Categories
DIY Landlords

Investing in Real Estate from a Property Manager’s Perspective

Executive Summary

Many real estate investors self-manage their properties and I did too learning from my experience as I went. However, professional property managers have a lot of experience to help both new and seasoned real estate investors make the best investment and property management decisions. I asked my property manager, Jill Powell, of 1st Choice Real Estate, PLLC to share some of her insights into what investors should be considering.

Property Management Considerations Before Purchasing

Interestingly, all of the suggestions from my property manager come before purchasing the property. Thus, education and preparation are key to success in real estate investing. However, from my own experience, there are things that you just cannot anticipate and only experience teaches you.

15 Things to Consider Before Making that Next Purchase (in no particular order)

  1. New property investors should not buy older homes that have been turned into multi-units with all utilities included. These properties are often efficiencies or one bedroom units with transient tenants. You will have sky high turnover and sky high utility bills. Plus, you can’t hold anyone responsible for leaving the junk sofa on the curb that you now have to pay to have disposed.
  1. If you buy in a college town, have the parents co-sign.
  1. Always run prospective tenants’ credit and have a good way to score the rest of the application findings. Make sure the application is complete and all steps followed—no cutting corners or exceptions.
  1. If you don’t have a lot of spare time or don’t enjoy tenant calls at 3 a.m., when their heat goes out in Michigan in the winter, think about hiring a property manager. After self managing at first, I now buy my properties with the intent of having a professional property manager help me run my rental business.
  1. Use a cashflow or deal analysis spreadsheet prior to writing your offer. My property manager has seen many out of area investors pay for inspections only to walk on the deal once they find out what the local taxes will be after buying, local cost of the rental licensing and the true cost of rehabbing the property. It pays to have a professional on your side. I always have my property manager weigh in and be involved prior to making any offers. They are a valuable part of my team.
  1. Use a local Realtor who specializes in rental properties. They can tell you not only what is happening with property values and market rents in the area but also things like is there a moratorium prohibiting rentals in that subdivision, a limit on the number of unrelated persons in a property or a limit on the number of pets a tenant/owner can have in a property in that area. 
  1. Get the details from your lender before making the offer so you have the exact downpayment number as this will affect your rate of return.
  1. Start slow and learn from each property.
  1. Investing in real estate is not a way to earn “passive income.” It is a very time consuming business unless you use a property manager.
  1. Be cautious purchasing rental properties with tenants in place. Ask for a tenant ledger. Ask for current photos or, better yet, inspect all units personally. Look up rental/tenant violations for the property historically. Drive by the property at multiple times of the day to see how the tenants maintain the property.
  1. Research rental rates for the area. Just because the listing says they can get a certain rent doesn’t mean they actually are—verify it against market rents.
  1. Know the local laws regarding “discrimination based on income source” for things like section 8 vouchers.
  1. Decide if student housing is right for you. You will have high turnover, higher costs to get the property ready to re-rent and potential issues locally if the tenants like to party.
  1. Have a good CPA. They can help save you a lot of money and understand the tax implications of the investment.
  1.  Make sure you understand the local rental laws where you purchase property.

Conclusion

A professional property manager is a valuable part of any real estate investor’s team. Even if you self-manage your properties, you can learn from their experience to make the best investment and property management decisions before you buy your next property.

About the Author

Categories
Landlords

Why Cheap Houses Aren’t Always Profitable and How to Buy Ones That Are

If you’ve been participating in real estate forums and websites for a while now, you’ve likely noticed that new investors are often interested in buying the cheapest house they can find. In addition to getting a better Rent-to-Price rate, they believe that buying cheap will save them money on closing costs and property taxes. But there’s much more to investing than the purchase price of a home.

Cheaper houses may seem appealing on paper (or laptop screens), but it’s important to consider all the implications that come with them. And if you still decide to buy one, you need to understand what you’re getting yourself into.

Otherwise, you risk buying an asset that actually loses you money instead of bringing in a profit. 

Why Cheap Houses Are Rarely the Best Idea

The term “cheap” is relative to your perspective and can vary from market to market. Even so, whether it’s buying a home for $40,000 that rents for $700 or anything similar, buying cheap homes goes against these four pillars of conservative investment.

The 4 Pillars of Real Estate Investing

These are the crucial pillars you need to be aware of when purchasing a property:

  1. Capital Preservation: As a conservative investor, you want to protect your money and avoid loss within your portfolio. In exchange for large returns, you prioritize investment security and stability.
  2. Stable Cash Flow: You want to have the assurance of positive cash coming into your investment business. This way, you’ll increase your assets and have the funds for daily operations.
  3. Appreciation or Equity Gains: Aside from cash flow, you also want to gain equity as your property increases in value over time. This allows you to make a profit once you decide to sell.
  4. Tax Benefits: The biggest tax benefit of purchasing real estate is in the form of deductions. These come from property tax, mortgage interest, repairs, operations, and depreciation.

