Tenant Evaluations

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

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

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

RENTING CRITERIA

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

We have this at the top of our Interest Form.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DECIDING BETWEEN TENANTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

APPLICANT SCREENING

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

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

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

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

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

DEPOSIT

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

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

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

SUMMARY

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

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

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

March Financial Update

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

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

RENTAL PROPERTIES

LEASE RENEWALS

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

MAINTENANCE

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

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

RENT COLLECTION

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

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

BUYING A NEW PROPERTY

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

REFINANCE FOLLOW UP, STILL

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

PERSONAL EXPENSES

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

SUMMARY

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

Year in Review: Part 1

Just over a year ago, I decided it was time to put more effort into sharing what we’ve been through. When I’m looking to learn something new, I like to find examples of how other people handle it. I want to know the places they struggled and how they learned. I find it a better way to form my opinion than by reading an article that doesn’t have any meat in it, only providing an outline.

In the last year, I learned that blogging wasn’t as easy to keep up with as I thought it would be. I have a list of topics still to cover, so it wasn’t a matter of content. But raising two kids hinders my ability for an uninterrupted thought process to write an article, unless I get to it before they wake up.

The blog was started by Mr. ODA in 2018. He wrote a few posts, and then it sat for two years. I decided to pick it back up in January 2021. During 2021, we published 65 posts. Each month, I wrote a post about our financial update; I included any major expenses, how management of rental properties was going, and how our personal spending may have changed month-to-month. I shared our purchase of 11 out of 13 of our properties, our sale of one property, refinancing mortgages, paying off mortgages, renting properties, maintaining properties, etc. I also shared just general life decision making along the way.


Part 1 for my year in review will address what happened with our rental properties. I’ll dive into our personal finances in Part 2.

As a quick recap, we have 12 rental properties. Nine of them are in Virginia, and three of them are in Kentucky. Two of the houses in Virginia are owned with a partner because we still had cash available to buy more houses, but at the time we had the maximum number of mortgages allowed by Fannie/Freddie (max is 10). The houses were purchased between February 2016 and September 2019. All 3 houses in Kentucky are managed by a property manager, who gets 10% of the monthly rent each month. I manage 5 of the Virginia houses personally, and then we have a property manager who manages the remaining 4, who also gets 10% for each house.

RENTAL PROPERTY MORTGAGES

In January 2021, we completed a refinance of one property, and then in December, we completed three cash-out refinances. The loan balances on these 4 properties increased; one increased because closing costs were rolled into the loan balance, and the other 3 included $190k worth of equity taken out from the houses and creating new loans.

We went from 11 mortgages (two of which are actually owned by a partner) down to 8. House 6 had a balance of $26,447 coming into 2021, and that was paid off by June. Two other houses had a total balance of $157,500 at the beginning of the year. Their balances dwindled through regular monthly payments and one lump sum payment right before we completed the cash-out-refis and completely paid them off.

We have been working on paying down another mortgage that is owned with a partner. Between the two of our families, we paid off about $44,000 additional principal for that mortgage. We’re matching each other’s additional principal payments so that the math is easier to follow, so we can only make additional payments in line with what he can do also. We each owe about $10k on this mortgage now.

Even though there were so many mortgage-related transactions in the year, our overall loan balance only decreased by $6,000.

The market has continued to rise due to the limited supply, and so our home values on the rentals actually increased over $500k over the last year.

RENTAL PROPERTY LEASES

We turned over 1 property the whole year! The tenant that was living there had already told us that they were renting until they found a place to buy, so we knew they wouldn’t be long term tenants. We had a relationship with them from a previous house, when they had moved out of the area and then back. They had a poor experience renting in another area and reached out to us since they appreciated us as landlords. They found a house towards the end of their first year, but we let them out of the lease early. Their lease was slated to end October 31, 2021. We don’t usually have leases that start/end in the Fall if we can help it, but we had let the previous tenant out of her lease early to purchase a house also. The tenant said she was able to be out at the end of August, and we preferred moving the lease closer to the summer months anyway.

We raised the rent on 6 properties.
– The one house that was turned over went from $1200 to $1350 per month. However, we added a property manager who gets 10%, so our cash flow only increased by $15 per month.
– Two of our properties have long term tenants; the rent is significantly below market value, but we value not having to turn over the house. These houses are on a cycle where we increase the rent $50 every two years.
– Our KY property manager tried to increase rent on the 3 properties she manages. One was increased by $25, another by $5, and the other one cried that she couldn’t afford an increase. That’s the one where we plan to increase by $75 next month, and if she doesn’t accept, we’ll turn it over and get $75-$100 more per month.
– We increased rent by $150/month for one of our properties that we have with a partner. It was a risk, but this is a house that claims 3 people live there, but they have 5 queen size beds in the house. We figured either they leave and we get several big things fixed up that have been deferred because of all their things in the way, or we make up for all the years that we didn’t manage their rent and didn’t increase it. They accepted the increase.

RENT COLLECTION

We were very grateful that we made it through those initial months of the pandemic without tenants not being able to pay rent. We had a few people let us know that they were laid off or unable to work (e.g., restaurant business), but we learned most of our tenants worked in the health care field. So while we made it through 2020 without many issues, 2021 brought more challenges. Nothing was insurmountable, and it wasn’t debilitating financially, but it was still something to manage.

We had some big struggles with non-payment of rent on one house. She was 31 days late paying August rent, then she didn’t pay September’s rent, and then she applied for rental assistance to cover September, October, and November, which we didn’t receive until February 2022. That was all on top of her generally being a week late in paying through the beginning of the year too. She doesn’t maintain employment, she doesn’t communicate, and we’ve just had something new and different pop up as an issue every few months. We eventually received January 2022’s rent, but we still haven’t received all of February’s rent – just in time for March rent to be due.

We have another property (the one that was raised $150 per month) that is perpetually late. They eventually pay, and they’re getting better about actually paying the late fee (when they pay rent 20+ days late…), but they were late for 10/12 months of the year.

Everyone else paid their rent on time. In general, we’re lenient with late fees and issues. If you reach out to us and mention that there was a hiccup and you’ll need one more pay check to pay rent, our response is typically: please pay what you can now, pay the rest next week, and don’t worry about the late fee. However, when you don’t communicate and/or you’re consistently weeks late and we’re having to carry the expenses, there needs to be a consequence to incentivize you getting back on track.

RENTAL EXPENSES

We replaced the flooring in House3 ($4,000), hot water heater in House9 ($1,500), HVAC in House10 ($3,300), washing machine in House10 ($250), and HVAC in House12 ($3,900). We also had various electrical and plumbing work that needed to be done in several houses. We also spend about $7k per year in property management fees.

