Back in May, I was a guest on Maggie Germano’s Podcast, “The Money Circle.” I shared some of our background and how we started investing in real estate. We brushed on topics like establishing an LLC, tax advantages, and how you don’t need to start big to just get started. It was a brand new experience for me, but I’m passionate about our real estate experiences, and I loved being able to share. I hope you’ll check it out!
Spring is a time for lease renewals or preparing to re-rent a house.
Spring and Summer are times when people are most active in the real estate market. It’s the best time to be listing your house for sale and for rent, which may yield you a better sale/rent amount because of greater competition. This timeframe is likely most active because of the better weather for moving and the school year – if a family is looking to move, they’re more likely to do it when they don’t have to transfer their kids to a different school district mid-school-year. Personally, when I was in college, nearly all the rentals were available in May or June. I remember being frustrated that I couldn’t get an August lease and had to pay for the summer months even though I’d be back living at my parents’ house. Now that I’m older and have more experience, it all makes sense. Below, you can see the increase in applications processed by SmartMove (the way we process tenant applications) that occur during the summer months, which indicates the most active time in the market.
We have seen this reflected in our days-on-the-market and rent prices. When we can list a house in the Spring months, we’re able to get it rented with very few days vacant. Houses that we’ve closed on at the end of the Summer (when school starts) and in the Fall have taken us more time to find a tenant, and we’ve had to reduce our asking monthly rent amount.
For those houses that we had purchased in a less-opportune time of year, we’ve worked to get them back to a Spring-time market for renewal.
- We purchased two in September 2019 that we weren’t able to get rented until November 1st that year; we offered those tenants an 18 month lease so that their lease expiration would become May 31st.
- We did similar with a house that we purchased in August. After that first year, a prospective tenant tried negotiating the list price for rent, and we said we were willing to reduce the rent a bit for an 18 month lease; they agreed, and we got our rental on a Spring renewal.
- We recently had a tenant break their lease (with our concurrence), so that house has a lease expiration of October 31st now. We intend to offer a 6 month lease term to that tenant when the time comes.
With that said, we have lots of activity at this time of year.
We have 9 houses in Virginia and 3 in Kentucky. These markets are so different for us. We do our best to work with our tenants to encourage them to continue renting with us. I wrote about this in detail in my Tenant Satisfaction post.
Here’s a break down of how we handled all the leases that are expiring at this time of year.
In Kentucky, one lease was set to expire at the end of April and another at the end of May. These two properties are under a property manager. She attempted to increase the rent for a new lease term, but the tenants pushed back. Landlords don’t have a lot of leverage in a pandemic. Since the property manager is the one who handled the communication, I don’ t know what the details were. We believe both these houses are rented for less than market value, so that’s unfortunate. But, we’re grateful that both tenants renewed their lease for a year, so we don’t have to work to turnover the houses. Within reason, we’d always rather rent for a few bucks under market value than to handle turnover and lost rent (vacancy) by trying to maximize monthly cash flow.
In Virginia, we have an array of situations. Richmond was quick to acknowledge the property value increases that have occurred over the last year or so. This means that they increased our assessments, which effectively increases our property taxes.
We have the first two properties that we bought in that market, which are next door to each other and both have long term tenants (one since we before we purchased it, and the other is the second tenant who moved in a year after we purchased). We inherited their rent at $1,050, and then we increased it to $1,100 two years ago. With the property assessment increases, it was time to raise their rent again for this July. I initiated a letter to each of them stating the rent will increase as of July 1, which gave two options: they could leave the property by June 30th in accordance with their lease, or they could sign on for another year at the increased rent rate. Both chose to stay in the property, and they signed another year at $1,150. This is still below market value for the houses, but we’re happy with the lack of maintenance needs in these houses over the last 5 years. We’re in the middle of replacing the flooring in one of the houses. That house has a family of 5 and a dog living in it, so it’s not surprising that it’s worn out faster than the identical one next door with one person in it.
We have a 2 bed, 1 bath house that rents at $795. She’s been in the house since July 2018, which means that her lease ends June 30th of this year. Based on the 1% Rule (i.e., we’re looking for the monthly rent to be 1% of the original purchase price) for this house, our rent goal is $635. Since we’ve exceeded that goal for the life of our ownership, and the house hasn’t cost us much in maintenance, we chose to not increase her rent if she wanted to renew for another year, which she did. She has also spent some of her own money to spruce up the house and make it her home, and we recognize the value to us that her efforts also bring.