Why are cheap properties against these pillars? Well, it’s because they tend to come with a host of problems, some that you might not have considered. Here are a few problems and limitations you’ll face when going with a cheap property:

  • They’re located in areas leaning towards economic decline.
  • They have poorer tenant payment performance, leading to higher eviction costs.
  • They have higher tenant turnovers and RentReady costs.
  • They often come with underlying deferred maintenance issues.
  • They are harder to insure, since the cost of replacing the property often exceeds its insurable value.
  • They are difficult to secure lending for.
  • They come with limited exit strategies.

These reasons show why buying cheap isn’t always the smartest strategy. Going for a slightly more expensive property (like a Class C instead of a Class D) might take a bigger chunk out of your savings upfront, but it’s often a smarter choice in the long run.

Of course, if you’re still planning on purchasing a cheaper property, here are some factors you need to prioritize.

How to Approach Buying Cheap Properties

Not all cheap homes are traps, but you’ll need to know how to spot the good ones. You don’t want to end up with a decrepit building that eats up your savings. So, when buying cheap properties, make sure to do the following:

  • Invest in Up-and-Coming Areas: Cheap properties are often on the outskirts of town, so ensure that it’s an up-and-coming neighborhood with a growing population and economy. This way, the property will retain its value and increase over time.
  • Anticipate Necessary Repairs: Since cheap homes often come with underlying problems, you should work with a professional inspector and licensed contractor. That way you can easily manage the complications and accurately estimate necessary repairs.
  • Check the Neighborhood and Tenant Pool Class: Ensure that the area attracts quality renters who will follow lease agreements and take care of your property. Cheap properties are often in lower-class neighborhoods, which means lower-class tenant pools, as well.
  • Run the Numbers: Conduct proper real estate analysis to ensure that the numbers make sense. Here are a few calculations to get started:
    • Net Operating Income (NOI): This number should show a favorable balance of income and expenses. Compare the NOI to similar properties in the area to see if you’ll also have high revenues and small expenses. 
    • Cash Flow: How much money will you pocket? The monthly rent you can charge should be 1% or higher than the purchase price to indicate strong cash flow generation. Buying a cheap property that can only demand so much rent defeats the purpose of investing in one, as you won’t have the rent-to-price ratio you expected to enjoy.
    • Cash-on-Cash (COC) Return: The higher the COC, the more the property can pay for itself. A good rule of thumb is to have a COC that’s higher than 10%.
  • Have a Great Management Strategy or PMC: It’s relatively easy to manage Class A & B properties because the tenant pool is higher demographic. Class C & D properties on the other hand, require a LOT more attention to be successful. You’ll need a solid plan to handle the inevitable tenant issues or hire a great (not just good) property management company. 

There are many other calculations to run, but these three should get you started on the right foot.

Conclusion

Cheap properties can create significant profits and become excellent investments when done properly. But if it only sinks you into debt, you might look back and wish that you spent your money on a safer investment opportunity instead.

As always, we suggest you do ample research and consult with other investors. When you do go with cheap property, make sure your purchase gives you results that are worth the risk.

What’s your experience with buying cheap properties? Share your tips below.

Categories
Landlords

Do You Have to Allow Emotional Support Animals in Your Rental?

Source: Unsplash

Many landlords don’t allow any pets in their rentals.

Usually, it’s because the pets might destroy the home and jack up property maintenance costs with broken lamps, scratches on the wall, and leaving their smell in the carpets and furniture… These make renovations a hassle for landlords and also eat into the tenant’s security deposit—and nobody wants either of those.

But what about emotional support animals (ESAs) and service animals? Should you allow them in your rental properties? Conversely, is it legal to ban them from your rental properties, if you want to?

The answer is complicated because ESAs and service animals are technically not pets in the eyes of the law.

This doesn’t mean that you need to accept tenants with ESAs and service animals. However, it still prohibits you from denying applications due to animal assistance or implementing pet policies on the tenants.

With many regulations surrounding the topic, this article summarizes the important laws landlords need to know from the three following authorities:

We’ll show you the landlord obligations these governing authorities have and guide you on how to approach tenants with ESAs or service animals.

Laws Surrounding Emotional Support Animals & Service Animals

ESAs and service animals are legal assistants for individuals with disabilities and special conditions based on the FHA. Though they seem similar, there is a nuanced difference between the two animals. While ESAs are companion animals prescribed by a mental health professional, service dogs are assistance animals trained to do specific tasks that help a person with disabilities.

