We’ve been busy, which has kept our expenses down in our personal life. I’ve been working a few days at our local racetrack, which has been for my entertainment and a good way to bring in some money for our household. While our busy schedule has kept us from eating at restaurants and spending money on activities, the last quarter of the year brings big expenses on the rental front for insurance and taxes.
I still haven’t decided how to format these financial updates, but I did work on categorizing all the expenses for our year. I’d like to see how our spending changes through the year, and if I keep a running tally of the information, I’ll be able to consistently categorize expenses. At this point, I’ll just report for the whole year later in January, but it feels good to have that process started since there are a lot of transactions (already at 786 line items!).
We paid an extra $2000 towards the mortgage that we’re trying to pay off (we paid $1000 and our partner paid the other thousand). That mortgage balance is about $26k, which we’re responsible for half.
Kentucky taxes are due in October. Well, they’re actually due in November, but they give you a 2% discount if you pay before 11/1, so we of course do that. Two of our houses are still escrowed, so I don’t need to worry about that, but I had to pay one of the houses, which was about $1300. As an aside, I put it in the mail on 10/6 and it was taken out of our account on 10/8; I’ve never seen the mail and processing of taxes happen so quickly!
We had someone do the work on a house (fix bedroom doors and replace a missing section of fence) that was left over from my July walk throughs, and that was $490 (split with our partner). This house has been notoriously late on payments with very little communication, but they’ve turned a corner. They’re still late with payments, but they pay the late fee without prompting and give us advanced notice, which is all we ask for! They say they’ll be back on track with on time payments next month.
We’ve had issues with another rental, which I shared in my last post. They were approved for state assistance, so I’m expecting September, October, and November rent from the state here soon. Since there’s no timeframe for when that will come in, I’ve told her that she has to keep paying on the payment schedule we agreed to, and anything she pays will just go to December rent at this point.
We had all the drywall for the basement delivered in September for $788. Several pieces arrived damaged from the strap that held them down. Mr. ODA called Home Depot since the delivery fee was $75 for this convenience, and they were super nice. She refunded us for the broken sheets and the delivery fee ($125!).
Only $130 spent in gas (that will probably go up next month since I’m driving to/from Lexington 3 times per week for work, plus a few more personal trips there). Only $92 spent in restaurants!
While some of the expenses for rentals have trickled in, the next month is when most of them are going to hit. We’ll also have an annual medical bill come due in November.
Our net worth increased by $21k from last month. Our credit card balances are low, and then our cash balance is higher than usual because we used to just put any extra cash towards mortgages, but right now we’re trying to pay off that mortgage we have with a partner and rethink our approach (do we want to save for another down payment.. type question).
Cooler weather is here! We have a full calendar these days with pre-school and sports. I’ve been managing that by setting a lot of alarms giving me a half hour warning that we need to leave the house for something. We also celebrated our son’s 3rd birthday with both sides of our family, which was so much fun. He knew all about a birthday and the traditions, did a great job at being grateful for his gifts, and hasn’t stopped playing with all those new toys. This month, his birthday party and a long weekend trip to Virginia were our big expenses, while the sports and activities kept us home and not eating at restaurants in between those things! On top of all this craziness, Mr. ODA went on a work trip, then I picked up a few shifts at the race track to help them out. And so, here we are, two-and-a-half weeks since my last post.
About once a month, we have a meeting with our financial advisor. During last month’s meeting, his software system said that we hit $3 million net worth! Unfortunately, my numbers last month didn’t say that, and they still don’t, but we’re right there. I didn’t think it worth it to line up my information against how the software is reporting the number because a lot of our net worth is based on the current market value of our real estate, which isn’t necessarily an exact amount. I know Mr. ODA had a goal for the first million in net worth, but I wouldn’t say that we had a goal to hit this particular number. With the financial advisor, we’re working on our mentality. We’re basically trying to figure out what’s our true goal (instead of just this number), and if we had (and did) everything we wanted, what would that cost difference be? I’m working on two other posts about our mentality, and I’ll have to include this side of the thought process as well.
One of our credit cards has a balance of over $2,200 in this net worth update. That includes almost $1,000 of a hotel that Mr. ODA had for a work trip, the hotel for Richmond at $450, and an AirBnB charge for an upcoming trip of $424. It also includes Mr. ODA’s food purchases while on travel, which amount to about $180, and an Uber trip of $10. The work expenses will be reimbursed, but that’s not yet accounted for in the math since the payment hasn’t hit our checking account yet.
With the child tax credits coming in, our investments have gone up each month. We’re putting some of that into the kids’ investment accounts. We’ve also had other unexpected income, which led to another $500 transfer into Mr. ODA’s investment account. Usually, we see an automatic contribution of $1100 between our Roth accounts and the kids’ accounts. This month, we had $1,900.
All of our housing expenses were about the same. This coming month has a trip planned, a day to hang drywall in the basement, and me working at the race track nearly every weekend.
Back in May, I was a guest on Maggie Germano’s Podcast, “The Money Circle.” I shared some of our background and how we started investing in real estate. We brushed on topics like establishing an LLC, tax advantages, and how you don’t need to start big to just get started. It was a brand new experience for me, but I’m passionate about our real estate experiences, and I loved being able to share. I hope you’ll check it out!
I just shared the details of the home inspection contingency in the real estate purchase agreements in my last post. I was laying the foundation to share what we’ve encountered to invoke the termination clause of the home inspection contingency.
