Categories
Flipping

How to Find the Ideal General Contractor to Flip Houses

Finding a general contractor (GC) for your house flip can be challenging.

You want someone who knows what they’re doing, is trustworthy, has affordable prices, and has good reviews. This means you need to do proper research before hiring a general contractor—don’t hire the first one you find!

As a flipper, your main goal is to earn a high flipping profit in return for your investment. To do that, you need to renovate the house within a specific budget and timeframe, which means using contractors who stick to deadlines and understand the importance of flippers’ margins.

While simple repairs are easy to budget for and can be done within a month, more complex renovations can easily incur budget overruns and take more than a couple of months to complete. In these cases, it’s best that you hire a general contractor to handle the project for you, or assemble a team of go-to contractors that you work with regularly on your flipping projects. Which you go for will depend on your needs, but this article focuses only on general contractors.

Let’s go through some best practices for finding the ideal general contractor for your flip projects.

Independent Contractor vs. General Contractor

Before we go any further, it’s important to make a distinction between independent and general contractors:

  • Independent Contractors: These are contractors that you directly contract to perform tasks on a contractual basis. They complete the project themselves, without the help of subcontractors.
  • General Contractors: These are also directly contracted; however, tasks are subsequently contracted to subcontractors to complete. They complete the project along with their subcontractors instead of completing the project by themselves. They also handle all the administrative tasks needed (e.g., paying subcontractors, securing building permits, getting insurance for all workers, etc.).

General contractors will coordinate with necessary subcontractors on your behalf and oversee the project for timely and on-budget completion. They are ideal for major renovations and flips, because you can get all aspects of the renovation handled by a single entity.

What to Look for in a General Contractor

Here are the key things to look for in a general contractor:

  • A Good Reputation: The best way to find a general contractor is by asking for recommendations. Contractors work largely based on referrals. Ask your friends and the real estate community if they can vouch for somebody reliable, communicative, and punctual.

Once you have a list of options, go the extra mile to read online review websites and visit the Better Business Bureau to check their reputation and ask about the projects they’ve worked on before. 

  • A Good Contract: Hiring a GC on a handshake is not a good idea. You’ll want a contract that spells out what they will do and what you will do, with deadlines. The more thorough the better! Otherwise, there’ll be no accountability and your project can go sideways quickly.
  • Appropriate Payment Practices: A good general contractor will accept payments in the form of checks and wire transfers. They would also agree to sign a lien release before payment and negotiate with you on the payment schedule.

Stay away from contractors who want you to pay in cash or a lot upfront. Cash payments are not illegal; however, contractors who ask for them might be avoiding paying income taxes. This is a practice done by less-than-reputable contractors. Moreover, a down payment of 30% of estimated costs is typical to cover an initial retainer and materials, but an established contractor won’t need your full payment to start the job.

  • Local Coverage: Hiring a general contractor who lives and operates within the area of your flip is your best option. They will know the local building codes, city inspectors, have a network of subcontractors ready to help them, and you can easily contact them in the event of an emergency.
  • Proper Licensing: General contractors need to be licensed to pull the necessary permits for your property. Without these, your property won’t abide by the local building codes or pass inspection. You’ll end up financially responsible for bringing up the property to the required standards.

Instead, verify their license by asking for the license number. Check it with your state’s licensing board. For licensure information in Michigan, visit the state’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs website for details on the Bureau of Professional Licensing’s requirements.

  • Proper Insurance: General contractors should be insured for General Liability Insurance and Workers’ Compensation. You can ask to see a copy of their policy and call up the insurance company to verify the information. The insurance should be current and have clear policy limits for you to check. You should also be added as an “additionally insured” on their policy, until your project is complete.
  • Warranty in Writing: General contractors should provide warranties that cover the work they’ve done in your property. A warranty assures them that they won’t be coming back for multiple repairs over an extended period of time (warranties typically last one year only) while guaranteeing you a good renovation result.

This list isn’t exhaustive, but it’ll put you on the right track in finding your ideal general contractor.