As a landlord, you don’t need to concern yourself over differentiating between the two. The bottom line is that both are considered medical devices instead of household pets, with similar laws that protect them.

Since they’re medical devices, these are some of the implications for landlords:

You can’t discriminate against them.

Rejecting an applicant just because they have an ESA is a type of discrimination. Even if the reason is that they did not disclose their ESAs before your approval (which they’re allowed to do), you’ll find yourself in a lawsuit if you try to rescind your approval.

The only time you can refuse is if the animal poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others. Even then, you’d need to show proof that they are indeed a threat, beyond their breed or size. 

You can’t implement pet policies.

When it comes to tenants with ESAs, you can’t implement pet policies against them, because they’re still medical devices, instead of household pets. So even if you are allowing pets in your rental, you can’t charge these medical devices with extra rent, a pet deposit, or fees to cover possible property damages.

Think of it this way: You can’t charge a wheelchair fee to a tenant just because it might scratch your hardwood floors. Likewise, you can’t charge an ESA or service animal fee, either.

You can’t decline reasonable accommodations.

Regardless of your pet policies, you may have to make “reasonable accommodations” for tenants who rely on their ESAs. The situation is similar to how the ADA requires rentals to accommodate wheelchairs. 

There are a lot of reasonable accommodation requests tenants with disabilities can ask for. Still, one of the most significant impacts to landlords is the obligation to waive any no-pets policies for tenants to live with their ESA or service animal.

The process typically goes like this:

  1. A tenant who is blind approaches a landlord with their seeing-eye dog.
  2. The tenant asks for reasonable accommodations on the rental property, such as lower doorknobs and light switches for their service dog to reach with its mouth.
  3. The tenant waits for the landlord’s response. Landlords must act promptly, as an unjustified delay is equal to failure to deliver reasonable accommodation.
  4. Landlords evaluate requests on a case-to-case basis, but always with the criteria that the accommodations should bring tenants closer to an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the rental.
  5. If the accommodations are reasonable, the landlord is then required by law to grant the tenant’s valid requests.

Another point to note is that tenants with disabilities are allowed to make property modifications for full enjoyment of the premises. For example, they can open the closed patio for their emotional support labrador to leave home and look for help in case of an emergency.

As the landlord, you won’t have much control over justified fixes that help a tenant function better with disabilities. While it might seem inconvenient, think about it this way instead—by making your unit more accessible, you’re actually expanding your potential tenant pool in the future. You’re also within your rights to make the tenant revert the unit back to its original condition upon MoveOut (at their own expense).

Conclusion

After scanning through laws and requirements, it seems that the simple answer is yes—you do have to allow emotional support animals into your rental property. And if you don’t, you could face some unpleasant repercussions. 

The main reasons are that:

  • The law prohibits you from discriminating against and denying tenants who have ESAs.
  • ESAs are medical devices that tenants with disabilities need and rely on every day.
  • ESAs are part of “reasonable accommodations” that landlords are mandated by law to grant.

Stay on the right side of the law and be more compassionate towards people with disabilities by welcoming ESAs and service animals as extensions of their owners—your potential renters.

Do you have any other reasons to allow ESAs and service animals in rentals? Drop your thoughts below!

Categories
Shortterm Rentals

Best Practices to Optimize Your Airbnb Listing

Wondering why your short-term rental on Airbnb isn’t performing as well as you hoped? 

You might think real estate knowledge is all you need to run a successful Airbnb, but there’s a lot more to it than that. The secret to having a highly-ranked listing and generating traffic on Airbnb is to use marketing skills, rather than real estate know-how.

But it’s not just about creating impressive listings with all the best features and amenities—you need to know how to rank well in search results. By doing so, more potential guests see your listing, and it’ll land you more bookings. And we all know more bookings mean higher profits.

So, to help you in this daunting task, we’ve listed the top ways to optimize your vacation rentals on Airbnb below. Use these ranking optimization techniques to get more people to choose your short-term rental units and see real results.

Tips for Higher Airbnb Ranking

In general, Airbnb recognizes good listings and rewards them with a higher search ranking. Airbnb does this because it wants the users (i.e. your guests) to have the best customer experience on their platform. After all, if they saw a dark basement suite with 2 stars review first, it wouldn’t reflect well on their own brand image.

As a host, your goal is to check off as much of these things as possible to have Airbnb rank your listing higher:

  • Ask for Positive Reviews: According to Airbnb host Nick Child’s data experiment, the average Guest Satisfaction score that shows up on the first page of search is a whopping 83.7%. This means that the more positive reviews you get, the more visible your rental will be.

So, provide your guests with the best experience and encourage them to leave a review after their stay. You want to have as many 5-star ratings as possible to appear on top.