Another house reached out to us and asked if we were willing to renew her lease for another year. She’s been there since we purchased the house in 2017, and we’ve never increased her rent. She usually pays rent early and doesn’t ask for anything. The 1% Rule puts us at $660, and we’ve been collecting $850. Since we’ve been lenient on rent increases, I thought it a good idea to re-evaluate her terms. I plugged all the numbers into Mr. ODA’s calculation sheet to see how we were doing since the taxes increased so much on this house. Our cash-on-cash return (which we aim to be at 8-10%) came back at 19.8%. A rent increase for the sake of increasing rent isn’t worth it for such a good tenant, so we agreed to renew her lease for another year at the same rent. She wrote back: “omg thanks so much for the good news!” Happy tenants = good tenants, remember?
As for the others that I haven’t mentioned:
- Two of our houses were put under a two year lease last year, so they didn’t require any action from us this year.
- We have another house in KY that has a lease ending 7/31 and is under a property manager. We’ll offer a renewal option for them (i.e., we’re not interested in asking them to leave), but we haven’t worked out those details yet. Since we’re very hands off for our KY houses, we don’t know the satisfaction level of those tenants to gauge. Historically, we’ve had trouble renting this unit, costing us long vacancy times, so if we can renew their lease for even the same rent, we’re happy. Plus, having a 7/31 end date starts pushing us closer to the Fall for any future year-long rental agreements.
- One of the houses that we have with a partner has a difficult tenant. I mention the tenants almost every month in the financial updates because they don’t pay their rent on time, and getting information out of them is like pulling teeth. They’ve rented there long before we owned the property, and their rent has always been $1,300, which is well below market value. We plan on offering them a drastic rent increase and a new lease term (we’re still managing under the previous owner’s lease agreement) in July for their September 30th expiration term.
While we don’t have any houses to turn over, we’re going to get into each house this summer. Since so many of our houses don’t typically have turnover, we don’t get into them as often as we should to make sure things are running correctly (i.e., don’t want small issues to go unnoticed and cost us in the long run). Specifically, we need to make sure that the HVAC filters have all been changed and verify there aren’t any red flags. I plan to give the tenants at least a month’s notice before we enter, so that if there are any maintenance activities they should have been performing, they have time to get it situated. I’ll walk through with our typical move in/out inspection form and note any concerns or areas of interest. I also understand that by being visible, I’m opening myself up to being asked for things that a tenant may not necessarily ask for via email or text, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. For now, we’re just grateful that we have no houses to turn over and no expected loss of rental income for the year thus far!
This one has been pretty easy, but we did have an interesting issue arise with the first tenant.
This is our largest house at 4 bedrooms and 1.5 bathrooms, and 1281 square feet. It’s a cape cod style house, so the upstairs has slanted ceilings, the half bath is not anything to write home about, and the HVAC struggles to work up there. The carpet on the stairs could really be replaced (but it hurts me to spend money on stairs because they’re soooo expensive compared to carpeting a room!). But the house has a huge fenced-in yard with a nice deck that’s a great selling point.
The kitchen was renovated at some point, so that’s held up well – and lets face it, who doesn’t choose baby pink knobs for their new kitchen cabinetry? But the plumbing and roof have been painful.
I’ve already told many of the stories about this house through other teaching posts, so bear with me if things sound familiar.
The house is in Richmond, VA, and the purchase was very simple. We offered $109,000, and the seller countered with 112,500 and 2,000 in seller subsidy (i.e., closing costs), which we accepted. It was listed on June 22 at $119k, and we offered on June 25, so I’m actually surprised we got the contract agreed to so quickly.
Quick note here: after reviewing real estate contracts in NY, KY, and VA, Virginia wins. Sure there are several states that I haven’t ventured into, and this is an extremely small sample size. The paperwork is simple yet thorough, all while being in plain language. So if you’re needing a template to work off of, look up Virginia’s purchase agreement.
We settled on a 30 year conventional loan at 5.05%. We received a $200 lender credit since we closed on several properties in a short period of time. This is the house that we refinanced and received an appraisal of $168,000! We had already started with equity in the house because it appraised at $114,000 at closing.
Interestingly, we couldn’t insure the house through the company that we had gone with because they have a 5 rental limit. Our agent was able to quote us through another company though, so our process appeared seamless. However, the quote was much higher than we anticipated. We went through a friend to insure it, but shortly after closing (literally a week), we were able to find an even cheaper option – that was awkward.
