House 12 & 13

Surprisingly, I didn’t cover all our houses in posts last year. I was going to say, “let’s finish this up,” but we’ve since purchased #14! This is a long post. I tried to separate the stories, but since they were part of the same purchase, it was too convoluted to decide which story went with which house.

We spent the summer of 2019 living in Lexington, KY. Mr. ODA took a temporary job for 3 months, and we spent our summer looking for more rental properties to try another market. The housing costs in central Kentucky were less than central Virginia, but the rental rates were also lower.

We drove around with our Realtor for quite some time. We were hoping to find a multi-door complex. However, 4-8 door units have just not been well taken care of. We take care of our houses, and I didn’t want to inherit all the deferred maintenance of a poor landlord. Many of the places had long-term tenants, so there wouldn’t be a vacancy to ease getting work done either. Additionally, there were several that we saw where the tenant was home, smoking and telling us all that was wrong with the property. It was abysmal.

So after searching through many other options, we settled on two houses at the same time.

FIRST OFFER

Mr. ODA actually made an offer on a house in Winchester that I hadn’t seen. It was a large house that had been converted into 2 units. Mr. ODA and our Realtor went after work one day, and it wasn’t worth me packing up the baby and driving a half hour to meet them for one house. However, I did get to see some of it because I took on the home inspection appointment. Since I had never walked through the house, it was easy for me to objectively see the information on the inspection and convince Mr. ODA to walk away. There was just too many big-ticket items (e.g., not enough head room for stairs, water damage not properly cleaned up in multiple rooms, several code violations) and deferred maintenance that it wasn’t worth us putting the money into it. The tenants were sitting on the porch smoking during the inspection, and I didn’t love the idea of inherited tenants that were allowed to smoke in the house.

SECOND OFFER

I can’t tell the history of these purchases without this gem of a story. Mr. ODA found a house that was in a decent shape in Winchester.

Aside: We focused on Winchester because while the rent income was low, the housing cost was also low. Whereas in Lexington, the rent was low, but the housing prices were higher.

We made an offer on the house. In the offer, it lists the seller’s name. It was a State Senator! When we sent over the offer, the seller’s agent agreed to our details, but asked for a pre-approval letter before he’d sign. The amount of weight the people in Kentucky put on a pre-approval letter is absurd, in my opinion. We went through the effort to get the letter and send it over. About that same time, the seller’s agent said someone else came in with a better offer, so we could either submit our highest and best offer, or lose the deal. The sketchiness of the action floored us.

The house had been on the market for a month. We had a verbal agreement (that had even been put in writing, but not yet signed). What are the odds that someone came in at the same time as us with an offer over asking for a house on the market a month? We called his bluff, and we were wrong.

THIRD AND FORTH OFFERS – UNDER CONTRACT

In August 2019, we went under contract on two houses in Winchester, KY.

Property12 had been owner occupied and flipped to sell. The owner had lived there long enough that she wouldn’t Docusign the contract, and we had to wait for her to initial, sign, and date all the pages by hand. The house had been listed for 36 days when we made the offer. It was listed at $115,000, and we went under contract at $112,000 with $2,000 in seller subsidy (closing costs) on 8/7. It’s a 3 bed, 2 bath ranch at 1120 sf.

We received the home inspection on 8/14. We asked for the items below to be addressed, or to take $1000 off the purchase price. They agreed to fix the issues.

Property13 had been listed for nearly 3 months before we made an offer. It had been most recently listed at $105,500. Our offer was for $102,000 with $2,000 seller subsidy. We also included the following requirement in the contract: Seller agrees to remediate the water and mold in the crawl space, fix the down spout next to the crawl space door so that it channels the water away from the home, replace the missing gutter on the front of the house, and repair the rotted facia and sheathing on the front of the house.

Additionally, we had a home inspection on the house and identified the following items for them to repair.

