How to ensure your property is appealing to renters from every generation

Written by Sean Miller on . Posted in For Landlords, free, Income Ideas, Maintenance & Renovations, Step 1 - Perform Research

Rentals that appeal to every generationIt’s human nature to gravitate toward things we like.

So what you think makes a rental property attractive will probably appeal to other like-minded people. But you could be limiting your market by only doing that.

When you have a rental property, it’s best to make that property appealing to the greatest number of potential renters—people that span all generations—not just millennials or baby boomers, for example.

Landlords need to appeal to renters across multiple generations.

The good news is that appealing to one type of renter doesn’t have to mean alienating other demographics. Renters across every generation will likely be attracted to the same features in a rental.

The best way to start increasing the appeal of your rental units is by finding the commonalities most of your prospective tenants share. The 2017 “Renter Preferences Report” from the National Multifamily Housing Council is generated from survey responses by more than a quarter of a million apartment renters around the country, and based on the findings, here’s how to ensure you’re casting the widest possible net:

1. Focus on the essentials

For the most part, renters want the same basics. Air conditioning and access to high-speed internet made the top of the list, with 94 percent and 93 percent interest, respectively. In fact, 92 percent of respondents said they wouldn’t lease a unit without air conditioning. Many renters are also interested in reliable cell phone reception (92 percent), secure parking (88 percent), and secure access to amenities (84 percent).

By starting with these basic features that you know renters want, you can broaden your appeal and attract as many applicants as possible.

Related: Top 10 Amenities Renters Can’t Resist

2. Adopt useful technologies

Adoption of home automation technology has exploded in recent years; approximately one-third of U.S. broadband households own at least one connected device. Home automation adoption among renters, however, has been below the national average because of the complexity of choosing, installing, and maintaining a home automation system in a rental home. Take this opportunity to install home automation solutions that increase renters’ safety, savings, and convenience.

  • Smart locks prevent the need to rekey after each renter, and they improve safety by allowing renters or landlords to issue unique access codes that show them who was in a rental unit and when.
  • Exterior video cameras, such as doorbell or driveway cameras, let residents keep an eye on their home from the comfort of their couch … or halfway around the world.
  • Smart thermostats can improve savings by lowering energy costs when a unit is unoccupied.
  • Water sensors can alert you to flooding before unwanted water has the chance to wreak havoc.
  • Smart lights increase convenience and lower bills by turning off when rooms are vacant.
  • Voice assistants are appealing to all generations because they make it easy to control other smart home features.

3. Pick a good location

Location is key for any resident when they’re choosing a new home. Suburbs no longer hold the same appeal they once did; renters of all ages want to be closer to the action, where restaurants and nightlife are convenient and walkable.

4. Provide maintenance-free living

People of all ages want to live maintenance-free. In fact, one of the biggest appeals of renting is that landlords take care of upkeep and maintenance—from unclogging toilets to repairing broken appliances. Landlords who can respond to maintenance requests quickly and efficiently will attract great tenants.

The bottom line

The rental market is growing and becoming increasingly multi-generational. Millennials may represent the majority of the rental market, but a winning strategy is one that increases the appeal of your properties for all renters, from Baby Boomers to Gen Z. Checking the essential boxes is the most important step you can take—from there, introduce the right technologies in the right locations, and you’ll have renters lining up to view your property.

A biyearly maintenance schedule for busy landlords

Written by Chris Deziel on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, landlord, Maintenance & Renovations, maintenance schedule, paid, rental maintenance, Step 10 - Repair & Maintain

If you own rental properties, you know that each one needs a maintenance schedule. You have a couple of alternatives if you don’t want to pay a property manager or maintenance service.

  1. Create maintenance agreements with tenants.
  2. Find a way of working a rental maintenance schedule into your routine.

Related: 5 Ways to Save Money by Being Your Own Property Manager

The first alternative is a great idea if you have responsible, long-term renters. But it might not be such a good one if you have a high turnaround rate or unreliable renters.

If you find the buck stopping at your desk, and your lifestyle won’t accommodate a monthly maintenance schedule, don’t despair. You should be able to take care of most major maintenance issues with biyearly visits, preferably in mid- to late-fall and mid-spring.

Fall maintenance

When you visit your rental property in the fall, your goal is to get it ready for winter. Make sure the heating system is in good working order, and inspect the structure for any problems that could be exacerbated in cold and snowy weather.

1. Service the central air system

Fall is the best time to clean and/or replace all the air return filters as well as the filters around the heating unit itself. If the property has a wood stove or fireplace, it’s a good idea to get the chimney swept once a year. This keeps the fires burning brightly and prevents sparks from causing fires in places you don’t want them.

Related: Who’s Responsible for Furnace and HVAC Maintenance?