There was a time where we were trying to grow fast. We wanted to work smarter not harder, so we investigated commercial portfolios instead of buying one single family house at a time. We worked with our Realtor’s office’s commercial team to find an off-market deal of several houses. The owner of all these single family houses had lumped several houses in his portfolio by geographic area of Richmond, VA. He had provided us with 13 ‘sub-portfolios’ to review, but he was willing to sell individual houses.
We went through the entire portfolio to decide which houses we were interested in. We were able to eliminate several from the start because his rent to purchase price ratio were far from the 1% Rule we aim for (the monthly rent amount (e.g., $1000) is 1% of the purchase price (e.g, $100,000). We identified 10 houses we wanted to see and met up with the owner’s property manager to get into each house. Afterwards, we went through the list of houses, the comps we could find for purchase price, and discussed the condition of each house as we saw it. We ended up making an offer on 5 houses.
We received the ratified contracts on May 9th of that year, and we immediately contacted our home inspector to come through the houses with us. We met with the property manager, our home inspector, and our Realtor to inspect the 5 houses in one day. We negotiated with our home inspector that he didn’t need to write a report for each of the houses; I would take notes as we went through everything, and he wouldn’t charge us full price for the inspections.
We knew the houses weren’t in great shape, but we weren’t prepared for all the details we found in the home inspections. During our time at the houses, the tenants were quick to complain about the maintenance on the properties, saying things would take a long time to get fixed or they wouldn’t ever be addressed. The inspection found strong evidence of mold, patch jobs in structural beams in the crawl space, appliances not in full working order, windows screwed shut, and several other minor things.
We attempted to negotiate by the seller providing $10,000 per house in seller-paid closing costs. We didn’t ask for anything to be fixed because we saw the work that had been done in these houses, and we wanted it done right. The seller denied our request for funds to address the home inspection issues, and we walked away from all of the contracts.
This was a hard one for me to walk away from. The house itself was in a high-crime neighborhood of Richmond. However, only THREE! parcels away, houses were being torn down, rebuilt, and sold for significantly higher than purchased. I saw the potential of the area’s revitalization. But we were not in the business of flipping houses nor doing major repairs. Not only were we not interested in that because we wanted to be able to create the cash flow as fast as possible, we also want to be able to hold these properties as rentals instead of flipping them so we maintained a continuous income stream.
There were several concerns when we walked through the property. The kitchen was a mess, there were signs of water damage in multiple places, the floor felt soft upstairs, the upstairs deck didn’t seem stable, the house needed a lot of TLC with the overgrowth, and then best of all – clear fire damage to the structure of the home when we went in the basement.
This isn’t a picture from when we were looking at the house, but this is the condition 3 years later, which shows just how ‘great’ of a house it was. 🙂 This is the backyard.
We were under contract for $72,500 in May 2017. The house recently sold for $296,000. Although it seems we missed the opportunity that I felt was there, I found pictures of a failed flip attempt in 2019/2020 that uncovered even more damage behind the walls than we even knew (although we suspected), and none of the houses around it have sold for nearly $300k. Therefore, we don’t believe that was a reasonably-expected sale price had we taken this beast on. And what’s not known in those numbers is just how expensive the flip was to that owner, both in headaches and wallet!
A KENTUCKY MESS
Mr. ODA went to see a house in Winchester, KY without me (it was easy because he was working near there, and it wasn’t worth me packing up our baby to go walk through a house that we may not even want). He and our Realtor walked the house and decided it was worth putting an offer in. The house had two units set up inside it, which was a goal of ours (duplex = one building the maintain with two income streams). The cash flow on it was great, so he probably turned a blind eye to too many negative issues during that first visit.
The inspection was $500. I was there for the event, but didn’t walk the house with the inspector. He ran through everything with me after he was done, but the tenants were present, and I didn’t want to bring my baby into their smoke-infested house (first red flag because we don’t allow smoking in any of our properties).
The first thing the inspector said was that the roof needed replaced. He pointed out that several tree limbs were in contact with the roof, and the roof had considerable algae growth on it. Basically, everything on the outside of the house needed repaired or replaced: siding, decks, roof, gutters, removal of vines on the house, negative slope of ground towards the house. The doors and windows were old and broken, so none had the proper seal to prevent water infiltration, in addition to not being able to maintain temperature.
On the inside, there were several code violations with how the kitchens were built (e.g., venting for range), and several large cracks in the walls, some of which were patched poorly and never repainted. There were five or six electrical issues that needed to be addressed immediately because they were a fire hazard. There were signs of water damage in the ceilings, as well as in the bathrooms where the peel and stick tiles were ‘floating’ and warped.
As if that wasn’t enough, the straw that broke the camels back for me was the head room given for the upstairs unit entrance. The required head space by code is apparently 6’6”, and we only had 5’6”. This seemed to be a big problem because an average man is 5’9”, and the average height of women at 5’4” doesn’t exactly give much wiggle room.
I was worried about all the work that needed to be put into this house. The tenants weren’t taking good care of the house, so it wasn’t worth putting a lot of money into it, just for them to destroy it. They had been there for a while, so it wasn’t like they were going to leave voluntarily any time soon. The neighborhood wasn’t in great condition, so a fully renovated house wasn’t called for when it came to resale or the type of client looking for a rental there.
It was a difficult balance, but the house had way too much deferred maintenance, way too many things poorly fixed/maintained when there was an attempt, several unfinished projects, and too many code violations to move forward. Mr. ODA really wanted to buy a house in this area before the summer was up, and he was pushing for the cash flow side of it since it had two separate units bringing in income. But that cash flow is non-existent if you’re having to put it back into the house.