  • Use Instant Book: Instant Book is a feature Airbnb has been pushing to make booking faster and easier for guests. More importantly, Airbnb confirmed that Instant Book is part of their search algorithm, and 50% of its bookings are via this channel.

Additionally, the Instant Book filter might be turned on by default for most guests. With the filter activated, guests will only see the listings that have Instant Book turned on. In other words, your rental might not show up if guests don’t turn off their Instant Book filter.

  • Respond Quickly: You’ll need to have a 90% or higher response rate to use Instant Book. This means that responding within 24 hours or less will boost your search ranking on the platform.
  • Hasten the Booking Process: Since Airbnb prioritizes ease and speed of booking, you should also gain their favor. The faster it is for a guest to finalize a booking with you, the more priority you’ll get on Airbnb’s search algorithm.

If you’re not sure how efficient your process is, evaluate how long it takes for you to finalize booking with a prospect. If they ask a lot of questions and can’t complete the booking within 24 hours, you need to improve your listing and hasten the process.

Improving your listing by adding all features and amenities offered (e.g., wifi, Netflix, cable, water heaters, etc.). That way you’ll reduce the time spent answering potential client clarifications.

  • Keep Booking Commitments: Because Airbnb prioritizes reliable hosts, you should only accept bookings you can commit to.b Every time you cancel or reject guests, Airbnb will see you as an unreliable host, decreasing your visibility on search pages.

One important thing is to ensure that your listing has all the details and considerations listed. That way, the only guests who’ll book with you are the one who agrees to your terms. It’ll be easier for you to accept them since expectations are all met.

  • Update Your Calendar Regularly: Airbnb checks if you’re updating your calendar regularly because they want guests to have an easy time booking a place. Don’t miss bookings when your unit is available, and remember to update it right away when a booking is confirmed.
  • Post Shareable Photos: We all know that good photos attract guests, but what you might not know is how important shareable images are—the types that guests can send to their friends before booking. The more they share your photos, the higher traffic you’ll get, which results in Airbnb prioritizing your listing on search.

Post photos that highlight the features of your listing, photos that aptly describe the place, and ultimately, have the highest chance of being added to the Wishlist feature or shared on social media.

Issues that Lower Your Airbnb Ranking

In contrast, Airbnb also sees “bad listings” and tries their best not to show these to their audience. Moreover, Airbnb also has some features that, when ignored, will lower your search visibility.

Make sure that you don’t do these things, or else you’re jeopardizing your ranking and preventing yourself from attracting guests:

  • Booking Cancellations & Rejections: As we said already, Airbnb wants to prioritize reliable hosts. This is the reason why they’re constantly pushing hosts to achieve the Superhost designation, and will deprioritize any hosts who have a high cancellation rate.

It’s difficult to stop guests from canceling. However, by updating your calendar and including all important details in your listing upfront, you can significantly reduce the chances of guests canceling a booking due to a myriad of reasons.

You also need to make sure you’re not rejecting guests because it will also make your rank go down. Every action you take on Airbnb factors is tracked and being factored into your performance.

  • Extra Charges: Extra service fees and additional security deposits will affect the amount of traffic your listing receives—especially if you’re charging more than other hosts. Once your booking rates drop, your search ranking will fall with it.
  • Too Strict: Flexibility is another factor to consider. While you might want to limit a guest’s stay to just a few days, like the weekend or weekdays, that excludes a lot of people. If you’re more flexible, you’ll appear in more searches. 

Summary

Use all our tips and tricks to optimize your short-term rental listing on Airbnb and help you generate more profits. When you’re a stellar host, your guests will thank you and appreciate it. While some see Airbnb as a means to make money, it’s also a way to provide others a lovely place to stay and create lasting memories when they visit.

Remember that it all boils down to providing a great experience for your guests. Impress them, and you’ll have plenty of people hoping to stay with you. 

Any other tips we’ve missed? Drop us a comment below on what’s worked for you with your Airbnb listing! 

Image courtesy of Andrea Davis

Categories
Flipping

How an S Corp Election Can Help Flippers

While house-flipping is potentially very profitable, there’s an expensive catch.

You might have to pay a self-employment tax, which is a whopping 15.3% of your profit. That’s a significant amount of money that can go to your next vacation or property you want to flip!

Nevertheless, there is a way to set up your business in such a way that you’re not required to pay the tax. Let’s take a look at how an S Corp election can help you pocket more of your flipping profits.

Why House Flipping is Subject to Self-Employment Tax

While the usual real estate investments such as buy-and-hold are considered a passive activity, flipping homes conducted in a limited liability company (LLC) are active transactions—required to pay self-employment tax on top of the income tax.

Let’s define these two things that come with flip-and-fix projects.