Getting the sellers to identify that these items were done before closing was not an easy task. We checked the day that closing was originally schedule for and noted that several things were not complete.

Then, at 7:30 pm the night before closing (which had already been delayed a week), we received one receipt identifying a couple of things were done. Eventually we received documentation that it was taken care of.

LOAN DETAILS

The options we typically ask for when considering the direction of our loan are as follows.

We chose the 25% down – 30 yr fixed option for both properties. Our goal is to not pay points, so that led us to the 25% down options. Since there was no incentive to take a shorter term (thereby increasing your monthly mortgage payments and decreasing your cash flow), we chose the 30 year option.

These loans were originated in September 2019. We processed multiple cash-out-refinances on some of our properties in December 2021; we used it to pay off about $66k on Property12 and about $74k on Property13.

LOAN PROCESSING & DELAYED CLOSING

We had a lender that we loved in Virginia. She couldn’t cover loans in Kentucky, but the company itself had a branch that could do it. She referred us to someone in Kentucky. It was the worst experience I’ve had in closings. Our closings are always annoyingly stressful in that last week, but this was bad throughout the month and then bad enough that our closing was delayed a week – completely due to the loan officer’s inability to manage the loan.

We had multiple issues over the course of the week we initiated our relationship just accessing the disclosures. They kept telling us to sign things we didn’t receive, or they’d tell us our access code and then when I say it doesn’t work, act like they never told us different information and give new information.

On August 16, I had to tell the loan officer that one of the addresses was wrong. THE ADDRESS. On August 26, we received conditional approval of our loan from underwriting. On August 27, we received our appraisal with no issues noted. But at that point, our August 30 closing was delayed a week already.

That’s where the problem was – our appraisal was ordered late, had to be rushed, and still didn’t make it in time for them to develop the Closing Disclosure (CD) and get us to a closing on August 30. The loan officer never once acknowledged that he ordered the appraisals late, causing this delay. It took asking for timelines from his supervisor, and piecing together emails we had on hand, to show that it was his fault.

On August 29, I finally made contact with the loan officer’s supervisor and was rerouted to someone else to get the job done. I had to repeat all of our issues and the errors that were found on the CDs.

On September 3, I was given disclosures that were still wrong. The new loan officer claimed that what she put in the system was correct, so she wasn’t sure what was wrong, causing me to once again outline all the errors.

On September 4, I was asked for more documentation that wasn’t caught during underwriting. I was furious.

On September 5, I gave up talking to our lender about issues on the CD and spoke directly to the Title Attorney’s office, who was much more knowledgable and responsive. Here’s an example of what I’m questioning when I look over a CD. Some of these seem small (e.g., $4 difference, $25 difference), but you can see how these add up, both on a single transaction and when we’re processing several homes in one year. Not to mention – why pay more for something than you were quoted or you’re supposed to?

Another surprise that came our way was a “Seller Agent Fee” for $149 per transaction. At no point in time was an additional fee disclosed to us by our Realtor. A typical transaction has 6% commission paid by the seller, which is traditionally split 3% and 3% for the buyer and seller representation. Being that these were Rentals #12 and 13, in addition to 2 personal residences we had purchased, imagine the surprise when we, as buyers, were being charged for representation. We questioned why this wasn’t disclosed to us up front as a Re/Max requirement, and it was taken off our CD.

CLOSING DAY

I had planned to leave town the Friday after the original closing date because that was the last date that we had our apartment. I didn’t want to move me and the baby into my in-laws house and continue the poor sleep we had been dealing with by not being at home. So even though closing was delayed, I left. Mr. ODA had to be my power of attorney. He had to sign his name, write a blurb, and then sign my name on ALL those papers that are part of a closing….. times two. Eek. I didn’t know that at the time (but baby went back to sleeping perfectly once we were home, so it was worth my sanity 🙂 ).

At 11:30 am on closing day, the lender claimed that the power of attorney documents (from the lawyer…) were not complete enough to be counted as filed on their end. I appreciated the snip from the attorney when questioned.

