June Financial Update

We ramped up our travel this month, which has actually led to us canceling a few trips that were planned for this next month. I went to visit my family for my sister’s baby shower, we went on a family trip for a long weekend, and then Mr. ODA was gone all week for work. We’ve done a few local activities, but several of our plans have been cancelled or postponed due to the current gas prices, which are about $4.75. Even Sam’s Club and Costco, which were holding strong in the low 4s, are both at $4.69 right now.

We’re working towards closing on a new house next Wednesday, so that’s been the stressor right now. We had a month and a half for closing, which is literally the longest we’ve ever had, and then yesterday I got asked for tax information. Seriously, what have you been doing for the last month since I signed off on the initial disclosures? We went with an online bank, so that’s been an extra factor in uncertainty through this process.

RENTALS

I served a notice of non-renewal to one of my tenants. Her lease ends on 6/30, and we want her out. It’s the first time in 6 years that we’re so fed up with a tenant that we actually said it’s time to leave. We’ve had issues with tenants in the past, but we’ve just increased their rent as a means of giving them the option to leave, or compensating us for our frustrations associated with them living there. She, of course, didn’t pay rent by the 5th. When I asked her where rent was, along with the balance of outstanding late fees and the current late fee, she said she was trying to secure a place to live, so she wouldn’t be able to “pay towards that” until the 17th. Pay your rent timely OR communicate a need for more time without the landlord having to hunt you down. That will keep a roof over your head so you don’t have to move when you don’t want to, and it’ll also put you in a position where your current landlord can actually provide a referral at a new place.

My other usual suspect, who I told needed to start getting their act together and pay rent before the last Friday of every month, paid half of rent on the 3rd and sent an email saying we won’t get the rest until the last Friday of the month. Progress, I guess.

We had a massive issue with our property manager in Kentucky. The accountant felt he had a little too much power and ran with it. Mr. ODA went to meet with them, where the accountant had to admit his mistake in charging us $900 in front of the owner. As a means of making amends, the owner credited us the management fee they took out of our security deposit. While I understand their thought process that our contract says “10% of income,” and a security deposit gets counted as income for tax purposes, I disagree with them taking a commission out of it. If that’s the case, our security deposits under them should be 10% higher than a month’s worth of rent. A security deposit’s purpose is to reimburse us for our costs to fix a unit that has been unreasonable mangled by a tenant before their departure. In this case, we have $4000 worth of costs. The security deposit was $895. Them taking $89.50 was insult to injury in this case, especially after they took 18 days before taking any action to confirm the place was abandoned. Moving on.

That house that was abandoned ended up getting rented for June 1st. We’re netting about $250 more per month with the higher rent there.

One of our mortgages was going to be paid off in May, which I mentioned last month. I scrambled to find out how to pay the taxes, which wasn’t easy (it’s a different jurisdiction than most of our houses… being in the county instead of the city). I finally got that figured out and paid the taxes at the beginning of the month.

PERSONAL FINANCES

This month we actually had a few “receivables” to expect. We learned that our lender wasn’t requiring an appraisal (we don’t get it), so they were going to refund us the appraisal fee of $525. We had a major issue with Home Depot and getting an appliance delivered, which ended with us going to the store, buying the appliance, putting it in our car, and driving it to the rental. We had to wait for the terrible delivery company to “scan” the not-delivered appliance back into their warehouse, and then we got $600 back. When I registered my kids for preschool, the system glitched and charged an extra $100, so we got that back. I had already registered my oldest at the same school as this year before we learned we’d be moving, and they were kind enough to return my registration fees, so that was $300.

All that to say, stay on top of your finances. Know what you owe so that you know when you’re overcharged. When someone says you’re owed a refund, pay attention that you receive it; we had to follow up on the refund, and it turned out she hadn’t processed it. Don’t be afraid to ask if there’s an option for a refund in some cases. Just those transactions are $1525 worth of money back in our pockets in a month’s time.

