Prepping a New House

I put more effort into this house than I usually do between the time that we bought it and the time that we got it rented. The house was almost double what we’ve bought any other house for, and I wanted to be sure we could get the rent we wanted for it. Looking back, I probably didn’t need to make it as good as I did, and it’s definitely not perfect. If I were listing it for sale, I should have painted baseboards and taken doors off hinges and sprayed them instead of cleaning them.

In the past, I’ve had to paint a room or two. We may have needed to replace an appliance. But typically, we’re buying houses that have recently been flipped at 50% effort and are good enough for a renter. Two houses have been in poor shape that needed more TLC. One we had to replace the carpet, clean heavily, and paint nearly everything. Another house needed an easy wipe down, but required everything to be painted, down to the trim. And truly, had the owner paid a few thousand to get the place painted, they probably could have gotten 10k more on the house (but the owner didn’t even pay their electric bill, so that’s not surprising).

NEW HOUSE

The house we just purchased wasn’t prepped for sale. It was an off-market deal. We came to an agreement that they wouldn’t need to come back to town to clean, refinish a floor that the dogs ruined, or paint. As such, we got at least 10k off the price. They were going to list at $250k, and probably would have gotten competitive offers and going higher than list, and we got it for a net $240k. I then put 14 hours of effort into the house.

The owners had a bedroom dedicated to the dogs. They didn’t do significant damage, but they did enough. The closet doors needed to be repainted, the baseboards and windowsills needed to be sanded, cleaned, and repainted. The floor was damaged and we thought needed to be refinished. The walls were covered in slobber, dirt, and scuffs. That was the worst room of the house. The kitchen was covered in grossness, and I put a lot of elbow grease into that. I was going to hire a cleaner, but the bathrooms ended up not being so dirty, so I figured I could glove-up and get it done.

PAINT

The whole house needed to be painted. I picked my battles and painted all of the 2100 sf except for the kitchen (which is covered by cabinets and I didn’t want to cut into all that or move the fridge), one bedroom that had the least amount of scuffed walls, and the upstairs bathroom. I chose painting over cleaning the walls because I didn’t see the benefit of cleaning. I would have eliminated some dog slobber and a few scuffs, but it wouldn’t have gotten the two years worth of dirt and rubbing and splatter of whatever off the walls. So I kept a rag with me and wiped the dust off where I could see it, but I just painted over everything else because I thought that would be the most efficient use of my time.

I repainted the closet doors in the dog bedroom. In the hallway, I repainted the attic door and the floor molding. Most of the other floor molding needed to be wiped down, and in some rooms, I painted the wall paint along the top of the molding instead of getting the white paint out or cleaning it. All of the closets needed to be painted, but I wasn’t going to put that effort in just for it to likely get scuffed again.

REFINISHING THE FLOOR

Mr. ODA handled this and did awesome. We thought the floor needed refinishing in this one bedroom. We researched how to do it and everything. Then my mom mentioned “Rejuvenate” floor product. Mr. ODA looked at the floor and concluded it was the top coat that was roughed up, and that the stain and coloring was still there. He saw such a difference, that he actually used it on the rest of the hardwood flooring! It’s not perfect, but it was the most bang for our buck in the process to address something that definitely needed to be addressed.

CLEANING

I was going to hire a cleaner, but I ended up needing a break from the hand position of holding a brush one day. I started using some degreaser to get through the dirt. The kitchen was disgusting. It’s one thing to leave some debris behind because you didn’t do a final clean as you got out the door, but this was two years of food splatter caked onto the cabinets and backsplash. The refrigerator had been cleaned, but the freezer still had food and left over explosion remnants.

I’ve never cleaned an oven. I may have wiped a couple of things out after the initial mess got made, but have never had a dirty enough oven to need to really clean it. This was horrendous. I put 45 minutes worth of effort into. It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough. In the first picture, I had already cleaned two layers off the door and scrubbed half the bottom of the oven. Then the second picture is where I left it. I’m sad I didn’t get a true before picture to show just how awful it was. The right side of the first picture is actually the dirt that was in there and not the cleaner yet.

The bathrooms were pretty clean and just needed a wipe down. I swept the whole house and mopped the floors. I cleaned multiple windows because they were bad enough that I didn’t even want to look at them anymore.

YARD WORK

I don’t know if the people who flipped the house in 2019 didn’t fix up the yard, or if this mess was really just 2 years worth. The driveway was covered in mud and leaves. I swept it all up to be sure that there wasn’t any broken glass (there was glass in the yard) and to give the new people a fresh start of clean. I didn’t take a before picture, but you can tell where there had been piles of ick sitting in this picture. I filled the yard waste container with everything that was built up on the long driveway.

Before I could mow the yard, I had to pick up a lot of twigs that had dropped. There were a few big branches that I need to come back to, but I filled the fire pit with all the twigs that I got out of my way. The grass in the backyard is in good shape, and I was able to get it looking good with the mower. The front yard is lacking on grass. I laid some seed and hoped for the best, but hopefully it will be in good shape one day.

RANDOMS

The front bedroom light wouldn’t turn on. I went to replace the light bulb, and it’s all one unit, as in you can’t get to the light bulb! We had replaced some flush mount lights with fans in the kids’ bedrooms here, so I brought one of the lights to the house. Turns out, mounting brackets aren’t all created equal, and I couldn’t install the new/old light fixture. I bought a new light to install and got that done on my first attempt.

I had to wipe down the shiplap wall that goes down into the basement. It’s a pretty feature, but it was covered in more yuck. A few trim pieces weren’t painted well by the people who flipped the house, but I didn’t want to break out my different color white paint and fix it. Hopefully it’s small enough of an issue that you don’t notice too much. If it were me living there, it would drive me crazy.

The pantry had two shelves that were stained by cans. Instead of cleaning it or trying to repaint it white (over caked on debris with white paint that always requires 3 coats), I put contact paper over them. Is it necessary? No. Does it give a little extra step to make your tenants appreciate the house and want to take care of it? Yes.

The kitchen flip wasn’t done perfectly, and the caulking was cracked everywhere. I recaulked everything along the backsplash in the kitchen. Then I also caulked the bathroom tub, which really made a difference in making a clean, fresh look. There were a few pieces of shoe molding that came apart from the baseboard, so I caulked a few of those areas too.

SUMMARY

We spent under $300 and 14 hours worth of time. Two of those hours were spent showing the house to about 10 prospective tenants during an open house. The house looked in good shape when I handed it over to the new tenants. I’m hoping that they’ll love it like a home and take good care of it, since they saw the effort I put into it. It was definitely worth putting that effort in to save the 10k+ on the cost and to avoid anymore bidding wars in today’s crazy market.

Filing Taxes

We filed our taxes. It just takes so long, but it’s easy. This year I recorded what I did and how long it took, so I wanted to share.

I’ve shared that I record transactions all year long. Inevitably, a few things slip through a crack. So I go through everything I have on file to make sure I can support a charge I’ve recorded (e.g., receipt) and that I haven’t missed entering something in my spreadsheet (e.g., I have a receipt for work, but didn’t put it in my spreadsheet).

DC TAXES

Mr. ODA works for a DC office, but lives in KY. The paperwork information got crossed, and he ended up paying taxes to DC for a little while. Apparently DC is used to this mistake. There’s a form he filled out, attached a copy of his W2, and mailed it to DC. He received a full refund within a couple of weeks! I couldn’t believe the timing of it and how it easy it was!

STEP 1

My first step was to load all my mortgage documents for the houses that we still have mortgages on. I need to know the mortgage interest for the year and what they paid out in taxes from escrow. For some reason, it never tells me the insurance payments made on the tax document, so I need to go through my email or look at the line-by-line escrow to see when and how much was paid for insurance. I estimate the mortgage interest each year, but I don’t have the final amount until January.

STEP 2

Then I go through my email files. I try to get most of my receipts via email (e.g., Home Depot and Lowes are good about tying your credit card to your email address so I keep everything filed electronically). This took me just over 3 hours. I went through each email receipt to see if I had it recorded properly. I found 2 or 3 transactions that I had receipts for, but they weren’t recorded in my spreadsheet. I also found out that I didn’t record any of my final December transactions (i.e., stormwater utility bills and property management).

STEP 3

After I go through everything I can electronically, I move on to my paper files. We have a lot of our insurance through State Farm, and they don’t email me receipts for payment, nor can I look up previous payments made on their website. So I keep a paper copy of all the insurance documents for each house. We had a huge debacle with two of our KY houses and insurance last Fall, so I had to make sure I had all of that recorded accurately. I used to rely on the paper stormwater utility bills that I pay directly, but this year I just went into our checking account and verified the amounts that I paid against what I recorded. Since most of my transactions are kept electronically (especially with having property managers, so they’re sending me the bills they receive electronically), the paper checking was only about an hour this year. It used to be longer, but I’ve streamlined my electronic filing so mostly everything is in there.