I always wondered why tv shows always showed both at the closing table with a ceremonious passing of the key. We’ve had our share of weird closings (in a closet, in a parking lot, at our dining room table), but we never sat at the table with the seller in Virginia. We were so confused about how specific the closing attorney was being about the closing time options, and then we found out that the seller and buyer are at the table together in Kentucky. The seller for Property12 was so rude to Mr. ODA through the transaction! She kept grilling him on whether he addressed the utilities. The seller shouldn’t be allowed to talk to the buyer! We’ve since been able to process 3 transactions in Kentucky and avoid the seller at the table, but I’d like to advocate that Kentucky move away from this buyer/seller meeting process!

RENTAL HISTORIES

Property12 was listed at $895 on 10/2. Based on my birds-eye-view of the area, I thought $1000 was going to be easy to rent it at. Based on the 1% Rule that we had followed in Virginia, we should have a goal of $1,100 per month. However, we were trying for a Fall lease, which is more difficult than a Spring lease, so I thought listing at $995 would get quick movement instead of letting it sit for too long. Our property manager disagreed. She also said we were limited our pool of candidates by not allowing smokers; but, the whole house is carpeted and I was not budging on that.

We found a tenant on October 16 and allowed her to move in right away, but not start paying rent until November 1 if she agreed to an 18 month lease (we really wanted to be on a Spring renewal going forward). That was an unfortunate blow to our expectations – nearly two whole months without rental income on a house we didn’t need to do any work to.

We increased rent to $950 as of 6/1/2022 after no previous increases.


Property13 was listed for rent at $995 with no movement. We dropped to $875 and offered free October rent for however long was remaining in the month. A lease was established on 10/18/2019. Our property manager was supposed to establish an 18 month lease and didn’t. Luckily, the tenant agreed to a 6 month extension.

Property13 renewal came in April 2022. She had balked about the state of our economy in 2021, and we backed off the proposed increase at that time. Well, all the jurisdictions finally jumped on the increased assessments, and we saw a drastic increase in our costs. We told her that the new offer for a year lease is $950, which is higher than we’d typically increase in one year ($75 instead of $50). But we told her that we were willing to let her walk if she didn’t agree to it since she originally negotiated a lower cost and argued an increase at the 18 month mark, which we let go. She tried to fight it, but our property manager told her to check the rental options in the area to see that she’s still getting a deal. She agreed to the increase.

MAINTENANCE HISTORIES

Property12 requires a new heat pump in June 2021. We paid $3900 for a whole new system, which is a funnily low number just a year later.

The tenant there complained of high water bills. I asked to see a history of the water bills to know how much was considered higher than their average usage. The property manager agreed that the toilet was running and causing higher bills, but also admitted that they attempted to fix the toilet twice over a 3 week period, with multiple days between receiving a maintenance request and taking action. While I agreed that we could compensate her for the issue, I couldn’t quite pinpoint why this was my financial burden and neither the tenant’s nor the property manager’s. I followed up with more information from the property manager with questions like: Why did it take the tenant from 9/20 until 10/11 to identify the issue still remained and that there was a waste of water? They indicated that they believe they made a good faith effort to address the issues as reported. I eventually settled on a $25 concession on one month’s rent.

Property13 had several issues with the hot water installation that were eventually resolved, which was frustrating after we tried to manage issues with the hot water heater through the home inspection process and received documentation as if it was complete. The tenant requested pest control in July 2020 claiming that a vacant house next door caused an increase in pests. I was frustrated because that’s not how it works. I approved treatment at that time, and then she came back with another request in October. Luckily, I haven’t heard about pests since then. In my Virginia leases, we’ll handle some pest control requests, but if there are roach issues once a tenant has been there for some time, we don’t typically pay for that type of treatment.

