Filing Taxes

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

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

DC TAXES

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

STEP 1

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

STEP 2

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

STEP 3

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

STEP 4

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

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

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

SUMMARY

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

Year in Review: Part II

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

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

DIVIDENDS, INTEREST, & REWARDS

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

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

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

INVESTMENTS

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

EXPENSES

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

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

GROCERIES

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

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

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

GAS

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

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

RESTAURANTS

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

HOUSE WORK

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

INCOME

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

LOOKING AHEAD

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

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

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

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

Rental Property Management

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

RENT INCOME

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

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

RENT RELIEF PROGRAM

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

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

REFINANCES & MORTGAGES

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

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

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

LEASE MANAGEMENT

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

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

EXPENSES

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

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

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

SUMMARY

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

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

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.

Property Management

Property management can be useful and worth the 10% cost, but sometimes it’s not worth having the middle man. Here, I’ll break down our experiences with 3 property managers, but first, the terms of our management agreements. We have three properties in KY under a management company and three properties in VA with a property manager. In VA, we had 5 managed at one point in time, but we sold one property, and another is now managed by us since we knew the tenant and handled all the showings and lease set up.

FEES

Management fee: 10% monthly income. This is standard. If the rent is $900 per month, then you’re paying the management company $90 each month. If the unit isn’t rented, then they get $0.
Leasing fee: 1/2 a month’s rent in KY and $300 per new lease in VA (based on the fee structure of our individual property managers). Standard seems to be one-month’s worth of rent, so we have better fee structure there. In KY, half a month’s rent is about $400. In VA, we rent the houses for more than our KY homes, so half would be more like $500, meaning our $300 fee is a great deal.
Lease renewal fee: $0. We don’t pay either property manager for a renewal. The KY company had 10% of a month’s rent as the renewal fee, but we negotiated out of it. We don’t feel that renewing a lease is outside of the monthly management responsibility.
Maintenance fees: In KY, the agreement template had a 10% markup on all bills paid by the management company. We asked what the monthly management fee covers if not organizing repairs; with no clear answer, the company agreed to remove this fee. However, I have to request the 10% back every time there’s a maintenance fee because their system automatically adds it, and they’re not on top of removing it for our account. Our agreements also include a minimum dollar amount that they can spend on maintenance without our prior approval. This is meant that they can manage small repairs without having to coordinate with us, thereby making the process more efficient.
Unoccupied unit fee: KY also had a $50 per month fee for the months that the unit wasn’t rented. We felt that this disincentivized moving the unit quickly, and we negotiated the removal of this fee.

In all management cases, there’s also a stipulation that the company we sign with has first right of refusal for listing the house for sale.

RESPONSIBILITIES

The property manager is responsible for rent collection, coordinating maintenance calls, move in and move out inspections, distributing notices to the tenant (e.g., late notice), and any legal matters on behalf of us as the owners (which has happened).


VIRGINIA

In Virginia, we have a property manager for a few of our houses. The relationship began because her husband is our home inspector and handyman. Her experience was managing a few higher end properties, and she wasn’t part of a management company, but she is a Realtor. We were buying houses fairly quickly, and we decided it would be worth our time and effort to have someone managing the ones that were further away from our primary residence, mostly to handle the showings.

At first, the property manager would physically collect rent and deposit it into an account we set up just for the rentals. We chose a bank that was near her and us so that it was more convenient. Over the next couple of years, our tenants organically decided they would all pay electronically. We accept rent via Venmo, PayPal, and Zelle. We closed the bank account, since it required a $500 minimum balance, and now only collect rent online.

We’re more hands-on than your typical investor. This agreement allows charges up to $200, but the property manager calls us for everything. Most times, we want the opportunity to fix it ourselves. No reason to pay a plumber $125 for a service call just to replace a toilet flapper. But then 2 kids entered the picture while Mr. ODA works full time, and doing those types of maintenance calls have gone by the wayside. Two hours including driving time, the trip to get supplies, the possibility of multiple trips to resolve the issue, etc. were all reasons that we now rely on maintenance people to handle much of the work.

We learned a lot about the Virginia Code thanks to our property manager and her experience as a Realtor. We also had several filings and appearances in the court system for evictions that she handled on our behalf.

KENTUCKY MANAGEMENT COMPANY #1

Our first house purchase was in Kentucky, while we lived in Virginia. We required a property manager because we didn’t want to spend an indefinite amount of time showing the unit nor handling maintenance issues in a market where we had no connections yet. The first property manager was awful; we picked the company because their rates were the cheapest. We paid for that in the long run.

We had some struggles renting the unit that first go around, but we were told we had an agreement with a tenant for her to move in on April 1st. After a week, we weren’t told that the lease was executed, and when we followed up on it, he said she was coming in the following week to sign for April 15th start. He didn’t acknowledge the difference in what we were originally told. We then had to ask several questions on how we’d receive our rent. It was as if they had never had a property owner expect to see the income monthly. Their expectation, as well as it was defined through emails, was that the money would go into an account they set up, they’d draw down anything needed for management and maintenance, and we may or may not see a ledger. When we asked to be a signatory on the account, they acted surprised that we’d want access to the money. Once we stumbled through account set up, I then had to ask for the statement of expenses month-after-month. There was no automatic process, and it was just when a specific employee got around to writing up the statement.

Then, an intoxicated driver drove into our property. Our property manager was out of town and couldn’t check on the unit. We expected someone else in the company to be able to take over when our specific manager was out of town, and that wasn’t the case. We had Mr. ODA’s family go take pictures of the wreck to ensure we got them ASAP.

After raising our concerns about response time to the property manager’s supervisor, we received this response: On a side note, [manager] has become very busy with his role in the company and taken on a very large property so I think this is attributing to some of his slow response times, although that doesn’t make it right or give him an excuse not to answer your questions. After that, we had several issues with the rental rate and whether it was listed for rent. Then, they didn’t push to uphold the lease, which allows us to enter to show the property with 48 hours notice, which would assist in not having a long turnover period of vacancy. They allowed the tenant to deny access over and over again, and they didn’t even start showing the unit until a week after she vacated it. After several more rounds of confusion about what it should be listed at and their complete inability to communicate with us, the contract was terminated.

The tenant moved out mid-April. We had a new property manager in place in mid-May. A two-year lease was executed for June 1st.

KENTUCKY MANAGEMENT COMPANY #2

This company now manages the townhouse and two new properties we acquired in September 2019. It has not completely been smooth sailing, but communication has been better than the previous company and we haven’t felt forgotten about. As I shared previously, we negotiated out of the 10% markup on invoices in our management agreement. However, their system automatically adds the 10%, so I need to stay on top of the charges to make sure they’re at-cost with no markup.

We’ve had issues with the lease terms meeting what we agreed upon. For example, we charge a one-time pet fee and a pet deposit. We expect to receive the fee as income, but it was put in the security deposit account. With the way it was written in the lease, we can’t access that fee until the tenant moves out now. There were conversations about 18-month leases, but then one lease was only executed for 12 months. Luckily, the tenant was amenable to entering a 6-month extension on her lease.

All in all though, it’s worked well that they handle rent collection and depositing the balance of the rent after their fees in our account each month. While there have been hiccups, it’s been nice to know that they have processes in place and we don’t feel like we’re starting from square-one. Even though we now live in Kentucky, we find their management fees to still be worth the cost and don’t plan to manage these properties on our own at this time.