Questions to Ask During the Interview

As part of the process, you should also have an interview with the general contractor. Here is a list of questions you can ask to help you identify those who’ll fit your criteria:

  • How many people work for you? How long has your crew been working together?

You want to work with an established company that has a large team of managers and assistants.

  • Where are you operating, and what is your service coverage?

You want to work with a local company that knows its way around renovations in the area.

  • What similar past projects have you completed?

You want to see their experience concerning the project you’re giving them. If they’ve never done what you need them to do, ask them how they will approach the project.

  • How do you communicate with your clients?

They should give you daily or weekly progress reports with photos and send itemized, detailed quotes and invoices.

  • For this project, will you be using subcontractors or just your own team?

If they are using subcontractors, make sure that all workers are trained, licensed (if applicable), and insured.

  • Are you licensed and insured?

Licenses should be updated and registered in the state where your property is situated. Insurance should include General Liability Insurance and Workers’ Compensation.

  • What would our contract look like?

Not all general contractors will have contracts. If they don’t, you can draft one up. Regardless, have your lawyer review it before everybody signs.

  • Will you provide warranties?

Make sure the warranty is written down and will conform to the requirements of the contract.

  • How will the payment schedule and plan work? Will you agree to sign lien releases?

Agree and sign the payment schedule before the job begins. They should agree to sign lien releases before payment.

  • Have you ever had to deal with lawsuits?

If they’ve been sued, ask what happened and how they handled it. If they’ve sued a client, ask for further information and check public records. If they’ve had serious accidents before, ask how they dealt with the situation and what they’ve improved to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Conclusion

We hope this article is enlightening and helpful in your search for a general contractor. It might take a lot of effort, but having a reliable and skilled general contractor will protect your budget and timeline for a successful and profitable house flipping project.

The better your general contractor, the more houses you can flip fast, at the highest quality, and for the most competitive price.

Any additional tips for finding the ideal general contractor as a flipper?

Image courtesy of Andrea Piacquadio

Categories
Landlords

How Landlords can Easily Raise Rents

Many landlords dread raising rents on their tenants for fear of the tenants moving, or the landlord just finds the whole process unpleasant. So, it’s not uncommon to find landlords that haven’t raised rents in 2, 3, or more years. 

Raising rent is actually a regular (albeit not the most fun) part of being a landlord. A landlord should raise rents as the market dictates, because: 

  • Keep up with inflation
  • Be able to afford rising maintenance costs
  • Accommodate property tax & insurance increases
  • When you’ve renovated a property to a higher standard

When that time inevitably comes, you need to know the right way of increasing your rent. Doing it the wrong way might cost you, tenants, leading to longer vacancy periods and costlier turnovers. Plus, no landlord wants to feel like the bad guy, so it’s important to show you’re being fair by handling rent increases diplomatically.

This article will teach how you can raise rent amounts and generate more income while communicating the situation professionally to your tenants. We’ve even included a sample rent increase notice that you can use for informing your tenants as amicably as possible. 

How should you approach a rent increase?

Depending on local and state laws, the required notice period for rent increases can range from 30 to 120 days. In Michigan, you have to give 30 days’ notice, but if you’re raising rent by 10% or more, you have to inform the tenant 60 days ahead of time.

Most people draft a letter informing tenants of the increase (like the one we’ve included below) and send it out to them, but there’s another way to approach this: 

  1. Go on Zillow, the MLS, or Rent-o-Meter to find what the market rent for this property is.
  2. Compare that to what the tenant is paying.
  3. Submit that information to the tenant and ask them what seems fair in terms of an increase

Note: At this point, you haven’t told them the rent was going up, but you’ve implied it. You’ve also involved them in the decision, so they’re more willing to accept it, making this a more subtle, non-aggressive approach to raising rent.

  1. The tenant’s response will typically be to offer 50% of the full increase, although some will say they don’t want to pay any increased rent at all. A good way to address either of these scenarios is to ask: “Why do you think that low of an amount is fair?” Make them defend it. 
  2. Then they’ll explain why they shouldn’t pay an increase (personal emergencies, poor maintenance on your part, etc.). Then you can ask: “Are you sure that’s your best offer?” 