Usually turn over is an area that requires us to put a lot of money into a house. Luckily, the one house that we turned over this year only required some paint work, and we didn’t have any other turnovers.

While it’s nice that our assessments have increased and our housing values have increased in our net worth calculation, it comes at a price. Our taxes have increased on all the properties. In total, they’ve increased over $2,500 in just the one year (meaning, that doesn’t include all the previous years worth of assessment increases that have occurred!).

GOALS

In this year, we hope to add one more rental property to our portfolio. We’ve been actively working on it, but this market is crazy! We’re not willing to overpay on a property and get into a bidding war just to be done with the search. It’s interesting to see that we haven’t bought a new rental property in almost 2.5 years, when we had purchased so many all at once. We had gone back and forth with saving for another down payment or just paying off more mortgages after we paid off House6 in June. Once the cash-out-refi was a possibility, we decided to go ahead with purchasing another property. We’ll self-manage whatever we acquire. We had been looking in Virginia and Kentucky, but have started to settle into a Kentucky property (I like the laws for tenant/landlord relationships better in Virginia) so that we can save the 10% management fee and the expensive leasing fee, since housing prices are significantly higher than what we’d prefer for the rent ratio we’d be getting.

We have 8 houses that still need negotiation and/or lease termination coming this year. Two houses have already agreed to their rent increase, and we just need to get the new lease signed. Five houses will be offered a new lease term with a rent increase (averaging about $50 per month on the increase). One tenant will be asked to leave at the end of her lease term.

We want to remove the tenant from House2 at the end of her lease term. She has been a concern in numerous legal ways, does not hold steady employment, and the house is well under market value rent. Turning over that property will require us to go to Virginia to work on it. It’ll need repainted, the carpet will probably have to be replaced, and I worry that she’ll do some damage when we tell her we’re not interested in renewing her lease.

SUMMARY

I like to look at the details of the rental properties all at once in this format. Sometimes, I get caught up in all the things that I need to get done, and I feel like it’s so much work. In those moments, I forget that there are most days of the year where I don’t even think about the properties. Even when expenses seem to be piling on top of themselves, to look back and see that our expenses totaled less than $15k over 12 houses is encouraging. We’ve also reached the point where we’ve replaced most HVACs and several roofs, which are areas that can create problems that compound on themselves, whereas a replacement is expensive, but then I don’t have to get all the calls that something went wrong.

A ‘month’ in the life managing properties

I started including this information in my monthly update post, but it got to be really long. I thought I’d separate it out as a way to share what has been happening and how I’ve been managing the properties over the last month.

RENT RELIEF PROGRAM

We’re still waiting for a check from the Rent Relief Program for one of our houses, and that’s to cover September, October, and November. So that’s fun. The program volunteered to pay for 2 extra months after the tenant only applied for September. We had already entered into a payment plan for September and October, and she was going to be able to pay November on her own. Instead, the program volunteered this, and all we’ve received for these 3 months of rent is $550. Technically, this now goes towards December rent, so maybe I should see it as we’re ahead for that one month and pretend I haven’t floated 3 mortgage payments on this house after this tenant was extremely irresponsible? I was especially frustrated that she received approval, and then 3 weeks later we were told that our payment hadn’t been made yet because there was an issue with one of the forms (how did approval happen if the forms weren’t complete???). A week ago, I learned that we should hopefully see the check in two weeks.

We actually found out on Wednesday that another tenant applied for the program. Luckily though, they applied for assistance with December’s rent. The program will probably approve two more months. Hopefully, we’ll get December, January, and February from the program before Christmas (I expect it to not be in time for December’s rent).

The tenant is using an organization that will help gather the information and apply to the Rent Relief Program on behalf of them. I’m sure their intentions are good and they’re all good people, but I was put off that they identified themselves as “with the RRP.” You’re not employed by the State. You’re not employed by the RRP. You’re an organization that helps tenants pay their rent. I refused to give them my W9 – both because I didn’t want my tenant to have my social security number and because I knew I could email the RRP directly so they wouldn’t have access to my social security number. They fought me on it, but I won and submitted my W9 directly to the program.

They didn’t identify their connection to the RRP until I mentioned they silence on the matter. I finally got “non-profit organization working in partnership with the Department of Housing and Community Development to help administer the Rent Relief Program.” But I still don’t agree that they’re directly related to the program, just that they work with tenants to get the money. And as with the other tenant and her girlfriend’s desire to guilt me with prayer for expecting rent to be paid, this person guilted me with “Hope all goes well to ensure [the tenant] receives the help she needs.” I was forthcoming with the documents that they asked for, giving them that same day. I was overly polite on the phone call where this person didn’t even know why she was getting in touch with me for several minutes. I even completed forms that she didn’t directly ask for, but that I knew would be asked for eventually, and I created other forms that I had made another tenant do on her own (If you’re nice to me, I’m super helpful. If you leave the country, get sick, and then never tell us when you’re back in the country, while still not paying rent, right after I had just given you an entire month to pay rent the month before, then I’m going to make you do the forms that you’re supposed to be doing).

I clearly am not looking to prohibit the tenant’s application or slow things down, but I am looking to protect my identify and personally identifiable information as much as possible. As far as I know, the tenant’s application was fully submitted yesterday, so hopefully we’ll here soon for an approval.

OTHER RENT COLLECTION

We also had a tenant, who usually pays late, pay on time! It sure helps when the 5th of the month happens on a Friday, so most people get paid that day and pay their rent. I don’t mind getting paid on the 5th because I usually get a few who pay before the 1st or on the 1st. I also don’t pay my mortgages until the 10th of the month, so I maintain that wiggle room.

We have a tenant who usually pays half of the rent before the 1st, and sometimes even all the rent before the 1st of the month due. She’s been in the house since we bought it in 2017 and has always paid. Sometimes she has to pay late, but she always communicates that to the property manager, and we’ve actually waived her late fees in these instances. Last month, she told the property manager that she was going to struggle to pay November’s rent on time, but she’d pay by the 12th. She ended up paying rent in full before the 1st. She’s just the sweetest.

HIGH UTILITIES

We had a tenant in Kentucky ask if we’d help them pay towards a high water bill. At first, I was given a copy of the last water bill and then a copy of May’s water bill, which was the lowest water bill she had in the last year – interesting, and I don’t appreciate that approach that appears to be trying to ‘pull a fast one.’ I asked for more water bills and more details on the issue being claimed.

The tenant reported that the toilet was running constantly on 9/16. The property management company went to fix it on 9/20. Then on 10/11, the tenant reported that the toilet was still running and shut off the water valve. The property management company went back out to “rebuild” the toilet on 10/15.