SUMMARY

We have work on a rental that’s still outstanding. I don’t expect her to actually be out on June 30th at 5 pm like she’s been instructed. I have our property manager handling the move out (even though she doesn’t manage that property). This way, if she’s not out on the 30th, I haven’t driven 8 hours to find out I can’t do any work on the property.

We plan on doing a lot of work on our new house after close next week. That’ll take up a lot of our free time over the next few months.

The stock market has somewhat rebounded. It’s not back to levels it was once at, but it’s nice to see balances go up instead of down. Our credit cards are down significantly because I am purposely keeping a low balance right before we close on a house (down by paying it off, not down by not spending…). Our funds for closing are coming from our HELOC, so it hasn’t been a stressor to keep a cash balance to go towards our cash-to-close.

Property 1 Turnover

Building off of my last post about tenant abandonment, here’s what it took to turn over that unit. We rarely have units to turn over in our portfolio. Last year we had 1. This year we expected to have 1, but this abandonment made it 2. To have continued renewals over 13 properties is a blessing.

Usually, we need to clean and paint. Every once in a while, we have more work to do, but it’s rarely a massive undertaking. This one was a massive undertaking.

Our property manager walked through the house and saw that junk was left behind and it was filthy. There should be another word worse than filthy. I’m always surprised at how much damage someone can do to a place they have to eat and sleep in for two years.

This is a 3-story townhouse. The entry level is the garage and a den-type room; then there is a flight of stairs to the main living area of a kitchen, dining area, powder room, and living room; finally, there’s a flight of stairs to two nearly-identical bedrooms, each with their own bathroom. The two masters concept and a garage are benefits, but the two flights of stairs is a downside.

TURNOVER ACTIONS

The property manager had her maintenance staff remove everything left behind. I thought she was going to hire something like Junk Luggers, so I was pleased to see that this cost us less by her using in-house staff. They wiped down the baseboards, but didn’t clean. I was under the impression that it was going to be cleaned before I got there. I was also under the impression that the carpets were going to be cleaned on the 25th.

I was working weekends at the time, so I couldn’t get to the house until the 27th. I didn’t find the need to rush down there because I thought my property manager had action happening. Plus, I’m pregnant, so I didn’t want to be in someone else’s filth for extended periods of time, and I expected it cleaned up before I was scooting along the floors and in tight spaces. Well, I walked in and was so upset. The carpet was disgusting. It looked like someone made lines in the carpet with the steamer tool, but didn’t actually clean anything. Not a single thing was actually cleaned. The kitchen and bathrooms were horrendous. I’ll spare you pictures of what the bathrooms looked like. You can see “steamer” lines in the carpet, as someone had been there, but there was zero effort put into actually cleaning the stains.

I called the property manager, and she agreed to come meet me at the house. She agreed that the carpet cleaning was unacceptable, and I wouldn’t be charged for that. She explained that her guy didn’t have time to clean the place except for wiping baseboards, and they had decided to clean it once at the end. I said that would be fine if the house wasn’t this bad, but there should have been an initial cleaning. She showed me pictures, and even though the baseboards were gross, they had actually been wiped down because they had been even worse.

The property manager called her typically cleaner, and he agreed to get there the next morning. I showed up the next morning to find he was still there working. He said the house was in much worse condition than he was told, and they’d have to leave to go to another job and come back to this house. I wasn’t surprised, but I was very happy to see that everything was cleaned, and that I wasn’t completed grossed out by being there.

DECISION MAKING FOR TURNOVER WORK

There are costs that you just have to deal with in the turnover – junk removal, cleaning, carpet cleaning. Then there are costs that you don’t expect to be on your radar, but are necessary – replace broken floor vents, replace missing outlet covers. Then there are decisions that require more thought. For instance, we haven’t enjoyed this property in our portfolio, and we’re considering selling it. We’d like to recoup some of the costs we’re having to put into it now, but selling it is on our radar for the future. So do we want to clean the carpet, or start replacing the carpet with hard surface flooring to increase our property value for a future sale?

