatsoever.

We're back now, but continue to rent it out using the same property manager. We're making a slight loss on the property every month (less than $100) but we're willing to accept that for the time being. We'd probably make a little money if we didn't have the property manager but don't want the hassle of looking after the property. We let the property manager handle any issues and fix whatever we can by ourselves in order to save those costs.
posted by smcniven at 6:18 AM on February 18, 2011

For multi units, I would recommend Tilton Bernstein on 14th Street - if they won't do a single house, they might be able to recommend someone for you.

If you rent to a friend or colleague, make sure you are clear with them up front what the quirks of the house are - it will be uncomfortable for both of you if they have any surprises. And if you would be expecting them to handle getting repairs done, you should give them a corresponding deduct on the rent.
posted by mrs. taters at 6:24 AM on February 18, 2011

I would recommend against renting to friends, particularly if your house has quirks. I live in an old house that we rent from friends who moved out of state, and honestly I would never do this again. Any time something breaks or goes wrong (which happens fairly often because the house is so old), we feel terrible calling our friends/landlords to tell them that another expensive problem has happened. If/when they can't afford to fix everything all at once, we kind of get screwed in a way I would never put up with from a management company, but we can't really complain because we know these people and their financial situation. Once the fridge, clothes washer, and garage door all broke in the same month, and the stress for everyone involved was way higher because we are friends with the owners.

If you do rent to friends, make it CRYSTAL clear what they should do if something is wrong. There is stuff any renter might try to fix themselves, especially a renter who doesn't want to force you to pay a professional when it seems like such a simple fix. The best thing is probably for them to call you to ask about even the tiniest thing, so you can decide whether they should fix the leaky faucet or have a plumber do it. Clarity is especially important if your friends are supposed to act as basic property managers (e.g. mow the lawn and shovel the walk). That's our situation, and when ice dams built up on the roof we figured it was our job to get rid of them because that's kind of like shoveling, right? By the time we figured out that we couldn't fix it on our own, there was water dripping in 3 rooms of the house. With hindsight, perhaps our landlords would have wanted to call the $$$$ pros from the beginning, but the whole communication process is really fraught because of our friendship with them.
posted by vytae at 8:05 AM on February 18, 2011

I rented my house out to someone I'd known for six years who I considered a very good friend. She stopped paying the gas bill, the gas was ultimately disconnected, & the week before she moved out, a pipe burst in the bathroom (which was on the second floor) & flooded the entire house. The walls (plaster) crumbled down. The ceiling (plaster) crumbled down. The floors (original wood) warped. The molding (original wood) was destroyed. This happened the day I came home from the hospital with a newborn.

My house was ruined. The damage was over $30k, but I sold the house as-is for half of what I paid for it b/c frankly with a new baby, a new job, & a 100+-yr-old house of my own to deal with, I couldn't pay to have it rehabbed so I could sell it.

I never even thought to check up on her to see if she was paying the utilities! Ugh. Worst. Experience. Ever.

So, I guess, nthing not renting to friends. Though this, I know, could've happened with anyone -- I think my guard was just down b/c she was my friend.
posted by oh really at 9:10 AM on February 18, 2011

Wow. Lots of good feedback. Thanks everyone (how did you find your management company if you used one?)

@ohreally: that sounds like a horrible, terrible experience. my deepest sympathies. But thanks for sharing, it lets me understand the bad as well as the good.
posted by waylaid at 12:13 PM on February 19, 2011

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