STEP 4

After just over four hours of “prep” work, we move on to the tax software.

Mr. ODA entered our W2 information, we both pulled up all our investment account statements, and then we got into the investment properties. It’s tedious, and each year we have to remember how we matched our terminology to the system’s terminology (why can’t I keep better notes on this?!). We got into a groove and knocked out half the properties in about 80 minutes before taking a break. We focused on the 3 properties that we received one 1099-MISC for first, which involved going back and forth on some screens. Then we knocked out some of the easier houses. The next night, we finished off the rest of the houses in about an hour.

We usually call it complete at that time, but we don’t submit right away. We take a few days to see if we think of something we may have missed (whether investment property or personal finance), and then we submit. We usually owe Federal and State tax every year, so we’re never in a rush to get this done and pay. Somehow, we get a refund for Federal this year, but we still owe the State.

SUMMARY

About 6.5 hours of tax work, after being pretty on top of it all year. People ask us why we don’t use someone to do it instead of putting all that time in. It’s not that easy. If we had to send our information to an accountant, we still would have to gather all our receipts and send them over. I think it’s easier to look at my receipt and record it, rather than gather all my emails and send them to an accountant (not to mention Gmail is not a great mail system in this regard because you can’t easily add emails to new emails). Then we have to field all their questions regarding the documentation that I send, which will inevitably be frustrating to me. It’s all around cheaper and easier to do it this way.

Year in Review: Part II

I have gone through all our expenses in 2021 and categorized them, which was very time consuming. I swore I’d do better this year, but it’s March, and I haven’t done anything.

In the past year, we hit a net worth of $3 million. That’s really exciting, but we have more goals. It’s important to note that the net worth is through our investment properties, retirement accounts, and other investment accounts, so it’s not liquid funds. The values on our properties have drastically increased, many of which we’ve recently refinanced and have an appraisal on file showing just how much equity we’ve gained on these. Except for the cash that we have in our savings account right now, as we prepare to purchase another property at the end of the month, we don’t typically carry a cash balance. Our philosophy is that, if there’s an emergency, there are very few things that can’t be put on a credit card, and we can liquidate investment funds within 24 hours. We don’t subscribe to “3 months worth of expenses in savings” type actions. We’ve had plenty of large expenses hit us with rental properties, fertility treatments, and other random health needs, but it hasn’t ever been something to drown us financially. So while it’s exciting to see that new net worth, it doesn’t change our spending philosophy.

DIVIDENDS, INTEREST, & REWARDS

Mr. ODA used to have our dividends get reinvested automatically, but now they are transferred into our checking account. That was over $6,500 that came in, mostly at the end of the year, but there was ~$30 per quarter deposited also. In a different time, interest earnings on accounts used to be something to be excited about. Our checking and savings account combined brought in $6.51 for the year.

Mr. ODA is set up with GetUpside. When I went to their site to get a better description, I learned that you can earn cash back through gas, grocery, and restaurant purchases; I thought it was just gas. It’s an app that allows you to earn cash back through your normal purchasing. However, it also gives you an incentive for referring people, and so when that person buys gas, you get some cash back. By checking the app for a participating gas station (and only using it if the incentive offered is a better price than surrounding gas stations), Mr. ODA deposited $32.45 for the year.

Between 5 credit cards, we brought in $4,232 worth of rewards. These are simply earned by either spending or paying the credit card, no further action. We preach and preach to have credit cards with rewards. Everything we purchase goes onto a credit card; at the end of every cycle, we pay that credit card off. We’ve developed a mindset for spending that means we’re not afraid of what we put on the credit card and whether we’ll be able to pay it off in full at the end of the month, because we’re not spending frivolously. I will caveat that this amount of rewards was possible due to sign-on bonuses that were earned in a previous year, and then the credit card changed their reward redemption options, allowing us to pay ourselves back for restaurant purchases. We had previously been using the rewards to purchase travel needs through their portal, but we were able to dwindle down our rewards with this reimbursement change.

INVESTMENTS

Every month, we each put $500 into our investment accounts as an automatic contribution to max out our Roth IRA contributions. Additionally, each kid gets $50 deposited into their investment accounts each month. We also received the child tax credit each month, so with that, we put $125 into each kids’ account. The thought process was that we received $600 for them, and so after investing in their accounts, we were left with $350 to go towards “raising” them, which was the intent of the money being sent out in advance.

EXPENSES

My categories were super broad. For instance, if we traveled, I included all the expenses (e.g., lodging, flight, activities, parking, dog-sitting) as “entertainment.” But “entertainment” also included watching horse racing, baseball game, zoo, babysitting, etc. “Home” includes any furniture purchased, decorations, cabinet knobs, pictures/frames, etc. Even with the broad categories, I still had too many.

There are 3 categories that we have more control over, so I took a closer look at them: groceries, gas, restaurants. These are the ones that we can control our actions to change if we wanted/needed.

GROCERIES

A shortfall on my tracking is that I don’t know if Walmart purchases were necessarily for groceries or for something else. I removed a $300 purchase from my list because we wouldn’t have spent that much in one transaction in groceries, but I can’t figure out what we did spend it on because it was too long ago.

I investigated the spike in June, and I didn’t come up with anything jarring. There’s a transaction for $165 on a day with another transaction, so that may not have been food. August had several trips to Kroger. Trips to Kroger mean that we’re buying in bulk, so things purchased there are typically several of a particular deal they’re running that week versus an actual grocery shopping trip. There are 19 grocery transactions in August, which is higher than usual. August also included an emergency “find this kid some medicine while we’re on the road” that cost us $8 worth of medicine.

Lesson learned: We can do better meal planning and making fewer trips to the grocery store. We can be more deliberate about what we’re purchasing instead of stocking the pantry without a plan. We have a Sam’s Club membership and sometimes we tag along to Costco to scope out deals, so those lead to more bulk purchases, which will fall by the wayside in 2022. The Kroger deals will continue to be on Mr. ODA’s radar though.

GAS

Interesting that January through April are so much lower because we didn’t necessarily stay home. We drove about an hour away for a trip in January and a trip about 90 minutes away in March, went from our house to Lexington (about a half hour) every weekend, and went to the zoo (about an hour or so away). I guess we stayed home during the week more, which kept our gas costs low. April was when we gave up on a lake house and decided to be deliberate about going on trips, so I expected to see an uptick in gas costs at that time. I described that whole thought process and what we did in this post. Some of the uptick in certain months can also be contributed to us trying to maximize gas prices (e.g., we fill up if we’re going to be near Costco, even if we don’t necessarily need the gas at that time). In October and half of November, I was working in Lexington on the weekends, so that was 3 days a week that I was driving 25 minutes each way. Then in December, we drove from KY to Long Island, which is a whole lot of gas.

Lesson learned: We like to be active, so I don’t foresee a change in our gas-purchasing patterns in this year. As I type this, gas prices are soaring all over the country. Since we like to travel, our trips are usually within driving distance versus flying with two kids, so spending the money in gas is cheaper than 3-4 plane tickets.

RESTAURANTS

This is a funky one to track. While we’re traveling, we’re clearly eating at restaurants more often. That’s seen in the higher spending that happened over the spring and summer months. I don’t remember spending all of February in the house, but our credit card purchases seem to say that’s what we did – no gas and no restaurants. In March, we splurged on a birthday dinner ($77!), which is unusual for us. From April through August, we were traveling (and therefore eating fast food and at sit-down restaurants), Mr. ODA had work trips (so he’s going out to eat with coworkers for multiple nights), and there seems to be one or two transactions each month where we paid for a group dinner that was reciprocated (and not captured). Under the restaurants category is also when we went for drinks somewhere. We went to a winery and had a couple of drinks with friends, and that could probably be considered “entertainment” versus eating outside the home.

HOUSE WORK

We put a lot of money into our house this year, which is surprising since it’s new construction. We finished our basement, which was about $15k instead of the $75k-100k that other people have been quoted for the job. We bought a patio set, a grill, and an entryway table. Mr. ODA built a “shed” under our deck (we can’t have free-standing sheds per the HOA, so we enclosed under the deck .. not “free standing” πŸ™‚ ). Most of our furniture moved with us from the last house without an issue, but there were a few purchases needed. Between our initial move in purchases (a kitchen table and chairs), purchases in 2021, and a few purchases that have already happened in 2022, we should be done with big house purchases.