We recently received an updated assessment for our taxes on this property. I happened to look up their comps given. We bought this house for $86k. I noticed that the houses with no updates to it were selling around $110k, while houses with nicer flooring and fixtures were selling up to $130k. My goal was to start preparing for a sale in the future, and we’d have a few steps done instead of having to redo the entire house in a year or so.

The biggest actions I took while looking into the future were:
1) I painted the main floor baseboards white. The baseboards, walls, trim, and doors were originally all painted the same color – an off-white or beige. Over time, we kept the trend going because it made it easier and quicker to turn over the house. While I didn’t paint all the baseboards white, I did it in the main living area and in the stairwells. I painted the interior doors of the main living area (main entry door at the top of the stairs, the laundry room door, and the powder room door) and all their trim white.
2) Repaint all the main walls. At the last turnover, Mr. ODA went into the house and touched up the walls. The paint had gone bad, so the touch ups were very noticeable. I painted everything except one bathroom, half the laundry room, the powder room, and the two bedroom closets. Every other wall surface (including two stairwells…gosh) got painted a gray.
3) We did get a carpet cleaning company to come out and rotovac, which is an incredible process that brings a carpet in rough condition almost completely back to new. It’s truly impressive. They also charged us $159 for this more intense process, while the original company that just made lines in the carpet was going to charge $244 for nothing.
4) Instead of cleaning the main living area carpet, I wanted to replace it with hard surface flooring. We’ve had this house, with the same carpet, since 2016. That’s 6 years of carpeting that has been beat up (understatement) by 3 different tenants. The carpet could even be older than that because it’s what we inherited when we purchased the property. I explained in a recent post all the reasons why we laid LVP and how we accomplished it ourselves.

COSTS OF TURNOVER

I had to supply my property manager with specific costs associated with the work I did, so here’s that, along with the charges they had on our account. Not all of this gets billed to the tenant. For example, the dishwasher and refrigerator were at its useful life and needed replacement, due to no fault of the tenant’s.

While it was hard to get started, seeing the mountain in front of me when I first walked into this house, I do appreciate having done most of the work myself. We spent over 28 hours at the house. I did about half of that by myself. Mr. ODA and his dad helped get some progress on the painting one day, and then Mr. ODA and I worked together on the flooring.

We also have the months of lost rent that were unexpected. With notice, we could have listed and shown the house before the current tenant vacated. We were caught on our heels, and we lost 2 full months of rent. Unfortunately, we truly lost 18 days of progress in those 2 months because our property manager didn’t enter the house to confirm abandonment timely.

LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL

We ended up listing the house on May 6th. They had several showings, but the layout is hard to get rented. One couple submitted an application on a Thursday. When our property manager reached out to them, they never responded. Our property manager had pushed to list the house at $1250. Once that couple ghosted us, I told her to lower it to $1200. Just as I was about to give up and have it lowered, she was able to get another application and a signed lease. Luckily, being that it was May 25th, these people wanted a June 1st rental. We increased our rent by $275/month and only lost 2 months of rent, which is mostly made up by the drastic increase in rental income.

Another silver lining is that we paid off this property’s mortgage multiple years ago. Therefore, we didn’t have the extra “bleeding” of money by having to make two mortgage payments without having the cashflow to offset it.

We don’t expect to see a dime from the old tenant of what we spent to turnover the unit. We didn’t have any issues with him while he lived there, and his abandonment and lack of communication was surprising. Someone who leaves like that, and leaves the house in such poor condition, isn’t going to put forth effort to pay a $3k bill he receives in the mail. It’s in the hands of our property manager at this point and will likely move to collections. We’re just happy to have new renters in the unit and have this one behind us.

Tenant Abandonment

Most lease agreements state that you’re responsible for the entirety of the lease term, even if you try to leave early. Most landlords are willing to work out an agreement if you have a reason to leave the house early. We’ve let several people out of their leases early to either move out of the area or buy a new home (those are just the reasons we’ve dealt with, not saying those are the only reasons we’d let you out of a lease).

