House 4: Small, but it works

This little house has been made home by two families. It’s a 2 bedroom, 1 bath that is 719 square feet. While there have been a few issues with the house, it’s been pretty easy to manage because of the tenants taking great care of it.

I feel like the bathroom’s blue tile, patterned floor, and that peek at the door knob exemplifies the age of the house.

The first thing we did was remove this prison-like wall mounted sink and install a new vanity from Ikea. During my installation of the vanity, I had a good scare. The house’s orientation yields to using the back door more than the front door (and the fact that the gate at the front of the yard was padlocked and there’s no concrete walk to get to the front door). Someone knocked on the back door, but I ignored it. Then that person went to the front door (through a side gate) and knocked there. That’s incredibly persistent of someone who shouldn’t know anyone’s here. Then he went to the back door and knocked again. I panicked. I called the non-emergency police line, and two officers came out. The man had left by the time they got there, but the officers knew exactly who it was. There is a man who lives around the block that has suffered multiple strokes, but he likes to mow everyone’s grass, so he was looking to see if he could mow ours. While innocent, I still won’t be answering any doors while I’m working on a house alone though.

LOAN

We locked the loan at 4.95% and 0 points. We also received a $200 credit in closing costs due to closing on several houses in a short period of time. Our attorney also lowered their fee from $395 to $350 due to several closings. It never hurts to ask if there’s a discount, especially when we’re a multi-repeat customer!

We closed on the house in June 2017. The purchase price was $63,500, and we put 20% down. We paid off this loan in January 2019.

TENANT SEARCH

We listed the house for rent through HotPads, Zillow, and Trulia. We received a lot of interest. After setting up showings for another house, we learned to do more of an “open house” style showing. It’s amazing how many people confirm a showing time and then don’t show up. I first sent everyone who contacted me an “Initial Interest Form.” It was used as a first-pass look at their income, credit, and whether they disclosed a felony and/or eviction. I still told them about the open house schedule, but the future use of this form will be to weed out non-qualified people before we set up showings.

On the form, we list our standards.

I shared in the email when I sent the form that I would be at the house from 3-5pm on a Saturday for them to come see it. If they told me they couldn’t make it, I responded that I would make another time available pending the results of this open house.

Based on the interest forms received and being one of 3 couples to show up, we selected a couple that was most qualified. They requested to move forward with an application. We utilize SmartMove, a tool we found through Bigger Pockets, to screen our tenants. This process allows the tenant to provide personal information directly to the website, pay the entity directly, and eliminates us as a middle man. We also share that the application fee is non-refundable, and that’s why we give an Initial Interest Form to be filled out first, which is their opportunity to disclose any information that would disqualify them, causing them to ‘waste’ their application fee.

In our case, the background and credit check revealed that one of the individuals filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Upon further research, Chapter 13 is used to restructure debt. It wasn’t that she had delinquent accounts, and it appeared after asking her to explain, that this was a proactive approach to managing her debt from a divorce than an inability to pay debts. Since they had already paid their two application fees, we felt we’d take on this risk and rented to them. To mitigate our risk, we required 2 months of rent as the security deposit.

They lived in the house for a year before he graduated grad school and moved out of the area. However, at the same time, she had a family friend looking for her own place. We ran her background and credit check, and we were able to approve her easily. She took over their lease term in the Spring of 2018 and has been there ever since. We haven’t raised her rent since lease inception because at $795, it’s over the 1% Rule, and it’s full cash flow since the mortgage was paid off 2 years ago.

Even better, the couple that moved away from the area came back recently. They reached out to us for a bigger house to rent, saying they had such a terrible experience with their last landlord and would only rent from us again. We were actually able to accommodate exactly what they needed, and now they’re in House 7. While at this time I haven’t discussed our 7th house, I did mention their story in the Tenant Satisfaction post.

Treat your tenants fairly, and even give a little where you may not want, and it’ll make your life much easier.

MAINTENANCE AND REPAIRS

The house has a stackable washer and dryer, but it’s actually on the exterior of the main building in a little closet-type addition. It is unfortunate that an individual needs to go outside the house to do their laundry, but I suppose it’s better than having no hookups and going to the laundromat. Remember, the house is only 719 SF! Well, that little closet wasn’t well insulated, and in February 2019, we had a very cold two weeks where we endured several pipes bursting or freezing across our rental portfolio. The washer line froze. The fix was just to wait for the thaw, but we did add insulation to the closet to help prevent it in the future. Later that summer, the washer actually stopped agitating, and we replaced the whole stackable unit. The frustrating thing about stackable units – even though the dryer was perfectly fine, it’s all one unit so we had to replace the whole thing.

The furnace drain line was frozen in January 2018, so we had a plumber thaw it. It happened two weeks later again, and so the plumber installed heat tape around the drain line and sealed it.

We dumped new gravel in the driveway area. The gravel had become muddy, and we saw it as an easy fix to make the tenant happy and improve her experience. Plus, she said she was going to do it, but we felt it was our expense to incur, not hers.

We’ve had long term plans to replace the bathroom, but the contractor we met with in October still hasn’t given us an estimate. It’d also be tricky since the house only has 1 bathroom and she has a toddler living there too. The tub was painted before we purchased the house, and it hasn’t held up to the last 4 years of use, so we see the benefit in fixing up the bathroom, but we just haven’t been able to tackle the logistics yet.

Our tenant pays us every month and doesn’t ask for much. She’s made it her home, which is a good sign from a tenant. Our cash flow being $795 every month (minus semi-annual taxes) with very little repairs and no mortgage is a great scenario.

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