These are the three main stories that have stuck with me. We learned a lot about houses through the process, and we feel we made the right decision on each of them to walk away. Through these experiences, we solidified our decision-making to focus only on houses that have been properly maintained and require little work to get rented. Having a unit already rented with long-term tenants isn’t always the “diamond in the rough” that you think it is.
The inspection is buying you information. Once you find out that information, the money is a sunk cost, and you should use it to now choose if the house is still worth owning or not. While inspections aren’t exactly cheap and aren’t tax deductible if we don’t buy the property (if you have a legal strategy, drop it in the comments please!), that information gained is important. That $500 “lost” is better off because you’re not buying a money pit that will cost a lot more in the long run. Remember, this is a business, and it’s best to keep your emotions out of it. Don’t pinch pennies and end up costing yourself big dollars later on.
Most times you’ll do an inspection, find some things to fix or negotiate down on the purchase price, and even find yourself in a situation where the inspection “pays for itself.” Other times, it doesn’t work like that. Life lessons can cost money, and inspections can help point out duds so that those lessons don’t end up costing a lot more.
The common goal in the FI/RE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) community is to reach a point where your net worth is 25x your annual spending, meaning your expenses are 4% of your net worth. This is an extreme oversimplification of things because of the number of variables associated with where your net worth might be, and how to access it. For example, retirement accounts have requirements to be met before drawing funds; while you may have hit the 4% expense to net worth ratio, it may not mean that you have that money liquid to cover your spending.
When the ODAs started down the path of FI/RE, we did it with a real estate rental portfolio. This path of net worth growth really doesn’t fit the traditional mold. It provides regular cash flow, rather than an account with a balance that’s drawn down.
As mentioned in previous posts, there are numerous ways to make money in real estate. The path we have taken is probably one of the simplest and most repeatable for anyone. We own a portfolio of single family rental houses, most of which were bought straight from the MLS. These basic properties are in basic neighborhoods with regular tenants. Nothing special. We acquired these properties by focusing on the 1% rule in real estate – try to secure 1% of the property’s purchase price in monthly rent. Another oversimplification of how things really go, but if we were able to find a $100k property that rents for $1,000 a month, we know we’re going to make money long term.
For these properties, we typically put 20%-25% down and finance the rest through a conventional mortgage. We find a tenant, and then the 4 ways to make money in real estate go to work for us: appreciation, tenant mortgage pay-down, tax advantages, and most importantly for our situation and FI/RE – cash flow.
I want to talk about how we can reach a FI/RE number through real estate cash flow differently and more quickly than using traditional stock market investing.
The $100k house had a 20% down payment and mortgage rate at 5% interest, which brings the monthly principal and interest payment to $429. Add another $121 for taxes and insurance (using round numbers here!), $100 for maintenance and capital expenditures savings, and $100 for a property manager; this comes to $750 worth of monthly expenses. At $1,000 per month of income, you have $250 per month of cash flow in your pocket. $250 per month equates to $3,000 per year of cash flow. With the $20,000 down payment and about $5K in closing costs, it means that our $25k investment nets us $3k per year in cash flow.
Circling back to the 4% rule for stock market investments, $3k in cash flow requires a savings of $75k. But we only had to invest $25k! We’re banking on the monthly cash flow, rather than a “stagnant” savings.
We took that math and ran with it. Our rental portfolio has 12 houses in it. While we’ve shown in prior posts that each house’s numbers aren’t as clean and simple as this example (some better, some worse), if we take that $3k annually and multiply by the 12 properties, we have $36k in annual cashflow for only $300k invested.
What would you rather need to produce $36k income – $300k or $900k?
Can you scale a rental portfolio to reach enough annual cashflow such that you can live off the cash flow?
Rental property investing is not completely passive. We have tenants to manage, properties to maintain, property managers to manage, income and expenses to track for taxes, lending efficiencies to explore, and the list goes on. But if you’re willing to put in a little work to reach financial independence (the FI part), you can do it substantially faster by finding strong properties to provide significant cash flow than if you were to take the totally passive route of simple stock market (index fund) investing.
Note, there’s nothing wrong with that – we have a substantial position in the stock market due to the tax free growth benefits of retirement accounts. The power of real estate investing saw our net worth grow faster than we’d have ever dreamed since we bought our first rental in 2016. The proof is in the pudding and we advocate to anyone to just get started!
We’re continuing our spring/summer of travel and activity, which is why there are fewer posts and lots more spending.
The stock market has increased, which has been the main factor in our net worth change. We paid $2,000 towards the mortgage we’re paying down, leaving a balance of $3,300. This mortgage will be paid off once all our rent is collected for July; it was pushed back a little bit because of the flooring replacement that occurred in one of our rentals, which is why our credit card balance is much lower than last month. We’re also still waiting for half of one property’s rent, which is the norm these days.
Utilities: $250. This includes internet, cell phones, water, sewer, trash, electric, and investment property sewer charges that are billed to the owner and not the tenant.
Restaurants: $165. Our credit card reimburses for many of these expenses; we received credits totaling $120.13 in the last month.
Insurance Costs (personal and rentals): $845
VIGILANCE ON CREDIT CARD REWARDS
Mr. ODA discovered that our PNC credit card rewards balance was decreasing, despite earning new rewards this cycle. He investigated further and noticed that we had been losing rewards for a few months now. PNC has a policy that they don’t issue their rewards until you hit $100 worth of rewards. Once we hit $100, PNC sends us a check in the mail. Since they send a check, we still receive paper statements, even though we regularly check our financial accounts online. Over the past few months, both of us checked the balance to see “ok, we’re nearing $100,” but didn’t put any more effort into knowing the details of the balance. Mr. ODA happened to notice that the statement didn’t make sense.