Not a category that usually gets mentioned. I discussed the neighborhood of the one house we sold already, which was because I didn’t realize it was in a higher-than-average crime area that tenants honed in on. But this neighborhood is worth mentioning.
Rentals aren’t prevalent here. In fact, many of the homes are the original owners. While working on the house when we first purchased it, the neighbor across the street approached me. He as-politely-as-possible threatened me that this is a nice neighborhood, that everyone keeps up their property, and that they don’t want any trouble. I assured him we have good standards as landlords, and we haven’t had any neighbor complaints for any of the tenants we had in our houses.
The location also comes into play for our first tenant.
This house is under a property manager for 10% monthly rent.
As with most of our tenant searches, no one fits perfectly into our requirements. We offset this by a higher security deposit or having another signatory on the lease. We had two prospective tenants – one was a mother/daughter combo (an adult daughter) and both had bankruptcies in the last year; the other was a man and his family that had an eviction 7 years prior. We chose the one with an eviction. His application actually said that he “will also respect the property to the utmost.” Boy did he.
He first requested that the carpet be replaced. It was actually a reasonable request because it wasn’t the best. Here’s the carpet on the second floor. Old, bottom of the line padding; a gorgeous blue; lots of wear spots.
We decided to refinish the wood floors on the first floor because 1) he wasn’t moving in for two weeks, and 2) it would save us in the long run to put that investment into the floors instead of carpeting every few years (and risking someone completely ruining it before its useful life was up). It was $1850 and the company was able to start immediately and get it done before the tenant moved in (granted, it was the day he moved in, but it did get done). And the refinish turned out great!
He asked us for a screen door, but we said that wasn’t a necessity. He asked if he could install one himself. We agreed, as long as it didn’t prohibit our access (e.g., he can’t lock it, give us a key). This later becomes an issue because he locks it after vacating and we need it rekeyed.
This tenant had a few late rent payments and struggled with paying rent on time, but overall he was a good tenant to have. He took care of the property and let us know when he ran into issues (it’s amazing how many people don’t tell us of a problem in a timely fashion).
Just as we did on House 5, we offered this tenant the opportunity to pay rent in two installments each month. His rent was $1150 from August through February. He took the opportunity and we executed an addendum to change the rent to $600 twice a month. Again, it’s an inconvenience to us to collect two rent payments, but it theoretically should save the tenant money if they’re constantly in a position that they owe late fees (if he usually pays $1150+115=1265, then 1200 is a better position).
And then the fun happened!
I was at WORK one day, answered my work phone, and someone on the other end asked to speak to the owner of [this house’s address]. I barely used my work phone for work calls, so to receive a personal call on my work phone was very surprising. I informed her that I was the owner. She then went on to ask me questions about the tenant occupying the residence. I couldn’t answer a single question – hah! I let her know that I really didn’t know who was living there or the status of the home because I have a property manager. She was very nice and understanding, and she called my property manager.
She was with the school system. Apparently, our tenant had moved into the City public school district, but kept his kids in the adjacent county school system. It was April. I thought it was ridiculous that the school system would investigate this with 6 weeks left of school, but technically, he was in the wrong. And get this – he blamed me for it! Our nice tenant turned on us and went crazy. He claimed that he could just walk away from the house …. honestly I don’t remember his reason for it, but somehow he thought he had a case.
Virginia has a wonderful statute that says if the house is vacant for 7 days, the owner takes possession without any court interference. There’s also a statute that says we can’t collect double rent, and we need to be doing our best to rent it out if given notice. We tried to keep communication lines open with the tenant, but he was silent. We had told him that we were willing to release him from his lease obligations if we found another tenant, which we did. He was responsible for May’s rent and late fees, and we would have a new tenant move in June 1. We also informed him that he would be responsible for the leasing fee associated with finding a new tenant, which was basically considered the ‘lease break fee’ and is fairly generous ($300 instead of a standard two-months rent that’s typically seen as the fee). It kept going south from there.
On top of the rent owed, he had several lease breaches – room painting (clarification: rooms are allowed to be painted as long as it’s a neutral color or painted back to a neutral color before vacating), wall patching and painting, house cleaning, mowing, re-keying, and utilities since he turned them off. By mid-June, he still owed us $874.76. We made an arrangement with him that he’d pay a certain amount each pay check, but he failed several times. We finally threatened to take him to court, which would affect his credit score and increase the balance owed since court fees would become his responsibility. Since he had been working to rebuild his credit since his bankruptcy, we thought this would light a fire under him.