INCOME

I quit my job in 2019. I manage our 12 rental properties as my “job” now, but I also am open to part time jobs as something to do. In April 2021, I was asked if I could help fill a position at the race track during their Spring meet. It wasn’t a job that I wanted to go back and do in future meets. I mentioned that I’d work the Fall meet if I could do something like pour beer, and Mr. ODA’s dad (who works there) made it happen. I also worked some of the days of their horse sales. I worked 22 days for the year and contributed $5k to our family’s spending for the year.

LOOKING AHEAD

I’ll try to track our expenses in real time this year, so that I can categorize them more accurately. Watching expenses month-to-month means you can also make adjustments if you see you’ve spent more than usual in one category.

Finishing our basement meant that we moved furniture around. A sections that was in our dining room moved to the basement, freeing up the dining room to actually be a dining room; I purchased a table and chairs. The “playroom” toys were moved down to the basement, and that room became the guest room. It’s nice that the guests can have their own space on the first floor and not share a bathroom with the kids. That freed up the previous guest room to be an actual office, so I purchased a desk (our old desk was in poor shape and it didn’t move to KY with us). Other than that, I don’t see any major expenses on our own house for this year.

We expect to travel a lot again this year. We already have six trips planned. They’re all driving trips, so that’ll increase our gas category. I have one trip expected to fly to my sister’s baby shower, but that hasn’t been scheduled yet. We’ll also have day trips that we’ll do around our house, which is usually an hour to an hour and a half worth of driving.

While we don’t “budget” or believe in the “envelope system,” we do watch our spending on a regular basis. We check our accounts every few days to ensure there are no surprises as well (i.e., don’t wait for your statement to come and find out there have been false charges). Keep paying attention to what’s being spent and where your money is going so that you can make informed financial decisions.

DIY Projects

I took a break from writing posts to play in the nice weather we were having and then finish up some outstanding projects this weekend. Some projects are still not finished, but I felt good about the progress. Here are some things I did, which means you can do it too and save yourself some money. πŸ™‚

SHOE STORAGE: $6

We have a mud room “welcome center” or “drop zone” in our house. Here’s a picture from the builder on what it looks like.

It’s beautiful until you realize that the purpose of these shelves is to house things like shoes, keys, outdoor things, etc. There’s no point to style them like bookshelves, and it’s hard to keep it looking organized. When we have guests, they have to see this because it’s outside the only first floor bathroom. It drives me crazy that people see it. I store all our craft supplies on the top shelves (little hands), and I ripped all that down and organized it into bins. It’s not pretty to look at, but it’s still better than the pile of things that quickly gets unorganized. The bottom shelves have shoes on them. A year ago, I asked Mr. ODA to build me an intermediate shelf in the bottom right cubby. We used scrap wood already on hand at that time. Shoes aren’t tall, and we were just throwing them in there on top of each other. Well, all this build up just to say: I finally bought contact paper and wrapped the plywood. I originally wasn’t going to bother painting it because I didn’t have the trim paint on hand. Since then, a nice worker left me a pint of it, but I still thought the contact paper would be better. It seems so small and silly, but I got the pattern to line up straight when I wrapped it on the edge, which makes me happy.

LAUNDRY ROOM: $49

Again, nearly a year ago, I took down the builder-grade wire shelf that was in the laundry room. I then patched the gigantic holes that this type of shelf requires. Here’s a builder photo of a laundry room in this floor plan to show what I mean, and where it started.

Instead of blinds in there, I frosted the bottom sash of the window with spray paint I had left over from doing a similar job in our last house ($0). Someone was getting rid of a cabinet on our neighborhood page, and I wanted it for the laundry room ($0). I bought cabinet enamel ($25), which I highly recommend over regular paint if you want a clean look. It’s pricey, but it’s worth it (I’ve used it here and on a desk I refinished, and I still have half the quart left. Here’s the one I used.

I hung this repainted cabinet last summer. Every time I walked by, I thought that a light brick wall would look so good with the color of the cabinet. I thought about it for several months and finally decided to go for it. I bought 2 rolls of peel and stick wallpaper off Amazon ($14). It did not go well. I got the idea out of my system, but I didn’t enjoy the process of hanging it. I’m curious about doing traditional wallpaper, which is easier to move around and line up, but I was disappointed that these two sheets didn’t automatically line up with each other and I had to piece them together.

In my last house, I hung a cabinet and then Mr. ODA and his brother built two shelves that I stained dark next to it. That’s still my goal here, but I haven’t done the shelves. I had already been in Home Depot for an hour, and Mr. ODA wasn’t there to talk me through the options, and HD likes to just throw all their crap in the lumber aisles to make it very difficult to navigate if you have a cart, so I gave up. But I did get chair rail ($10)! I originally wanted something really big, but I panicked and went with a smaller, more ornate option. I stained it espresso (already on hand from the last laundry room job), so you can’t really see the details in it, but at least the end of the wallpaper is covered now. It doesn’t matter how many times I am around an air compressor and nail gun; I do not enjoy that thing.

I also put the contact paper that I bought for the shoe shelf on the bottom shelf of the cabinet I refinished since paint had dripped into it and the original owner of it had drilled several holes through the bottom of it. P.S. The knobs were put on by the previous owner; one day I’ll patch the hole and realign the knobs so they’re even, ugh.

STENCILED WALL: $73

I don’t really recommend stenciling a whole wall. I’ll probably put 10 hours into the wall already by the time I’m done. Also, $73 is a lot to spend on one wall, but I’ll find more uses for the paint. That’s the upfront cost, but with leftover supplies, there will be more projects.

I wanted my daughter to have pink in her room, but nothing bright. I found this beautiful muted pink color. I wanted to do one wall this color in a satin finish, and then get the same color but in an eggshell or flat to do the stencil. While at the store, I found a different kind of paint and went for that instead; it’s a metallic paint! It’s subtle enough that it’s hard to capture all the stenciling in photographs, and it changes how you see it based on how the light hits it.

So I’ve purchased a gallon of pink paint (that has more than 2/3 left in it) ($38), this special paint (with about half of it left once I’m done) ($20), and the stencil that I had someone make for me ($15).

Halfway through the wall, I discovered an error I’d been making. I had been using a manual level to make sure the top of the stencil was level when I put it on the wall. The stencil was not cut correctly – the image on the stencil is cockeyed within the stencil, so leveling the edge of the stencil meant that everything I was painting wasn’t straight. Once I started using the laser level, I found that the level line wasn’t the same whether I used the top of the cut out part or the edge of the stencil piece. I tried to start correcting it because, while it wasn’t noticeable, I figured it’d get noticeable by the time I got to the other edge of the wall and along the ceiling. Things got messed up in a few spots where I couldn’t quite see where I was lining it up against what I had already painted.

Oh, and let’s not forget that I had the paint out, went to deal with a crisis with my son (potty training!), and my daughter seized the opportunity. She got my paint brush, dipped it in the paint, and smeared it all over the stenciled wall I had already done. Luckily, that stencil was dry, and I found her right away so the paint was wet, so it mostly just wiped off.

There are two sections I’ll need to re-paint pink and then re-stencil, and then there’s a few touch up areas where I’ll need to hit it with a small brush and fix the pink around the stencil. Once paint got caked on the stencil and created its own barrier to bleeding behind the stencil, the wall is coming out perfect. If this didn’t take absolutely forever, I’d want to go back and do the first 5 rows I did without the laser level and caked up stencil, but no thanks.. it isn’t THAT noticeable!

The [near] finished project is exactly how I pictured it, which never seems to happen for me, so I’m powering through. Here’s a close up of the wall since there are too many imperfections to share the whole thing at this point.

BASEMENT WET BAR: $53

Mr. ODA and I put up shiplap against the wet bar wall as a feature. We didn’t want to close in the room with upper cabinets (this section sits in the middle of the open basement and we didn’t want to distract from that), we didn’t want to tile the wall with a backsplash because the wall is FAR from even, and we didn’t want to leave it painted with nothing above it. Mr. ODA decided on shiplap, and he liked the charcoal color instead of the white or painting it. It really looks great, but it’s unfinished. We didn’t know how we wanted to do the final piece. So this weekend, I bought two molding types to check it out, and we still need to add that and paint/stain it. I also purchased the sink faucet finally, which should arrive tomorrow. We first thought we’d put shelves in the shiplap, but after you work so hard to make it level and shim it like crazy behind each piece, you don’t really want to immediately drill anything into the face of your pretty project. πŸ™‚ I didn’t include the cost of the shiplap in my calculation above because that was purchased before this weekend’s goals of finishing projects, but the molding was $10 and the faucet was $43.