The best part about this is that it lets you raise rents without TELLING the tenant there will be an increase, but rather including them in the process.

Tenants may even surprise you by offering more than what you expected! 

How much can you increase?

Ideally, you’ll want to keep the raise to less than 5% per year. Any higher, and your tenants will most likely move away—even if the rate is similar to your competitors in the market.

Why?

Think of the other rule of thumb that’s often used in screening tenants: rent amounts should only be a third of the tenant’s monthly income. This means most people can’t afford to spend an additional hundred dollars a month on rent payments – unless the tenant base in your area is on the up and up, like because of new employment opportunities or developments nearby.

Jacking up the amount too high without good reason will therefore jeopardize your rental income, as tenants will struggle to pay fully and on time. 

Plus, once a tenant has been there a while, they feel entitled to zero rent increases forever. If you raise it from $800 to $900 overnight, they’ll freak out. Even if the rent in the area is $1,100, they can’t afford it. So you’re better off with consistent smaller rent increases, like $25 a year, rather than waiting 3 years and increasing your rent all at once to reflect current market value.

On top of this, some cities have rent control laws in place. These maximum rent caps on what landlords can charge and are implemented by the government. Be aware of your local regulations before implementing any rent changes (just FYI, rent control isn’t allowed in the state of Michigan, but it is common in markets in New York and California).

Sample rent increase notice

When you’re ready to implement the raise, here’s a sample rent increase notice that Colleen F. shared in the BiggerPockets Forums. This letter is great because it helps tenants understand the landlord’s own financial obligations and view an increase in rent as a necessary business decision, rather than thinking you’re just being greedy.

Feel free to use it as a basis for crafting your own notice:

Dear John Tenant,

Thank you for being a tenant here at 123 Main St, Apt 1. Our goal is always to provide a nice place to live, at a fair price. Whenever the prospect of raising rent comes up at any property, we take a good hard look at it to make sure it’s necessary.

In that light, we have decided it is necessary to raise the monthly rent on your unit, effective September 1, 2020, to $1,050 from $1,000. This is partly to offset the increasing cost of property taxes, insurance, high heating expenses, maintenance costs, and upgrades since our purchase of the building in 2010.

Even after this increase, we believe we are still at or below the average market rent for a unit of this type. Rather than pay an increase, you may choose other housing. Should you intend to vacate at the termination of your lease, the original lease agreement states that you have to provide 30 days written notice of your intent to move. If you choose, signing this form checking off that you will not renew and returning the form to us 30 days in advance of your expected renewal will be considered your written notice.

Sincerely,

Management

Conclusion

There’s no guarantee that your tenants won’t complain about an increase in rent. However, if you increase your rent fairly and strategically, you can manage their expectations and prepare them ahead of time to budget appropriately. 

When they’re prepared and you communicate openly with them about the situation, your tenants won’t see you as the bad guy for increasing their rent. 

Any other concerns related to increasing rent amounts? Leave a comment below!

Categories
Wholesaling

5 Wholesaling Myths —Debunked!

Real estate wholesaling often gets a bad rap, but is it fair to call this an illegal or shady form of real estate investing? How did it get this reputation in the first place?

The problem is, wholesaling is usually chosen by first-time investors as a way of getting into the industry with little or no upfront capital required – which is great. But it also means that newbie investors get into this field and make a lot of mistakes, and that has led to some serious misconceptions about wholesaling over the years.

If you’re an investor who’s excited to get started as a wholesaler but is hesitant because of things you might have heard about it, this article will pull back the curtain on five of the most pervasive wholesaling myths. 

Wholesaling real estate is not outright illegal, but it’s governed by specific laws that require you to have certain contracts and documents before you can proceed. Wholesaling gets its bad rap largely due to the illegal practice of unlicensed brokering, which isn’t the same as wholesaling.

1. “It’s illegal to wholesale real estate.”

To ensure full compliance with local real estate law, here are some steps to take when wholesaling properties:

  • Have a bilateral contract with the seller that stipulates your acquisition of the equitable interest.
  • Have a proof of funds letter to prove your intent to purchase.
  • Wait until the house is under contract with the original seller before finding new buyers.