We went to court.
Court also added a 6% interest charge on the outstanding balance, which now included the $58 court fee.
It took him over a year to pay the balance. By the time the court judgment arrived, his balance (after paying $50 here and there was $660. The court doesn’t put a timeframe or process on the judgement, but leaves it to the two parties to determine the payment schedule. He didn’t adhere to it well, but we did eventually get the whole balance paid. Mr. ODA also took this opportunity to have fun with calculating interest payments on a declining ‘principal’ balance that isn’t getting payments on a predictable schedule!
TENANTS #2 & #3
These tenants were/are much easier. The second tenant in the house had several large dogs, but we didn’t see any damage to the house. She eventually broke the lease to buy her own house in November 2020; we can’t fault someone for wanting to take advantage of low interest rates! She gave the appropriate amount of notice, but the lease was going to be broken as of 10/31, which isn’t a great time to have a rental come open. She ended up being very gracious with the situation, paid us one month of a lease break fee, and we kept her security deposit.
Right after she gave us notice, we had an old tenant reach out to us. They had moved back into town (I’ve mentioned them several times) and asked if we had a 4 bed/2 bath house available. Amazingly, we did. We showed them the house and they signed a lease within a few days.
Since turnover was fast, and I didn’t really know the status of the house, I didn’t get a chance to paint the house. All the rooms had been white except for the one room that I repainted after the first tenant had painted it lime green. The house really needs a whole paint job, and so I offered her an incentive. If she wanted to paint any of the rooms, she could knock $75 off the rent per room. So far she’s painted three rooms.
MAINTENANCE AND REPAIRS
The plumbing in this house has been horrendous. We had the tub snaked as soon as the first tenant moved in ($150). We then had issues with hot water, which required several adjustments to the water flow rates to coincide with the tankless hot water heater ($325). We had the upstairs toilet serviced ($120). Then a year later, we had to service the hot water tank again ($570). Tenants had complained that the upstairs sink drained slowly. We had attempted to snake it and fix it several times, but it never seemed to work. We finally just bit the bullet and replaced the plumbing – from the second floor to the crawl space. That work and the drywall patching cost us $1563.
Then there’s all the roof work. Shingles had flown off during a storm, so we had those replaced ($350). We also had a leak in the flat roof over the laundry room. We had a roof guy come out, and he said the roof hit its life expectancy. He replaced the pitched roof ($4135), and not the flat roof. So we’ve still had issues there that will need to be addressed.
That sounds like a lot of money, but we’ve owned this house for 4 years now with our rent being double the mortgage (slightly better now too with the recent refi). When purchasing properties, any good investor is going to build maintenance and capital expenses into their numbers that determine if it’s a worthy investment. Rent cash flow wins out, and all the rest is just the cost of running our business – not to mention the $60k of appreciation we have on paper in just 4 years. It’s also worth noting that these things took up about 10 days worth of action from us over those 4 years, so most months, we just collect the rent with no other action required from us.
No property is going to be perfect, and this business relies on people, the tenants, to make the business profitable. No path will take a straight line, and being flexible to the ebbs and flows of rental property investing help make it fun too!
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.
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.
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.
This is the fun part to recount. It’s detailed, but I think it’s interesting.
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 :)).
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.
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.
I shared that I would tell the stories of our home purchases. Instead of starting with #1, I decided to start with the most interesting. This property was being sold by a licensed Realtor, so we had a false sense of security. It ended up being the sketchiest (technical term) deal we’ve done. This is in Virginia.
We started with a home inspection, which revealed several issues. We requested the HVAC condensate line be cleared and the water in the backup pan removed. We also agreed to have our attorney withhold $1,300 at closing, to be paid to a contractor of our choice after closing, to repair other items found during the inspection. I can’t remember why we were handling the home inspection items, but that should have been the first red flag.
Our closing was scheduled for 8/18.