We usually default to two-months worth of rent as a “lease break fee.” You leaving early has increased our projected expenses for the house because turning over a house is expensive and you’re asking us to have more time without rental income. With that said, we’ve also left it at “you pay rent up until we get a new tenant in the house.” I’ve never taken more than a week to get a new tenant set up in a house, but my property managers (through companies, not the individual person we use in Virginia) consistently take 2 months to get a unit rented (I don’t get it!).

Then there are some people who just leave. No notice. No request. They abandon the property and stop communicating. Surprisingly, we’ve dealt with this twice in the last 6 years.

The positive, they’re mostly out of the house, and we can take action to get it re-rented, which is better than them living in the house while not paying rent. The negative, we’ve had no warning of their intent to stop paying rent. Plus, if a tenant is willing to just walk away from a house, s/he may not be leaving it in pristine condition.

ABANDONMENT #1

The first tenant abandonment ended well. In Virginia, if the house is abandoned for 7 days, it automatically returns to the landlord’s possession without the court getting involved.

I received a call from the public school system. They asked me if I was the owner and if so-and-so was living at this address. I truly could not answer. My property manager did the background check and set up the lease. I basically look at the lease to ensure the dates are correct and that all the initials and signatures are in place, but I certainly don’t commit names to memory. I gave the person my property manager’s contact. Connecting the dots, she must have confirmed the name of the tenant and the address because the tenant received notice that his children were no longer allowed to attend a school they were not districted for. This happened years ago. I always thought it was odd that they called in April to verify such a thing, when there was 4-5 weeks of school left. But then I was just telling this story last night, and someone said that if the kids are not causing trouble, they typically look the other way. So perhaps there was an underlying reason for the school system to go digging.

Well anyway, in true logical decision making, he blamed us for getting his kids kicked out of school. If I didn’t know his name, I certainly didn’t know how many kids he had or where he was sending them.

He let us know he was moving out, but he wasn’t cooperative. He said he’d be out by a certain date in May 2017, but he didn’t have everything cleared out. We finally got stern with him. By the end of May, he hadn’t paid what he agreed to, so we filed with the court.

We worked to get the house turned over in the last week of May, and we had new tenants move in on June 1st. We were only out 1 month worth of rent along with the costs of turnover. His security deposit covered a majority of the balance owed, so it wasn’t an immediate hit to our finances.

The court granted us the judgement. The total he owed was $1,074.76. Unfortunately, the judgement just writes the amount owed and whether interest is owed, but it doesn’t give a deadline for payment. The system expects the two parties to work together to make a payment plan. If he doesn’t live up to the payment plan, then we can go to the court and file for another judgement. We received $200 immediately from him, and then agreed to $200 every other Friday for the remaining $875.

He missed the second payment. We sent an email explaining that if he doesn’t reach out, our property manager will go to the court to file, which will then lead to a credit report hit and collections. He eventually started making a few payments, but I should have stuck to my guns and required 4-5 payments. In mid-November, he still had a balance owed of $685, plus 6% interest from the date on the judgement. We eventually got all the money he owed, but it took a year, and it was frustrating to constantly have to track him down and push him to finish the payment plan.

ABANDONMENT #2

The second abandonment just happened. In March, our property manager was tipped off by a neighbor that our tenant was moving out. Our property manager asked if he was moving out, and he denied it. Then he didn’t pay April’s rent, so she continued to follow up, but received no responses. I am not clear why it took until April 12 to decide to post notice to enter the property, and then why she didn’t actually enter the property until April 18, but that’s what happened. That’s 18 days of lost rent and lost productivity for us to turnover the unit. That’s $555 worth of rent that is just lost. We could have been working on cleaning out the house during that time.

Our property manager entered the unit and took pictures. She found that the tenant had left some furniture and garbage behind, but it was clear enough that he left and wasn’t returning. The house was also in bad shape. All the walls required a new coat of paint. The floors were filthy, as if things were spilled all over, never cleaned up, never vacuumed, and he left all the windows open for water to leak in. The kitchen was covered in fruit fly type bugs. The bathrooms were so horrendous that I refused to even be in the house until they got cleaned. It was impressively dirty. I always wonder how people live in such conditions. This is YOUR toilet. Why would you enter this room and think “yes, this is where I want to sit!”