Active Income. Active income applies to anybody who runs a business where one earns ordinary income from performing a service or selling a product. Business owners must pay the 15.3% self-employment tax up to a net profit of $128,400. (Beyond this threshold, you’ll only pay 2.9% as the Social Security portion of the self-employment tax is removed.)

Self-employment Tax. In essence, self-employment tax is similar to payroll taxes withheld from an employee’s wages. For self-employed individuals like house flippers, however, they must cover both the employer and employee portion of the tax. In addition, members of an LLC taxed as a partnership are considered self-employed individuals—which means their earnings will be subject to self-employment tax if they participate in the partnership’s trade.

The 15.3% self-employment tax of your gross salary does chip away at every dollar you earn. Moreover, 15.3% comes in before including the marginal tax rate from the federal and state perspectives. For example:

So, naturally, we want to find a way to save on taxes. One way is to run your flip-and-fix business out of an S Corp instead of an LLC or C Corp. Let’s talk about how you can do this.

How an S Corp Election Can Save on Taxes

First, set up an LLC or C Corp, then elect to have it taxed as an S Corp. Said structure is a tax entity or federal tax election—not a legal one. It’s not for asset protection but for reducing your exposure to tax.

By conducting your business this way, self-employment taxes only apply to a “reasonable salary,” and you’ll pay the remainder of your income as a dividend—not subjected to self-employment taxes. 

Here’s how it’ll go: Set up the S Corp, set up payroll, and begin paying yourself a W2 wage. The self-employment tax will only apply to the W2 wage, and the rest of the income will be considered a cash distribution or cash dividend. Of course, you can only do this with an S Corp route.

Take a look at how the situation now changes and how much you can save:

If you earn $100k with no S Corp (either as a Sole Proprietorship or an LLC), you’ll report your income as Schedule C. You’re going to pay $15,300 on self-employment taxes even before the marginal tax rate or state taxes come into play.

However, if you’re taxed as an S Corp, you can pay $50k to yourself as a W2 wage and have the other half as a cash dividend. With the $100k split up, half of it won’t be subject to the 15.3% tax—and you can pocket $7,650 just like that.

Just remember to never pay yourself the entire profit in W2 Wages. The whole point of setting up an S Corp is to help you reduce taxable income!

Conclusion

There are so many other factors that will come into play, so make sure that you talk to your accountant before considering this tax election for your flipping business. You may be able to amend your LLC to take advantage of this technique or establish a new LLC to start conducting your business as S Corp from the get-go.

Either way, it’s a good strategy to save on taxes legally!

Image courtesy of Jopwell

What do you think of this technique? Any additional tips on how to save on taxes?

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

Categories
Landlords

Eco-Friendly Tips to Maintain Lawn and Garden

As a landlord, there are several reasons you need to take care of your lawn and garden:

  • Good landscaping is a great way to increase your property’s curb appeal.
  • Allowing weeds to thrive or leaving soil exposed might lead to flooding and pipe damage.
  • Large weeds can even destroy foundations, fences, and outbuildings.

For all these reasons, it’s actually more cost-effective to do preventative outdoor maintenance (and make sure your tenants do, too).

One of the ways to make the task easier, cheaper, and healthier is by using sustainable, eco-friendly methods. Taking care of plants and greeneries without harmful pesticides isn’t as hard as many would think! And, depending on the type of tenants you’re aiming to attract, your eco-friendly garden could be a major selling feature.

Even if you don’t have a green thumb, these quick and easy tips will help you maintain a healthy lawn and garden while being environmentally friendly! 

Leave grass cuttings on the lawn.

Grass cuttings act as natural fertilizers, providing essential nutrients to the lawn and garden. They decompose quickly into the soil, adding nitrogen and acting as a moisture barrier. They also eliminate the need for commercial chemicals that pollute the atmosphere, taint the groundwater, and add unnecessary maintenance costs to your property.

After mowing the grass, skip the rakes and leaf blowers! Just leave the cuttings on the ground—you’ll save time and money, without compromising your garden’s lushness. 

Use yard waste and kitchen compost as fertilizers.

Composting is a great way to reuse resources and create high-quality fertilizer that’s completely free. It’s achievable even in apartment buildings that don’t have garden space—you can use countertop compost containers or a technique called Bokashi composting.

In most cases, you can simply have a compost bin where tenants can throw in their food scraps, then add them to an outdoor compost pile. If they’re not interested in doing so, you can also maintain your own compost and bring it to the rental property during the turnover period to fertilize the lawn and garden.

Avoid gas-powered equipment.

Using electric or battery-powered lawn care equipment will cut down your fossil fuel consumption and emissions—especially if you use manual push mowers (which are also free to run). The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that a gas-powered lawn mower produces as much air pollutants as 11 cars, and that’s if the equipment is brand new!

