Tenant Evaluations

When looking to rent your house, you should do your due diligence. Our concerns are whether a person has a history of late payments, collections accounts, and if they have a criminal history.

We do two steps of initial screenings before asking a tenant to pay an application fee. The first two steps given them the opportunity to disclose anything that may be seen as unfavorable or not meet our rental criteria. This way, once they pay the application fee, it’s a verification step, and they’re not wasting any money for me to find out that I’m going to decline them.

Here are the details of how I go through the evaluation process, and specifically how I just did it for our new rental.

RENTING CRITERIA

First, I send everyone interested an “Interest Form.” We ask for their legal name, contact information, credit score, employment data, number of occupants, whether they smoke, if they have pets, if they’ve been evicted, and if they’ve been convicted of a felony. I also ask them to provide any other information they think I should know that may affect their ability to rent the house. I send this form to everyone who expresses interest, and it’s the first step before scheduling a showing. I request the data before scheduling a showing because I don’t want to waste my time or theirs showing the house, when they had adverse responses to our criteria. This was more important when I was scheduling individual showings, but I now conduct an “open house.” I set aside two hours to be at the house and ask they come during that time. If that doesn’t yield a tenant, then I’ll evaluate who couldn’t make it and field new requests to see it to determine if I’ll show it individually or host another open house.

We have this at the top of our Interest Form.

Properties are offered without regard to race, religion, national origin, sex, disability or familial status.

Required standards for qualifying to rent a home are:
• Each prospective applicant aged 18 or older must submit a separate application.
• We limit the number of occupants to 2 per bedroom.
• Your combined gross monthly income must be at least $4,000.
• You must be employed and/or be able to furnish acceptable proof of the required income.
• You must have a favorable credit history.
• You must have good housekeeping, payment, and maintenance references from previous Landlords.

Compensating factors can include additional requirements such as double deposit and/or a cosigner.

Our typical rental actually requires 3x the rent as the monthly income, but since our last house was more expensive, we put the requirement as a dollar amount threshold instead.

Then I would historically review those who say they’re interested and pick the one that appears to be most qualified. I’d send them a “pre-application” form to fill out. However, for our last tenant search, I asked everyone interested to fill out the “pre-application.” The tenant screening system doesn’t tell me their last landlord information or their employer, which are both necessary for making phone calls and checking their information given. The “pre-application” repeats some of the questions on the Interest Form, but the pre-application requires them to sign the form as an “affidavit” that the information is accurate.

If they tell me that they’re going to have a low credit score, it helps me to know the reasons for it up front. Additionally, by letting me know any issues up front, it saves them money. If they self-report that they have several collections accounts, then it could be cause for me to move on to a different person interested. If they don’t tell me that they have some issues in their history that may be unfavorable, and I send them the application, then they’re spending $40 per person only to potentially not get the house. I prefer to use the online tenant screening as a final verification step than an initial screening and potentially waste someone’s money.

One time I got through all these steps, had 3 different people submit an application for a house, and the report came back with an eviction. We asked why they didn’t disclose that to us originally. They told us a story about how they were asked to leave somewhere, but they didn’t know that it was reported as an eviction. We told them that they were disqualified. We went with our “runner up,” and they’ve been in the house almost 3 years without any issue or late payment.

We also had two people submit an application and then a bankruptcy was reported on the credit report (it was before the pre-application step I implemented). She said she didn’t see a place to explain a bankruptcy, so she didn’t think to mention it. For future reference, if I ask for your credit score and you have anything concerning in that credit report, it’s helpful to be upfront about it. In that case, everything else was fine and her explanation for the bankruptcy was clear and thorough. We gave them a chance, and they were amazing. She was rebuilding her life after taking on a lot of new bills after a divorce, juggling single-income life, and it was a way to consolidate the debt.

DECIDING BETWEEN TENANTS

In this last situation, I had several people express interest in the property.

I held the open house, and I asked everyone to let me know by noon the following day if they were interested in pursing an application after seeing the property. I received 6 or 7 people who were interested in the house.

I don’t look at one factor. I weigh all the information given to me in my head. In a perfect system, I may assign a weight to each data point, but that’s more effort. I’m reviewing the data and trying to see who has the best, well-rounded criteria.

The house is big (2100 sf with 4 bedrooms), and rent is higher than anything we’ve ever managed. I looked at what they are currently paying in rent. If they’re currently paying $1500 per month, then that made me more confident that they’d cover the $1750; if they are currently paying $400 per month, then I was concerned that they weren’t prepared to cover such a large expense difference. Along those lines, I also gave more credit to someone who has a stable job that they’ve been at for more than a year, versus a few people who said “I’m starting a new job at the end of April.” We have a tenant that goes through jobs every 1-3 months and is always a pain with rent, so I’m probably more scarred by job history now.

I gave more credence to those who had at least a 600 credit score, but I didn’t rule out anyone with a credit score less than that. One woman did have a lower credit score, but she had other good information, so I didn’t rule her out.

Finally, the determining factor came down to availability. My top two contenders had different desired move dates. One said early April, and another said June 1st, but May 1st may be ok. When I asked her to explain about her move date, I received a detailed story that didn’t have any conclusion on when she was available. Since this is a business, and I had a qualified group interested in the house sooner than others, they were the ones selected. If I didn’t have someone qualified for an April move in, then I would have waited for a May 1st rental instead of lowering my standards.

Luckily, I had enough interest in the property that I could select someone who was well qualified and get it rented sooner than later.

APPLICANT SCREENING

Once I’ve given someone these two opportunities to disclose unfavorable information in their credit or criminal history, and they’ve provided favorable responses that meet our criteria, I send the link for the application. The potential renter enters their data into the system, which helps keep their information secure (e.g., I don’t have their social security number) and helps eliminate any typographical errors that I may make transferring the information into the website instead of them entering the data they already know. Additionally, the tenant pays the fee (currently $40) directly to the website, which helps them understand that once the report is run and the fee is paid, it was for a service so it’s not refundable. I heard multiple stories this past week where people paid “application fees,” but were later told that they weren’t the first to respond. That’s not fair. I don’t need to know everyone’s detailed reports and cost people money if they aren’t going to get the property. So here’s how I handle the tenant screening process.

The system generates a report for me to see that includes their credit history, criminal history, eviction history, and income verification.
– The credit history shows any missed or late payments; collections accounts; bankruptcies filed with the chapter, date filed, and amount settled; and their score. I’m more concerned about late or missing payments than anything else there. The collections accounts are typically related to medical bills, but if they’re for general credit cards or an enormous car loan, I’d find it more concerning. I’ve also not ruled someone out simply because they’ve filed bankruptcy; two of our tenants actually have a bankruptcy in their report.
– The criminal history tells me if they’ve had any judgements against them. I’ve seen traffic violations, misdemeanors, and felonies. The report also tells me if they’ve been listed on any sex offender registry. If they have felonies, multiple misdemeanors, or are on a sex offender registry, it’s automatic disqualification. I’ve gone down the road of giving people chances, and it hasn’t gone well. This report isn’t fool-proof either. I know how to use the court record system where we have most of our houses, and I now look them up in all the nearby jurisdictions to be sure there’s nothing reported.
– The eviction report will tell me if they’ve been formally evicted. This doesn’t capture any times where a tenant and landlord agreed on the tenant’s departure outside of the court system. This also may miss some jurisdiction evictions. We had someone show up in a separate jurisdiction when I went looking for their information in the surrounding areas, but it didn’t show up on the report. Don’t think that this report is fool-proof.
– The income verification comes with a built-in caveat. I don’t know the details on how the report is run, but the result is something along the lines of “we believe that the self-reported income is near accurate.”

The report suggests whether to accept or decline the applicants. I suggest reviewing the data and making a decision for yourself. Some reasons why the recommendation will be to decline include: criminal history, bankruptcy, and low credit score.

We have given several people “chances” that don’t perfectly meet our criteria. Below is a screenshot where the recommendation was to decline. However, we ended up asking for more information and giving them a chance. They ended up spending a year in a rental of ours, moving out of the area, and then asking for our rental availability when they came back to town. They always paid on time, hardly asked for anything, and took great care of the house.