SUMMARY

All in all, these tenants have been pretty quiet. They ask for random maintenance things here and there, but they’re not usually big-ticket items (except that HVAC replacement!). Our property manager has been more difficult than the tenants.

Being that we were used to the 1% Rule when we purchased these houses, it’s unfortunate that even at 3 years in, we’re not renting it at 1% of our purchase prices. Our cash-on-cash isn’t completely accurate right now because I won’t see our taxes for this year for another month or two. Being that jurisdictions kept the tax amount steady through the pandemic, I’m expecting to see an increase in assessments for this year. I’ve also seen big increases in our home insurance policies, so that will probably eat into our cash flow as well. Our cash-on-cash analysis on Property12 is about 6.5%, and it’s about 7.5% on Property13. These numbers are only slightly lower than our expectation/desire, with our average being about 8%.

In the upcoming year, we’re going to look to get rid of our property manager, so these houses may begin needing more attention from us. It’s been hard to take on more when paying a property manager has been a sunk cost at this point. However, the frustration of managing their management (e.g., making sure charges are correct, not getting a full picture of what work is being done, and then paying them a significant amount of management money and leasing money only for them to claim that checking on the property requires additional fees) has led to us wanting to take it on since we’re in town now. The current lease terms are up in April and May, so if we’re going to take on management, it should be before the possibility of paying them half a month’s rent for leasing it (not to mention they’re notoriously 4-6 weeks out in every leasing attempt they’ve done for us, whereas I’ve never had an issue getting a property leased within a week).

April Financial Update

The market has recovered a good bit, so our net worth jumped. Our retirement accounts were at an intriguing low, but they’re back on track now. We also saw a few sales in the neighborhoods where our rentals are, so that increased our net worth based on the comps. We added a new property over the course of the last month as well.

NEW HOUSE IN OUR PORTFOLIO

We closed on a new house on March 24th. We worked on it for a few days, I held an open house, and we were able to get it rented as of April 8th. We had 16 days of vacancy. While showing it, most people were looking for a May or June start date, so we were lucky someone qualified for an April date. Back in 2016-2019, we were looking to follow the “1% Rule.” That means that if you buy a house for $100,000, your goal is to set rent at least $1,000 per month. This house isn’t even close. This market doesn’t allow for such a goal anymore because housing prices are soaring. The next goal would be to list for about $1/square foot. This house is 2100 square feet, but since the upstairs has smallish rooms and the basement is all open, we thought it wasn’t really worth pushing for $1/sf.

We bought it for $240k net, and ended up renting it at $1750. I wanted $1800, Mr. ODA wanted $1695, and when I went to list it, Zillow suggested $1750, so we went with that. Multiple people commented on how they appreciated the price, so we may have been able to get $1800 without an issue. I’m happy to have it rented, and I think these people are going to take good care of the house.

RENTALS

We put more money towards the house that we’ve been paying off, which is owned with a partner. We put our half towards it ($8,500), and it has a balance of about $600 now. The pay off quote required us to pay the anticipated taxes that will be paid out of escrow in May. We didn’t appreciate that, so we just went ahead and paid it down. We’ll let the May mortgage payment go through, wait for the taxes to get paid out of escrow in mid-May, and then pay it off. That’ll make 7 houses that are owned outright! But that also means I need to stay on top of insurance and tax payments.

We were just informed that one of our properties in Lexington that’s under a property manager hasn’t paid rent. She said it’s unlike them and that they aren’t even responding. She’s going to go to the house tomorrow to check on the situation. Since we’re paid a month after rent is received, this hasn’t affected us. A neighbor reported that they were moving out last month, but the tenant denied it. Perhaps they abandoned the property.

Once again, our two usual suspects didn’t pay rent on time. However, both of them actually made a better effort than they have been. One has paid this month’s rent in full, but has a balance of $286.31 (seriously…) to make up several late fees. I’m happy to waive late fees when it’s someone who communicates and isn’t always a fight to collect rent, but I’m holding this one to the balance owed. Another one told me that they wouldn’t pay until the last Friday of the month. I drafted an email to tell them that this is unacceptable because it’s been several months that they’re paying this late, and we need to work towards getting back to paying rent at the beginning of the month. Right after I drafted that, she sent half of this month’s rent. Better than nothing!