$89+3 somehow equals $82. There isn’t a single section on our statement or via our online account that identifies the loss of rewards Mr. ODA called PNC to ask for more details and learned that our rewards expire after 2 years, despite their policy of not issuing a check until you hit $100. They basically said, it doesn’t matter that your account is over 10 years old, or that credit has been used less in the last year due to the pandemic, or that they don’t clearly identify the expiration of rewards and just identify a lower balance. As a comparison, and I keep going back to Chase, but Chase changed up their reward categories to allow the consumer to earn more rewards during the pandemic (e.g., in addition to giving rewards in the travel category, since consumers weren’t traveling, they added grocery and home improvement stores as major reward categories).
The PNC customer service representative reinstated 60 days worth of lost rewards and issued a statement credit. We don’t want a statement credit because we no longer want to use this credit card, earning rewards that we’ll never be able to capture. If we use this credit card to use up the statement credit, that’s rewards that could be earned on a different credit card. Now Mr. ODA is fighting for the credit to be applied to our checking account or to have a check sent to us (which is the preference on our profile) and fighting for the reinstatement of the rest of the rewards lost.
Without PNC, we’re down to 4 credit cards in our regular rotation. We have 3 cards that we use for categories (gas, grocery, restaurants, travel, home improvement stores), and then we have the Citi Double Cash card that is for “everyday purchases.”
This is a good one. This is the one we use when people say “how can you handle all those properties,” and I respond, “if we survived this one tenant, we know we can handle whatever gets thrown at us.” Hoarding, mice, court dates, eviction. But its not always like that. The sun shone down on us for the current tenant though, who signed a two year lease and take care of the house (like, even power washed it on their own accord). The stories below show that you need a thick skin and a smooth temperament to be a landlord. Treat this as a business.
This house was purchased ‘as-is,’ but we still had a home inspection contingency in the contract. It was listed at $139,500; we purchased for $137,500 with $2,500 in seller subsidy. We went under contract on 8/14/2017 and closed on 9/22/2017. The appraisal came in at $141,000, so we were content with our decision.
We refinanced the loan in May 2020. Our original loan had a balance of $105,800 at the time of the refinance. We rolled closing costs into the new loan and cashed out $2,000, making our new loan amount be $111,000. The refinance reduced our interest rate from 4..875% to 3.625%, shaving $104.25 off our monthly payment. I went into detail about the refinance in my Refinancing Investment Properties post.
Following the 1% Rule, we would be looking for $1,340 in rent (net of seller subsidy), but we haven’t received that yet. The first tenant’s rent was $1,150 and the second at $1,250. For the third potential tenants, we listed at $1,300, but the new tenants negotiated to $1,280 for a 2-year lease.
TENANT #1: OUR WORST
The application. It’s hard to not give someone a chance when their application is borderline, but I suggest letting the information on the screen speak to their character. Before the official application was run (which includes a background check), she admitted to a felony that she served 2.5 years for, and she filed bankruptcy due to a stolen identity while she was incarcerated. It seemed like she paid her dues and was building a new life. We got her application about two weeks after closing, so it wasn’t like we were desperate to rent it at that point. But she was quick to fill out an application and provide necessary documentation, so we decided to give her a chance. She moved in on 10/1/2017 with her 3 children, one of which was born days after she moved in. Her rent was $1,150.
We didn’t have any unreasonable situations with her in the first year. We did have a maintenance call for a leak under the kitchen sink, and we noted that the house wasn’t tidy. It seemed like she was a coupon-er, where she stocked up on a few items and probably resold them, which supported how she kept wanting to pay us in cash. The house wasn’t to my standard, but I didn’t look close enough to notice that it was dirty in addition to cluttered. I wanted to say something, but didn’t know my place at that point. Hindsight: I should have told my property manager and had her issue a written notice. This won’t matter down the road for legal proceedings, but perhaps we could have saved ourselves some headaches if she took the notice to heart; I was just afraid of offending her. But, other than that small concern at the time, we had no issue renewing her lease for another year.
The tenant complained about seeing a mouse around February 2018. We informed her at that time that pest control was up to her because of her living style that was attracting the pests. She claimed to have a quarterly treatment through Terminex. She complained further of mice in November 2018, but I wasn’t part of that conversation. It appeared to be that she was upset that there were still pest issues while she was paying Terminex. Well, that’s an issue to take up with the pest control company, not us. Our property manager gave her the information to our pest control company and shared that it would be a bit cheaper for the quarterly plan too. We heard nothing more until all hell broke loose in April 2019.
She sent pictures of mice poop all over the house on April 9, claiming that she had been out of the house from March 31 through April 8 and came back to this sudden mouse infestation and would be leaving the house. Well, that’s not how it works. She claims that was her ‘prompt’ notification, as if mice set up camp in a lived-in house that’s well maintained out of nowhere (news flash: it wasn’t well maintained and clean). She claimed that because of the living conditions (that she perpetuated), this would be her last month in the house. We knew we had the lease to fall back on, so we continued to remind her that this wasn’t on us and she couldn’t leave us with the financial burden and walk away. We had our pest control company go to the house as soon as possible, and we received their report on April 12.
But wait! While complaining about the condition of the house (that she caused), she wanted to know if she could buy the house!!!! Logic always seems to abound in these situations; it’s hysterical. We offered her to purchase the house from us at $148,000. She ignored it after that offer.
Both the pest company and our HVAC person noted a dog on the premises, which was in violation of the lease. HVAC was called out to fix a wire on the outdoor HVAC unit that the dog had chewed through. She also wasn’t taking care of the yard, and the City of Richmond was fining houses that violated their weed and grass clauses, which we notified her of on May 9.