While it’s unfortunate that the toilet was running during that time and could have affected the water bill, this wasn’t adding up to being our responsibility. I was trying to wrap my head around why I was responsible for paying for two separate visits by the management company, materials that were probably useless for the first visit, pay the management company’s monthly fee, and then also pay towards the tenant’s water bill. I agreed that it would be a nice gesture to help the tenant out, since she’s been there for two years and doesn’t ask for much. I asked the property management company if they’d be willing to chip in on the concession granted to the tenant since it’s their work that wasn’t timely or complete after that first visit. They politely said that their technician made a good faith effort to fix the toilet on the first visit and then agreed that the second call on 10/11 wasn’t timely. “Our techs do well most of the time, but statistically, we will not have success 100% of the time.  The tenant should have reported earlier that the problem was not fixed.” He also said, “In the end, I don’t think anyone is really at fault.” Again, if no one is at fault, why am I the one having to carry all the financial burden?

I looked through the bills that were provided to us. I saw that recently, the tenant’s water usage probably was accurate because it fluctuated up and down (versus it continuously climbing from the lowest point in the year). Plus, water usage tends to increase in the summer, and a toilet running is unlikely to double your water bill on its own. The tenant’s bill was probably $50 more than expected, so I offered the tenant to take $25 off next month’s rent. I didn’t receive a response from the property manager, but I assume she’ll take me up on it. That should equate to $2.50 less taken by the management company, but if they don’t adjust their commission for that, I wouldn’t be surprised nor would I fight it.

PEST CONTROL

We have a new tenant in one of our houses. That tenant has been difficult. She complained of a mouse and roaches. I completely agree that there shouldn’t be an infestation of bugs and rodents. For some reason, we’ve had issues with this house and mice from day 1. I don’t know why. The neighborhood is nice, with mostly original owners in the houses. There are a lot of trees behind the property, and then there’s retail stores behind that. I don’t know if that somehow contributes, but every tenant has had a mouse or two scurry across the floor. I’ll note for anyone reading – mice show up everywhere. It’s not a matter of cleanliness.

The roaches on the other hand, I just don’t get it. This house has never been dirty with all our tenants. There aren’t dirty people or junk piled up in the neighboring houses. I will happily call pest control to manage any bugs like that. Since October 1, the pest control company has been out there seven times. Seven. I just can’t understand what is happening and how they can’t get this under control (and I’m questioning whether there’s really an issue). Luckily, I’ve only paid for the initial treatment and haven’t had to pay for each additional visit, but phew that’s a lot in basically one month, especially when this hasn’t been an issue with any previous tenant. I’ve digressed.

LEASE RENEWAL

In the meantime, we had a tenant reach out requesting to renew their lease. Their lease doesn’t expire until June 30, 2022 so this was not on our radar! They’re very bright people. They offered a lease renewal to 5/31/2023, which is the end of his schooling program. We agreed to extend the lease until then, but at $1300 instead of $1280. We had the property listed at $1300 originally, and he had negotiated to $1280 for a longer term lease. He agreed to the extension, and we had the lease addendum signed on 10/30.

He had asked for it to go month-to-month after that while they search for houses. We shared that we weren’t willing to take on that risk because we don’t want to be left with a December 1 lease that we never intended to have. Our property manager did share with him that we’ve been reasonable in the past with other tenants, and that when it came time, we’re going to work with them to get them released from the lease and into home ownership.

MORTGAGE CHANGES

I discovered that a couple of our mortgages changed due to escrows this month (which I mentioned in a post earlier this month actually). Even recently, I was pulling information for some refinances we have underway and discovered that the payment made by our partner on one of those houses was less than what I had verified just a few months ago. Since it’s not our mortgage, I don’t see the month-to-month transactions. I updated a future payment to account for the $5 he would owe us based on the mortgage change, and then I updated future payments out to reflect the new mortgage amount.


While that seems like a lot, it really hasn’t been much time in the month. I collected everyone else’s rent, paid the mortgages, and made sure my spreadsheets were up to date. This month I had to field more texts and phone calls than usual, but it wasn’t too much. I’ve even received a partial payment for December rent from a tenant already.

[Lack of] Rent Payments

We have one house that seems to always have a story. Well, we have two that are consistently late, but the one just says, “it’ll be late,” while this other one has a crazy story. While trying to gather my information on how we’ve worked with her so much, I thought I’d share some of these stories. Perhaps if you’re a tenant, you can see the landlord’s perspective on how this just doesn’t add up and there’s eventually an end to the rope. So just for fun, it’s story time.

This person has a history of fraud. She also had domestic abuse and restraining orders against her that caused us to lose one of the tenants at the beginning of 2020. There are the typical excuses like car maintenance issues, and then there are interesting ones.


March 2020

We started the pandemic off with a “furlough” letter. Knowing the history we have with this tenant, I didn’t take it at face value. I struggled to find a contact for the company that the letter was from, and then I eventually found a way to get in touch with a local office (as in… where she works and not the one in Florida where this letter seemed to come from). I asked for an employment verification for the tenant’s name and whether she was furloughed. The woman on the other end did a laugh/sigh thing and said, “She’s not furloughed. We’ve been over this several times. Her hours were reduced, but she is still employed and expected to show up to work.” I let her know that I received a letter from the company stating a furlough, which she said she was unaware of.


January 2021

Virginia has a Rent Relief Program for tenants that were affected by the virus and lost income. The program is for unpaid, past due rent. I pretended to be a tenant and went through the application process; it very clearly only let me input unpaid rent that’s past due (i.e., I couldn’t claim that I wouldn’t be able to pay a future rent owed). I even went through the trainings available on the system. I was very thorough. The tenant paid January rent, and then I received notification that the tenant applied for assistance. I can’t remember how I knew it was for this tenant (because in the future, I’ll get emails from the system that I can’t tie to any tenant), but I knew. I called the hotline and asked what month was being claimed as unpaid and was told January. I sent the tenant an email letting her know that she was not eligible and that I had done my due diligence acknowledging the information. I had actually also called because I didn’t appreciate that the documentation on file required my social security number to be on paperwork that the tenant had access to. For some reason, this didn’t bother any other landlords, but it’s not something I want this person having! When I told her she was ineligible for the assistance, she said it was because she expected February’s rent to be late, which she then paid without the assistance.


August 2021

She paid August’s rent on August 31. Why? She was in a car accident. When? On April 24, 2021. How is this related to August rent? I don’t know.

This doesn’t exactly explain why she doesn’t have income or what happened to her job. She said in passing that she would start a new job on August 30th, but we don’t know what happened to her last job or how long she had been unemployed.