SPENDING CHANGES

Over the past month, we didn’t go out to restaurants very much. We haven’t been traveling because my family came into town for our daughter’s birthday party, and then I’ve been working on the weekend. Most of our spending went to gas (going back and forth to Lexington (half hour drive) multiple times per week!) and expenses to get the new house ready for a tenant.

I’m flying to my sister’s baby shower next month, so that another large and unusual expense on our credit cards ($250).

SUMMARY

We still have our state taxes to get paid. We went through the process of entering all our taxes, but we haven’t hit submit just yet. Surprisingly, we’re expecting a refund from the Federal side. The amount owed and the refund basically end up as a wash.

Our new property’s loan is a commercial loan, so it doesn’t get paid on the typical mortgage schedule, but on the 1 month anniversary of the opening. Therefore, the next payment is due on 4/24, and there’s no “1 month without a payment” type thing.

Clearly, our cash balance dropped significantly since last month because we had the closing. That was about $46k that we wired out, which was the expectation when we completed all the maneuvering with the cash out refinances in January. Our credit cards reflect our lower spending too, coming in about half what the balances were last month.

Filing Taxes

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

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

DC TAXES

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

STEP 1

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

STEP 2

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

STEP 3

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

STEP 4

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

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

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

SUMMARY

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

House 11

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

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

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

LOAN TERMS

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

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

PARTNERSHIP

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

PREPARING TO RENT

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

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

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

FIRST TENANTS

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

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

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

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

SECOND TENANTS

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

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

MAINTENANCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

SUMMARY

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

House 10: Creating a Partner

This house was purchased in 2018, and it was actually purchased by our Realtor and friend, under the plan that we would formalize the partnership after closing. Mr. ODA had been searching for another investment property, but we had 10 mortgages already (9 investment properties and our personal home), which is a Fannie Mae cap (see the Selling Guide, section B2-2-03). One of our loans was a commercial loan, and we had hoped that it didn’t count against the 10 mortgage limit, but it did. Fannie says that the cap is the number of properties being financed, regardless of type, when looking to originate a new loan. Our Realtor had one rental property on his own and had mentioned how he wanted to purchase more properties to create an income stream through that option.

Mr. ODA and our partner went to see the house without me in March 2018. After the initial visit to see the house, they requested the information for the tenant that was living there. We received their applications, current lease, move in check list, and rent roll. They had started living there October 1, 2015, and while they had been late, they had always eventually paid rent with the late fee. During some of our initial searches, we had someone tell us that rent on the 6th was more profitable because they’re pay with a late fee. While we don’t encourage late payments (and we’re actually really lenient with late fees in general), this eased our tension when we saw late payments.

The house is a 4 bedroom, 2 bath, with a fully finished basement. The condition of the house was probably slightly lower than what I would have accepted based on the pictures, but I hadn’t seen the house in person. I actually had only seen one room of this house before our walkthroughs this past July. Our partner and Mr. ODA said that the pictures didn’t do the house justice, and it was worth purchasing.

After our partner purchased the house in April 2018, we established a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC). My last post goes through the details of why we established an LLC for joint ownership, but we don’t use LLCs for our personally owned properties at this point.

LOAN TERMS

We requested three different options for the mortgage numbers: A) 20 year fixed with 20% down was 5.125%; B) 20 year fixed with 25% down was 4.75%; or C) 30 year fixed with 25% down was 4.875%.