Speaking of finishing, this reminded me that I have to buy the cabinet pulls. We had held off installing them because the flooring people were going to come back and fix some things. There’s a protective layer on the outside of the cabinets, and I didn’t want to pull it off until they were done banging around near them (their workmanship was quite poor, so I don’t trust them). Since I wasn’t going to install them, I didn’t make it a priority to order them, but I can now. There’s more to come on the basement, since we did most of it ourselves.

DIMMER SWITCH: $11

Our son’s sleep has been an issue since birth (PSA: Buy the Taking Cara Babies course for newborns and save yourself a lot of frustration in life by getting a baby to sleep longer with less fights). We finally got into a bed time groove, but it involves him sleeping with the light on. It drove me crazy that it was so bright in there, so I removed the bulb from the overhead light and told him it was broken so he’d use the lamp. When we visited my family, he slept in a room with a dimmer switch and let the light be on the lowest dim level. I finally got around to purchasing the dimmer switch and installing it! Cut off the electric to the room at the electrical box, unscrew the old one, cut the wires, strip them to the right length (it’s on the back of the switch), insert the wires in the right places, screw it into the wall, and turn the electric back on.

SUMMARY

And that’s where I’ve been for the last week! We ordered a desk for the office and a dining room table now that all the existing furniture is where it’s meant to be with the basement finished. That’s what caused my final push to get things done. Now we have our daughter’s birthday party coming in a few weeks, and I was hoping to have almost everything completely before people are in the house! Now go do some projects you’ve been putting off too. πŸ™‚

Year in Review: Part 1

Just over a year ago, I decided it was time to put more effort into sharing what we’ve been through. When I’m looking to learn something new, I like to find examples of how other people handle it. I want to know the places they struggled and how they learned. I find it a better way to form my opinion than by reading an article that doesn’t have any meat in it, only providing an outline.

In the last year, I learned that blogging wasn’t as easy to keep up with as I thought it would be. I have a list of topics still to cover, so it wasn’t a matter of content. But raising two kids hinders my ability for an uninterrupted thought process to write an article, unless I get to it before they wake up.

The blog was started by Mr. ODA in 2018. He wrote a few posts, and then it sat for two years. I decided to pick it back up in January 2021. During 2021, we published 65 posts. Each month, I wrote a post about our financial update; I included any major expenses, how management of rental properties was going, and how our personal spending may have changed month-to-month. I shared our purchase of 11 out of 13 of our properties, our sale of one property, refinancing mortgages, paying off mortgages, renting properties, maintaining properties, etc. I also shared just general life decision making along the way.


Part 1 for my year in review will address what happened with our rental properties. I’ll dive into our personal finances in Part 2.

As a quick recap, we have 12 rental properties. Nine of them are in Virginia, and three of them are in Kentucky. Two of the houses in Virginia are owned with a partner because we still had cash available to buy more houses, but at the time we had the maximum number of mortgages allowed by Fannie/Freddie (max is 10). The houses were purchased between February 2016 and September 2019. All 3 houses in Kentucky are managed by a property manager, who gets 10% of the monthly rent each month. I manage 5 of the Virginia houses personally, and then we have a property manager who manages the remaining 4, who also gets 10% for each house.

RENTAL PROPERTY MORTGAGES

In January 2021, we completed a refinance of one property, and then in December, we completed three cash-out refinances. The loan balances on these 4 properties increased; one increased because closing costs were rolled into the loan balance, and the other 3 included $190k worth of equity taken out from the houses and creating new loans.

We went from 11 mortgages (two of which are actually owned by a partner) down to 8. House 6 had a balance of $26,447 coming into 2021, and that was paid off by June. Two other houses had a total balance of $157,500 at the beginning of the year. Their balances dwindled through regular monthly payments and one lump sum payment right before we completed the cash-out-refis and completely paid them off.

We have been working on paying down another mortgage that is owned with a partner. Between the two of our families, we paid off about $44,000 additional principal for that mortgage. We’re matching each other’s additional principal payments so that the math is easier to follow, so we can only make additional payments in line with what he can do also. We each owe about $10k on this mortgage now.

Even though there were so many mortgage-related transactions in the year, our overall loan balance only decreased by $6,000.

The market has continued to rise due to the limited supply, and so our home values on the rentals actually increased over $500k over the last year.

RENTAL PROPERTY LEASES

We turned over 1 property the whole year! The tenant that was living there had already told us that they were renting until they found a place to buy, so we knew they wouldn’t be long term tenants. We had a relationship with them from a previous house, when they had moved out of the area and then back. They had a poor experience renting in another area and reached out to us since they appreciated us as landlords. They found a house towards the end of their first year, but we let them out of the lease early. Their lease was slated to end October 31, 2021. We don’t usually have leases that start/end in the Fall if we can help it, but we had let the previous tenant out of her lease early to purchase a house also. The tenant said she was able to be out at the end of August, and we preferred moving the lease closer to the summer months anyway.

We raised the rent on 6 properties.
– The one house that was turned over went from $1200 to $1350 per month. However, we added a property manager who gets 10%, so our cash flow only increased by $15 per month.
– Two of our properties have long term tenants; the rent is significantly below market value, but we value not having to turn over the house. These houses are on a cycle where we increase the rent $50 every two years.
– Our KY property manager tried to increase rent on the 3 properties she manages. One was increased by $25, another by $5, and the other one cried that she couldn’t afford an increase. That’s the one where we plan to increase by $75 next month, and if she doesn’t accept, we’ll turn it over and get $75-$100 more per month.
– We increased rent by $150/month for one of our properties that we have with a partner. It was a risk, but this is a house that claims 3 people live there, but they have 5 queen size beds in the house. We figured either they leave and we get several big things fixed up that have been deferred because of all their things in the way, or we make up for all the years that we didn’t manage their rent and didn’t increase it. They accepted the increase.

RENT COLLECTION

We were very grateful that we made it through those initial months of the pandemic without tenants not being able to pay rent. We had a few people let us know that they were laid off or unable to work (e.g., restaurant business), but we learned most of our tenants worked in the health care field. So while we made it through 2020 without many issues, 2021 brought more challenges. Nothing was insurmountable, and it wasn’t debilitating financially, but it was still something to manage.

We had some big struggles with non-payment of rent on one house. She was 31 days late paying August rent, then she didn’t pay September’s rent, and then she applied for rental assistance to cover September, October, and November, which we didn’t receive until February 2022. That was all on top of her generally being a week late in paying through the beginning of the year too. She doesn’t maintain employment, she doesn’t communicate, and we’ve just had something new and different pop up as an issue every few months. We eventually received January 2022’s rent, but we still haven’t received all of February’s rent – just in time for March rent to be due.

We have another property (the one that was raised $150 per month) that is perpetually late. They eventually pay, and they’re getting better about actually paying the late fee (when they pay rent 20+ days late…), but they were late for 10/12 months of the year.

Everyone else paid their rent on time. In general, we’re lenient with late fees and issues. If you reach out to us and mention that there was a hiccup and you’ll need one more pay check to pay rent, our response is typically: please pay what you can now, pay the rest next week, and don’t worry about the late fee. However, when you don’t communicate and/or you’re consistently weeks late and we’re having to carry the expenses, there needs to be a consequence to incentivize you getting back on track.

RENTAL EXPENSES

We replaced the flooring in House3 ($4,000), hot water heater in House9 ($1,500), HVAC in House10 ($3,300), washing machine in House10 ($250), and HVAC in House12 ($3,900). We also had various electrical and plumbing work that needed to be done in several houses. We also spend about $7k per year in property management fees.

Usually turn over is an area that requires us to put a lot of money into a house. Luckily, the one house that we turned over this year only required some paint work, and we didn’t have any other turnovers.

While it’s nice that our assessments have increased and our housing values have increased in our net worth calculation, it comes at a price. Our taxes have increased on all the properties. In total, they’ve increased over $2,500 in just the one year (meaning, that doesn’t include all the previous years worth of assessment increases that have occurred!).

GOALS

In this year, we hope to add one more rental property to our portfolio. We’ve been actively working on it, but this market is crazy! We’re not willing to overpay on a property and get into a bidding war just to be done with the search. It’s interesting to see that we haven’t bought a new rental property in almost 2.5 years, when we had purchased so many all at once. We had gone back and forth with saving for another down payment or just paying off more mortgages after we paid off House6 in June. Once the cash-out-refi was a possibility, we decided to go ahead with purchasing another property. We’ll self-manage whatever we acquire. We had been looking in Virginia and Kentucky, but have started to settle into a Kentucky property (I like the laws for tenant/landlord relationships better in Virginia) so that we can save the 10% management fee and the expensive leasing fee, since housing prices are significantly higher than what we’d prefer for the rent ratio we’d be getting.

