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 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).


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.


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.

House #1: Off market purchase

Our first investment purchase was a townhome in central Kentucky (while living in Virginia) in February 2016.

At this point, we had purchased and sold our first primary residence, and had purchased a new construction home. Our first home sold for $62,500 more than what we purchased it for and we walked away from the sale with over $130,000. Our new home needed about $70k for closing, leaving $60k that we wanted to use for investment properties.


Mr. ODA’s brother-in-law had purchased a foreclosed townhome while he was in college and rented a room out to his friend – excellent forethought and financial decision making there! When him and his wife got married, they were ready to look into a home with more space and less stairs, so we offered to purchase the house. About 2.5 years after he had purchased it, we set him up to make $16,500.

Their Realtor suggested listing at $90-95k. The comparable sales in the area were suggesting 95-100k, but the townhouse in question had a lower PVA than the others recently sold. There was another townhome in the community listed for sale at $100k, but it had been on the market for 4 months at that time, meaning the market wasn’t interested in it at that price. Additionally, this deal was being done off market, which automatically yields a higher net for the seller because there were no Realtor commissions and minimizes the risk of a listing. They didn’t need to get it ‘show ready’ or have to leave the house for an indefinite number of showings. We removed the uncertainty of how long the house would be listed and therefore how many mortgage payments they’d still be paying before it sold. We also eliminated the possibility of an appraisal and home inspection negotiation during the contract period. For all those reasons, we offered $85,000. We settled on $87,000 with $2,000 in seller-paid-closing-costs. A family member, who’s a lawyer, sent us a template for a contract, so we used that as a starting point, and I wrote up our own contract.

We first looked into a loan assumption. We started with several questions regarding how he was paying PMI (whether we’d have to assume the PMI, whether the PMI would be recalculated for the new appraised value based on our purchase, and whether there would be a penalty if we paid down the balance faster to eliminate the PMI), how the loan balance would transfer cleanly, and whether they needed to cash out escrow. After asking all these types of questions, we learned that PNC wouldn’t allow a loan assumption of an FHA loan since our intent was to use it as an investment property.

We did not do our own home inspection. We figured the HOA would cover the exterior, and we reviewed the home inspection he had completed two years prior. There had been a few upgrades since the initial home inspection, and there wasn’t anything that needed our immediate attention. We bought a new washer and dryer since the unit didn’t have any, and I painted most of it before it was listed for rent.


Both sides of the transaction were able to sign the purchase contract electronically. We went through the whole loan processing without having to visit Kentucky. The attorney shipped the loan documents to us, we invited a notary over to watch us sign the papers, and then we FedEx’d the papers back to the loan officer for the sellers to sign.

While the closing itself went smoothly, we had several issues with our loan provider.

Our loan was a portfolio loan, which means that it’s a loan on the primary market and not backed by Fannie/Freddie. The interest rate was 4.5%; it was amortized over 30 years, but it had a balloon payment after 10 years. We paid careful attention to this loan (e.g., made many, frequent principal payments) because that meant we’d owe over $59k in 10 years.

It was amortized by 365/360 Rule (i.e., by the day) rather than the way it works in a traditional mortgage (annual rate divided by 12). In a traditional mortgage, the principal and interest difference is based on an annual APR, which creates a consistent amortization that gradually reduces the amount of interest in each month’s payment compared to the principal that will be paid. In the 365/360 Rule, each month’s principal and interest applied to the loan is different because it’s based on the number of days in the individual month. For example, in March, we paid February’s 28 days of interest, and in April, we paid March’s 31 days of interest; therefore, more of our March payment was applied to principal.

Here’s a snapshot of the amortization schedule, reflecting the changes of interest and principal by month.

The bank’s system was antiquated in that we could not make online payments unless we had a bank account with their bank. Being that this bank was in Kentucky while we lived in Virginia, we weren’t interested in opening a bank account and funding it just to pay this loan. This meant that all of our payments had to be sent by check to their location for keyed entry. The people responsible for entering these payments were not aware of the principal-only concept, and we spent almost the entire first year of the loan having to call every single time we sent a principal payment to have them reverse it, apply it as principal-only, and credit us the days worth of interest it cost us. After several months of this occurring and the response being that the teller doesn’t know how to enter it (then teach them…), we filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. We received all the interest owed to us as a result and all future payments were applied correctly.

Due to the poor relationship with the bank and the impending balloon payment, we paid off the loan faster than the 10 years. The loan was issued February 2016, and we made our final payment in April 2020.


We hired a property manager since we were not local and didn’t want to manage showings or maintenance issues in an unknown market. The property management fee is 10% of the monthly income. We actually had several issues with the first property management company, but ‘managing the property manager’ is another post. We released ourselves from that first contract and negotiated with another company, who has been managing the property for the last 4 years.

We have also had to manage the HOA company to address water leaks that stemmed from the brick facade. Both times, the issue presented was eventually resolved, but never in a timely manner. Unfortunately, we are responsible for interior fixes (e.g., drywall) caused by the exterior cracks, which are covered by the HOA since it’s a townhome.

One final interesting story about this house. In November 2016, just a few months after we purchased the house, an intoxicated driver crossed the center line, hopped the curb, drove through the fence, and drove into the back of our townhome, destroying our HVAC unit and taking out a post of the 2nd story deck. It was a Sunday morning. We didn’t pay anything for this incident. The HVAC and a broken light were covered by the insurance company; the deck was repaired by the HOA’s management company. It was an incredible incident.

The townhouse hasn’t been easy to rent. We actually looked into selling it, but our property manager, who is also a Realtor, thought we could only list it at $90,000, which was not something we were interested in, having purchased it at $85k. Once the place is rented, we don’t have issues with maintenance, rent payment, or tenant-related issues. It just takes a month or two of vacancy before we find a qualified applicant. We have offered incentives for leases longer than 12 months to help eliminate our turnover rate and number of days vacant.