All of the options included ‘points’ without us being told upfront or requesting it. We questioned the reason for the quotes having these points and were given a half-hearted response that sounded sketchy. We ended up with a 30 year fixed, no points, and a rate of 4.875%. There wasn’t an incentive to go with a shorter loan (and therefore a higher payment each month) at a higher rate just to put 20% down. We went for the 30 year instead of the 20 year to increase our cash flow opportunity since we have a partner on the house and are only getting 50% of the income and taxable expenses.

PARTNERSHIP

Our partnership actually started with a loan for the down payment of this house. Mr. ODA and our partner agreed to allow us to pay him back over time for our 50% of the closing costs. We didn’t have the amount needed liquid, but we knew we could make up the amount owed over a short period of time instead of liquidating money from our investment accounts. We were able to pay most of what was needed for his closing, but we “took” a loan from him for $8,000. I used a loan agreement template that I found online and manipulated it for our purposes.

We established the loan terms to be the same as the mortgage he was entering into (4.875%). Most personal loans are for five years, so we chose that timeframe, even though we knew we’d pay it off much earlier than that. We could have just agreed to the terms and not documented it based on our relationship, but I’ve always felt better having things overly documented. I was basically an auditor in my career, and I’ve seen how “gentlemen’s agreements” over rental-related things haven’t worked out. I formalized the process through this contract and had all of us sign it. While the contract was mostly for our partner’s benefit (to make sure we paid him and he received interest), this was the only documentation we had that once he closed on the house, he then had to give us 50% share of the property ownership.

I established a simple amortization schedule through Excel’s templates. We established the loan terms as 5 years (60 months) at 4.875% (same as the mortgage being executed). When I made extra payments to him, I logged them in the spreadsheet. We only made two payments to him, but he made $44 for not having to do anything except accept our money. 🙂

We had to establish an LLC to be able to claim the tax benefits on this house for our 50% share. The attorney required us to have the tenants acknowledge the transfer of ownership to the LLC since we hadn’t executed a new lease in our names. The attorney then took care of the establishment of the LLC with the State and transferring the deed of this house to the LLC.

RENT COLLECTION

We’ve had the same tenants since we purchased the house. We inherited the tenants, who had moved in 2.5 years before we purchased it, and had rent established at $1300.

As a reminder, we purchased the house in April 2018. They paid that July’s rent late, and despite reminders about the late fee, they didn’t pay it. And so began this constant story with them. The main frustration was that they wouldn’t tell us to expect rent to be late, so we kept having to follow up with them. After two months in a row of it being late at the beginning of 2019, Mr. ODA actually explicitly said: In the future, it’s better to communicate issues with rent payment up front to see if there’s an opportunity for us to work with you. We had been lenient and informally requesting the status of rent, but this was their warning that we’d be sending notices of default going forward.

In January 2021, we hit a wall with rent payment. I sent the notice of default on the 6th of the month like usual. However, because of the pandemic, I had to adjust my verbiage to highlight all the rent relief options available and remove the late fee requirement. My understanding is that a late fee can still be collected in Virginia, but I can’t proceed with eviction just because they don’t pay the late fee portion (which isn’t something we’ve ever held any tenant to regardless). While the rent payment is typically due within 5 days from notice, Virginia now required me to give them 14 days to request a payment plan or pay rent owed. We then had to text and email them several times and never got a response. I finally sent an email with the following at the beginning:

We are very flexible landlords and willing to work with all our tenants. However, we are unable to work with anyone who does not preemptively share possible rent payment delays nor respond to requests for information. Please respond to this email by noon Sunday January 24, 2021 or pay the rent owed by that deadline to prevent proceedings for eviction filing with the court. 

Virginia was very lenient with rent payment throughout the pandemic, but they were also fair. The lack of response from a tenant or the tenant not working with the landlord didn’t protect them from eviction. I finally got a response that the rent would be paid that week.

Since then, we’ve been told that rent will be late. We’re simply sent an email that says “you’ll receive rent on 2/12. Sorry for the inconvenience.” It’s as if they feel they have the upper hand and control. We hadn’t received any late fees until I finally sent an email in response to their “you’ll receive rent when we get to it” email for August’s rent that there’s a late fee due.