We have 8 houses that still need negotiation and/or lease termination coming this year. Two houses have already agreed to their rent increase, and we just need to get the new lease signed. Five houses will be offered a new lease term with a rent increase (averaging about $50 per month on the increase). One tenant will be asked to leave at the end of her lease term.

We want to remove the tenant from House2 at the end of her lease term. She has been a concern in numerous legal ways, does not hold steady employment, and the house is well under market value rent. Turning over that property will require us to go to Virginia to work on it. It’ll need repainted, the carpet will probably have to be replaced, and I worry that she’ll do some damage when we tell her we’re not interested in renewing her lease.

SUMMARY

I like to look at the details of the rental properties all at once in this format. Sometimes, I get caught up in all the things that I need to get done, and I feel like it’s so much work. In those moments, I forget that there are most days of the year where I don’t even think about the properties. Even when expenses seem to be piling on top of themselves, to look back and see that our expenses totaled less than $15k over 12 houses is encouraging. We’ve also reached the point where we’ve replaced most HVACs and several roofs, which are areas that can create problems that compound on themselves, whereas a replacement is expensive, but then I don’t have to get all the calls that something went wrong.

Rental Property Management

Every once in a while, I like to share what I’ve been doing to manage the properties. There was a lot of activity needed over the last two months.

RENT INCOME

One of our usual suspects for late rent payments was late again. We seem to only have a one-month streak for on-time payments with them. She at least communicates with us that they’ll be late and gives a projection on when we’ll see it. She ended up paying rent on the 14th, and said she needed to pay the late fee on the 21st.

Two other houses haven’t paid rent, but they’ve applied for rental assistance.

RENT RELIEF PROGRAM

House2 applied for rent assistance in September, and we still haven’t received that from the State. I did finally get a tracking number on the 19th that it’s on its way. She paid $400 worth of January’s rent on a Friday and said she’d have the rest on Monday. Well, as she has a history of not communicating and not upholding her word, I wasn’t taking a chance with her. I served her the default notice on Saturday to indicate that she didn’t pay rent in full and had 14 days to remedy that. She remedied that by applying for rental assistance again. She said that she only applied for January assistance, so hopefully we’ll have February rent on time. I wish I could dig into her finances and find out how she didn’t have to pay any rent for September, October, or November, only had to pay $600 towards December because she had a credit from a payment plan previously in place, and then can’t pay January rent in full.

House3 had to apply for rent assistance. They’re great tenants and have been with us since we purchased the house. In November, she applied for December, January, and February assistance. The application expires 45 days after it’s sent, as a means to protect the landlord from floating the expenses on the property indefinitely. This tenant ended up paying December’s rent, but hasn’t paid anything towards January. Luckily, we did receive approval for their application on January 11. Hopefully we’ll receive that money in less than 3 months time like the last time this program was involved. What she paid in December will be counted as March’s rent (2021 income for tax purposes, but she won’t pay March rent because she has that credit now).

REFINANCES & MORTGAGES

We had to provide several post-closing documents on the refinances. It was horrendous. They asked for new types of documentation. Clearly, whoever is purchasing our loans didn’t like the lack of due diligence done pre-closing. Except for the new request, everything else they requested could have been ascertained by looking at the documentation already on hand, so we didn’t appreciate that. Then the new request was to explain how we paid off a mortgage, which was paid off 4 months prior to us establishing a relationship with this company to refinance the other loans. I had to provide proof that it was paid off, and then I had to provide the funds used to pay it off. The balance was $3,100. Paying a $3k bill hardly touches our finances. I want to become an underwriter so I can understand how they need so much detail and are sticklers for the type of detail, but they don’t need to know how to read the details they request.

We had an escrow analysis done on House7. It said that our mortgage was going to increase by $183 each month, but the increase should have been just about $60. I’ll explain details in another post, but that took some time. Mr. ODA called and walked the representative through the error. He said it took a while for her to get there, and we’re awaiting an update.

Since our refinances occurred at the end of the year, and all our city tax payments are due in January, I was nervous about the right amounts getting paid. The initial closing disclosures had the old tax payment amounts on it, but every one had increased. I was able to catch it and request that they be updated before our closing, but it was a day or two before closing. I was afraid it wouldn’t catch correctly. I had to stay on top of the payments and make sure they were all paid in full, and I had to pay the property taxes for those that aren’t escrowed. I was most worried about the three properties that were being refinanced, but then the issue ended up being one of our other houses. The escrow check was sent on 12/21, and it still hadn’t processed as of the tax due date of 1/14. I sent an email to the finance office hopefully showing that I had done my due diligence timely. Luckily, when I checked on 1/20, the taxes were processed by then.

LEASE MANAGEMENT

We require action from the tenant no later than 60 days from the end of their lease. There are 3 properties that have an April 30 lease term expiration. One tenant already reached out and asked to renew their lease. They’ve already been there for two years, and their rent has remained steady at $1300. We have precedent of increasing long-term tenant rent every 2 years by $50 (but we also have precedent of not actively managing houses and not increasing the rent at all.. oops). I explained to this tenant how there have been several increases in our expenses over the last two years. They’re really great tenants, and they hardly ever ask for anything from us. I felt guilty, but we’re trying to run a business, so we need to take care of that side too. Plus, if we didn’t increase slightly this coming year, it’ll be hard to manage future increases. It’s a lot harder to keep a good tenant if you don’t raise their rent and then hit them with $100-$200 increase down the road, so it’s best to keep with inflation. I did the cash-on-cash analysis for this property and discovered that the $50 increase falls slightly short of our expenses and keeping our rate of return the same.

I have to work with two other houses (via a property manager on those) to determine their new rent amount. One house negotiated a lower rent for a longer lease term at their lease initiation, which was October 1, 2019. This property in particular has had the highest jump in taxes. We grieved them to no avail. They’re claiming our neighborhood is part of a more affluent neighborhood and refuse to see how their district lines aren’t accurate for the type of house and street it’s on. I plan to push for an increase of $75 on that one, since their original lease amount is based on a discounted rate. One the other house, the tenants wield a lot of power to our property manager. We tried to increase rent last year, and the tenant flipped out on us about it. We’re already below what we thought market value was on the house, so 2.5 years without an increase is insult to injury. I’m going to request an increase from $875 to $950 on the house and see what the property manager says. If she agrees to a $50 increase, that’d be acceptable, but it’d be nice to recoup some of the other expenses too.

EXPENSES

We have a tenant in one of our houses that is amazing. He treats the house as if he’s the owner. He’s quick to take care of problems, and only seems to let us know when it gets to be a certain level of problem. This house has always had a mice problem. One tenant, who we evicted, created a really big problem that involved several mice making this house their home. She refused to do her part in cleaning up food messes, be it old food sitting on the counter or in the sink, grease splattered all over, or just general mess left behind. We got it under control, but the occasional mouse still rears its head. He sent us an email saying he’s been having an issue, and he’s tried really hard to address each individual mouse appearance. He said it has gotten to the point where he wants to do something more drastic, but wanted our permission. I said that it was absolutely at the point where it’s our issue to deal with, not his, but we thank him for his efforts. I called our pest control company, and we’ll see if that helps. One or two mice is one thing, but for him to say he’s caught 9 in a year, that’s a bit much. The pest control was $165.

One of our KY houses has a bunch of little and weird expenses pop up. This month’s explanation on my report from the property manager simply said “Repaired door by adjusting door to fit opening and resetting stuck plates.” I don’t know what door or how the plates got stuck, but I threw in the towel on that $60.

We were also informed that a toilet at another property stopped flushing. When asked for more detail, we were told that she presses the handle and nothing happens. My response? “Please don’t tell me I’m going to have to spend $125 for someone to reconnect a chain.” Our property manager’s husband said he’ll go look at it, for $80. That’s a downside to not living near the property and being able to check on the issue yourself. We got a text later saying that he talked the tenant through the issue, and it turned out that the flapper was just stuck. So luckily it’s nothing at the moment, but it could be an expense down the road.

SUMMARY

So that was a lot for one month. Luckily, our expenses themselves were low (225), even though we’re missing some rental income ($1,900 and $145 worth of a late fee) and we had to do more management than usual. By having 12 properties, late rent payments or non-existent payments don’t create a strain on our finances. For example, if we only had House2, who paid $1550 worth of 5 months of rent because of the rent relief assistance program, then we’d be floating those mortgages each month. By having more houses, those other rents are covering the expenses on the one house.