We have also accepted tenants that had some concerns in their report, but the system recommended we accept them. We tried to overlook the issues, but we’ve ended up regretting it. We have one tenant who has a criminal history (forgery) and we ended up having to release her roommate from the lease because of a domestic violence and restraining order issue. She’s also consistently late on making rent payments and doesn’t keep communication lines open. We plan to ask her to leave at the end of this lease term. We also had a tenant with a 480 credit score who wrote us a letter about her low credit and asked for a chance. She ended up consistently paying late (she always paid, but it was always a fight); we threatened eviction when it got to a breaking point where she was combative, but she left on her own terms. That’s a good example where she was a terrible tenant, who we gave multiple opportunities and even restructured her rent, but her eviction report won’t say anything to that effect.

DEPOSIT

Once I have an approved application, I request a deposit to hold the property and remove the listing. Typically, the lease signing doesn’t occur immediately. In those cases, I want protection of my cash flow that I’m holding the property for someone specifically. I’ve had a couple of houses that have signed a lease immediately, but typically there’s a lag between “acceptance” and the lease being signed (forming a contract).

In this last instance, the tenant was accepted on Friday, but the lease wasn’t going to be signed until the following Thursday. I requested a $400 deposit, which will be applied to their balance owed to get the keys transferred to them. I originally was going to request $500, but I realized that the week’s worth of time at the rent per diem rate came to $408. If they back out between now and Thursday, then I haven’t lost income if I had chosen someone else and not held the property until the date they wanted a lease. Ironically, they ended up paying a deposit of $500. For them to obtain the keys, they owe a security deposit ($1750), the first month’s pro rated rent (about $1300), and a pet fee of $500. Their total is $3,550, but the $500 I’ve already collected is applied to that balance. Therefore, on Thursday, they’ll owe me $3,050 for me to hand them the keys.

Usually, I require the first month of rent to be the full amount, and then the proration is applied to month 2. Since for this tenant, they already paid rent at their current address for the month of April, and the rent here is higher than our average, I went ahead and prorated the first month so they didn’t have to put so much cash out of pocket in a short period of time.

SUMMARY

You can see how I am not making black-and-white decisions. I’m not hanging my hat on one or two factors. I’m being reasonable in my decisions and understanding that there’s a person, and maybe a family, on the other end of this transaction.

Be fair. Utilize a variety of factors in making your eligibility determination. Keep your communication lines open with potential renters until you have a deposit and/or lease signed on the property.

Treat this as a business and make informed, logical decisions instead of emotional ones, but be reasonable.

March Financial Update

We have been surprisingly busy around here. I’ve been juggling a few rental issues, staying on top of some billing issues, and trying to make it through a commercial loan process.

At one point, most of our loans were held by one company. That was a more simple life. Even though we’re down to 6 mortgages under our name, it’s through 5 different companies. I’m really struggling keeping up with them and getting in a groove after our most recent refinance. I’ve mis-paid things 3 times now. I’m always on top of our payments, but something just isn’t clicking right now for me. I just paid one of our mortgages due April 1 instead of changing the date to be an April pay date. At the moment, we have a buffer in our account because we’re getting to this closing next week, but we usually don’t, so hopefully I have this figured out now that I’ve made so many mistakes.

RENTAL PROPERTIES

LEASE RENEWALS

We had 3 properties process their renewals this past month. Each of them had cost increases to their lease renewal (875 to 950 effective 5/1, 850 to 900 effective 8/1, and 1025 to 1100 effective 5/1). We have another property that will have a renewal offer go out this week. Then we have 3 that will need action by the end of April because the leases expire 6/30, and one that will need action by the end of May because it expires 7/31.

MAINTENANCE

We had a tenant reach out to us that they found bugs in their bathroom tub. She sent pictures and, sure enough, they were termite swarmers. I have way too much experience with termites. I called our pest company, and they sent someone out for an inspection to confirm they were termites. Then I got a call that because we didn’t pay the annual fee to keep our warranty current for the last 3 years (we had the house treated for termites in February 2019 when we bought it because there were active termites and extensive damage by the front door that needed repaired), they could charge us $650 again. However, since we’re considered a business account, she’d be happy to let us back pay the termite warranty and they’re treat it. So I paid $294 for the treatment instead (split with a partner on this house). She also informed me that they had cut off the hot water to the kitchen sink because there was a leak. I don’t know why tenants don’t tell us these things right away! I had my plumber out there the same day, and he replaced the whole faucet. That was $378. That’s one of those charges that’s frustrating because we could have replaced the faucet on our own, but we don’t live there anymore. Oh well; it’s also a cost split with our partner, so that helps.

We had another tenant reach out saying that her kitchen sink drained slowly. She’s been with us since we bought the house and never asks for anything. She’s on top of communication and was super appreciative each time we agreed to renew her lease. We had done a huge sewer line replacement project at this house, so I was skeptical of the issue. It turns out there was a plastic fork lodged down there, but I just let it go (meaning, she’s then technically responsible for the cost). Our property manager let her know that if it happens again, she’s financially responsible, but we’ll cover the cost ($200) this time.

RENT COLLECTION

We FINALLY got the check for one of our tenants that had an approved rent relief application. They submitted an application in November to cover December, January, and February rent. By mid-December, they ended up paying December rent because they hadn’t heard (and the application expires, meaning their protection from eviction expires (not that I would have pursued eviction for this group because they’ve been great tenants for several years)). They received approval for 3 months worth of rent and 2 late fees on January 11. We received the check on March 4th. So frustrating in that process, but still better than an October approval and us getting those 3 months paid at the end of January.

We had our usual suspects not pay rent. On the one house, they didn’t tell us they weren’t paying rent for the longest time. Now, they tell us they’ll pay us on a later date. I let it go this month, but with them paying on the 23rd, that means we’re in a perpetual cycle of not getting rent on the 1st. We have a partner on this house, so I plan to address it next month if they claim another 3+ week delay in getting us the rent. On the other house, she let us know in February that she’d struggle to pay rent and she gave us random amounts throughout the month. I let her know she was still $106 short from February and that she was now in default of March’s rent, and I got no response. Then Mr. ODA had $1000 show up in his account on Friday. She still owes $371 between the two months, but at least we have the mortgage payments covered. She’s also the tenant that we plan on not renewing her lease because she’s caused issues throughout her tenure.

BUYING A NEW PROPERTY

We’re still in the process of getting through closing on a new rental property. We’re expecting to close not he 24th, so we’ll see how that goes. It’s a commercial loan, and it operates different from residential mortgage underwriting, so we’re in the dark. Communication has been next-to-nothing. We’re currently waiting on the appraisal to come back. That was our one hurdle to getting into the house. I said once the appraisal clears, then we (as the buyer) shouldn’t have any risk in getting to closing. Therefore, we were hoping to have the house painted before we close (I would do the painting), then we could refinish the floor and get the rest of the cleaning done the weekend after closing, and get it listed for rent for April 1. I suppose I wouldn’t be trying to get to the house before Friday, so I guess I can be patient and wait to see what happens with the appraisal for a few more days (even though the appraiser was on site last Tuesday, and I’ve never had it take more than a day or two to get the paperwork).

REFINANCE FOLLOW UP, STILL

We still have an issue with the mortgage that I ended up paying 3 times for the 2/1 due date. Our refinance was difficult, and the communication continued to be difficult after closing. I asked on 2/1 whether our loans had been sold yet because I was surprised I hadn’t heard. Usually, I see a note saying to pay the new company before the first payment, thereby not paying the first payment to that “first payment notice” place that comes with the closing documents. The company’s contact said to keep paying them because they hadn’t sold the loans yet. I didn’t open the attachments in his email because I assumed he was reiterating what he said in the email. Turns out, one of the loans was already sold, and I should have paid the new company. Well, I processed a paper check to go to a completely different company (started with a C, and I didn’t catch that I selected the wrong one in bill pay). Luckily, that company sent us our check back, saying they think our loan is closed with them and they can’t process the payment (thank goodness we once had a loan with the address I put in the memo line so they could clearly make a connection and say “we don’t want this!”). When I noticed my mistake on the 14th, I sent a handwritten check that I rushed to the post office at 4:55 to get post marked. In the meantime, I found out that I was able to set up an online account with the new company even though I didn’t have the loan number yet (they gave it to me over the phone). I paid the new company online to make sure I didn’t have anything on my record claiming I didn’t pay by the 15th and it was late. I figured I’d rather manage 3 payments being made than fight the credit companies to change my credit report. Well, the initial company cashed my handwritten check, but they still haven’t sent the money to the new mortgage company. They just kept telling me they have 60 days to get it to them, and I said that’s unacceptable that they’re holding my money. That was a week ago that I was told I’d get a call back, and I haven’t heard from them.