It’s now October 6, and she hasn’t paid September or October rent yet. Why? Because she went to Costa Rica on September 1 (or 3rd?) and tested positive for COVID, so she had to quarantine. She shared several pieces of correspondence related to the car accident, which told us that she received over $5,000 in the insurance settlement. Questions that I have, which have not been asked and/or gone unanswered:
1) If you don’t have any money to pay rent until a car accident settlement check arrives, how are you affording to go on a trip?
2) If you received the settlement check in time to pay August rent on 8/31, why didn’t you pay rent with the rest of that check on 9/1?
3) Why didn’t you pay rent before you left town?
4) If you were unemployed for a while, and were starting a job on August 30, how and why did you leave the country (during a pandemic)?
5) Through communication with her girlfriend, we learned that she went to Costa Rica on 9/1, but she tested positive on 9/3. How did you get into the country and not get tested for 2 days?
6) I received an email on 9/6 stating she couldn’t get the payment to go through. What were you doing between 9/1 and 9/5 that I’m receiving this email on 9/6?
7) I responded to that email and gave other electronic options for payment. I received no answer or acknowledgement. Why couldn’t you respond to this email or attempt to pay rent again?
8) Assuming internet issues, I let it go for two days before sending a follow up email. No response to that email. Why?
9) At this point, I got stern. I very rarely get stern with people.

10) I received a response from someone stating they were her girlfriend and monitoring her email. If you’re monitoring her email, did you not find it urgent to address the lack of rent payment emails you’ve been seeing?
11) This person says she’s working with the family to get rent paid timely. I receive no rent nor do I receive an update.
12) Even though I had said I’d give until the 13th for an update, I ended up being responsible for my household while my husband traveled and didn’t get to the follow up until the 15th. I sent an email asking for an update. No response.
13) I don’t handle the text communication, so I waited until Mr. ODA was unoccupied with his work tasks, and asked him to text her on Friday. She responds! She says she’s been back for several days. Really? Why didn’t you get in touch with us? Why didn’t you let us know your status?
14) She says she can’t pay rent until Wednesday (the 22nd) because she had to pay for the extra costs for staying in Costa Rica for longer than anticipated. What if you had paid rent before you left? How would you have been able to pay for that hotel stay and getting out of the country? Why is it on me to float this financially?
15) Mr. ODA texted and asked about payment on the 22nd, we got no response, and I sent a notice of default. She suddenly was able to share that the person she was going to get the money from didn’t have it, and she couldn’t pay rent. Then she responded to my email and said she wanted a payment plan (Virginia requires me to offer a payment plan once every 12 month cycle).
16) I put together a payment plan to start payment on 10/1. She responded that she wouldn’t be paid until 10/8 because of the start date after she returned to the country. So she can’t pay anything towards TWO MONTHS worth of rent until it’s late for both months.

PAYMENT PLAN

I front-loaded the payments in the plan. First, I need to pay my mortgage, which I’ve now paid twice without offset from a tenant living in my house. Second, I’m not offering a payment plan for the next six months worth of rent, so come November 1st, she needs to pay rent in full. She can’t have evenly spaced payments while also paying full rent in future months. I put the due dates as every other Friday, starting 10/8, as she claimed she had no money until then.

I stated several times that the money is due on the date that we have agreed upon, and there is no five-day grace period like there is in the lease. Too many people think rent is due on the 5th because there’s a grace period. It’s due on the 1st, but there’s a grace period to allow for payment without penalty. October 1st was a Friday, and I still received rent on the 4th and 5th. Since this is overdue rent, I wasn’t going to play the follow up game that I’ve already had to play far too much in the last two months, so it was due that day, and that’s it.

During this process, she applied for assistance from the State for COVID relief. I also included the following:
Any monies received from the State’s program will eliminate the last payments first. If and when I receive money from the State, I will let you know, and I will update the schedule accordingly. Do not assume any payments received; adhere to this schedule until told otherwise. If you can pay more than the amount throughout this timeframe, please do. Any and all payments received will work to eliminate the latest payments due first. 

Since I didn’t find any requirements on the how the payment plan was to be set up, I didn’t extend it very long. The final payment is scheduled for 12/17, so that’s just 6 payments. As I mentioned, I front-loaded the payments, so the first two are $550. Then they taper to $350. The payments to be made also include the two months worth of late fees.

If she doesn’t adhere to the payment plan that she had to agree to, then I can seek possession from the court for default on the lease. Hopefully we’ll have some money here by the end of the week!


There’s really no point to this except to share in our experiences. The excuses are creative and entertaining. We’re lucky that we have the ability to float one house under the payments of all the other houses, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating to be two months behind on income.

House 9: Hoarding leads to mice and eviction

This is a good one. This is the one we use when people say “how can you handle all those properties,” and I respond, “if we survived this one tenant, we know we can handle whatever gets thrown at us.” Hoarding, mice, court dates, eviction. But its not always like that. The sun shone down on us for the current tenant though, who signed a two year lease and take care of the house (like, even power washed it on their own accord). The stories below show that you need a thick skin and a smooth temperament to be a landlord. Treat this as a business.

LOAN

This house was purchased ‘as-is,’ but we still had a home inspection contingency in the contract. It was listed at $139,500; we purchased for $137,500 with $2,500 in seller subsidy. We went under contract on 8/14/2017 and closed on 9/22/2017. The appraisal came in at $141,000, so we were content with our decision.

We refinanced the loan in May 2020. Our original loan had a balance of $105,800 at the time of the refinance. We rolled closing costs into the new loan and cashed out $2,000, making our new loan amount be $111,000. The refinance reduced our interest rate from 4..875% to 3.625%, shaving $104.25 off our monthly payment. I went into detail about the refinance in my Refinancing Investment Properties post.

Following the 1% Rule, we would be looking for $1,340 in rent (net of seller subsidy), but we haven’t received that yet. The first tenant’s rent was $1,150 and the second at $1,250. For the third potential tenants, we listed at $1,300, but the new tenants negotiated to $1,280 for a 2-year lease.

TENANT #1: OUR WORST

The application. It’s hard to not give someone a chance when their application is borderline, but I suggest letting the information on the screen speak to their character. Before the official application was run (which includes a background check), she admitted to a felony that she served 2.5 years for, and she filed bankruptcy due to a stolen identity while she was incarcerated. It seemed like she paid her dues and was building a new life. We got her application about two weeks after closing, so it wasn’t like we were desperate to rent it at that point. But she was quick to fill out an application and provide necessary documentation, so we decided to give her a chance. She moved in on 10/1/2017 with her 3 children, one of which was born days after she moved in. Her rent was $1,150.