In 4 weeks time, a ‘full time job’ would be 160 hours of work. I estimate that all the action that I took this month (and the phone call Mr. ODA had to make to our bank on the escrow issue) comes out to about 6 hours. There’s the perspective. Even when it seems like a lot, because it’s more than nothing, it’s still hardly anything.

Refinance Results

There’s a company in Virginia that offers $0 closing costs for refinances. That applies to personal residences being refinanced. They still cover most of the closing costs associated with investment properties, but there’s an investment property fee that we need to pay. They also have a fee associated with taking cash out as part of the refinance. Another stipulation is that the new loan has to be at least $100,000 after the refinance. I spoke of the initial details in a post last month, and now I can discuss the details and results of the refinance.

We first talked about taking $50,000 out for each Property2 and Property3. Then we added Property8 into the refinance. The opportunity to use this company to refinance a loan is only available in Virginia. We decided it was best to pay off both Winchester, KY houses instead of just one. The appraisals came back higher than anticipated, so we decided to increase each loan to the max amount of 60% loan to value ratio.

Note the change in value on these houses. We’ve owned 2 and 3 for 5.5 years, and we’ve owned 8 for just over 4 years. The value of these houses have more than doubled in that time, with minimal effort on our part, all the while having a tenant cover the mortgage and maintenance costs.

CASH FLOW

At first, the thought of going from $60-70k to $123k-138k worth of loan payments is an overwhelming sight. I’m a visual person, so I broke it down to a place where I felt comfortable with this move. That comfort is in the cash flow.

With the $190k cashed out, we paid off two loans. Due to a huge issue with our insurance payments, our escrow accounts were substantially negative. Therefore, the payoff required making the escrow accounts whole. Our bank that held these loans used to have such a great online system. Through the course of 3 updates, they killed it. They took away loan history in an easy-to-view format, they took away options to make principal-only payments same day, and they removed the payoff request concept (they had made it difficult in the last update by making it a request that you would have emailed to you, and then in this update, they took it away all together, forcing me to call an automated system that just kept telling me about covid-relief options….. I’m not bitter).

After these two loans were paid off, we were left with just under $50k in cash. This will be used for a downpayment and closing costs on a new rental property, which is a search underway.

To the cash flow part – the removal of those two loan payments was worth $1,184.62. The three properties refinanced had their mortgage payments increase by $1,117.70. The change in my monthly cash flow is now $67 more than I had been netting. I’ll note that the cash flow also involves one of the houses going from a 20 year mortgage to a 15 year mortgage, which increases the monthly payment disproportionately to just an interest rate change.

That’s the black and white, month-to-month change; there are some caveats though. Previously, Property2 hadn’t been escrowed, so I was paying that on my own. Now, with the two houses paid off, I’ll need to pay those previously-escrowed costs on my own. When I factor those details in, my annual cash flow actually decreases, and my out of pocket costs for the year increase by about $700.

While the monthly cash flow increase of $67 isn’t a drastic difference, the fact that we have cash left over and $50k of the new loan balance will be used to create more cash flow with the purchase of a new rental-producing property benefits our portfolio.

MANAGING BILLS IMPLICATION

With the payoff of the two houses in Winchester, KY, I now am responsible for paying the taxes and insurance on the properties (instead of escrow). In October, Kentucky sends the owner as of January 1 of that year the tax bills (meaning, if you own the property on January 1, 2020, then you receive the tax bill on October 15, 2020). It’s frustrating. It’s on the old owner to forward to the new owner if there was a sale during that year. They also send it to the owner even if there’s a mortgage with escrow. So every year, I need to call the mortgage company and make sure they received the bill themselves. Even though I need to stay on top of paying the taxes and insurances now that there’s no escrow, it’ll actually save me time because I won’t have to call these companies to make sure they received the current tax bill. Oh! They also give an incentive for paying early, so I’m always worried that the escrow payment won’t be released to give me that incentive and that they’ll focus on the due date.

Property2 had not been escrowed. There was a screw up in the paperwork that I capitalized on because I don’t like that escrow keeps my money tied up without any incentive to me. Well, Mr. ODA thought I had said I preferred things to be escrowed, but I don’t remember ever definitively saying that. I may have said a comment like “gosh, it’s nice to not have to remember to pay this bill,” but not that I’d prefer to see my monthly payment go up each year because of an escrow reanalysis (I feel like I wrote a post about this……). Property 2 is now escrowed through the refinance.

I removed two tax payments to Virginia and one insurance payment, but then I added back 4 tax payments and 1 insurance payment for each year. The one insurance payment for two properties is what caused me to have an escrow fiasco, so now we’ll avoid that mess by paying it ourselves. Plus, when we pay the insurance ourselves, it can go on a credit card where we earn cash rewards.

SUMMARY

In 4-5 years, we’ve more than doubled the value of these houses that we purchased. While that isn’t immediate cash in our pockets, that’s a substantial increase in our portfolio’s net worth. That increase in value costs us more in taxes in each year, but it also provided us with this opportunity to refinance and take cash out to purchase another property. With two houses paid off, we have also increased our monthly cash flow by about $67. On top of all the near-term gains for this transaction, there’s also the interest payment gains we received. All 3 loans dropped their interest rate, and one loan transitioned to a 15 year loan from a 20 year loan, which decreases the interest owed as well.

House 11

Our 11th purchase was a 4 bedroom and 2 bathroom house, which we were excited about. We only had one other 4 bedroom, and it only had 1.5 baths, so this was a new demographic we could meet. We again needed a mortgage, but we were tapped out (max of 10 mortgages allowed per Fannie Mae), so we went to our partner. I went through the process of establishing the partnership in the House 10 post.

The house had been listed for sale in July 2018, dropped the price in October 2018, and we went under contract on it on December 1, 2018. We went under contract at $129,000, which meant, according to the 1% Rule, we would look to rent it for at least $1290.

The house required a lot of cosmetic work (relative to our usual purchases) before we could rent it. The biggest hold up was the carpet replacement, but we had to do a lot of cleaning and painting also. We closed on February 4, 2019; got to work on the house on the 6th; and then had it rented on March 3, 2019. That’s a longer turnaround time than we’d like, but we thought the long-term benefits of a 4/2 house would be worth it. Plus, with our goal being $1290 based on the 1% Rule, we were happy that we rented it at $1300 and through March 31, 2020.

LOAN TERMS

We were given two options from the loan officer. Both options required 25% down. We could do a 15 year mortgage at 5.05% or a 30 year mortgage at 5.375%. The 15 year mortgage payment was $865, while the 30 year was $640. Since both options required 25% down and we aren’t concerned with our monthly cash flow (as in, we’re not living off of every dollar that comes out of these houses right now), we chose the 15 year. Escrow changes over the last few years have increased the mortgage to $941, unfortunately. However, we’ve been paying off this loan with pretty substantial chunks of money thrown at it. The loan started at $96,750, and the current balance is $21,350. We would have liked to have this paid off a few months ago, but we need to time our payments with our partner, who recently paid for a wedding, renovations to a new house, and a new tear-down property adjacent to his personal residence that he’s going to build a garage-type thing (city living = street parking for him).

We went under contract at $129,000, and the house appraised at $140,000, so that was a nice surprise. The current city assessment is at $148k, but it would likely sell for more than that.

PARTNERSHIP

Since the LLC was already under way when we purchased House 10, we needed to add this one to the LLC. We contacted our attorney. He processed all the paperwork, and we showed up just to sign everything in a quick meeting. At this time, we also requested an EIN be established for the LLC. To process adding this to an established LLC, it cost us $168 (which we paid half of since we’re split 50/50 with our partner).

PREPARING TO RENT

This house was probably the second most effort we had to put in to prepare it for renting. We had to replace quite a few blinds that were broken, do a deep clean of everything, install smoke alarms, paint, replace the carpet, and do some subfloor work.

We had to paint nearly every room (one room we even painted the ceiling the same color as the walls because the ceiling was in rough shape, and it wasn’t worth the time for precision of the edges).

The floor at the front door was rotted by termites. The guys had to cut out the floor and replace the wood before the new carpet could be ordered. We needed the house treated for termites at that point since there was an active infestation that we found. Depending on time and price, I’d rather replace carpeted areas with hard surface flooring for easier maintenance. Since we were already losing time with all the maintenance on this house to get it ready to rent and it was a small area, we just went the easy way out and put new carpet in. The carpet was only in the living room and hallway; all the bedrooms have hardwood flooring.