PERSONAL EXPENSES

Now that the basement is done, I had a strong urge to finish projects. There were several things that were starting but not completed. Those final punch list items always seem to take forever. I was impressed that Mr. ODA pushed to get some of the things in the basement done right away, even though they weren’t on a critical path. However, I didn’t uphold my end of the project by painting those things, so I got back to that. I mentioned several of the projects in a recent post, and I’ve done a whole lot more since that post. But all that to say, I’ve spent a lot of money in the last month. I bought a lot of supplies to finish off these open projects. I also had big purchases of cabinet hardware, a dining room table, a desk, and a wood. We haven’t done very much out of the house, so we don’t have a lot of other expenses than these projects, which means our credit cards are actually have the usual balances. We did book an AirBnB for a trip at the end of the summer with friends of ours. That was a big hit on the credit card for a week at the beach, but they reimbursed us for their half.

SUMMARY

It feels like I just keep lowering the balance in our investment accounts each month, but I went to look at February 2021 to see the total. Even though some balances have decreased, we’ve still contributed to the accounts, so overall they’re $21k higher than last year, which is encouraging. I guess I should also focus on the property values raising significantly. We’re over $500k higher than last year in our assets, and our liabilities (i.e., mortgages) are about 13k less than February 2021. We’re also still over $3M on net worth, even if we’re hovering right around that. We’ll add about $50k to our net worth by the end of the month, as long as we close on the new property on time.

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.

February Financial Update

This month is basically just story telling, from insurance tidbits to mortgage annoyances, while not addressing the decline in the market and our investment accounts. 🙂

It seems all my mortgage payments are increasing on 3/1, so I’ve been managing those changes. I mentioned recently that one of our houses had the escrow analysis done incorrectly. Luckily, that was addressed, and the increase in our mortgage payment is only about $100 instead of nearly $200. Our personal mortgage increased by $16, another property increased by $52, and then our last 3 mortgages were all refinanced in January and this ‘first payment’ has been a bear. The information out of the refinancing company has been contradictory, they requested a bunch of information weeks after closing to support all the money they already gave us, and it’s just been rough. Rough enough that I ran to the post office to get a check in the mail at 4:48 pm today, only to get home to an email saying that I had to send that check (due tomorrow) to a different address. Ugh.

I was excited to share some positive news this month, but that got overshadowed by these mortgage payments! Anyway, we came home to some surprises after our vacation.

First, I had a medical procedure done in January. It was originally scheduled for November, but the week of the procedure, I had my heart go crazy on me. That cancelled my procedure because I couldn’t go under anesthesia until they knew my heart would be OK. We got my heart sorted out enough that I was cleared for the procedure, but once I was able to reschedule it, it went into 2022 ….. a new deductible year. They said that I needed to pay half the cost of the procedure before they’d schedule it. Since I had been waiting since September for this, I wasn’t going to question anything, and I gave my credit card number for $1200. Well, my insurance hasn’t processed the procedure yet, but I guess since I paid in advance, some sort of system review showed I had overpaid, and they refunded me $1196. I don’t know how they decided to keep $4, but I’ll cross that bridge when I see my claim is processed on my insurance website.

Second, I’ve mentioned before that you need to stay on top of insurance! I received a bill for my heart-related-ambulance-ride for over $900. The last time I was in an ambulance, I ended up owing the full bill, which was $500 at that time. When I saw $900, I figured, gosh 10 years later and a new jurisdiction, and THAT is what I owe. It said “we billed your insurance, and this is your balance.” Hmmm. Log into my insurance website and see there’s no claim history for an ambulance ride. I then learned, for the first time ever, how to submit my own insurance claim. I let the fire department know I submitted the claim, and then they said they’d do it for me! Why did your paper say you already did?! Well, the surprise I got was that my insurance covered all but $46 for the ride!!! I couldn’t believe it. That’s the happiest I’ve ever been to spend $46.

The most random thing that happened was a check from our electric company from our Virginia house. We sold that house in September 2020. Our mail forwarding isn’t active anymore and it was sent to our old address, so I really have no idea how we got it. It was $31.09 due to a required review of all accounts every 3 years. It’s not anything crazy or life changing, but that was truly a surprise!

RENTAL UPDATES

We had our usual suspects not pay rent earlier this month. One flat out said they won’t pay until the 23rd. I’m not even sure how to handle them anymore. I keep reminding myself that we raised their rent $150/month to get them to leave, but they accepted. So at least we’re in a good position there? The other paid us $700/$1150 on Friday (late). She at least emailed us with the awareness that we shouldn’t have to hunt her down for rent payments, so she got a pass because I was about to send the default notice at 12:01 am on the 6th. I’m also once again in a position of tracking down a rent relief payment on another house that’s supposed to cover December, January, and February. While the tenant ended up paying December rent, we’ve still been floating the January and February finances. The approval of their application (that was submitted in November) was January 10. As of today, no information from the State and no check in the mail.

I got a tenant renewal processed this morning. We increased their rent by $50/month (starting 5/1 when their current term ends), after it having been steady for 2 years. Our usual baseline to keep a good tenant is a $50 increase every 2 years.

We gave two property managers notice to increase rents on 2 properties that are up for renewal on 4/30. We do 60-day notices. It’s not entirely necessary, but I look at it as a way to negotiate with the tenant for a month, and then if they don’t agree to new terms, we have a month to get it rented. One ‘cried COVID’ last year, and we let her by. She’s been there 2.5 years at the same rate, and she even got the house under market value originally because it was November (bad timing). She’s at $875 and we said we’d go to $950. That’s a larger increase than we usually do, but the market rate for the house is $950-1000. If she balks, we’ll manage the turnover and get a new tenant in there. For another house, they’re at 1025 and have been since October 2019. They even negotiated a discount back then for an 18 month lease, so they’ve been under market. Despite our efforts to grieve our taxes, the City thinks this house is in an affluent neighborhood and has charged as such. We’re offering them a bump to $1100. Again, more than our usual $50 increase, but it’s been more than 2 years and $1100 is under market value. Then we had a 3rd person say she wants to stay in the house, but her lease isn’t up until August. She’s been there since August 2017 and has been at $850 rent since then. We’re looking to increase her rent to $900. She’s an awesome tenant that never needs anything, and I know she’s in grad school without much money. We’ve made her so happy for the last several years by renewing her without an increase, so I hope she understands the need to increase it now.

I paid the insurance on our townhome, which is a property we own outright, so I need to manage the escrow-type transactions. That was $210.

After our cash-out-refis in January, we have been looking for a new property to purchase. We’ve made 4 offers that have been out-bid. Mr. ODA has been trying to work the off-market angle. We made a full price offer for one of the houses contingent on seeing it, and the guy said that he’d now prefer to sell off his portfolio as one instead of each individual house. He declined our full-price-off-market offer. Sketchy. Then another guy said he wanted to wait until the new flooring was installed in his house before letting us see it, and then he won’t respond to messages now a week or so later. Interesting. We’re now trying to work another off-market deal through our Realtor, but the seller and our Realtor are out of town. I ran the comps on it and come to $235ish, while they were expecting $250k. I don’t deny that they’d get an offer in this market at $250, but I don’t know that it’s worth it to us. Then again, to be done with this driving around, seeing houses, making offers, and losing out, may all be worth an extra $15k.

PERSONAL TIDBITS

This month, we went on a trip for just about a week. The flight was paid for in a previous month, so that’s not captured in our spending. We stayed with a friend, and she made us nearly all of our food. We paid for our brewery visits with her. It was a great trip, and I definitely recommend Bend, OR! We did a last minute change from Touro for our rental car to a ‘regular’ car rental place at the airport, so that charge shows up in this month’s finances. We also booked 2 last minute hotel rooms, once for the night of our arrival and one for the night of our departure (we flew in/out of Portland, which is about 2.5 hours from Bend, so it was easier with the kids sleep schedules to be near the airport those two nights instead of arriving really late or leaving really early).