In 3 years, they’ve been late 14 times. When I put it in that perspective, it doesn’t seem that bad. In the moment, it seems like it’s a constant battle with this house. That’s probably because a majority of our houses pay rent without making it a painful process!

RENT INCREASE

We hadn’t raised rent in the 3 years we owned the house, and they had been paying $1300 since they moved in on October 1, 2015. That’s a great deal for them! Depending on our ownership costs, we would typically look at raising rent every 2 years, and likely around $50. We’ve raised the rent on only 2 tenant-occupied houses we have (meaning, raised the rent on people who continued living there, versus raising it between tenants); both were rented under market value when we inherited the house, and both have received a $50 increase every two years. We typically raise the rent during vacancy times, which has worked out pretty well for most of our other properties.

For a 4 bedroom and 2 bath house, $1300 is low. We mulled over our options. The house is currently on an October 1st renewal, which is a poor time to be looking for new tenants. I wanted to get the house on a spring lease moving forward. My original proposal to our partner and Mr. ODA was to offer them a 6 month lease (ending 3/31/22) at $1400. Our partner said we should include our expectation that we’ll be raising the rent to $1500 for a year long renewal as of 4/1/22. I struggled for weeks on the verbiage for this double proposal. Eventually, Mr. ODA said we should just risk it. We should lay out an 18 month lease at $1450 to split the difference, and if they don’t want it, they can leave or attempt to negotiate.

We offered them just that, and they accepted. Of course, true to form, they were a week late in meeting the deadline to sign the selection that they want to continue living there at the increased amount. Now the rent will be $1450 as of October 1, 2021, and their lease will run through March 31, 2023.

MAINTENANCE

We started with a clogged drain right off the bat. We had our partner go over there and try to unclog it with store-bought items, but it didn’t work. We ended up hiring a plumber for $300 to work on it. We’ve had several plumbing issues in this house, including a clogged sink that backed up and flooded the kitchen and basement. We ended up needing to have the line jet blasted and a camera put through it for $550! This plumber’s quote for the ‘fix’ was $6k. Mr. ODA sent the video footage to another plumber, and that guy said he didn’t see that anything was needed, so we didn’t proceed with the ‘fix.’ The jet blasting appears to have worked, and we haven’t had any damage reported. The other plumbing issues included fixing leaks in the basement bathroom and replacing that toilet.

The inspection didn’t identify active leaking on the roof, but our insurance company was hounding us over the condition of it. We ended up sending our roofer out there to do the items that came up on the inspection report. This was $350.

We then had several more issues with the roof that cost us $125 before we just decided to replace it. The replacement was quoted at $5,500 and surprisingly that’s what we paid. We expected to have additional costs for plywood replacement due to all the damage we had seen.

Interestingly, while not communicating about rent nor paying rent, they felt the need to tell us the washing machine wasn’t working. We ended up replacing the washing machine for them. We try to not supply any non-required appliances because then it’s on us to fix them or replace them, but since the tenants already lived there when we bought the house, we inherited that the washer and dryer are our responsibility. More interestingly, as I was writing this post and going through my receipts, it dawned on me that the washing machine that was in the house when I did my walkthrough last month isn’t the one that we just sent them in February.


While collecting rent has been frustrating with this house, and we’ve had a lot of plumbing and roof expenses, the house is still profitable and worth our investment. The house is in an area of Richmond that’s being revitalized, yet at the same time it’s in its own pocket of the city that’s also protected from big changes and is mostly original owners. Appreciation has really taken off, so even though our maintenance issues have eaten big chunks out of our cash flow, this house will be well worth it when we eventually sell it and move on to a new investment.

House 4: Small, but it works

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

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

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

LOAN

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

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

TENANT SEARCH

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

On the form, we list our standards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

MAINTENANCE AND REPAIRS

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

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

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

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

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