FIRST TENANTS

We were able to get a family in the house fairly quickly after we finished our work. We rented it at $1300. They signed it on March 3rd, and I had set the terms until March 31, 2020 (this comes into play later). The family had been renting with a roommate (and the husband’s boss!), and that guy had wanted to leave the house. In January 2020, the tenant said, “we signed the lease on March 3rd, so we want to be out at the end of February.” That’s not how leases work. The lease signed said until March 31, 2020. Some time between us telling him that he was in our lease until the end of March, not February, and the end of February actually coming, they decided they wanted to renew their lease. They signed a new lease with us on March 11 to cover 4/1/2020 through 3/31/2021.

In April 2020, the tenant received a job offer in Texas. He asked about a lease break, and we offered an option. All the communication was done via text message, so it was technically in writing, but there was never a “wrap up” text that identified all the agreed upon terms to allow for the lease break. I used this as a teaching opportunity for the 3 of us in the LLC that clearly documenting agreements in writing (preferably with signatures) is important.

The tenant offered to pay May rent without prompting, so we thought that was covered. The part that needed to be detailed was what was considered a “lease break” fee. We had agreed to 60 days worth of rent, and the security deposit couldn’t be used to pay that. Mr. ODA tried to contact the husband on multiple occasions to get rent paid at the beginning of May, but there was no response. I finally sent an email, detailing that they agreed to pay May’s rent, and that technically, they were on the hook for the entire year’s worth of the lease (quick aside: while that’s what the lease says, I think a caveat in the law actually means they’re not really liable for the whole amount because once the house is vacant for 7 days, it defaults back to our ownership, and then we have to show due diligence to re-rent it, leaving them liable for only the gap period). Well, as usual, the landlord gives us a guilt trip (their daughter was in the hospital in TX) instead of separating that from the concept of “pay your debts owed.” As a person, I feel for you on this; as a business owner, it’s not my responsibility to manage your finances and personal life.

The tenant called Mr. ODA and yelled at him. A few hours later, presumably with a more clear head, we received a fair response via text. He even apologized for yelling on the phone. He paid the last few hundreds that were owed, and we all moved on.

SECOND TENANTS

After our first tenants vacated the house, we had to get the house turned over. There was a good bit of work that needed to be done for just a year of someone living there. They had also left stuff behind that became our responsibility to get out of the house. We listed the house for rent. Our partner showed it to 3 younger people who would rent it together. They seemed great until we ran their background and credit check. They had evictions they didn’t disclose (claimed they didn’t know), so we shared the report with them and continued showing it.

We ended up showing it to a couple, and they liked it. After we accepted their application, we were able to get the lease signed on May 7, 2020. Since this was at the very beginning of the pandemic, we had to get creative. I signed this lease on a street corner (hadn’t realized that the place I had selected with outdoor seating was closed!), and they paid their first month’s rent, security deposit, and pet fee in cash that he handed to me in a sock (with a warning that told me this wasn’t the first time he handed someone cash like this haha). They’ve been great tenants, and they renewed their lease.

MAINTENANCE

The new carpeting when we first bought the house cost us $700. Between the termite treatments and other general pest control, we’ve spent $950.

Once the first tenant moved in, we learned of some other issues that weren’t apparent by us just working there and not living there. We had the plumber come out to fix several issues with the hot water that cost us $1450! Then we found out that the master bathroom shower wasn’t installed properly, and it was missing a p-trap; that cost us $325.

Our insurance carrier didn’t like that there wasn’t a handrail for the front steps of the property, so in March 2020, we had to have one installed at $190.

We had to replace the washing machine in April 2020 for about $500. As I’ve shared, we try to not include any ‘extra’ appliances because then maintenance and replacement are our responsibility. This was a fun one – we replaced it just to make the tenants happy and not deal with maintaining it, and then those tenants left right after that, and our new tenants brought their own appliances (so they just have two washers and two dryers in their kitchen).

We had an electrical issue with the master bathroom that cost us $150.

Luckily, I did the inspection over the summer, and nothing came of that initially. We did end up replacing a fan in the master bedroom because the light part of it stopped working with the switch. Since we don’t live near the house anymore, and our partner was in the middle of getting married, we went through Home Depot to have it installed, so all together (fan/light and install) it was about $175.

SUMMARY

This has been a good house. We didn’t realize that the house is located outside the city limits, so we needed to figure out trash pick up in the county (not included in the taxes). Other than a few maintenance hiccups, things have been smooth sailing. We’re happy with the tenants who are there, that they’re maintaining and cleaning the house, and we’re getting our desired rent amount (that they pay on time every month). The street is in a decently nice neighborhood with a lot of original owners, which helps it keep (and increase) its value.

Cash out refi

There’s a company in Virginia that advertises no-closing-cost-refinances. If it’s your personal residence, then this holds true. For investment properties, there are some closing costs, but it’s cheaper than the usual refinance. We used them for two other loans – one at the beginning of the pandemic when we signed the paperwork in a tent in the parking lot, and another where we signed the paperwork at our kitchen table in Kentucky with a traveling notary (that’s a thing!).

There was a threshold requirement in order to qualify for this refinance, and that was the new loan had to be at least $100,000. Only 2 of our houses had a loan originated for over $100k originally, so that limited our abilities.

Mr. ODA came to me and said he wanted to do a cash-out-refinance. This company had changed their policy, and they’d allow a cash-out-refinance to get us to the 100k threshold. The first two Virginia houses we purchased (2016) had balances of about 70k and 60k. We had enough equity in these houses that we could take a substantial amount out in the refinance, but Mr. ODA chose $50k each.

Here’s a run through of the thought process on how to do this and why it’s a benefit. I personally like seeing the details behind other’s decisions, so hopefully this will help someone or help make the concept click and open up an opportunity. This process was only just initiated, so I’ll do an update after we execute the plan to see how it changed.

The original goal was to use that money to pay off another loan. We’ve made our decision on which loan to pay off based on the highest interest rate. Right now, our highest interest rate is a loan with our partner at 5.1%, but this is also the loan that we’re actively paying off (leaving a balance right now of 26k, which we’re responsible for half). Since we need to time our principal payments to be matched with our partner, we can’t just dump money into this loan without really complicating things. So our second-highest interest rate is 4.625%. This loan originally was $89k in 2017 and has a balance of $62k. If we paid this off, that would leave about $35k in cash (based on the other two loan refinances that we’d take $50k out of each) that we could use to pay towards another loan or earmark for another purchase. As this discussion happened, Mr. ODA pivoted.

This company is only available to refinance loans in Virginia. Instead of paying off that $62k loan for a Virginia property, what if we also refinanced that loan and paid off one of two loans remaining on our Kentucky houses? I’m a visual person and needed to see how this would actually play out.

The terms were that if we picked a 15 year loan, that brings the interest rate down to 2.5%. With a 30 year loan, it’s 3.125%. I compared the current amortization schedule to the proposed amortization schedule, and here they are. Note that the interest isn’t a one-to-one comparison because we’ve already paid 4-5 years of interest on these loans.


HOUSE 2

The original loan terms were a 20 year at 3.875%.

The new terms would create a new 15 year loan, reduce the rate to 2.5%, and increase the loan to about $123k (pay off old loan, fees for closing, and $50k cashed out). This decreases our monthly cash flow, on this property, by $294.38.


HOUSE 3

The original loan terms were a 15 year at 3.25%.

The new terms would create a new 15 year loan, reduce the rate to 2.5%, and increase the loan to about $113k (pay off old loan, fees for closing, and $50k cashed out). This decreases our monthly cash flow, on this property, by $155.89.


HOUSE 8

The original loan terms were a 30 year at 4.625%.

The new terms would create a new 30 year loan, reduce the rate to 3.125%, and increase the loan to about $ (pay off old loan, fees for closing, and $35k cashed out). This is slightly off because the new loan isn’t showing at exactly $100k, but for all these the final numbers will be slightly different. This decreases our monthly cash flow, on this property, by $84.87.


In these projections, we’ll receive $135,000 cash in hand. With that, we’ll pay off the higher loan in Kentucky, which has a balance of about $81k. That mortgage has a monthly payment of $615.34. These three loans have increased their monthly mortgage payments by $535.14 in total. Since we’ve eliminated a monthly mortgage with the cash from these new loans, our total monthly cash flow actually has a net increase of $80.20. In addition to this net positive cash flow, we also have over $53k in cash in our account.

Now, if you know us, cash in our account isn’t a preference by any means. In my last monthly update, you can see that we have almost 20k in cash and that’s abnormal. Add $53 to that, and that’s just too much money sitting in a checking account. At this point, the goal is to buy another house. With the way the market is, we’re probably not going to hit the 1% Rule we strive for (the expected monthly rent will be at least 1% of the purchase price – $1000 rent for $100,000 purchase), and we’re not going to see the margins that we’re used to. It’s going to take a lot of effort to get our psychology right for this next purchase. We’ll have to hold strong in knowing that our other houses have great margins, and at least it won’t be negative cash flow.