We bought Hamilton tickets. We were late on that band wagon until we finally found a friend with Disney+ who wanted to watch it with us even though they had seen it 257 times. Since December 2020, we’ve watched Hamilton a whole lot. We got on right when tickets were being sold and were about to accept the $200+ ticket price until Mr. ODA found the ticket sales through the actual venue were only $130! It’s not until June, but that’s something to look forward to!

We finished our basement over the last year and have been using for the last month now. We had a projector on hand that we used as our TV down there, but it started to die shortly after we hooked it up. We bought a new projector and have been really happy with it, and I was happy with it only being $270.

While our electric bill was surprisingly low last month, it was surprisingly high this month. They did an estimated meter reading, putting the estimated kWh usage at the highest it’s ever been. When I questioned their estimation process and shared the current meter read, they said that next month will probably be an actual reading and since it’s not more than 1000 kWh difference, they’re not going to change anything. Sure, I can afford this $414 bill that may be offset next month, but many people can’t. Their estimation process shouldn’t put the projected energy usage at an all-time-high, thereby dumping surprisingly large bills on people. Regardless, it’s something that works itself out, and isn’t something I’m going to fight any harder on right now. It’s just annoying knowing that our energy usage was high last year because we had a broken unit without our knowledge, and then with a working unit, they’re estimating that we’ve used more than ever.

Mr. ODA changed one of our credit cards, so I’ve been all out of sorts here now. The credit card was a travel-related card, and they increased their annual fee by $100. He ran the numbers and determined the benefits didn’t outweigh the cost increase. Instead of closing the card, they agreed to change the type of card. However, all the things we used that card for are now on different cards, and this change “activated” an old card of mine. Our credit card usage is convoluted; perhaps I’ll do a new explanation and update my last post on it (and then maybe that’ll get me to remember all the changes!).

NET WORTH

Our net worth dropped about $15k from last month, but that was due to the market. While not fun to see those numbers go down, it doesn’t affect our day-to-day. Our cash balance is really high right now while we keep cash liquid for a downpayment while finding another investment property.

Should You Use a Property Manager?

The key to financial freedom is passive income or cash flow so that you don’t have to work, right? Well, managing rental real estate isn’t truly passive, so a hiring a property manager to do that work on your behalf is enticing. But are the benefits worth the cost?

We have 12 rental properties, and 5 of those are self-managed. While I’ve mentioned the benefits of a property manager, I wanted to run through the reasons we don’t have a property manager on all of our properties. It comes down to time management and cash flow.

THE DETAILS ON SELF-MANAGED HOUSES

The very first property we bought was in Kentucky, while we lived in Virginia, so we needed a manager on that one. But then we bought two houses in Virginia. They were right next door to each other, and I worked about 10 minutes away. Without kids, I had the time and flexibilities to manage them. Plus, both houses had active leases on them when we took possession. Without having the immediate need and learning curve of finding a new tenant, it was easy to manage the rent collection and any minor issues that came up on the houses. A property manager would have cost us $105 each month on each of these houses. Even now that we don’t live near them, the houses are newer and we know they don’t have any major issues, and the tenants keep renewing their lease, so it’s [relatively] easy to manage from afar. There are some maintenance hiccups – like the flooring debacle – but mostly I just collect the rent electronically. One house is routinely late on the rent, so I have to manage that property more than the norm, but it’s all via electronic communication and doesn’t require me to be on site.

Our third purchase in Virginia was of a vacant 2 bedroom house. Still, no kids meant that I could manage listing and showing the property to prospective tenants. This was the first time that we had to figure out the tenant search process, but we were able to show it to a couple and have it rented the first weekend it was listed. Again, the house requires very little attention, and I just collect rent. Even when the house had to be turned over, the tenant leaving put us in contact with a friend of their family’s, and that’s been who’s living there for several years.

Our last two that are self-managed are the two that we have with a partner. I handle the rent collection and paperwork. When we have an issue, we’re more likely to call a handyman than do the work ourselves anymore, but again, phone calls and emails aren’t that difficult. We just had a handyman go out to look at two broken doors and to replace a missing fence panel. While I was there over the summer, I had secured the railing that was loose, but I didn’t want to do any of the other work. It also helps that we have a partner, so the cost of any work to be done is only half for us.

For the past year, we took over management of a property that had been with our property manager in Virginia. We knew the tenants from a previous house of ours, and we felt that our management of that house from afar would be easy as compared to the $120/mo we were saving by self-managing. We didn’t have any issues we couldn’t manage during the year. However, they’re now purchasing a home. We’re obviously not there to manage showings, so we gave this property back to our property manager. She listed the house and showed it for us. It’ll cost us $300 for the listing and 10% of the monthly rent for her management ($135). For the last 11 months, it has been rented at $1200. That means that we’ve had an extra $1620 worth of income for the year than we would have ($120 for 11 months, and the $300 listing fee).

PROPERTY MANAGEMENT

For our Kentucky houses, we are very hands off. We don’t weigh in on costs less than $200, and we don’t get any updates regarding rent payments or tenant searches. Sometimes it’s too hands-off for me. For instance, I don’t even get a copy of the executed leases until I ask for it, and I don’t get a copy of any receipts (I just get a summary of charges taken out of our proceeds). It has been hard on me psychologically, but I’ve learned to let it go over the past few years.

For our Virginia houses, we’re more hands on, and sometimes it’s too much. We still discuss all the details when an issue arises, so it’s just saving me the time of calling and coordinating contractors, which is rarely necessary. Then there are times that I even handle ordering and contractors; for instance, I just handled replacing the hot water heater and refrigerator at one of our houses. All of our tenants pay rent electronically, so that’s not even on our property manager’s radar (she used to collect rent and then deposit it in a joint account we gave her access to). Since she’s not responsible for rent collection, it’s then on me to let her know if someone hasn’t paid, and she handles the follow-up communication.

However, our Virginia property manager has been worth her weight in gold because she has handled multiple lease defaults for us (with one actually leading to an eviction), which involves going to the court house to file the motion and then showing up for the hearing(s). We had one tenant who had to be served multiple notices, but she eventually left on terms mutually agreed upon. We had another tenant vacate a house because his kids were attending a school out of the address’s district (and blamed us for that.. I don’t know!), but we took him to court to require payment of past due rent from before he vacated. Then we had a true eviction, where the tenant stopped paying rent and had to be taken to court multiple times. The judge ruled in our favor and told her to vacate the premises, which involved police officers escorting them out of the house. We have been very lucky that the houses we manage haven’t ventured into the realm of taking them to court (although one in close), and that our property manager has been able to handle everything on our behalf for these instances.

SUMMARY

We can get caught up in the “we’re paying for nothing to happen” mentality with our property managers. Each month, we pay out $720 for property management. In Virginia, our property manager doesn’t even collect rent, so most months there’s no action from her for the houses. In Kentucky, the property manager collects rent, holds it, and pays out our share the next month. It can be hard to see that total number that we’re paying, but for those months that involve a lot of coordination in receiving quotes, going to court, or meeting contractors, it’s nice that we don’t have to deal with it.

Sometimes it’s worth paying for peace of mind and relaxation, knowing someone else is handling your problems for you, but you need to choose where that balance is for you. Do you want to manage it yourself to know your money is being spent fully at your own discretion; do you want to have a manager while maintaining a lot of the decision making; or do you want to be fully hands off with a management company who you can trust to handle your property with your best interests at the forefront? It’s all a balance of how much you think that’s worth compared to your time spent and knowledge on managing rentals.

Purchasing our Used Vehicle

Buying a new car is exciting! It’s shiny and clean, and it’s all yours. Well, after a couple of vehicle purchases, Mr. ODA and I learned a few things. And in the end, we’ve decided that buying a “pre-owned” (used…) vehicle is a more practical decision. So while I understand that this approach isn’t for everyone, maybe I can break this down in a way to get you on board.

Whether you’re buying the vehicle new, buying it used, or leasing it, you’re going to have basically the same costs of ownership after the initial purchase. You’ll need to pay for the registration, insurance, and taxes on any of these options. In all cases, you’re going to have to purchase fuel to make the car work. Unless you’re purposefully looking for a new vehicle after a short amount of time and ignoring maintenance, there will be maintenance costs (e.g., oil change, new tires, other fluids). However, the cost of those maintenance activities will depend on the vehicle.