She didn’t pay April or May rent, so we had a court date set for May 10. We had told her that she had to pay all overdue rent and late fees for us to cancel the May 10 court date. She didn’t pay, so our property manager went to court. The judge awarded us possession of the property, but since there was such outstanding rent and damages, another court date was set for July 1 to award us the money owed. In front of the judge, the tenant handed the keys over to our property manager, saying she was moved out. Immediately after leaving the court house, the property manager arrived at the house to do a walk through, only to find several people inside. She called the police.
The officer assessed the situation. He said that since they’re still moving things out (and there was a lot to move out), that it was a benefit to us that they were still working on it. He suggested asking their input on when they thought they would be done. One guy said at 3 pm. We agreed to let them stay, and I would go by after work to change the locks.
I showed up at 4 pm to change the locks, only to find people still coming in and out of the house. I called the non-emergency police line and waited for the cops to show up. It’s officially trespassing, and we were prepared to press charges. The officers knocked on the door and asked the people inside (none of whom were the tenant on the lease) to leave. One woman started a whole spiel about how she’s on probation and everything that she’s been arrested for, so she didn’t want to be arrested. The officer was funny to watch, and he just kept saying, “I’m not arresting you. I just want you to leave.”
After they drove away, the officers let me walk the property to ensure everyone was out. The place was destroyed!
By Virginia law, we are required as landlords to make every attempt possible to get the unit re-rented and let the old tenant “off the hook” for unpaid rent. Meaning, we can’t hold them to the entire term of the lease and have a vacant house. Regardless of this, we wanted to get everything fixed and replaced in the house so that we had an exact amount to claim during the July 1 court date.
The linoleum replacement was the critical path. She had destroyed it (looked like some chemical ate through it) beyond repair and it had to be replaced before we could re-rent the house. Home Depot’s timeline was really behind, and they weren’t able to get us scheduled for installation until June 20th (after she had “vacated” May 10th).
I compiled a list of lease violations with my documentation to support the claims in which she violated the lease on top of the obvious (e.g., dog on premises, smoking in the house). We had invoices from the pest company, the HVAC company, the trash removal company (over 40 cubic yards of garbage was left in the house when they finally vacated), and the “hazmat” cleaning company, all corroborating an unclean and unkempt living condition.
We went into court with a claim of $9,250. This was unpaid rent for 3 months, late fees, junk removal, pest control, HVAC fixes, professional cleaning that included a ‘hazmat’ charge, and all our paint and flooring charges.
We won the first judgement in court, simply because the defendant didn’t show up. We were awarded $9,250 plus the court fee and 6% interest. Well, somehow the court accepted her plea of needing another court date after not showing up to this one, and that was on July 10th. The judge that day reduced our rent and late payment owed by one month, and reduced our reimbursement total by a bit more than the security deposit we had already kept, bringing the judgement to about $6,600 plus the court fee and 6% interest.
Per the court process, we were required to work with the ex-tenant to develop a payment plan. We offered her a payment plan via email that was never responded to. From there, the next step is to retain an attorney for wage garnishment.
I contacted the attorney we use to help with wage garnishment, but he wasn’t experienced. He referred me to someone, who let me know that he’s already representing someone who has a claim against her. He said that he could still represent me, but I’d be second in line to any money they get from her. He offered me another attorney’s name to see if that one could help me instead, but that attorney said he couldn’t represent me because he already has another client looking for money from this woman. Interesting that two attorneys had different answers, but we went with that first. We haven’t seen a dime. Once the money was spent and we paid off the credit cards, it wasn’t on our radar anymore. Anything we get from this woman will be a bonus at this point.
TENANT #2: BLISSFULLY UNAWARE OF HOW LIFE WORKS
Two kids just out of college were our tenants that came in after that mess. They were great tenants, but a bit unaware of how the world works. They didn’t get the utilities into their name timely, so we charged them for the bills that came to us. After that, they paid their rent on time, and even when their restaurant jobs shut down at the beginning of the pandemic, they prioritized paying rent over other things they could have spent their limited income on; I was impressed. At the end of their lease, they were a bit lost too. Our lease requires 60 days notice of your intentions – either leave, or renew. Our property manager reached out to them at the 60 day mark, and they said they weren’t sure what they wanted to do, but were looking for other places. Since, realistically, we weren’t going to list the house for rent at 45 or 60 days, we told them that was fine. They came back after a week and said they were going to move out.
We moved forward with listing the house for rent and vetting new tenants. We had our property manager show the house on June 10 for what would be a July 1 lease. About a week later, the current tenants asked if they could stay longer because they didn’t get the place they were looking for. Sorry, but that’s not how it works and it’s already rented. The new tenants were OK with moving in July 15, so we allowed the college guys to stay until July 10. Then we hustled to get the house put back together before the new tenants. Specifically, one of the tenants was an artist, and he hung a huge canvas on one of the bedroom walls to paint on. Well, the paint bled through.
They also didn’t tell us that the range wasn’t working. When we asked about it, they said something to the effect of, “oh yea, we smelled gas, so we just cut it off. That was back in March.” Goodness!! So we quickly ordered a new range. We also had to have the carpets professionally cleaned, which was especially frustrating since they were only a year old. Luckily, the ladies who came to clean the carpets worked their magic, and they came out looking good as new. The microwave handle was broken off, and when we looked to buy a replacement, it was essentially the same cost as a new microwave, so we installed a new one.