In the event of needing to defend your wholesaling activities in real estate commission hearings, having everything documented is essential for proving you’ve acted within the law.

2. “Wholesaling is only for beginner investors.”

Just because it takes minimal capital to get started with wholesaling, doesn’t mean it’s easy. For example, since you’re the middleman in deals, a buyer or seller can easily get rid of you to avoid paying an additional wholesaler’s fee—effectively taking you out of the equation altogether.

Secondly, while there is a low barrier to entry, wholesaling has a high barrier to sustainability. People tend to think that wholesaling fulfills a need in the market, where investors are looking for people to help them find their next deal. In reality, the investors themselves are already good at finding deals themselves. This makes finding good deals extremely hard. Plus, investors don’t want to subcontract finding deals to wholesalers, and those who do certainly don’t want to pay top dollar. 

Wholesaling can be a stepping stone for beginners to get into real estate investing, but that doesn’t discount the fact that it’s highly lucrative for experienced wholesalers. Mastering the skills and acquiring the connections for a steady flow of good deals enables you to earn as much as other investment strategies.

3. “Wholesaling is inferior to house flipping.”

Let’s put the two investment strategies side-by-side for an accurate comparison:

Depending on your reason and goals for investing in real estate, you might choose one over the other. Either way, based on these key differences, wholesaling isn’t inferior to house flipping at all, it’s just a very different approach with a lot less maintenance required.

4. “Focus on buyers who’ve already bought from you.”

Often called the “easy button buyer” mistake, this refers to the tendency for beginners to send future deals only to the buyers that were willing to close on earlier deals. This is a common myth that wholesalers believe to be effective, but in reality, limits your potential returns.

Think of it this way: businesses thrive on supply and demand. After closing a couple of deals, you now know the area, the numbers, and what features attract more particular buyers. In other words, you have the supply to meet the demand in more than a couple of markets.

Position yourself as an opportunity to as many potential buyers as possible, and you’ll ensure you have a scalable wholesaling business for years to come.

5. “A buyer’s list is necessary to be successful.”

Many investors will say that you need a buyer’s list to be successful in wholesaling, but this is not exactly true. 

The typical buyer’s lists are full of investors who do a lot of deals on a regular basis, meaning they’re serious buyers who can close with cash in 10 days. This is exactly what you want as a wholesaler, but you don’t need to have a buyer’s list to do this.

Instead, new wholesalers should focus on finding quality deals, rather than quality buyers. If you can find a great property, serious buyers will follow.

We’ve written elsewhere on how to find buyers for your wholesale deals, should you need further tips.

Conclusion

All these myths surrounding wholesaling real estate may give some the impression that this investment strategy is shady and unsustainable. However, with these common myths easily debunked, you can see there are actually many solid reasons that prove why wholesaling is an excellent way to invest in real estate. 

If you want to learn more about wholesaling in the current market, we’ve also written an article that explains the top five insights you need to successfully wholesale real estate after a year of COVID-19.

Image courtesy of Monstera

Categories
Landlords

How to Market your Rentals Online: Screen Appeal and Listing on Digital Platforms

From digital walk-throughs to Zoom tenant interviews, real estate marketing has officially transitioned to digital in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Virtual showing techniques aren’t new, but COVID-19 has certainly pushed the industry to adapt as a necessity. Landlords that didn’t have videos of their properties pre-COVID are now rushing to create virtual tours and trying virtual staging methods.

At this pace, digital marketing will fast become an integral and permanent part of real estate marketing before we realize it!

What does this mean for landlords? 

Prospective renters are now viewing and shortlisting properties from their screens, making “screen appeal” a crucial factor to promote your rental property. You want your offer to stand out where the prospective tenants are: online.

In this article, we’ll go through the ways to increase your property’s screen appeal, write an effective ad online, and list your properties where tenants are most likely to find them.

Increase screen appeal with noticeable features

First, you need to make your rental look impressive in photos. To do this, invest in features that will stand out in photos—even if the prospect browses on their tiny phone screens. 