In some states, you also have a personal property tax that may be an up-front tax on the vehicle, or could be an annual tax based on the vehicle’s value. Examples – In Georgia, there’s a one-time Title Ad Valorem Tax that is 6.6% of the fair market value of the vehicle at the time of purchase. In Virginia, there’s an annual personal property tax. Make note of this – the tax is directly related to the value of your vehicle. The more expensive and new the vehicle, the more you’re going to pay to Virginia in taxes – every year. At least each year that passes, the value of the car decreases, and therefore your tax owed decreases.

DEPRECIATION

I’ve brushed on depreciation with the mention of a car’s value; that was the biggest determining factor for our move towards purchasing pre-owned vehicles. Depreciation is the loss of value over time. A very literal definition from dictionary.com says, “a reduction in the value of an asset with the passage of time, due in particular to wear and tear.”

While the value of a car decreases each year, it’s not a linear amount of value that’s lost each year. According to Edmunds, a car loses about 20% of its value in the first year. That means that if you spent $30,000 on the car, you probably can only sell if for about $24,000 after one year. Depreciation slows down after that first year, but the value continues to decline.

Source: Edmunds.com Depreciation Infographic

No matter the vehicle, you lose the most value as soon as you drive it off the lot. This is where purchasing a pre-owned vehicle is beneficial; someone else endured that largest loss of value.

You can look into Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) Vehicles, versus just a used vehicle, to give you peace of mind. According to cars.com, a car can only be labeled as CPO after a dealer has certified to the manufacturer that the car passed a multipoint inspection, which can encompass 150 or more items, and repairs have been completed as needed. A CPO vehicle comes with a free car history report, which will show you all the maintenance activities performed, as well as any accidents. A CPO vehicle may even come with a warranty and be in better condition than a non-CPO car. They are supposed to have been reconditioned to like-new condition, and they come with additional benefits that may not be provided on other used cars. But, CPO cars will cost you a bit more on average than a “regular” used car due to this due-diligence and other benefits.

RISKS OF PURCHASING A USED VEHICLE OVER A NEW

When buying a used vehicle, you have to weigh the cost against what you’re receiving (as you would with any purchase, really). Even when buying a new car, there’s no guarantee that it will work perfectly, but you’ll be covered by warranties and (hopefully) a reputable dealership. With a used car, you are taking on a risk that there are issues caused by the previous owner, including not knowing how the car was maintained. Was it owned by someone who followed the user manual, maintaining the right fluids and putting the right gasoline in it? What was their driving style – was it hard starts, stops, and turns with aggression, or was it a gentle, defensive driver that owned it? Was it owned by someone who knew they were getting rid of it in 1-3 years, so no maintenance was necessary in their mind and it wasn’t driven with care?

The question you ask yourself is whether you’re willing to take on this risk of how the car was treated for the cost you’re paying, and what that initial loss of value really means to you.

LUXURY VEHICLES

CPO vehicles began with luxury vehicle lines, but they’re more widely available now. If a luxury vehicle is something you’re interested in, there are some things to keep in mind. Not only does a luxury vehicle cost more up front, the maintenance, and possibly the fuel, will cost more as well. These are recurring costs that you should be considering when taking on the responsibility of a new vehicle.

An Audi was my dream car. I could not wait for it to be my time to make that purchase. Then I started hearing stories about how my friends’ Audis were in the shop. Not only were they costing them for having to be in the shop more than my car, but the maintenance itself was more expensive! I was used to paying $19.99 for an oil change on my Honda Civic in Albany, NY. The thought of paying $75 or more for an oil change because it’s an Audi was gut wrenching to me. Then there’s tires. I paid about $400 to put four new tires on my Chevy Equinox. Tires on an Audi? Double. I didn’t look into the cost of insurance, but usually it ends up being more to insure these sportier vehicles.

I had to truly take the time to consider how much I wanted this vehicle – was it something I needed and would accept the increased ownership costs, or was I ready to let go of this dream?

KEYS TO THE PURCHASING PROCESS

Don’t talk to the salesman in terms of monthly payment. I had quite the experience holding strong to my “what is the total cost of the vehicle” question and not talking about the cost in terms of monthly payment. I don’t want anything buried in my monthly payment. I repeated “don’t worry about what I want to pay month to month or how much I can afford in terms of a monthly payment.” I wanted to buy the car for $17,000. He wouldn’t say yes or no. He kept offering us a different monthly payment, and then we’d sit there, do the math, and say, “nope, that comes to $17,500.” You’d think after the first, or second, time we did this, he’d catch on that we’re not playing his antics and would be verifying the principal of the loan. We were there for hours. Hours. I got it though.

Know what price you want for any trade-in vehicles. When you trade in a vehicle to the dealership, you’re eliminating the hassle of selling it yourself (e.g., how do you market your car, how do you let someone test drive your car, how do you negotiate to get what you want?), but you’re probably not getting top dollar for it either. We’ve traded in two vehicles. The first was straight forward. The second had a fair market value of maybe $6,500 in fair/good condition (e.g., broken antennae, scuffs in the trunk from our travels and house work, a broken door arm rest from where the dog would stand on it to look out the window). Even though the car’s cosmetic issues were factored into the fair market value cost, it’s hard to say we would have been able to get $6,500 selling it personally. When the dealership offered me $5,000, I accepted it. The vehicle looked good, but it was those small details that would add up to any private buyer with a fine tooth comb, and I didn’t think I had a leg to stand on to negotiate over a few hundred dollars with the dealership.

OUR RECENT USED CAR PURCHASE EXPERIENCE

We found our used vehicle through cars.com. There are several online search tools you can use, as well as just showing up to a dealership. My search parameters were fluid: I’m willing to pay for the right value, versus “I have $20,000 to spend, what can I get?” I wanted a van, probably a Pacifica, with relatively low miles (I’m talking about averaging less than 12,000 miles per year), and somewhere around $20k. The Pacifica is set up where the base model has all the features I’d want, so I didn’t have to do a lot more manipulating of features (Chrysler has a lower tiered minivan with less features, versus 6 or more levels within the ‘Pacifica’ itself). The biggest deal breaker for me was leather seats – in that we did not want leather seats. I’d trade off the slightly more effort in cleaning the seats for not feeling extra cold or extra hot when we get in the car (and I have car seat mats under my kids’ car seats that protect the fabric anyway).

The dealership that had the van that best hit our search parameters was just over an hour away. We weren’t able to get there until near closing time, so I rushed through the review of the vehicle. In the future, I plan to do the following better:

  • Check all doors open and close correctly, without rattle, several times. Drive the car somewhere else, and open and close all the doors again.
  • If you have removable and/or movable seats, move them. Spend the time figuring it out. I couldn’t figure it out, so I just gave up and said “it’ll be fine.” They’re not fine. I didn’t know it because I didn’t know how it was supposed to work, but after using it a few times, I figured out that one works right, and the other gets the job done, but isn’t ‘right.’
  • Look for dirt. Don’t assume that a dealer’s deep clean is deep by any means. The car was dirty, but I put faith in their final ‘detailing’ process. They didn’t even wipe the dirt off the driver’s side arm rest or the back wall of the trunk. But they cleaned an obvious orange stain on the carpet.
  • Drive it on the highway. I get nervous about taking the car too far from its ‘home’ before it’s mine. Do it. See how the car operates at highway speed for more than a mile. Two kids at the dealership, COVID precautions, and it being near closing time meant I rushed myself. There’s a rattle that I should have noticed, but I didn’t drive the van more than a few miles up the road.
  • I negotiated a buff out of scrapes (maybe as far as gouges) on one of the panels of the van. They said they would ‘attempt’ it, but they weren’t making any promises because the paint was gone. But they did it! The panel looked brand new, and I’m so glad I got something right!

The average cost of a 2017 Pacifica was around $21,000 on these websites (the sites themselves give you a lot of data to see this type of information). The one we went to see was listed just below $18k, so I knew it wasn’t going to be in mint condition. The question is always: what is your tolerance and is the as-is product worth that value to you? It was to me.

We were about to trek all over for two months with a lot of our stuff (like an entire crib and mattress), two kids, and a dog. I wanted the van. During my test drive of the van, I noted quite a few scratches (possibly in the realm of gouges) on one of the door panels. I really didn’t know what I could or couldn’t ask for, so I countered their offer with $17,000, buffing the door panel, and detailing the vehicle. They accepted! I was happy with the imperfections against the price and was now the proud owner of a 3 year old van.