While we were working in the house, we noticed that the air conditioner wasn’t keeping the house cool. We had an HVAC tech come out to the house, and it was either $1,400 to repair (after we had already previously put money into the HVAC unit), or $5,000 to replace it. We decided to replace it after it died shortly after the third tenants moved in.
TENANT #3: SOME OF THE BEST
These tenants have been wonderful. They’re both pharmacists at the local college and have been very self-sufficient. They’re great about alerting us of issues, but not in a way that it seems like they’re nitpicking. For instance, they wanted to store their lawn mower and other things in the shed out back, but the handle was broken off it. We told them that if they wanted to purchase a replacement, we would reimburse for the cost. Then they noted that the closet dowel was broken and they replaced it. I told them I would pay for that, so just take it off the next month’s rent. When they sent me the receipt, they had only taken the rod itself off the rent, but not the brackets to hang the rod. I immediately sent them the rest of the cost!
They’re one year into a two-year lease, and we’re very happy with them. They always pay their rent on time, they communicate regularly, and they’re taking care of the house.
MAINTENANCE AND REPAIRS
Since I’ve covered a great deal of the repairs we’ve managed in this house through each of the tenant stories, here’s a quick summary of other items.
Shortly after the third tenants moved in, they politely let us know that their dishwasher wasn’t cleaning the dishes. They very clearly identified the problem and the steps they had already taken to attempt to fix it, but it wasn’t working. We purchased a new dishwasher the day after they let us know. So in the matter of a month, we replaced the built in microwave, range, dishwasher, and HVAC. The only appliance we haven’t replaced in this house now is the refrigerator.
There was an electrical issue that we had sort of noticed before, but hadn’t pinpointed it without having things to plug into all the outlets. We had an electrician go out and fix the switches and outlets that weren’t working in master bedroom.
AN OVERALL LOOK AT THIS HOUSE AS AN INVESTMENT
Remember how real estate investing provides multiple avenues for wealth building? Here’s how they’re looking for this property.
Cash Flow – As we have had to replace nearly all appliances, including HVAC, and all the flooring among several other smaller issues, our total cash flow on this property is nearly nothing. But, like mentioned before, we shouldn’t have any big purchases coming and will start to be able to pocket the profits on this house once again.
Mortgage pay-down – The tenants have paid our mortgage for us, but due to closing costs of refinancing and choosing to take $2,000 cash back from that refi, our principal is actually higher than when we bought it.
Tax Advantages – We always depreciate the cost of the structure for paper losses that help offset profit on properties for tax purposes. All those repairs and appliance replacement expenses that eat into the profit margins are written off. So come April 15, the silver linings of those expenses are realized.
Appreciation – This one is good for us. This house is in a developing neighborhood and the area around it is being revitalized. Coupled with standard appreciation and the *hot* real estate market we’re in now, the value of the house is 150% of what it was when we bought, in less than 4 years.
We’ve put about $10,000 into this house at this point. But that means we have a lot of brand new things in it. Now isn’t the time to give up on the house, since we should be in a position to not deal with many maintenance requests. Rent continues to climb, increasing our cash flow, while we just brought our mortgage payment quite low with the refi, and the property will continue to appreciate in value.
We learned a lot about the eviction process, even dealing with local police officers in the process. The court system and law enforcement are fairly simple to work with, as long as you are a fair and respectful landlord, keep documentation, and follow landlord-tenant laws. When the tenant doesn’t live up to their end of the bargain, justice will be served.
We paid $2,850 in extra principal towards the main mortgage we’re paying down, leaving that mortgage with a balance of $5,500. We had a $4k flooring purchase on another house that has set our pay off timeline a few weeks back, but we’ll still have that mortgage paid off in the next couple of months. We have a rental property that we purchased in 2016 that has flooring that’s at least that old. The carpet has long passed its useful life, and the linoleum in the kitchen and laundry room has started to peel up at the seam. Typically, we wouldn’t want to replace flooring while a tenant still lives there, but they’ve lived with this for almost a year, and they’ve been our tenants since we purchased the house. As a means of keeping the tenant happy, we agreed to replace the flooring in all the rooms except the bathrooms.
We had two of our tenants not pay rent by the 5th, as required by the lease. They’re the two that are typically late, and they’re typically not up front with telling us about it. We’ve said several times that we’re really flexible landlords, but we can’t be flexible if we’re not told what is happening. With one tenant, who had just recently irked us with a plumbing issue and being incommunicado, we didn’t even reach out for information. We’ve had enough of their antics and having to chase them for rent. So I simply sent them their notice of default letter, outlining all their rights as tenants as now required under COVID-related procedures. I received an email letting me know that they’d pay on the 7th. I love their nonchalant response, like they hold the power and will pay whenever they feel like it (hmm). For the other tenant that was late, she texted to say she’d be late with the payment on the 7th, and then on the 7th only paid part of the rent due. She said she was in a car accident and there was an issue with her sick leave pay out, but she’d get it to us when it got fixed. She resolved it on the 12th, although still without the late fee.
We were able to get the invoice on the HVAC replacement for one property, which meant we paid our partner the $3,288 we owed him, on top of his usual $2,167 that we pay out for him to pay the mortgages and then his share of the profits (since I manage all the rent collections).
Our credit card balances are high for several reasons. The $4k flooring purchase; as well as the insurance for one of our properties that isn’t escrowed because we paid off that mortgage, which was $436; an expensive gift purchase that isn’t transparent in the cash and credit line items because that cost was split 3 ways (i.e., we received 2/3 of that cost back in cash, but it’s still reflect in the credit line); and our travel.