The property management company had their staff remove the pieces of furniture and garbage from the house. Then they wiped down baseboards so that I could start painting. It was so bad when I entered that I had them get a professional cleaner in there before I’d spend much time there. I painted all 3 levels (including two stairwells), except for 1 bathroom and 3 closets. Then we got carpet cleaners in there and some maintenance items taken care of.

It was an extra 3 weeks worth of work that we did ourselves and coordination with contractors to get the house turned over. We lost April’s rent, and then we were set up to lose May’s rent. We didn’t get the house listed until May 6th, and then we didn’t get a confirmed renter until May 25th, for them to start a June 1st lease.

The silver linings here are that we improved the condition of the property over those 3 weeks; we could have lost even more weeks of rent, but we were lucky to find someone that wanted it nearly immediately; we have the unit rented $275 more per month than we had it leased for. Had we kept it rented through the end of the lease, we would have brought in about the same amount for the year that we’re bringing in now with the increase in rent, even though we lose 2 months worth of rent.

The tenant’s final cost, being billed for April, May, and June rent (I don’t know why the management company chose to include June), is $3,868.12. That’s after applying his security deposit to the balance owed. We probably won’t see a dime of that. If a tenant is willing to lie that they’re moving out, and then not respond to anything being sent after that, they’re not willing to work with us on a payment plan. We didn’t have any maintenance issues with the house, and we didn’t think he was unhappy with anything. Granted, I don’t know if our property manager was not responding to issues, but we weren’t aware of any. This house is in Kentucky, so we don’t have a grasp on how the court system works like we do in Virginia.


While it’s stressful and frustrating, eventually you move on. Once the house is re-rented, you start to feel better about the situation. Each day that you’re working on the house and each day there’s no application received for the property, you just keep building anxiety. While the first situation ended well in that we eventually received all our lost money, I don’t expect this second abandonment to end as well. Our long term (or more like 1-2 year short term) plan is to sell this property, so we’ll recoup that in the equity made over the last 6+ years with the house.

Tenant Satisfaction

A tenant moves out. Days without a tenant in the house equate to less income. On top of that, you probably have to touch up paint or repaint. You have to clean the carpet. You have to clean all the appliances and bathrooms. You may have to replace an appliance. Then there’s the extreme, that you may have to hire a junk removal company to get rid of the debris left behind and then hire a cleaner that charges a hazmat fee on top of the cleaning fee (does it sound like I’m speaking from personal experience?).

Turnover is when one tenant moves out and another moves in. The goal is to make that period of time as short as possible, or even non-existent. There aren’t always scenarios that you, as the landlord, have control over, but making a tenant feel appreciated and heard can keep them living under your roof for more than the initial lease term.

When a tenant leaves, in the best case scenario, you’re losing 1 or 2 days of income ($80). However, it’s also taken us up to 2 months to get a unit rented. That means you’re making 2 mortgage payments without income to offset them. When calculating your cash-on-cash return, the assumption is typically 5% vacancy rate, or about 18 days per year without rental income.

Then there’s the work you need to do to get the unit ‘rent ready’ again. Again, the best case scenario is cleaning the house and paint touch up. We now pay someone to come in and clean the house between tenants; it became worth the $100 to have someone come in, with the right tools, and be done a lot faster and better than I could do. The preference is to not have any carpet in a house, but we do have a few that have carpet that will need cleaned between tenants ($125). We do our own paint touch ups, so it’s typically no cost except my time because we have a standard paint color, and therefore left over paint. Quick tip: if you’re not painting the whole wall, use a paint brush to touch up the areas that need it, and then go over it with a roller to help blend it together, then you won’t see those touched up spots.

However, there may be more work to do than those quick, simple tasks that you can have lined up for 1 or 2 days. Even if the tenant treats the house great, appliances and carpeting have a useful life and may need to be replaced, which involves ordering and scheduling installation.