I’m 7 months in to owning the van, and I love it. I got its first oil change a couple of months ago, and the mechanic said the car is in excellent condition and then was surprised when I said I bought it used. We have put the van to the test with all our travel and house work. I hauled 12 sheets of drywall, a bath tub, a toilet, and a vanity with its counter.

STORIES WE’VE HEARD

“I’m looking for a new car because I just made my last payment on this car.” What? You WANT to always have a car payment? Is your car broken or not functioning well? Is it worth purchasing another brand new vehicle, paying the loan for 5 years, and then repeating the cycle? In my opinion, it is not. Try relishing in your newfound $300, $500, $700 each month that you don’t have to pay towards a car. Enjoy the car that you know you can rely on. You’re still paying all the maintenance costs on a vehicle, so you’re not really saving anything, unless you’ve planned it so that you drive so little that your tires last you those 5 years. Another variation: “We get a new car every three years, but it’s ok because we pay it off early so we own it outright.”

“I’m going to lease so I can get a new car every 3 years.” Why do you need a new car every three years? The dealer is loving the fact that they can count on you to rent the car from them for the car’s three most expensive years of ownership, only to give it back to them and do it all over again, and again. Is your goal to keep up with the Joneses or to make solid financial decisions?

LONG TERM COST OF OWNERSHIP

Manufacturers have reputations, based on years of empirical evidence, dictating how long their vehicles usually last and how well they hold their value in the resale market (e.g., Toyota is known for retaining value well). If you can avoid the early stages of a car’s life by buying something a few years old, keep it for many years, maintain it well, and choose a brand that has a strong track record for resale and “car life,” then you can hit the trifecta of a smart purchase.

Mr. ODA is still driving his first adult car. A Nissan. While it was bought new, he has kept it for 11 years thus far and it still runs strong. Each year he owns it, the original purchase price compared to the depreciation to date lowers the average annual cost of his ownership. Since 11 year old cars are depreciating at a very slow rate, if he keeps it maintained, he can save a lot of money compared to the other option of ‘upgrading’ to a newer car that would inherently cost him more money to own each year. Had he bought it 3 years later, it’s possible he could’ve purchased for half the price and still would have owned it for 8+ years while cutting 5 digits off the total cost of ownership. In hindsight, and with our view looking forward, that 3 years of owning it “new” isn’t worth $10,000+.

SUMMARY

The main point here is to be aware of the immediate depreciation of a brand new vehicle’s value. Allowing someone else to take that large value decrease by driving it off the lot can save you money, while still getting a fairly new vehicle. Through Certified Pre-Owned programs, you may even still be covered under vehicle warranties as if you purchased a new vehicle. Or, you can pay still a little less, accept a bit more risk, and get a used car that hasn’t gone through the CPO process. When making the decision on whether to lease, buy new, or buy CPO/used, be sure you’re well informed and weigh all the factors against how this purchase will affect your money, both in terms of cash flow and net worth.

House 7: Two broken leases that have worked out

This one has been pretty easy, but we did have an interesting issue arise with the first tenant.

This is our largest house at 4 bedrooms and 1.5 bathrooms, and 1281 square feet. It’s a cape cod style house, so the upstairs has slanted ceilings, the half bath is not anything to write home about, and the HVAC struggles to work up there. The carpet on the stairs could really be replaced (but it hurts me to spend money on stairs because they’re soooo expensive compared to carpeting a room!). But the house has a huge fenced-in yard with a nice deck that’s a great selling point.

The kitchen was renovated at some point, so that’s held up well – and lets face it, who doesn’t choose baby pink knobs for their new kitchen cabinetry? But the plumbing and roof have been painful.

I’ve already told many of the stories about this house through other teaching posts, so bear with me if things sound familiar.

LOAN

The house is in Richmond, VA, and the purchase was very simple. We offered $109,000, and the seller countered with 112,500 and 2,000 in seller subsidy (i.e., closing costs), which we accepted. It was listed on June 22 at $119k, and we offered on June 25, so I’m actually surprised we got the contract agreed to so quickly.

Quick note here: after reviewing real estate contracts in NY, KY, and VA, Virginia wins. Sure there are several states that I haven’t ventured into, and this is an extremely small sample size. The paperwork is simple yet thorough, all while being in plain language. So if you’re needing a template to work off of, look up Virginia’s purchase agreement.

We settled on a 30 year conventional loan at 5.05%. We received a $200 lender credit since we closed on several properties in a short period of time. This is the house that we refinanced and received an appraisal of $168,000! We had already started with equity in the house because it appraised at $114,000 at closing.

INSURANCE

Interestingly, we couldn’t insure the house through the company that we had gone with because they have a 5 rental limit. Our agent was able to quote us through another company though, so our process appeared seamless. However, the quote was much higher than we anticipated. We went through a friend to insure it, but shortly after closing (literally a week), we were able to find an even cheaper option – that was awkward.

THE NEIGHBORHOOD

Not a category that usually gets mentioned. I discussed the neighborhood of the one house we sold already, which was because I didn’t realize it was in a higher-than-average crime area that tenants honed in on. But this neighborhood is worth mentioning.

Rentals aren’t prevalent here. In fact, many of the homes are the original owners. While working on the house when we first purchased it, the neighbor across the street approached me. He as-politely-as-possible threatened me that this is a nice neighborhood, that everyone keeps up their property, and that they don’t want any trouble. I assured him we have good standards as landlords, and we haven’t had any neighbor complaints for any of the tenants we had in our houses.

The location also comes into play for our first tenant.

TENANT #1

This house is under a property manager for 10% monthly rent.

As with most of our tenant searches, no one fits perfectly into our requirements. We offset this by a higher security deposit or having another signatory on the lease. We had two prospective tenants – one was a mother/daughter combo (an adult daughter) and both had bankruptcies in the last year; the other was a man and his family that had an eviction 7 years prior. We chose the one with an eviction. His application actually said that he “will also respect the property to the utmost.” Boy did he.

He first requested that the carpet be replaced. It was actually a reasonable request because it wasn’t the best. Here’s the carpet on the second floor. Old, bottom of the line padding; a gorgeous blue; lots of wear spots.

We decided to refinish the wood floors on the first floor because 1) he wasn’t moving in for two weeks, and 2) it would save us in the long run to put that investment into the floors instead of carpeting every few years (and risking someone completely ruining it before its useful life was up). It was $1850 and the company was able to start immediately and get it done before the tenant moved in (granted, it was the day he moved in, but it did get done). And the refinish turned out great!

He asked us for a screen door, but we said that wasn’t a necessity. He asked if he could install one himself. We agreed, as long as it didn’t prohibit our access (e.g., he can’t lock it, give us a key). This later becomes an issue because he locks it after vacating and we need it rekeyed.

This tenant had a few late rent payments and struggled with paying rent on time, but overall he was a good tenant to have. He took care of the property and let us know when he ran into issues (it’s amazing how many people don’t tell us of a problem in a timely fashion).

Just as we did on House 5, we offered this tenant the opportunity to pay rent in two installments each month. His rent was $1150 from August through February. He took the opportunity and we executed an addendum to change the rent to $600 twice a month. Again, it’s an inconvenience to us to collect two rent payments, but it theoretically should save the tenant money if they’re constantly in a position that they owe late fees (if he usually pays $1150+115=1265, then 1200 is a better position).

And then the fun happened!

I was at WORK one day, answered my work phone, and someone on the other end asked to speak to the owner of [this house’s address]. I barely used my work phone for work calls, so to receive a personal call on my work phone was very surprising. I informed her that I was the owner. She then went on to ask me questions about the tenant occupying the residence. I couldn’t answer a single question – hah! I let her know that I really didn’t know who was living there or the status of the home because I have a property manager. She was very nice and understanding, and she called my property manager.

She was with the school system. Apparently, our tenant had moved into the City public school district, but kept his kids in the adjacent county school system. It was April. I thought it was ridiculous that the school system would investigate this with 6 weeks left of school, but technically, he was in the wrong. And get this – he blamed me for it! Our nice tenant turned on us and went crazy. He claimed that he could just walk away from the house …. honestly I don’t remember his reason for it, but somehow he thought he had a case.