If the old-school push mower isn’t quite your style, you can take advantage of electric technology with the many options available in the market. A corded electric mower will also cost you less than a gas-powered one, running anywhere from $150 to $250 on average.

Water deeply, but less frequently.

Your lawn and garden obviously need water, but not all methods will contribute to healthy growth. Here are a couple of techniques to water them properly:

  • Water the area three times a week instead of every day.
  • Program your sprinkler system to go off at midnight for minimal water evaporation.
  • Keep the sprinkler system on for an extra 10 minutes to have the roots absorb enough water.
  • Use smart watering systems to operate them remotely.
  • Devote a few sprinklers to drip systems for water efficiency.

Additionally, consider turning the system off when rain is forecasted. Not only do you get free water, but you also avoid over-watering the lawn and garden.

Create a buffer zone between lawn and waterways.

This last tip is simple yet crucial, especially for homes in locations that are prone to natural disasters.

If your property is near a lake, river, or stream, try to leave a 10-foot buffer zone between the waterway and your lawn or garden. Allow the zone to thrive naturally with vegetation and plants, binding the soil underneath into a strong barrier. 

The area will serve as a physical barrier to prevent fertilizers from entering the body of water, protecting your area from erosion and keeping your property safe during storms, floods, and more.

Conclusion

There are many ways to implement eco-friendly maintenance of your lawn and garden. Most of them are completely free and only require a bit more effort in setting up. 

Pass these tips along to your tenants if you want them to maintain your garden perfectly during their tenancy, and you can hopefully prevent your outdoor areas from getting overgrown while the property is rented out.

By simply leaving grass cuttings, maintaining a compost pile, using electric equipment, controlling the water system, and having a buffer zone for waterways, your rental investment will have a thriving, beautiful lawn and garden designed to last for a long time. Plus, prospective tenants might love the idea of living in an eco-friendly property.

Any other tips that we’ve missed? How are you currently maintaining your lawn and garden?

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Categories
DIY

How Long Does It Take To Fill Rental Vacancies in Metro Detroit?

The amount of time it usually takes to fill a rental vacancy varies from area to area

Rental vacancy rates are an important indicator for investors to judge the strength of individual real estate markets, because these shows whether or not there is an adequate demand for the number of rental properties available in a given area.

Rental vacancies are also one of the biggest impacts on landlords’ net operating income (NOI) each year, so, apart from retaining tenants, having a short turnover time is crucial for minimizing losses. According to SmartMove, vacant rentals cost landlords in the US $1,750 each month, on average, so investing in an area with lower vacancy rates and quick turnover times is essential for maximizing the return on your rental investment.

Vacancy rates in Metro Detroit

Vacancy rates across the country reached their peak in 2008 and have been steadily decreasing year-on-year ever since. According to FRED, the average vacancy rate in the US in Q1 2020 was 6.6%. Census data for 2019 shows that rental vacancy rates in Michigan were at 6.8%, and 6.2% in the Metro Detroit area, down from a peak of 12.8% in 2010.

According to the most recent data from HUD, Oakland County has an overall vacancy rate of 4.68%, although apartments are in even higher demand, meaning complexes have only a 2.4% vacancy rate. By comparison, Wayne County has an average rental vacancy rate of 6.7%, with apartment vacancy rates at 3.4%, Midtown Detroit has a vacancy rate of just 1.9%, and the highest rates in Metro Detroit are seen Detroit, sitting at 5.3%, on average.

However, in the Metro Detroit area, vacancy rates have been steadily declining, due to population growth and the corresponding increase in rental demand. There’s been an increase in the number of rental home developments in recent years, but it’s estimated that the current planned construction projects in Oakland and Wayne will only account for roughly 20% of the new rental homes that will be required to meet this demand, boosting competition for existing rentals on the market.

This is good news for landlords, as prices have been going up, while turnover times are getting shorter.

You can find vacancy rates for the 75 largest metropolitan areas in the country at cccensus.gov, but this data won’t tell you what the average rental turnover time is for each specific neighborhood. The best way to find out how long it takes to fill a rental vacancy for your property type in your area is by talking to local real estate agents, landlords, and property management companies. They will be able to give you an insider view into the current rental demand in your market, the amount of time a typical turnover process takes, and the kinds of issues which generally slow down or speed up the process in your neighborhood.

Rental turnover times in Metro Detroit

So how do vacancy rates translate into turnover times? Higher vacancy rates in an area means less demand for rental properties, which in turn creates longer turnover periods for landlords looking for new tenants. In Metro Detroit, rental homes on average remain vacant for 52 days, and turnover times can reach up to 90 days, depending on several conditions.