We booked a camp site for the end of the month that required payment up front. We just got back from a trip, which increased our spending. But I’ll note that when we travel, we’re not eating expensive meals. Our interest is in the experiences and activities, rather than exploring sit down local restaurants. Our food for 5 days cost us $161 as a family of 4. We also ended up only paying for 2 of the 4 nights in the hotel because the air conditioning was broken, even after they came to ‘fix’ it, and then, when I was checking under the bed to see if any toys or socks got left behind as we were leaving, I found a large, dead roach. We didn’t ask for any comps; one was automatically reflected in my final invoice without my prompting, and then when the manager was speaking to Mr. ODA about his stay, he volunteered removing another night.
We opened a new credit card to take advantage of the bonuses since we knew we’d have this travel and the flooring cost to meet the $4,000 spending threshold for their bonus. This credit card has an annual fee of $95 and no 0% interest period, which goes against our norm when looking to open a new credit card. However, the bonus can be transferred to our Chase Rewards Portal, where we can use it to book travel at 50% the cost. We also received a $50 grocery credit.
My husband and I cashed in the last of his savings bonds that we got as children, so that was an extra $735 that we brought it that wasn’t planned.
We paid about $6,074 for our regular mortgage payments. Several of our properties had mortgage increases due to escrow shortages. I haven’t figured out which I dislike more: planning for tax and insurance payments, or the large escrow increases that seem to happen year after year. I think it’s the escrow though.
Every month, $1100 is automatically invested between each of our Roth IRAs and each child’s investment accounts. I should also note that I don’t speak to other investments because they happen before take-home pay, but my husband maxes out his TSP (401k) each year as well, which I had also done when I was employed.
Our grocery shopping cost us $700. Honestly, I don’t even know how to explain that cost jump. I think it’s because my husband shopped some deals at Kroger and Costco, so we stocked up on some things that aren’t part of our routine purchasing.
We spent $200 on gas. Two trips to Cincinnati, our trip to Atlanta, and then more-than-usual trips around town.
$400 went towards utilities. It’s higher than last month because we paid 3 months of our cell phones, which gets us back on quarterly billing as a family. Utilities include internet, cell phones, water, sewer, trash, electric, and investment property sewer charges that are billed to the owner and not the tenant. We still haven’t sought reimbursement from the builder on our electric bill, but this month’s bill was even less than the last month’s.
Our entertainment costs included baseball game tickets for our trip as well as two games later this summer, parking for the games this past weekend, a new shirt for our son, activities for the kids, and the hotel. This past month, we spent $650 on things I’d classify as entertainment related. I also included boarding for our dog ($100) in this total.
Speaking of our dog, he had his annual appointment (shots and the year’s worth of preventative medicines), and that cost us $500.
We spent $292 eating at restaurants and ordering take out. We utilized a Door Dash credit on one of our Chase credit cards, which was about $30.
But! I killed it with running errands this month and actually returning things that needed to be returned. I returned $150 worth of items one day!
We paid our State taxes during this period too. Between two states, that was $954. Also, anecdotally, I’ll share that we spent $6.40 to mail our Virginia tax return. We processed our taxes through Credit Karma, as we had done last year. We got through the federal e-file and moved onto the state filing, only to find out that if you’re filing partial states, Credit Karma doesn’t support it. I had to print 70 pages of our federal return, sign it, and ship it off to Virginia.
Our net worth actually dipped this month. The stock market is the main factor in that, but the house valuation estimates are starting to level off and look more realistic as well.
Between our personal lives and our business life with these rental properties, we were sure kept busy. We expect the Spring months to be a busy time of year, and honestly it feels good to be active again. While we’ve loosened the purse strings for the summer months, especially after having done hardly anything for the last year, it was still a shock to see just how much we spent in these categories. But that’s the benefit of looking at your finances regularly. We can either choose to remain on course with our summer plans, or we can dial it back if we feel this was more than we expected.
Since we know we’re on top of our finances and have set up a healthy mentality when it comes to spending, we’re comfortable looking at this information once a month. If you’re currently developing these money habits, you may want to do these types of check-ins more frequently.
This month had a lot of money movement – tax payment out, stimulus check in. As I’ve shared before, we don’t budget. But you can start seeing how we’re pretty consistent on where we spend out money. This is because we have a spending mentality that we use to make each decision, rather than giving ourselves a ceiling in each category. I believe some may see a ceiling as a definitive amount to spend (e.g., if I’ve allocated $100 for restaurants this month, and by the last week I still have $75 in that budget pot, then I’m going to go spend it). If you know your long term goals and take responsibility for your decision-making, then you don’t need to pay close attention to each dollar.
With that said, my family came to visit for a week. It was our second’s first birthday, and my dad is helping us finish our basement. With 3 more adults in the house, we spent more than typical feeding them and eating at restaurants versus cooking after spending the day working in the basement. Mr. ODA and I share the same birthday, so we splurged for a nice meal that night. We actually spent about $300 at restaurants over this last month, but thanks to our Chase credit card, we received statement credits for $188 worth of these purchases!
We have also spent more on entertainment. We went to a winery and a brewery, purchased tickets for the local horse race season, and have done other activities now that the weather is nice. The pandemic and winter had our spending lower than our usual amounts, but I expect our spending to be more than it had been in these coming months. We’ve already put together our summer bucket list for travel.
We had all the tenants pay their rent on time, except one who eventually paid. Our rental income is $12,353, and we pay our business partner about $2,100 (we collect the rent and then pay him to cover the mortgages he holds and his half of the ‘profit’ after the mortgages are deducted from rent). We had to replace the HVAC in a rental. Luckily, this rental is owned with a partner, so only half the cost will affect us. We haven’t paid the bill yet, so that will hit next month.