Virginia has a wonderful statute that says if the house is vacant for 7 days, the owner takes possession without any court interference. There’s also a statute that says we can’t collect double rent, and we need to be doing our best to rent it out if given notice. We tried to keep communication lines open with the tenant, but he was silent. We had told him that we were willing to release him from his lease obligations if we found another tenant, which we did. He was responsible for May’s rent and late fees, and we would have a new tenant move in June 1. We also informed him that he would be responsible for the leasing fee associated with finding a new tenant, which was basically considered the ‘lease break fee’ and is fairly generous ($300 instead of a standard two-months rent that’s typically seen as the fee). It kept going south from there.

On top of the rent owed, he had several lease breaches – room painting (clarification: rooms are allowed to be painted as long as it’s a neutral color or painted back to a neutral color before vacating), wall patching and painting, house cleaning, mowing, re-keying, and utilities since he turned them off. By mid-June, he still owed us $874.76. We made an arrangement with him that he’d pay a certain amount each pay check, but he failed several times. We finally threatened to take him to court, which would affect his credit score and increase the balance owed since court fees would become his responsibility. Since he had been working to rebuild his credit since his bankruptcy, we thought this would light a fire under him.

We went to court.

Court also added a 6% interest charge on the outstanding balance, which now included the $58 court fee.  

It took him over a year to pay the balance. By the time the court judgment arrived, his balance (after paying $50 here and there was $660. The court doesn’t put a timeframe or process on the judgement, but leaves it to the two parties to determine the payment schedule. He didn’t adhere to it well, but we did eventually get the whole balance paid. Mr. ODA also took this opportunity to have fun with calculating interest payments on a declining ‘principal’ balance that isn’t getting payments on a predictable schedule!

TENANTS #2 & #3

These tenants were/are much easier. The second tenant in the house had several large dogs, but we didn’t see any damage to the house. She eventually broke the lease to buy her own house in November 2020; we can’t fault someone for wanting to take advantage of low interest rates! She gave the appropriate amount of notice, but the lease was going to be broken as of 10/31, which isn’t a great time to have a rental come open. She ended up being very gracious with the situation, paid us one month of a lease break fee, and we kept her security deposit.

Right after she gave us notice, we had an old tenant reach out to us. They had moved back into town (I’ve mentioned them several times) and asked if we had a 4 bed/2 bath house available. Amazingly, we did. We showed them the house and they signed a lease within a few days.

Since turnover was fast, and I didn’t really know the status of the house, I didn’t get a chance to paint the house. All the rooms had been white except for the one room that I repainted after the first tenant had painted it lime green. The house really needs a whole paint job, and so I offered her an incentive. If she wanted to paint any of the rooms, she could knock $75 off the rent per room. So far she’s painted three rooms.

MAINTENANCE AND REPAIRS

The plumbing in this house has been horrendous. We had the tub snaked as soon as the first tenant moved in ($150). We then had issues with hot water, which required several adjustments to the water flow rates to coincide with the tankless hot water heater ($325). We had the upstairs toilet serviced ($120). Then a year later, we had to service the hot water tank again ($570). Tenants had complained that the upstairs sink drained slowly. We had attempted to snake it and fix it several times, but it never seemed to work. We finally just bit the bullet and replaced the plumbing – from the second floor to the crawl space. That work and the drywall patching cost us $1563.

Then there’s all the roof work. Shingles had flown off during a storm, so we had those replaced ($350). We also had a leak in the flat roof over the laundry room. We had a roof guy come out, and he said the roof hit its life expectancy. He replaced the pitched roof ($4135), and not the flat roof. So we’ve still had issues there that will need to be addressed.

SUMMARY

That sounds like a lot of money, but we’ve owned this house for 4 years now with our rent being double the mortgage (slightly better now too with the recent refi). When purchasing properties, any good investor is going to build maintenance and capital expenses into their numbers that determine if it’s a worthy investment. Rent cash flow wins out, and all the rest is just the cost of running our business – not to mention the $60k of appreciation we have on paper in just 4 years. It’s also worth noting that these things took up about 10 days worth of action from us over those 4 years, so most months, we just collect the rent with no other action required from us.

No property is going to be perfect, and this business relies on people, the tenants, to make the business profitable. No path will take a straight line, and being flexible to the ebbs and flows of rental property investing help make it fun too!

House 5: Bought and Sold

This was a mess. I learned my lesson to research each property individually and not to make any assumptions. I also learned my lesson to hold true to our standards and expectations for a renter. We owned this house for a year and a half, but we learned a lot about tenants and the selling process. Hey, every struggle is a learning opportunity for next time, right!?


Mr. ODA showed me House 6 first (5 and 6 closed at the same time, and on my numbering list, this one came second… so try to overlook this awkward numbering!). I researched the area and the house’s history in detail, and I decided that it was worth pursuing. Very shortly after that, he approached me about House 5. The house was in better condition than House 6 and was literally only half a mile away. I assumed it was in the same neighborhood. I was wrong, and that’s where things went downhill fast.

LOAN

This house was so cheap that we needed an exception approved to get a loan. The purchase price was $60,000, which means a loan with 20% down is $48,000. The cutoff for even approving a loan with our regular lender is typically $50,000. Since we were below that threshold, we were ‘penalized’ by the rate.

I covered the closing snafu in the House 6 post, which also highlights the decision-making on the loan terms. Since this house was below that $50k threshold, our options were: 5.125% with a $200 credit or 5% with no credit. The higher interest rate would cost us an additional $1300 in interest, which isn’t offset by the $200 credit, so we chose the 5% rate. Hindsight: If we had known we would sell it just 18 months later, the credit would’ve been the better choice!

We purchased the house in July 2017. We immediately started aggressively paying towards the mortgage since it was the lowest balance and the highest interest rate.

We rented the house for $775, which far exceeded the 1% Rule.

WORK ON THE HOUSE

We did a lot of work in the yard. Here’s what the house looked like at some point before we owned it. It’s cute!

While it was under contract, the house sat vacant, so there were a lot of overgrown bushes, flowerbeds were filled with debris and no remnants of flowers having lived there, the lawn hadn’t been cut in a long time, and the tree in the front left had been removed at some point, leaving behind a mound of a stump and mulch that also collected debris. It’s a shame, and I kind of wish we had brought this little 2 bed/1 bath house back to life like it was in this picture. But I digress. Although this picture shows that the previous owner took care of the property, and that’s what attracted us to the purchase.

The floors were in immaculate shape, and the kitchen was quaint, but in decent shape. We purchased a new refrigerator before we could list for a tenant.

The bathroom needed a lot of help, but we didn’t want to overhaul it. The medicine cabinet wasn’t working anymore and the glass was cracked, so we wanted to replace it with just a mirror that covered the old medicine cabinet hole. Interestingly, we found a stash of 100s of razors behind it! (Apparently this is a thing from times gone by. You finish your blade and then you shove it behind the medicine cabinet for it to reside in the wall for all eternity.) We had several plumbing issues in the house. The drain pipe for the tub had multiple kinks in it, which caused the water to drain slowly and be more easily clogged. This would have been a major overhaul to get new plumbing installed in a way that was more direct.

The electric in the house was in need of work. We fixed quite a few electric-related-things while we owned it, but re-wiring the house was a major expense that would’ve come due in a few years.

TENANT ACQUISITION

The house was in great condition, had a big lot, was in a located close to the downtown area, and was on several bus routes (I even had a bus driver stop and ask me what the rent was on the house while I was working out front). It seemed like a great investment. We had several showings to qualified individuals….. who then went home, researched the house, and saw that it was in the highest crime area on Trulia’s crime map.

After sitting on the market for 5 weeks, we lowered our standards. There’s a reason you have standards as a landlord – it’s because if you select the right tenant, you’re saving yourself time, money, and headaches in the future. Here’s the email from our property manager. There are multiple red flags, and yet we gave her a chance.

The prospective tenant provided us with an employment verification letter showing that she had just started a new job, her most recent pay stub corroborating the employment verification letter, and wrote a decent introduction in her application. Between it being 5 weeks with no tenant and it now being mid-August (with it harder to rent in the Fall), we overlooked her credit score of FOUR HUNDRED AND FORTY EIGHT (448) and SEVEN (7) accounts sent to collections. I don’t recommend you do this. Oops.


EVICTION

This is the fun part to recount. It’s detailed, but I think it’s interesting.