We were told that the HVAC repairs agreed upon were completed. We went to check on the progress of cleaning out the house and the HVAC repairs on August 10th. The HVAC’s backup pan still had water in it, and the house was filthy (after being told it was ‘vacant’ and ‘cleaned’). Plus, the electric was turned off. We had our Realtor reach out to the seller to cover our bases. Here’s his email:
While waiting for a response on this email, we checked with our closing attorney to ensure everything else was ready for closing; it wasn’t. We fully expected a “we’re clear” response, but instead we were told they were having trouble clearing the title. We weren’t given the specifics, but that’s not what you want to hear a week before closing. It ended up being cleared, but that was one more thing to worry about!
As typical, we had to do a final walk-through of the house to ensure it’s in the same condition (or better) as it was when we went under contract. Knowing how poorly the seller communicated over the previous month, we wanted to see the house the day before closing, rather than right before we head to the closing table. The electric was still not turned on, and it wasn’t cleaned. Our Realtor contacted the seller again. We were assured it would be addressed, and the electric would be on. We made plans to walk through the house in the morning.
Our Realtor was unavailable that morning, since this wasn’t supposed to be part of the schedule, so he sent a team-member to let us in. As luck would have it, she dropped the lockbox key below the front porch, so we couldn’t get in. We called our attorney and postponed the closing to later in the day. The Realtor was able to obtain a copy of the key to let us in, where we learned the electric was still off.
I contacted the electric company. I explained that I was the buyer, and the seller kept saying the electric would get turned on, but here we are at the 11th hour with nothing. The woman on the other end couldn’t tell me what she was seeing since it wasn’t my account, but she carefully played with words to let me know: sorry, hunny, but there’s no way this electric is getting turned on while under this person’s name because there is a high outstanding balance. She assured me that if I put it in my name, there wouldn’t be any issues. However, I wasn’t about to pay fees and put it in my name before the house was legally mine.
This is where we learned that a good attorney is worth his weight in gold. We never really understood the role of a closing attorney, since all our closings had gone smoothly (I mean, we could sign all the closing documents in about 20 minutes at this point). Since the electric wasn’t on, and we couldn’t verify the condition of the home, as required by the contract, our attorney withheld $5,000 of the settlement proceeds. The seller’s attorney was NOT happy, but it was entertaining to watch from our standpoint.
We had been provided a ‘receipt,’ dated 8/17 (the day before closing), that indicated an HVAC repair man had been out to do the work required. We are pretty sure that this was falsified. There was no electricity in the house that day, and there was still water in the pan on 8/18. Here’s the email I sent to our attorney releasing the $5,000 withheld, less the cost of my HVAC technician performing the repairs.
It cost me $125 for the HVAC technician’s trip. Our attorney told the seller’s attorney that he would release the $5000 less the $125. The seller’s attorney said he didn’t have any authority to allow that; so our attorney said he didn’t have any authority to release the $5000. Well, the seller’s attorney decided $4875 was better than nothing, and I got my $125 back.
All in all, everything fell into place, but there were many days and hours that felt like we were about to fall into a pit.
We purchased the house for $89,000, plus the $1,300 for contractor repairs, and the seller paid $2,000 of our closing costs (this minimizes the amount we have to bring to closing and allows us to leverage every last dollar we can for maximum efficiency). Our first lease was for $995/month, exceeding the 1% Rule. We closing in mid-August, and the first lease didn’t execute until October 1, which was one of our longer vacancies. That tenant renewed her lease once. Currently, the rent is $1,025/month. We sought $1,050 for a 12 month lease, and the prospective tenant negotiated an 18-month lease at $1,025. We accepted this because it was rented in October, and an 18-month lease brought as back to spring-time turnover. Even though taxes have risen since the purchase, we still maintain the substantial cash-on-cash return that is provided for in trying to obtain the 1% rule on investment real estate purchases.
After closing, I painted nearly the entire house (including the trim) over the course of a week; the house looked significantly better with just a fresh coat of paint. We also had to do a more thorough cleaning job than we’ve typically had to do on houses we purchase, including caulking the tub and cleaning the carpet.
We replaced the dishwasher with the first tenant, and then replaced the refrigerator after the second tenant kept complaining about the seal not working well. Most costly, the house has had several roof and siding issues. The kitchen was an addition with a flat roof, which typically causes problems. We replaced the gutters, fixed the flashing, repaired some siding, and then eventually replaced that part of the roof altogether. We also had to replace a cracked window, which was surprisingly under warranty. It took a lot of work to find the window manufacturer and a local distributor, but it surprisingly all worked out because it was a stress fracture and covered under a lifetime warranty.