We didn’t have any unreasonable situations with her in the first year. We did have a maintenance call for a leak under the kitchen sink, and we noted that the house wasn’t tidy. It seemed like she was a coupon-er, where she stocked up on a few items and probably resold them, which supported how she kept wanting to pay us in cash. The house wasn’t to my standard, but I didn’t look close enough to notice that it was dirty in addition to cluttered. I wanted to say something, but didn’t know my place at that point. Hindsight: I should have told my property manager and had her issue a written notice. This won’t matter down the road for legal proceedings, but perhaps we could have saved ourselves some headaches if she took the notice to heart; I was just afraid of offending her. But, other than that small concern at the time, we had no issue renewing her lease for another year.

The tenant complained about seeing a mouse around February 2018. We informed her at that time that pest control was up to her because of her living style that was attracting the pests. She claimed to have a quarterly treatment through Terminex. She complained further of mice in November 2018, but I wasn’t part of that conversation. It appeared to be that she was upset that there were still pest issues while she was paying Terminex. Well, that’s an issue to take up with the pest control company, not us. Our property manager gave her the information to our pest control company and shared that it would be a bit cheaper for the quarterly plan too. We heard nothing more until all hell broke loose in April 2019.

She sent pictures of mice poop all over the house on April 9, claiming that she had been out of the house from March 31 through April 8 and came back to this sudden mouse infestation and would be leaving the house. Well, that’s not how it works. She claims that was her ‘prompt’ notification, as if mice set up camp in a lived-in house that’s well maintained out of nowhere (news flash: it wasn’t well maintained and clean). She claimed that because of the living conditions (that she perpetuated), this would be her last month in the house. We knew we had the lease to fall back on, so we continued to remind her that this wasn’t on us and she couldn’t leave us with the financial burden and walk away. We had our pest control company go to the house as soon as possible, and we received their report on April 12.

But wait! While complaining about the condition of the house (that she caused), she wanted to know if she could buy the house!!!! Logic always seems to abound in these situations; it’s hysterical. We offered her to purchase the house from us at $148,000. She ignored it after that offer.

Both the pest company and our HVAC person noted a dog on the premises, which was in violation of the lease. HVAC was called out to fix a wire on the outdoor HVAC unit that the dog had chewed through. She also wasn’t taking care of the yard, and the City of Richmond was fining houses that violated their weed and grass clauses, which we notified her of on May 9.

She didn’t pay April or May rent, so we had a court date set for May 10. We had told her that she had to pay all overdue rent and late fees for us to cancel the May 10 court date. She didn’t pay, so our property manager went to court. The judge awarded us possession of the property, but since there was such outstanding rent and damages, another court date was set for July 1 to award us the money owed. In front of the judge, the tenant handed the keys over to our property manager, saying she was moved out. Immediately after leaving the court house, the property manager arrived at the house to do a walk through, only to find several people inside. She called the police.

The officer assessed the situation. He said that since they’re still moving things out (and there was a lot to move out), that it was a benefit to us that they were still working on it. He suggested asking their input on when they thought they would be done. One guy said at 3 pm. We agreed to let them stay, and I would go by after work to change the locks.

I showed up at 4 pm to change the locks, only to find people still coming in and out of the house. I called the non-emergency police line and waited for the cops to show up. It’s officially trespassing, and we were prepared to press charges. The officers knocked on the door and asked the people inside (none of whom were the tenant on the lease) to leave. One woman started a whole spiel about how she’s on probation and everything that she’s been arrested for, so she didn’t want to be arrested. The officer was funny to watch, and he just kept saying, “I’m not arresting you. I just want you to leave.”

After they drove away, the officers let me walk the property to ensure everyone was out. The place was destroyed!

By Virginia law, we are required as landlords to make every attempt possible to get the unit re-rented and let the old tenant “off the hook” for unpaid rent. Meaning, we can’t hold them to the entire term of the lease and have a vacant house. Regardless of this, we wanted to get everything fixed and replaced in the house so that we had an exact amount to claim during the July 1 court date.

The linoleum replacement was the critical path. She had destroyed it (looked like some chemical ate through it) beyond repair and it had to be replaced before we could re-rent the house. Home Depot’s timeline was really behind, and they weren’t able to get us scheduled for installation until June 20th (after she had “vacated” May 10th).

I compiled a list of lease violations with my documentation to support the claims in which she violated the lease on top of the obvious (e.g., dog on premises, smoking in the house). We had invoices from the pest company, the HVAC company, the trash removal company (over 40 cubic yards of garbage was left in the house when they finally vacated), and the “hazmat” cleaning company, all corroborating an unclean and unkempt living condition.

We went into court with a claim of $9,250. This was unpaid rent for 3 months, late fees, junk removal, pest control, HVAC fixes, professional cleaning that included a ‘hazmat’ charge, and all our paint and flooring charges.

We won the first judgement in court, simply because the defendant didn’t show up. We were awarded $9,250 plus the court fee and 6% interest. Well, somehow the court accepted her plea of needing another court date after not showing up to this one, and that was on July 10th. The judge that day reduced our rent and late payment owed by one month, and reduced our reimbursement total by a bit more than the security deposit we had already kept, bringing the judgement to about $6,600 plus the court fee and 6% interest.

Per the court process, we were required to work with the ex-tenant to develop a payment plan. We offered her a payment plan via email that was never responded to. From there, the next step is to retain an attorney for wage garnishment.

I contacted the attorney we use to help with wage garnishment, but he wasn’t experienced. He referred me to someone, who let me know that he’s already representing someone who has a claim against her. He said that he could still represent me, but I’d be second in line to any money they get from her. He offered me another attorney’s name to see if that one could help me instead, but that attorney said he couldn’t represent me because he already has another client looking for money from this woman. Interesting that two attorneys had different answers, but we went with that first. We haven’t seen a dime. Once the money was spent and we paid off the credit cards, it wasn’t on our radar anymore. Anything we get from this woman will be a bonus at this point.

TENANT #2: BLISSFULLY UNAWARE OF HOW LIFE WORKS

Two kids just out of college were our tenants that came in after that mess. They were great tenants, but a bit unaware of how the world works. They didn’t get the utilities into their name timely, so we charged them for the bills that came to us. After that, they paid their rent on time, and even when their restaurant jobs shut down at the beginning of the pandemic, they prioritized paying rent over other things they could have spent their limited income on; I was impressed. At the end of their lease, they were a bit lost too. Our lease requires 60 days notice of your intentions – either leave, or renew. Our property manager reached out to them at the 60 day mark, and they said they weren’t sure what they wanted to do, but were looking for other places. Since, realistically, we weren’t going to list the house for rent at 45 or 60 days, we told them that was fine. They came back after a week and said they were going to move out.