RENT COLLECTION

She moved in August 2017. By December 2017, we already had enough issues that she wasn’t going to be trusted going forward. We’re very flexible landlords, and we’re happy to work with you on any issues as long as they’re communicated up front and timely (meaning, if we have to continuously reach out to you for rent, you’re not in a position to ask for favors).

We had allowed PayPal to be used to pay rent, but every month there was an issue. She either sent it in a way that incurred fees (after being told that she would be responsible for such fees) or it was sent in a manner that caused PayPal to hold the funds and not immediately release them. After December’s rent was late, the late fee wasn’t paid in full, and there were fees taken out by PayPal, we cut her off from electronic payments. Our property manager informed her that going forward, all rent had to be received by her office (either by mail or drop off) before the 5th.

Speaking of flexibilities – we noticed that she needed to send us rent based on each pay check, versus having all the rent money at the beginning of the month. She was paying us a late fee every month. Her rent was $775, and her late fee was $77.50. That meant every month, we were collecting $852.50, which really wasn’t necessary. We offered a change to her lease terms – rent was due on the 1st and 15th. As compensation on our part, rent would be increased to $800, split into two $400 payments. However, if rent was late, the late fee was now 10% of the late payment ($40) or up to $80 if she was late on both installments. She agreed to this, as it saved her money each month and set her up for success by being able to set up a system with each of her paychecks. We didn’t like that our relationship with the tenant had come to us hounding her over money, so we thought this was the best path forward for both sides of the party. Here’s the addendum to her lease.

And yet this didn’t change anything!! The addendum was signed at the end of January 2018. She paid February’s 1st $400 late. Then she didn’t pay February’s 2nd $400, and we had to reach out to her several times before even getting a response… after she also didn’t pay March’s 1st $400.

Our property manager filed unlawful detainer (eviction) with the court, and that got the tenant’s attention. She then had to pay the balance due, as well as the court filing fee, before March 30th (court appearance date) to dismiss the court action. She showed up to court with the cash to pay and then everyone just went home. You can’t evict someone who has paid in full, even if the process of collecting rent was unnecessarily burdensome.

And then came April. There was another story about a medical emergency and a new job on the books. We had agreed to a new one-time schedule for April’s rent payment, and she missed those deadlines and was incommunicado. We sent her another default notice on April 25. Note that this medical emergency was for her “husband.” This is the first that she had implicated herself that someone may be living in the house other than her and her son. She paid her balance owed on May 4th.

On May 8, she was given another eviction warning notice for lack of May rent (the 1st $400) and gave no response to requests for information on when to expect rent. After continued lack of payment after that notice, she was served with another eviction notice. On May 17, she was given 30-days notice to vacate the premises by June 17, 2018 at 5:00 pm. But then she paid in full and on time. We then changed her lease terms to state she was on a month-to-month basis and she would be granted 30 days notice when we (or she) decided to terminate the lease agreement. It was signed on July 16.

Guess what? She didn’t pay September’s rent. At this time, we also addressed her husband.

She was married when she applied, but we didn’t know. Just now as I was looking back through our files to write this post, I saw that her pay stub she used for employment verification said that she was filing her taxes as married. I hadn’t seen that before. In all our visits to the house, there were always other people there. There was one man that seemed to be around 90% of the time. We overlooked it, but our lease did stipulate that anyone who stayed for more than 2 weeks was required to pass a background check and be on the lease. I strongly suspect that this individual was not going to pass a background check, which is why it was never disclosed to us that she was married and another adult was living there. Our property manager informed her that only she and her son were on the lease, and that if anyone else was living there, they had to be on the lease. She asked if we were referring to her mother-in-law visiting, our property manager said that it appeared to be her husband was living there, and then she ignored us.

We gave her our 30 days notice on October 5 to vacate, meaning she had to be out by November 5. Our property manager reached out to her on October 26 to see if she would be out earlier and set a time for key pick up. The tenant nonchalantly stated she wouldn’t be able to make it out by the 5th and she’ll be out by the 9th. Umm, excuse me, ma’am, but that’s not how this works. We held strong to the 5th and she lost it. Our property manager said that her lease is over on the 5th, and if she was not gone by then, the court fees would be her responsibility for us to get the court and local police department involved for her removal. She got angry and claimed that we didn’t handle the rental well at all, that we couldn’t charge her any court fees, and that she should charge us for not being able to use her tub because it was clogged (guess what on this one? The plumber removed things like a dental floss pick from the drain, immediately making it her fault (and at her cost) for said clog). She then said: “Lets just hope your (sic) as speedy with my deposit as you all were with terminating the lease.” I laughed out loud on this one just now. We should have terminated her lease an entire year before this discussion happened, but we kept working with her! Hysterical! Gosh, and to think this wasn’t our worst eviction process (more to come :)).

SELLING

A friend-of-a-friend was attempting to purchase a house in the same neighborhood as this house, and they ran into multiple issues causing them to walk away from other deals. Mr. ODA approached him with an opportunity to sell this house, which had similar specs to the one that they were pursuing. The buyer spoke to his wife and father about the deal and agreed to move forward. Of course, this deal was not easy.

The contract was ratified on October 31, 2018. We didn’t close until January 8, 2019. Our typical close time on our purchases is 4 weeks. We’ve done faster, and we may have done a bit longer if the time of month lined up better for our finances, but over 2 months was horrendous. Since our tenant was moving out on 11/5, and the closing was expected to be no later than November 30th, we didn’t pursue finding a tenant.

The appraisal was late being ordered, which was somehow allowable. Then it came in at the beginning of December at $65,000; our contract was for $68,000. We split the difference ($1000 from the buyer, $1000 from the seller, $1000 from the agent who was dual representing).

On December 18, our Realtor finally pushed back on the buyer’s side of the transaction to get things done. But it was Christmas time now. With so many offices closing for the end of the year, we weren’t able to get a closing date until the first week of January. The buyers were signing paperwork from Pennsylvania, which caused more delays because of having to send the paperwork back and forth for everyone’s signatures.

We sold in January 2019 for $67,000, after having purchased it for $60k just 18 months earlier. While this seems like a great deal, it’s not an automatic $7k in our pockets. You need to account for our closing costs from the purchase and sale (about $6,500), loss of rent for two months while trying to close the sale and the 6 weeks of no tenant when we purchased it, utility costs associated with vacant times, and costs to fix things around the house during our ownership. However, during that time, we had a tenant paying our mortgage (covering the loan interest and paying down the principal), and we were collecting more rent than projected because of her continued late payments.

1031 EXCHANGE

We made the decision not to pursue a 1031 exchange on this house. A 1031 continues to defer the depreciation to the next property, and it allows capital gains to be deferred. Based on current tax law, it can be done infinite times. However, there are extra lawyers and fees that come into play, so it becomes worth it when you have big dollars at stake, and that you have another property to purchase quite quickly after selling the first one.

The appreciation on the house was minimal given that it had only been 18 months since purchase, we had two sets of closing costs to add to the cost basis, and we hadn’t earmarked a place for that money to go upon selling. Plus, the cost of an intermediary would continue to eat into the “profit” versus tax paid, so we just went ahead and planned to pay capital gains taxes on it. Unfortunately, since we had depreciated the structure and the fridge over the prior 18 months, that paper money had to be brought back into the fold when calculating our taxes the following April. That’s several thousands of hidden money that is easy to forget about.

Depreciation is a great tax break when you own the property. The IRS assumes the value of your asset is being reduced by wear and tear and father time. This is true. It’s why if a landlord neglects the property and isn’t active with maintenance, renovations, and other replacements, the property will turn into a trash-heap in time. However, when you sell the property, you show the IRS that it in fact did not do that. If someone is willing to buy my property for more than I bought it for, then it obviously didn’t depreciate to a lesser value. I have to pay the IRS back for the depreciation assumptions that I was allowed to make over the time I owned it, plus pay the tax on the actual profits. Bummer, but logical.


In summary, we bought a cheap house and got a poor tenant. We had a TON of headaches with that tenant. We had to do a few house/yard projects over the ownership life of the property, but nothing worrisome and not already built into our numbers. Somehow, we made it work that eventually the tenant always paid up and then some (late fees). We made mistakes, we learned lessons. We figured out a set of streets to avoid for future purchases, learned how to sell an investment, and learned how to file taxes on an investment property sale. The story is fun to look back on. I’m glad we experienced what we did. But I don’t want to do it again.