We paid about $5,972 for our regular mortgage payments. We put an additional $5,000 towards an investment property mortgage, which now has a balance of $8,665. We also put $5,000 towards one of the properties that we have with a partner, which he matched, leaving that balance at $42k.
Every month, $1100 is automatically invested between each of our Roth IRAs and each child’s investment accounts. Our stimulus checks that we received for the kids went directly into the kids’ UTMAs.
Our grocery shopping cost us $539.
We spent $91 on gas.
$290 went towards utilities. This includes internet, cell phones, water, sewer, trash, electric, and investment property sewer charges that are billed to the owner and not the tenant. We still haven’t sought reimbursement from the builder on our electric bill, but this month’s bill was significantly less than the previous months.
About $1300 was spent on supplies for the basement bathroom work. We registered the kids for swim lessons, registered our son for pre-school in the Fall, did more activities with the nice weather, and I made several gift purchases (current birthdays, baby shower, next Christmas (I like buying when I find something that makes me think of a person rather than a mad dash in the Fall to buy gifts)), so that was about $400.
Our net worth has increased over $123k since last month due to our investment accounts and property values increasing. Our cash balance is starting to dwindle down to what we typically carry as ‘cash.’ And our mortgage balance is decreasing more than average due to our goal of paying off two of the mortgages that we’re carrying.
This is probably our easiest house to own; the closing process was the hardest part here. We closed on House 5 & 6 at the same time, so I’ll cover the closing story here because House 5 has a lot else to be said when I write out that whole saga.
This property has a property manager on it (10% monthly rent). She processed a couple of applications at the onset, and it took 2 weeks to find the tenant. The lease started on August 18, 2017, and that’s been the same tenant in the house to date.
Rent is $850 per month. She pays on time, and it’s usually early. She just asked about her renewal, and we decided to keep her rent at the same price, even though it’s the start of her 5th lease term. Our cash-on-cash return was ahead for the last 4 years, so even though our taxes have increased by $400 since we purchased the property, we decided it was best to keep the tenant than to get a few more dollars per month.
She asked if she could paint the kitchen cabinets that were definitely old, and we figured they couldn’t be made any worse. When a tenant wants to make your house their home, it’s most often is a sign they make taking care of the property their priority, and that they want to stick around for a while.
We had to treat the house for ants over this last year, but the only real issue we’ve had on this house is that the main sewer line had to be replaced due to corrosion and tree stump intrusion into the pipe. The poor tenant had her toilets backing up into her house. It was $4,000 to replace the line from the street to the house. Honestly, I expected it to be more.
Option 1 – 20% down payment – conventional 30 year fixed at 4.95% with 0 points Option 2 – 25% down payment – conventional 30 year fixed at 4.7% with 0 points
We weighed these two options for our loan (purchase price of $66,000). The difference is an increase of $3,300 in down payment to save $5,700 worth of interest over the life of the loan. Being that we closed on several houses in a short period of time, we chose Option 1. Having cash for the down payments and closing costs of the other houses was more important than the marginal savings in interest of putting 5% more down.
We’ve been paying down this mortgage. At the time of our decision on which house to pay extra principal towards, this was the smallest loan amount with a relatively high interest rate. We started paying extra towards this mortgage in October 2020. To date, we’ve paid an additional $35,500 towards principal, leaving a balance of just under $14k.
During the Spring and Summer of 2017, we saw a lot of houses. We also made offers on a lot of houses that didn’t end up going anywhere, either because there was no consensus on a purchase price or because the home inspection was unsavory. We closed on House 4 at the end of June, walked away from a deal on one house due to a home inspection issue, and then closings on House 5 & 6 got lost along the way by the attorney’s secretary. We worked with a specific attorney who we had a great relationship with, and who eventually helped us with a difficult purchase (see the story for House 8), but this was a hiccup.
The attorney’s office let us know they were unaware of these two closings around June 20th (in reality, they just missed the ‘all clear’ to move forward with a title search, but they were definitely made aware of them), which left us scrambling. Our rate lock expired July 7, and the secretary responsible for filing all the paperwork was taking her vacation the week of July 2. Since she was taking the week off, our attorney scheduled a surgery of his for the same time, so the office was closed. She said she would find a way to make it work, but then we didn’t hear from her and had to reach out to the attorney himself. Here’s that email, outlining all the details.
It wasn’t until June 30th that our attorney confirmed he was able to hand off our closing to another attorney’s office. We had a few questions about their fees, since we explicitly stated that we didn’t want it to cost us more because we had to change our closing location, and then the secretary there got defensive and gave us an attitude. I was quick to call her on it, explaining that we just wanted to better understand the break down of what they put on our closing disclosure. She backed down, and then we had an awkward interaction a few days later when we showed up in her office to sign the paperwork. It’s interesting how people don’t understand that writing in capital letters can come across as rude. Turns out this other firm was an old law school friend of the attorney we normally use, and they worked out a favor among themselves on the fees to ensure they didn’t lose any future business from us.
At the end of the day, we closed on the houses on time and without costing us anything extra, but it wasn’t a stress-free path to get there.
Luckily, this house has been easy to manage and the tenant has worked out perfectly. Our rent at $850 far exceeds the 1% Rule; with a purchase price of $66,000, our monthly rent goal would be $660. Tax assessments have recently risen given that the local market has appreciated substantially, so we will consider a rent increase in the future. However, at this time, having a long-term tenant on a house that has hardly any issues is more important than risking a rent increase and having her leave.