The amount of time it usually takes to fill a rental vacancy varies from area to area, with rural properties generally experiencing longer vacancy periods than urban rentals. The type of property also has an impact on vacancy rates – for example, student rentals have longer turnover times, owing both to the summer holidays and more intensive repairs requirements. Single and multi-family rental vacancies also experience seasonal swings, with turnover periods taking longer during the winter months than in the summer, when rental demands for family homes are 51% higher, on average.

In Metro Detroit the tenant turnover process is particularly fraught with difficulties: finding quality tenants can be a challenge, meaning there is a greater risk that landlords will have to deal with evictions or time-consuming and costly repairs between tenancies. All of this can drive up the number of days your rental sits empty throughout the year. The best way to combat these issues is to be highly selective when choosing tenants and to manage your rentals well to avoid unforeseen issues when the lease ends.

Pricing is also a key determinant of rental turnover times. Interestingly research indicates that, across all rental property price brackets, slightly lowering your asking rent correlates directly to a shorter turnover time. On the other hand, overpricing a rental and later reducing the asking rent leads to properties spending longer on the market and achieving lower rents. Ultimately, pricing your rental competitively will lead to a shorter turnover time and drive up competition for your property, letting you be more selective when it comes to choosing the best tenant.

Working with a good property management company, having a solid rental marketing strategy, and carrying out thorough tenant screening are the best ways to ensure that the turnover process goes as fast and smoothly as possible for your Metro Detroit property. Vacancy rates in the area have been steadily decreasing, so if you’re still experiencing longer-than-usual turnover times, it might be worth talking to your property manager, or revising your pricing, advertising, and tenant selection strategies.

Image Courtesy of Sarah Trummer

Categories
Flipping

Time vs. Cost: What Jobs are Worth Doing Yourself?

Don’t you love it when people watch house flipping and renovation TV shows and say, “wow, it looks so easy to flip houses for great returns”? But the reality is that flipping is a risky business that requires a lot of hard work, excellent project management skills, and savvy budgeting in order to succeed. 

One of the most important parts of flipping houses is the way you restore it for reselling. Some flippers like to do nearly all the renovations themselves to save on costs, but others would rather pay contractors to do it to save on time. Many also opt for a mix of DIY and professional contractors, but in this case, which jobs should you handle yourself, and which are best left to the pros? 

While it’s generally cheaper to DIY, those savings could be nullified if you do it wrong and end up with expensive corrections. And while some tasks might look easy, you need to give up significant hours of your own time to learn and accomplish them. So if we look at the time/cost benefit analysis, which jobs are worth doing yourself?

PLAN OUT THE RENOVATION

Before you start swinging a hammer in good faith, go over the whole property and list down all the repairs that it needs, taking into account the cost and lead times for each. If you’re going to DIY, you have to be able to accurately calculate their costs and realistically estimate the time it will take to complete, as well as the order in which projects should be carried out.

DO WHAT YOU KNOW, HIRE WHAT YOU DON’T

SKILL REQUIREMENTS

Fixing high-ticket areas like the roof, floors, and kitchen areas yourself can save a lot of money, because professionals usually charge a premium for these services. However, the reason for that is these tasks require a high level of expertise to do them well. When done poorly, constantly repairing them will outweigh the money you supposedly saved by doing it yourself. 

You might be charged anywhere from $300 – $10,000 for a professionally installed drywall, while you can do it yourself for significantly less. Similarly, painting will cost you $2-3 per square foot if you get it done professionally, whereas you can do it yourself for just the cost of the paint – it also has a low skill requirement, so not much can go wrong if you DIY. 

So if you have experience in doing these, by all means, DIY. But being inexperienced will only leave you with wasted time, accidents, more repairs to fix, and a lower flipping profit.  

PAPERWORK REQUIREMENTS

Some repairs require specific building codes, permits, and inspections, like removing walls or installing new bathrooms. Better steer clear from DIY-ing these, unless you plan to leave your full-time job to be a contractor yourself. A professional will help you with the paperwork required and provide knowledge if the wall is load-bearing, or if you’d need more space for a bathroom. Their work is also insured, so if anything does go wrong, you’ll know that it’s covered.

A GENERAL GUIDE

Which jobs you do yourself should be based on your skillset and condition of the house, as well as permit requirements. Some jobs will require a licensed professional, like installing complete new plumbing, which you need a permit for, unless you want to get a citation from the city. A homeowner can pull their own permit in most states, without a license, because the homeowner is the one taking the risk. But if you do it wrong, you could have an electrical fire, etc., or end up failing your building inspection and being told to redo it.