We moved forward with listing the house for rent and vetting new tenants. We had our property manager show the house on June 10 for what would be a July 1 lease. About a week later, the current tenants asked if they could stay longer because they didn’t get the place they were looking for. Sorry, but that’s not how it works and it’s already rented. The new tenants were OK with moving in July 15, so we allowed the college guys to stay until July 10. Then we hustled to get the house put back together before the new tenants. Specifically, one of the tenants was an artist, and he hung a huge canvas on one of the bedroom walls to paint on. Well, the paint bled through.

They also didn’t tell us that the range wasn’t working. When we asked about it, they said something to the effect of, “oh yea, we smelled gas, so we just cut it off. That was back in March.” Goodness!! So we quickly ordered a new range. We also had to have the carpets professionally cleaned, which was especially frustrating since they were only a year old. Luckily, the ladies who came to clean the carpets worked their magic, and they came out looking good as new. The microwave handle was broken off, and when we looked to buy a replacement, it was essentially the same cost as a new microwave, so we installed a new one.

While we were working in the house, we noticed that the air conditioner wasn’t keeping the house cool. We had an HVAC tech come out to the house, and it was either $1,400 to repair (after we had already previously put money into the HVAC unit), or $5,000 to replace it. We decided to replace it after it died shortly after the third tenants moved in.

TENANT #3: SOME OF THE BEST

These tenants have been wonderful. They’re both pharmacists at the local college and have been very self-sufficient. They’re great about alerting us of issues, but not in a way that it seems like they’re nitpicking. For instance, they wanted to store their lawn mower and other things in the shed out back, but the handle was broken off it. We told them that if they wanted to purchase a replacement, we would reimburse for the cost. Then they noted that the closet dowel was broken and they replaced it. I told them I would pay for that, so just take it off the next month’s rent. When they sent me the receipt, they had only taken the rod itself off the rent, but not the brackets to hang the rod. I immediately sent them the rest of the cost!

They’re one year into a two-year lease, and we’re very happy with them. They always pay their rent on time, they communicate regularly, and they’re taking care of the house.

MAINTENANCE AND REPAIRS

Since I’ve covered a great deal of the repairs we’ve managed in this house through each of the tenant stories, here’s a quick summary of other items.

Shortly after the third tenants moved in, they politely let us know that their dishwasher wasn’t cleaning the dishes. They very clearly identified the problem and the steps they had already taken to attempt to fix it, but it wasn’t working. We purchased a new dishwasher the day after they let us know. So in the matter of a month, we replaced the built in microwave, range, dishwasher, and HVAC. The only appliance we haven’t replaced in this house now is the refrigerator.

There was an electrical issue that we had sort of noticed before, but hadn’t pinpointed it without having things to plug into all the outlets. We had an electrician go out and fix the switches and outlets that weren’t working in master bedroom.

AN OVERALL LOOK AT THIS HOUSE AS AN INVESTMENT

Remember how real estate investing provides multiple avenues for wealth building? Here’s how they’re looking for this property.

Cash Flow – As we have had to replace nearly all appliances, including HVAC, and all the flooring among several other smaller issues, our total cash flow on this property is nearly nothing. But, like mentioned before, we shouldn’t have any big purchases coming and will start to be able to pocket the profits on this house once again.

Mortgage pay-down – The tenants have paid our mortgage for us, but due to closing costs of refinancing and choosing to take $2,000 cash back from that refi, our principal is actually higher than when we bought it.

Tax Advantages – We always depreciate the cost of the structure for paper losses that help offset profit on properties for tax purposes. All those repairs and appliance replacement expenses that eat into the profit margins are written off. So come April 15, the silver linings of those expenses are realized.

Appreciation – This one is good for us. This house is in a developing neighborhood and the area around it is being revitalized. Coupled with standard appreciation and the *hot* real estate market we’re in now, the value of the house is 150% of what it was when we bought, in less than 4 years.

SUMMARY

We’ve put about $10,000 into this house at this point. But that means we have a lot of brand new things in it. Now isn’t the time to give up on the house, since we should be in a position to not deal with many maintenance requests. Rent continues to climb, increasing our cash flow, while we just brought our mortgage payment quite low with the refi, and the property will continue to appreciate in value.

We learned a lot about the eviction process, even dealing with local police officers in the process. The court system and law enforcement are fairly simple to work with, as long as you are a fair and respectful landlord, keep documentation, and follow landlord-tenant laws. When the tenant doesn’t live up to their end of the bargain, justice will be served.

May Financial Update

RENTAL PROPERTIES

We paid $2,850 in extra principal towards the main mortgage we’re paying down, leaving that mortgage with a balance of $5,500. We had a $4k flooring purchase on another house that has set our pay off timeline a few weeks back, but we’ll still have that mortgage paid off in the next couple of months. We have a rental property that we purchased in 2016 that has flooring that’s at least that old. The carpet has long passed its useful life, and the linoleum in the kitchen and laundry room has started to peel up at the seam. Typically, we wouldn’t want to replace flooring while a tenant still lives there, but they’ve lived with this for almost a year, and they’ve been our tenants since we purchased the house. As a means of keeping the tenant happy, we agreed to replace the flooring in all the rooms except the bathrooms.

We had two of our tenants not pay rent by the 5th, as required by the lease. They’re the two that are typically late, and they’re typically not up front with telling us about it. We’ve said several times that we’re really flexible landlords, but we can’t be flexible if we’re not told what is happening. With one tenant, who had just recently irked us with a plumbing issue and being incommunicado, we didn’t even reach out for information. We’ve had enough of their antics and having to chase them for rent. So I simply sent them their notice of default letter, outlining all their rights as tenants as now required under COVID-related procedures. I received an email letting me know that they’d pay on the 7th. I love their nonchalant response, like they hold the power and will pay whenever they feel like it (hmm). For the other tenant that was late, she texted to say she’d be late with the payment on the 7th, and then on the 7th only paid part of the rent due. She said she was in a car accident and there was an issue with her sick leave pay out, but she’d get it to us when it got fixed. She resolved it on the 12th, although still without the late fee.

We were able to get the invoice on the HVAC replacement for one property, which meant we paid our partner the $3,288 we owed him, on top of his usual $2,167 that we pay out for him to pay the mortgages and then his share of the profits (since I manage all the rent collections).