The end goal: keep tenants happy and not wanting to move means more money in your pocket. Find compromise and don’t always focus on your bottom line – and your bottom line will likely end up thanking you.

In 5 of our properties, we haven’t had any turnover (owned anywhere from 1.5-4.5 years). In 3 cases of turnover, the tenant left due to a job relocation. We’ve had 2 evictions. Our turnover rate for the average years we’ve owned the properties is 1.75, so the majority of the time the tenants renew their lease.

How do we do it? We create a relationship that says we’ll be responsive and listen to issues, we’re reasonable and fairly lenient with paying rent on time with sufficient notice and justification, and we provide houses that are in good condition.

We had a tenant vacate a house due to a job relocation. She had such a good experience with us, that she set us up with a new tenant for their house. Then a year later, she moved back into town and reached out to me. She said they had such a terrible experience with a landlord that if they were to rent again, it would only be from us. We just happened to have a tenant moving out because that tenant was buying her own house, and our newly vacated house fit all the parameters she wanted. That meant we had 2 days of turnover and didn’t have to list the property.

That house really needed a new paint job. We hadn’t painted it when we purchased it, and now it’s 3 tenants in. We didn’t know that until the tenant moved out and didn’t have time to paint the whole house before the new tenants were moving in. To show that we knew the house wasn’t perfect, we offered the new tenant $50 per room and $25 per paint can if she wanted to paint on her own. She was thrilled because she planned to paint some rooms to begin with, but now there was a financial incentive for her.

As for rent payments, if the tenant usually pays rent without issue and they preemptively reach out to tell us that they’ll need more time to pay rent, we’ll usually waive the late fee. Our calculations for the year don’t anticipate collecting late fees, so it’s not a loss of ours to waive the fee, but it makes them feel like we care about them as people. If you’re a tenant: communicate regularly with your landlord. Your landlord doesn’t want to evict you, doesn’t want to tarnish your record, and doesn’t want to put you in a position of financial hardship, but we can’t work with you if you don’t communicate with us.

We had a tenant ask us to put in a backsplash in the kitchen. He explained that he cooks regularly, and food is splattering on the wall, which was painted in a flat paint and didn’t wipe well (painted before we owned it). This is unconventional because it’s more than a request to fix a leaking sink or an inoperable appliance. However, we saw the benefit to install a backsplash in the longevity of the kitchen’s life and the tenant feeling like they got a ‘win.’ We agreed to do a peel’n’stick backsplash, which met the goal of a wipeable surface without being labor intensive. We even gave them options to choose from that matched the house’s color scheme. It cost us $68 and about 90 minutes of our time to install it. This tenant still lives in the home, which we’ve owned for nearly 5 years now.

We allow pets in the properties. Back when we were trying to rent an apartment for ourselves to live, few allowed pets; if they allowed pets, there was an astronomic fee associated with it. We decided to not eliminate the average 50% of pet owners by mandating a pet-free property, and we wouldn’t charge monthly pet fees or high initial fees (though we still charge some) associated with having a pet. Honestly, I have kids and a dog; my dog has never done anything wrong in our home, but my kids sure do make a mess and spill things. We have had issues with pets in our properties, but the owners have done other things wrong, so it was a poor tenant issue, not necessarily a pet issue.

I also feel that if we provide a house that looks clean and well-kept, then the tenant is more likely to keep it in that condition. We’re setting the expectation that this is the type of house that we’re renting, and we expect it to be in similar condition when we get it back. We understand paint scuffs happen, pictures get hung, and there may be a couple new stains on carpet, but the house is to be returned to us clean and put together, which is even stated in the lease. If we handed over a house that was dirty or had dingy paint and carpet, the tenant is likely to not put as much effort into keeping it in pristine condition. This isn’t foolproof. But we charge the security deposit for anything outside of normal wear and tear, and they understand this will happen from the lease signing, as well as the unspoken expectation made by the condition we hand the house over in. People are more likely to take care of properties when its condition is good enough to feel pride in, and will typically not respect it if it’s apparent the landlord isn’t taking care of it either.