However, this list should give you a general guide on when to DIY and when to hire a professional:

DO IT YOURSELF

  • Fix an outlet, doorknob, lights
  • Painting
  • Install baseboards
  • Install laminate flooring or luxury vinyl
  • Insulate open walls
  • Install a toilet (bowl)
  • Install minor PEX plumbing

HIRE A PROFESSIONAL

  • Additions
  • Replacing sidewalks and driveways
  • Replumbing the whole house
  • New electrical service panel and circuits
  • Replacing windows
  • Install solid hardwood flooring
  • Installing a furnace or central AC

Timing is everything with a flip, so work within your set of skills. Consider splitting the workload between you and a contractor who can compensate in places where you struggle. That way, you can focus on the things you know how to do, and still save yourself some money. At the same time, you’re not being slowed down by more complicated projects which will take you as a DIY-er much longer than a professional team to carry out.

What are the fixes you DIY when you flip a house, and which do you always leave to the pros?

Image Courtesy of Laurie Shaw

Categories
DIY

Landlords: Tenant-Proofing your Rental Properties

Tenant-proofing your rental properties is kind of like baby-proofing your house–it saves both of you from unnecessary headaches. The key when tenant-proofing is to identify the things that get abused the most, and think about how you can minimize damage to these areas, or eliminate them altogether. This is especially true for properties in low demographic neighborhoods, whereas problems like these rarely occur in higher-demographic areas.

Here are some other things you should avoid if you want to minimize the risk of extra damage costs:

  1. Avoid Garbage Disposal – Have you ever watched a movie, and the characters threaten to drop something meaningful into the garbage disposal by the sink? Yes, it’s true, people love to put all types of things down that drain. It’s handy–but also very easily clogged. It’s a piece of high-failure, time-consuming equipment to fix.
  1. Avoid Air-Conditioning Units – This may seem necessary, especially during the sweltering summers in Michigan, but AC units are not a requirement. Repairs are pricey and window-mounted models often disappear in the hands of thieves. Leave it to your tenants to buy one for themselves!
  1. Forbid Wall-Mounting – People like putting up decorations on their walls, but strictly avoid any nails or screws that put ugly holes in the walls. There are plenty of adhesive hooks in stores that tenants can use as an alternative, and walls with adhesive residue are easier to repair than those with holes. If you do allow nails, plan on deducting repair costs from the security deposit, because most tenants won’t repair the holes themselves (even if it says so in the lease).

Instead, install features that can help keep your rental properties clean and easy to maintain:

  1. Install Durable Flooring – Vinyl flooring is your best bet here, as it’s affordable, durable, simple to install, and it’s easy to remove any stains that a renter would leave. Although having carpet is a preference for some, it gets old and stained easily, with some stains refusing to come out at all, and absorbs odors from pets and smoke. Similarly, hardware floors – while a great feature to have when selling a house – can easily get scratched or damaged, and cost thousands to replace. With vinyl floors, all you need is a mop and bucket of soapy water, and you’re pretty much good to go. 
  1. Install Door Stoppers – Doors swing open and close multiple times a day, and many people (especially kids) won’t care if the doorknob puts an indent in the wall. Installing door stoppers is a must-have in rental properties, as it will save both your walls and your doors from unnecessary damage.

There are a surprising variety of door stoppers on the market, from baseboard stoppers and ones affixed to the back of the door itself, to wall-mounted handle stoppers and magnetic stoppers. One of the best options is the hinge pin stopper, since it has less chance of getting overworn through constant use (or played with by children).

  1. Install Window Coverings – Blinds, drapes, or curtains might seem like an added expense (and another thing to replace if damaged by a tenant), but it’s a good idea to install some kind of window covering to avoid giving thieves or squatters a clear view inside the property. Cheap coverings will do the trick, and if they’re damaged when the tenant moves out, you can deduct the replacement cost from their deposit.
  1. Opt for Durable Fittings – Some things, like faucets, can be bought as cheap plastic pieces, costing in the region of $40. While this may seem like a good cost savings in a lower-demographic rental, these cheaper fittings usually break down quickly and will need to be replaced every 2 years, on average. Investing in a more expensive, more durable option, like a $120 metal faucet, will mean that fittings can last for up to a decade before wearing out, saving you more money in the long run.
  1. Keep Pests Out – When doing property turnovers, consider conducting routine checks for pests and take preventative action, if necessary. Pests and insects hide well, and pest control services can add up to a fortune if the problem is left to worsen. So better to discover any potential infestations early, and fight back with rodent traps, chemical-free solutions, and an exhaustive scrub-down between rentals.

Follow these tips, and you should have a property that’s as tenant-proof as it’s possible to be. Of course, there will always be repairs and maintenance that need to be carried out at the end of every lease, but by planning properly, you can minimize the chance of incurring additional expenses for damages that could have been easily avoided.

Image Courtesy of: Ksenia Chernaya

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