OUR SPENDING

Our credit card balances are high for several reasons. The $4k flooring purchase; as well as the insurance for one of our properties that isn’t escrowed because we paid off that mortgage, which was $436; an expensive gift purchase that isn’t transparent in the cash and credit line items because that cost was split 3 ways (i.e., we received 2/3 of that cost back in cash, but it’s still reflect in the credit line); and our travel.

We booked a camp site for the end of the month that required payment up front. We just got back from a trip, which increased our spending. But I’ll note that when we travel, we’re not eating expensive meals. Our interest is in the experiences and activities, rather than exploring sit down local restaurants. Our food for 5 days cost us $161 as a family of 4. We also ended up only paying for 2 of the 4 nights in the hotel because the air conditioning was broken, even after they came to ‘fix’ it, and then, when I was checking under the bed to see if any toys or socks got left behind as we were leaving, I found a large, dead roach. We didn’t ask for any comps; one was automatically reflected in my final invoice without my prompting, and then when the manager was speaking to Mr. ODA about his stay, he volunteered removing another night.

We opened a new credit card to take advantage of the bonuses since we knew we’d have this travel and the flooring cost to meet the $4,000 spending threshold for their bonus. This credit card has an annual fee of $95 and no 0% interest period, which goes against our norm when looking to open a new credit card. However, the bonus can be transferred to our Chase Rewards Portal, where we can use it to book travel at 50% the cost. We also received a $50 grocery credit.

ROUTINE UPDATES

  • My husband and I cashed in the last of his savings bonds that we got as children, so that was an extra $735 that we brought it that wasn’t planned.
  • We paid about $6,074 for our regular mortgage payments. Several of our properties had mortgage increases due to escrow shortages. I haven’t figured out which I dislike more: planning for tax and insurance payments, or the large escrow increases that seem to happen year after year. I think it’s the escrow though.
  • Every month, $1100 is automatically invested between each of our Roth IRAs and each child’s investment accounts. I should also note that I don’t speak to other investments because they happen before take-home pay, but my husband maxes out his TSP (401k) each year as well, which I had also done when I was employed.
  • Our grocery shopping cost us $700. Honestly, I don’t even know how to explain that cost jump. I think it’s because my husband shopped some deals at Kroger and Costco, so we stocked up on some things that aren’t part of our routine purchasing.   
  • We spent $200 on gas. Two trips to Cincinnati, our trip to Atlanta, and then more-than-usual trips around town. 
  • $400 went towards utilities. It’s higher than last month because we paid 3 months of our cell phones, which gets us back on quarterly billing as a family. Utilities include internet, cell phones, water, sewer, trash, electric, and investment property sewer charges that are billed to the owner and not the tenant. We still haven’t sought reimbursement from the builder on our electric bill, but this month’s bill was even less than the last month’s. 
  • Our entertainment costs included baseball game tickets for our trip as well as two games later this summer, parking for the games this past weekend, a new shirt for our son, activities for the kids, and the hotel. This past month, we spent $650 on things I’d classify as entertainment related. I also included boarding for our dog ($100) in this total.
  • Speaking of our dog, he had his annual appointment (shots and the year’s worth of preventative medicines), and that cost us $500.
  • We spent $292 eating at restaurants and ordering take out. We utilized a Door Dash credit on one of our Chase credit cards, which was about $30.
  • But! I killed it with running errands this month and actually returning things that needed to be returned. I returned $150 worth of items one day!
  • We paid our State taxes during this period too. Between two states, that was $954. Also, anecdotally, I’ll share that we spent $6.40 to mail our Virginia tax return. We processed our taxes through Credit Karma, as we had done last year. We got through the federal e-file and moved onto the state filing, only to find out that if you’re filing partial states, Credit Karma doesn’t support it. I had to print 70 pages of our federal return, sign it, and ship it off to Virginia.

SUMMARY

Our net worth actually dipped this month. The stock market is the main factor in that, but the house valuation estimates are starting to level off and look more realistic as well.

Between our personal lives and our business life with these rental properties, we were sure kept busy. We expect the Spring months to be a busy time of year, and honestly it feels good to be active again. While we’ve loosened the purse strings for the summer months, especially after having done hardly anything for the last year, it was still a shock to see just how much we spent in these categories. But that’s the benefit of looking at your finances regularly. We can either choose to remain on course with our summer plans, or we can dial it back if we feel this was more than we expected.

Since we know we’re on top of our finances and have set up a healthy mentality when it comes to spending, we’re comfortable looking at this information once a month. If you’re currently developing these money habits, you may want to do these types of check-ins more frequently.

House 5: Bought and Sold

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


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

LOAN

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

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

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

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

WORK ON THE HOUSE

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

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

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

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

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

TENANT ACQUISITION

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

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

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


EVICTION

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

RENT COLLECTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SELLING

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

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

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

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

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

1031 EXCHANGE

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

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

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


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

House 2: The Exclusivity Agreement

House 1 was purchased from a family member because we saw an opportunity when they were getting ready to sell their townhome. House 2 was purchased because we were looking for a way to make our profit from the sale of our first home to get to work for us. While in the process of purchasing House 2, the seller said he was interested in liquidating the house next door, which was a mirror image of House 2, and so that became House 3. Both House 2 and House 3 came with tenants, which was a big advantage, but delayed a few lessons in rentals for us.

After we sold our house outside of DC, we moved just outside of Richmond, VA. We spent a few months looking at the neighborhoods and analyzed the markets available in Richmond. I was more interested in the college area, where it’s a market I knew well, having been a college kid who rented in an old house that was sectioned into apartments. Mr. ODA was more ambitious (in my opinion), looking into neighborhoods that families would rent in. Many investors are looking to rent in areas of Richmond that fit the quintessential Richmond mold (e.g., walkability to restaurants and shops, bike routes). However, these houses don’t come close to hitting the 1% Rule.

We’ve purchased several houses on the east side of town, and they’ve worked out very well and most don’t have turnover. The value of House 2 since we purchased it has increased by about $70k as the neighborhoods in the area continue to decrease crime and increase value. Both houses are about 13 years old, 1200 square feet, and have 3 bedrooms and 2 baths. All of the rooms except bathrooms and kitchen are carpeted, which is something we’ve since tried to stay away from.

THE EXCLUSIVITY AGREEMENT

After we saw House 2 and wanted to make an offer, our Realtor relationship went downhill. We had a Realtor for our home purchase when we moved to the area, and we continued the relationship to have access to the MLS. After we purchased our home and started looking for rentals, we soon learned that our Realtor 1) had an agenda to get the most commission, regardless of the best deal or our interests, and 2) kept pushing areas she knew versus areas we were interested in. We had made it known that we wanted to buy several properties, and I believe by the time we wanted to make an offer on a house, she realized we weren’t looking to further this relationship after this deal. Since she had shown us a few houses, we expected to see this deal through with her. That’s when the straw broke the camel’s back. We received the offer to review, and it came with an exclusivity agreement.