These are the things that will make a huge difference in digital listings:

  1. Sparkling kitchens with shiny appliances, glossy countertops, and newly-painted walls and cupboards
  2. Spotless bathrooms with new showerheads, clean mirrors, and re-grouted tiles
  3. Fresh blinds and curtains without any mold or grime that are updated to fit the aesthetic of the property
  4. Blemish-free walls freshly painted with a color that makes the room look bigger, brighter, and homier
  5. Brand-new fixtures everywhere—from light switches to faucets to doorknobs and fly screens
  6. Clean carpets that even look like they smell great
  7. Bright lights in every room to make the rental property feel new, and more importantly, show that you’re confident enough to put everything in the spotlight

Make sure that you use a camera that does your rental justice! None of the spectacular features you updated and cleaned will be seen if you use the front camera of your beat-up phone. If you need to hire a photographer for decent equipment, it’s worth the one-time payment to get a lifetime of great photos for your listing. 

Write an effective ad that highlights relevant details

Once you’ve updated your rentals with photogenic features, you need to post them on digital platforms. But what do you say? How do you write an effective ad that attracts your tenant pool? 

Here are the important factors to focus on:

  1. Write a great headline. Rentalutions’ formula suggests including the key information tenants look for (e.g., number of rooms or location) plus one feature that makes your rental unique.
  2. Use professional word choices that add value to your listing, as long as they’re an accurate description of your property. You want to avoid generic words such as “great” and “nice”, instead, choose words like: upgraded, spacious, tasteful, landscaped, modern, luxurious, and charming.
  3. Add more information on the key features. Knowing what tenants want (as you should), make sure to highlight these features in your ad. Are you expecting to attract tenants who put importance on parking spaces, walkability, nearby supermarkets, or proximity to a great school? Your copy should indicate that.
  4. Add detailed property descriptions. Similarly, also indicate what the tenants will want from the property itself. How many rooms, floors, and bathrooms? Will they be attracted to a lush backyard or extra storage areas? Flesh out all of the important details to attract tenants.

Lastly, prove what you said with great photos! When you use great photos to compliment everything that you verbally promoted on your listing, your screen appeal will skyrocket. This is where the prospective tenants should go “Wow! They weren’t kidding!”

List your rental on industry-popular websites

Armed with your impressive photos and well-written ad content, it’s time to post your listing where it matters. Most people are baffled by how many options there are to list online, especially since there isn’t a one-stop-shop solution that posts to all the rental listing sites. 

Zillow—the favorite of most landlords—allows you to create detailed listings that they’ll syndicate out to 26 partner sites (including Trulia, Hotpads, and MSN Real Estate), but it still doesn’t cover all of the sites available.

To get started, check these sites that are known to be effective and user-friendly:

  1. Zillow
  2. Trulia
  3. Hotpads
  4. Craigslist
  5. Facebook

Apart from those, you can also consider these lesser-known platforms:

  1. Apartments.com
  2. Apartment Finder
  3. Apartment Guide
  4. Apartment Home Living
  5. Apartment List
  6. Backpage
  7. Byowner.com
  8. Cozy
  9. Doorsteps
  10. Move
  11. My New Place
  12. Nextdoor.com
  13. Oodle
  14. Realrentals.com
  15. Realtor.com
  16. Rent.com
  17. Rentals.com
  18. Rentdigs.com
  19. Rentlinx
  20. Saletraderent.com
  21. Sublet.com
  22. Walk Score
  23. Zumper

All of these websites allow you to post for free. You just need to do some research and decide which platform enables you to attract the tenants that you want. For more details on the sites we mentioned above, check Smart Move and Landlordology.

Conclusion

Technological development waits for no one. In order to keep up and remain competitive in the rental property business, it’s time to level up with online marketing!

The steps are easy enough—simply increase your property’s screen appeal, write an effective ad describing the best parts of your property, and list them on websites where tenants are likely to browse for new homes.

Any other tips on how to market rentals online? Where are your rentals listed so far?

Image courtesy of Joshua Miranda