At this point, we’ve started the refinance process by signing our initial disclosures and providing all the many, many documents needed to originate a loan.

A ‘month’ in the life managing properties

I started including this information in my monthly update post, but it got to be really long. I thought I’d separate it out as a way to share what has been happening and how I’ve been managing the properties over the last month.

RENT RELIEF PROGRAM

We’re still waiting for a check from the Rent Relief Program for one of our houses, and that’s to cover September, October, and November. So that’s fun. The program volunteered to pay for 2 extra months after the tenant only applied for September. We had already entered into a payment plan for September and October, and she was going to be able to pay November on her own. Instead, the program volunteered this, and all we’ve received for these 3 months of rent is $550. Technically, this now goes towards December rent, so maybe I should see it as we’re ahead for that one month and pretend I haven’t floated 3 mortgage payments on this house after this tenant was extremely irresponsible? I was especially frustrated that she received approval, and then 3 weeks later we were told that our payment hadn’t been made yet because there was an issue with one of the forms (how did approval happen if the forms weren’t complete???). A week ago, I learned that we should hopefully see the check in two weeks.

We actually found out on Wednesday that another tenant applied for the program. Luckily though, they applied for assistance with December’s rent. The program will probably approve two more months. Hopefully, we’ll get December, January, and February from the program before Christmas (I expect it to not be in time for December’s rent).

The tenant is using an organization that will help gather the information and apply to the Rent Relief Program on behalf of them. I’m sure their intentions are good and they’re all good people, but I was put off that they identified themselves as “with the RRP.” You’re not employed by the State. You’re not employed by the RRP. You’re an organization that helps tenants pay their rent. I refused to give them my W9 – both because I didn’t want my tenant to have my social security number and because I knew I could email the RRP directly so they wouldn’t have access to my social security number. They fought me on it, but I won and submitted my W9 directly to the program.

They didn’t identify their connection to the RRP until I mentioned they silence on the matter. I finally got “non-profit organization working in partnership with the Department of Housing and Community Development to help administer the Rent Relief Program.” But I still don’t agree that they’re directly related to the program, just that they work with tenants to get the money. And as with the other tenant and her girlfriend’s desire to guilt me with prayer for expecting rent to be paid, this person guilted me with “Hope all goes well to ensure [the tenant] receives the help she needs.” I was forthcoming with the documents that they asked for, giving them that same day. I was overly polite on the phone call where this person didn’t even know why she was getting in touch with me for several minutes. I even completed forms that she didn’t directly ask for, but that I knew would be asked for eventually, and I created other forms that I had made another tenant do on her own (If you’re nice to me, I’m super helpful. If you leave the country, get sick, and then never tell us when you’re back in the country, while still not paying rent, right after I had just given you an entire month to pay rent the month before, then I’m going to make you do the forms that you’re supposed to be doing).

I clearly am not looking to prohibit the tenant’s application or slow things down, but I am looking to protect my identify and personally identifiable information as much as possible. As far as I know, the tenant’s application was fully submitted yesterday, so hopefully we’ll here soon for an approval.

OTHER RENT COLLECTION

We also had a tenant, who usually pays late, pay on time! It sure helps when the 5th of the month happens on a Friday, so most people get paid that day and pay their rent. I don’t mind getting paid on the 5th because I usually get a few who pay before the 1st or on the 1st. I also don’t pay my mortgages until the 10th of the month, so I maintain that wiggle room.

We have a tenant who usually pays half of the rent before the 1st, and sometimes even all the rent before the 1st of the month due. She’s been in the house since we bought it in 2017 and has always paid. Sometimes she has to pay late, but she always communicates that to the property manager, and we’ve actually waived her late fees in these instances. Last month, she told the property manager that she was going to struggle to pay November’s rent on time, but she’d pay by the 12th. She ended up paying rent in full before the 1st. She’s just the sweetest.

HIGH UTILITIES

We had a tenant in Kentucky ask if we’d help them pay towards a high water bill. At first, I was given a copy of the last water bill and then a copy of May’s water bill, which was the lowest water bill she had in the last year – interesting, and I don’t appreciate that approach that appears to be trying to ‘pull a fast one.’ I asked for more water bills and more details on the issue being claimed.

The tenant reported that the toilet was running constantly on 9/16. The property management company went to fix it on 9/20. Then on 10/11, the tenant reported that the toilet was still running and shut off the water valve. The property management company went back out to “rebuild” the toilet on 10/15.

While it’s unfortunate that the toilet was running during that time and could have affected the water bill, this wasn’t adding up to being our responsibility. I was trying to wrap my head around why I was responsible for paying for two separate visits by the management company, materials that were probably useless for the first visit, pay the management company’s monthly fee, and then also pay towards the tenant’s water bill. I agreed that it would be a nice gesture to help the tenant out, since she’s been there for two years and doesn’t ask for much. I asked the property management company if they’d be willing to chip in on the concession granted to the tenant since it’s their work that wasn’t timely or complete after that first visit. They politely said that their technician made a good faith effort to fix the toilet on the first visit and then agreed that the second call on 10/11 wasn’t timely. “Our techs do well most of the time, but statistically, we will not have success 100% of the time.  The tenant should have reported earlier that the problem was not fixed.” He also said, “In the end, I don’t think anyone is really at fault.” Again, if no one is at fault, why am I the one having to carry all the financial burden?

I looked through the bills that were provided to us. I saw that recently, the tenant’s water usage probably was accurate because it fluctuated up and down (versus it continuously climbing from the lowest point in the year). Plus, water usage tends to increase in the summer, and a toilet running is unlikely to double your water bill on its own. The tenant’s bill was probably $50 more than expected, so I offered the tenant to take $25 off next month’s rent. I didn’t receive a response from the property manager, but I assume she’ll take me up on it. That should equate to $2.50 less taken by the management company, but if they don’t adjust their commission for that, I wouldn’t be surprised nor would I fight it.

PEST CONTROL

We have a new tenant in one of our houses. That tenant has been difficult. She complained of a mouse and roaches. I completely agree that there shouldn’t be an infestation of bugs and rodents. For some reason, we’ve had issues with this house and mice from day 1. I don’t know why. The neighborhood is nice, with mostly original owners in the houses. There are a lot of trees behind the property, and then there’s retail stores behind that. I don’t know if that somehow contributes, but every tenant has had a mouse or two scurry across the floor. I’ll note for anyone reading – mice show up everywhere. It’s not a matter of cleanliness.

The roaches on the other hand, I just don’t get it. This house has never been dirty with all our tenants. There aren’t dirty people or junk piled up in the neighboring houses. I will happily call pest control to manage any bugs like that. Since October 1, the pest control company has been out there seven times. Seven. I just can’t understand what is happening and how they can’t get this under control (and I’m questioning whether there’s really an issue). Luckily, I’ve only paid for the initial treatment and haven’t had to pay for each additional visit, but phew that’s a lot in basically one month, especially when this hasn’t been an issue with any previous tenant. I’ve digressed.

LEASE RENEWAL

In the meantime, we had a tenant reach out requesting to renew their lease. Their lease doesn’t expire until June 30, 2022 so this was not on our radar! They’re very bright people. They offered a lease renewal to 5/31/2023, which is the end of his schooling program. We agreed to extend the lease until then, but at $1300 instead of $1280. We had the property listed at $1300 originally, and he had negotiated to $1280 for a longer term lease. He agreed to the extension, and we had the lease addendum signed on 10/30.

He had asked for it to go month-to-month after that while they search for houses. We shared that we weren’t willing to take on that risk because we don’t want to be left with a December 1 lease that we never intended to have. Our property manager did share with him that we’ve been reasonable in the past with other tenants, and that when it came time, we’re going to work with them to get them released from the lease and into home ownership.

MORTGAGE CHANGES

I discovered that a couple of our mortgages changed due to escrows this month (which I mentioned in a post earlier this month actually). Even recently, I was pulling information for some refinances we have underway and discovered that the payment made by our partner on one of those houses was less than what I had verified just a few months ago. Since it’s not our mortgage, I don’t see the month-to-month transactions. I updated a future payment to account for the $5 he would owe us based on the mortgage change, and then I updated future payments out to reflect the new mortgage amount.


While that seems like a lot, it really hasn’t been much time in the month. I collected everyone else’s rent, paid the mortgages, and made sure my spreadsheets were up to date. This month I had to field more texts and phone calls than usual, but it wasn’t too much. I’ve even received a partial payment for December rent from a tenant already.