An exclusivity agreement is a contract established by the Realtor to protect their interests. If the client signs it, then it means that the client is committed to that agent for the terms in the agreement (e.g., a single purchase, a period of time). We hadn’t needed one in Fairfax, and the one we had for our personal home contract covered a month’s time. When we received the contract for House 2, the exclusivity terms were until October 4, 2016, from the date of the contract, which was May 4, 2016. We requested the date be changed to match the “close no later than” terms in the contract, which was June 17. That’s when the bs-ing commenced. I’m sure the average buyer wouldn’t have noticed nor cared. We saw right through it, and she kept digging in deeper with holes in her story and guilt.

First, she claimed that she made it 6 months (although it was 5 months) so that it gets through closing and we didn’t have to sign again. We countered with three pieces of logic: 1) the field can accept an address, so change it to the house’s address to cover us for the entire time it took us to get to closing, whenever that may be; 2) the exclusivity period on our personal residence’s contract expired long before we actually closed (because it was a new build, and the contract was signed before construction began), but we never had to re-sign an agreement; and 3) we never experienced a 6-month closing on a routine purchase.

Instead of addressing that the field could accept the house’s details rather than a period of time, she said: I’m committed to helping you guys look for houses and make offers, are you committed to working with me? Red flag. When we said we wanted it changed to the house address, and that we didn’t mind signing on for each property we made an offer on, she furthered the guilt with: We have know each other for almost a year and I honestly didn’t think it would be such an issue. If you are not willing to sign it I am not going to be able to work with you. If it’s not supposed to be a big deal for us, why is it a big deal for you/your broker?

One of the first things we learned in the real estate market was to not sign an exclusivity agreement. It eliminates your rights as a buyer and ties you unnecessarily to an agent. On the Realtor’s side, I understand that a lot of time and effort goes into working with clients, and there is a possibility that one Realtor shows a client a house, but that client uses a different Realtor to sign the contract, which causes the agent who showed the property to lose the commission. However, I believe that if there’s a good relationship with the Realtor and client, it shouldn’t need to be in writing that they’re committed to each other. I also don’t believe that it’s routine that a Realtor shows several houses to a client, and then that client finds someone else to make an offer. I was also surprised that it’s at the contract stage in the process, and not at the showings stage.

When she wouldn’t write the offer without us signing an unnecessarily long exclusivity agreement (again, we were willing to sign it as associated with this offer/property), we called our old Realtor and asked if she could write the offer for us even though she didn’t cover that area. (An Agent’s license covers the whole state, but typically their access to the MLS is confined to local metro areas unless they want to pay for other regions.) She wrote the offer for us. She also introduced us to a loan officer who we have used for every property purchase since then, and recommended to others.

EXPENSES

This house is relatively new, so we haven’t had any major expenses. We had a couple of HVAC service calls, one was a legitimate concern and one was a misunderstanding by the tenant on how it works in extreme temperatures. What we haven’t paid for in physical house repairs, we’ve made up with in learning new things about tenants.

TENANTS

We had a tenant move in right before we closed on the house. She had gone through a divorce and was living on her own. At the end of the year, she got back together with her ex-husband and moved out. We touched up the paint, cleaned the carpet, cleaned the kitchen and bathrooms, and then listed the house for rent. We chose two ladies, one of which had a criminal record for forgery a few years prior. Other than that, they were the best qualified financially.

Our only issue in the first year was that they had a ‘friend’ look at our HVAC unit. We told them that it’s not their property, and had anything been wrong, it would have been on them to fix because we didn’t authorize tinkering with our very-expensive property. The issue was that it was 100 degrees outside, they had the thermostat set at 60, and it wasn’t getting to that temperature. That’s not surprising. Our technician went out, checked the unit, and explained to them that when it’s that hot, you can’t expect it to get to such a different temperature in the house. He suggested using fans.

They moved in June 1, 2017 and one of the ladies is still there.

At the end of their second year, we increased their rent by $50/month to $1100. This is still under market value for the house, but not having to turnover the unit was more important than a drastic increase in rental income.

In February 2020, we learned a new aspect of the law – domestic disputes. One of the ladies reached out to us and requested to be released from the lease because she had a restraining order filed on her roommate. We researched the requirements associated with restraining orders (because the two she gave us were expired) and then her rights as it related to being a tenant. She had paid her portion of the rent each month, so we weren’t aware of issues. We released her from any responsibility immediately and notified the roommate. Per Virginia Code, the remaining tenant is responsible for the entirety of the lease from then-on. We gave her the opportunity to vacate the property within 30 days if she could not pay the full lease amount going forward, but she chose to stay on the property.

The world shut down a month later. Other than an issue here and there with our other properties, this one has been the most affected. She doesn’t communicate up front anymore when she won’t be able to have rent on time. We received a letter from her stating that she had been furloughed, but things in the letter didn’t look professional and piqued my interest (recall the forgery charge). I called her employer who informed me that her hours were cut, but she was not furloughed; the woman who answered the phone sounded exasperated and indicated she had explained this to our tenant several times. I informed the tenant that I had done an employment verification and that we could be flexible, but rent was still expected. Then a few months later, after she didn’t pay rent or tell us what was happening, she claimed she couldn’t pay rent because of an issue with a check showing up. We requested her employment information again, and I verified she was fully employed. When I asked her what was going on, she stated that she wasn’t required to tell me where her rent was coming from and whether she was employed didn’t mean she could pay rent. Fun.

Then, a few months later again, I received an email from the Commonwealth of Virginia asking me for my tax identification number and other information because our tenant had applied for rent assistance. I was confused because the rent assistance program was for unpaid rent balances, and she was fully paid. I watched the rent assistance program training and attempted an application myself so that I could see how the process works before I questioned anything more. I verified that the program was indeed for past due rents and couldn’t be requested for future rent. I contacted the State office to gather more information, and the tenant had submitted that she didn’t pay January 2021’s rent, which she had. The State made a note in her file. I informed the tenant that the program was for past due rents, which she had none, and that she was not qualified for such a program, but we were willing to work with her if she had any problems paying rent timely in the future.

Each time she’s not paid full rent by the 5th of the month, she has paid rent in full before the end of the month. After she took full responsibility of the property’s rent and lease, we had her sign a new lease with just her name. That lease ends on June 30 this year, and we’re currently decided whether we’ll offer her another year at an increased rate (last increase was 2 years ago) or we’ll request her to vacate the property.