2. Clean the gutters

Prevent ice dams and icicles by clearing leaves and debris from the gutters. It’s a messy and slightly dangerous job, so you may want to hire a handyman to do this for you.

3. Winterize the garden

Shut down the sprinkler system and then drain it to prevent burst pipes. Mulch vulnerable plants to protect them from frost. You can make great mulch material by raking leaves onto the lawn, mowing the grass, and collecting the cuttings.

4. Check weatherstripping and patch holes

Replace worn weatherstripping on doors and windows, and check around the foundation for cracks and holes. Patch the holes with caulk. If they look inviting for rodents, cover them with galvanized flashing so the renters don’t have a winter pest problem.

5. Do a safety inspection

  • Look for rotted wood, lifting or sinking concrete pads, or anything else that could be a slipping hazard when covered with snow or ice.
  • Check handrails for stability.
  • Check outdoor outlets and light fixtures to make sure they work and that they are waterproof.

Related: Top 10 fall maintenance tips for landlords and property managers

Spring maintenance

Spring maintenance is mostly about troubleshooting damage caused by ice, snow, and freezing temperatures. Because the ground has thawed and the sun is out, it’s also the best time to make improvements that enhance the appearance and habitability of the property.

1. Maintain Drainage

Clear blocked downspouts and gutters, and repair leaks. Look for standing water in the yard or driveway, and improve drainage so puddles don’t turn into floodwaters during summer rainstorms.

2. Look for plumbing leaks and repair them

All pipes are vulnerable to freezing in the winter but especially exterior pipes that are partially or completely exposed. Turn on the water to full pressure, and check all the joints for sweating or active leaks.

3. Stabilize fences, decks, and handrails

Exterior wooden structures take a beating during the winter. Replace rotted wood, and tighten bolts and nuts to keep them serviceable throughout the summer.

4. Power wash

Clean dirty walkways, decks, fences, and sidings to keep them mold-free and looking their best.

5. Test the smoke alarms

Press the test button on each smoke alarm to be sure the alarm sounds. Check the dates on the batteries and replace any that have been in place longer than 10 years.

6. Seal cracks and holes

You did this in the fall, but you should also do it in the spring. Rodent and insect activity are highest in the summer months, and sealing them out is the best way to prevent an infestation.

7. Test the cooling system

If your rental has an air conditioner, make sure that it comes on and blows cold air.

Adding pool and septic upkeep

Some maintenance tasks are property-specific. For example, not every property has a pool or septic system, but if yours does, you need to regularly maintain them.

For pools

Closing a pool in the winter and opening it in the spring are two important jobs. Most landlords contract with a pool service for regular pool upkeep.

Related: A Landlord’s Guide to Swimming Pool Maintenance and Liability

For septic systems

Check the level of the tank in the spring, and pump it if necessary. This is something you should do every three to five years. Don’t let your tenants off the hook when it comes to septic maintenance, however. The way they use the plumbing affects the health of the tank and drain field. Give your tenants clear guidelines concerning septic use when they move in. It goes without saying that tenants should also do their part to dispose of trash and maintain sanitary, mold-free conditions.

Related: How to Educate Your Tenants about Using a Septic System

How to automate landlord responsibilities

Written by Sarah Block on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, Leases & Legal, Maintenance & Renovations, Move-in/Move-out, paid, Rental Advertising, Screening, Software, Step 1 - Perform Research

Landlord automation - life's a beachWhen I became an accidental landlord in 2011, all I knew for sure was that I needed a tenant, and fast.

Over the years, I have learned how to manage my properties through systems and processes that practically automate all landlord responsibilities. Since then, I like to say “life’s a beach” . . . or at least that’s true for my life as an independent landlord. Today, I’ll share my landlord automation secrets.

Step 1: Finding a tenant

The first thing I do with my rentals is to take great pictures that showcase the properties and surrounding towns. I write ads that help prospective tenants see themselves in that environment.

Related: How to Write an Attractive Property Listing in 8 Steps

From there, I create a Google Drive folder and put photos and ad descriptions in it as well as a Google calendar for showings.

This is where the automation comes in.

  • Post your ad through syndication sites like Apartments.com and Cozy’s Property Listing portal.
  • Use an app like Calendly to automate scheduling showings, which populates on your Google Calendar.
  • If you want, you can even automate showings by using smart technology like Rently that allows prospects to schedule the showing from their smartphone and open the door for them. I wouldn’t recommend doing this one though if there are current tenants. Also, there is no replacement for meeting a prospective tenant in person.
  • The rental application can be done online for free with Cozy’s rental application. The application includes a background and credit check, which is always recommended.

Step 2: Set up lease and rent collection

Creating a lease and rent collection system is the most important step. If your lease isn’t legal or your payments aren’t automated, that is potential money out of your pocket.

Have an attorney create your first lease, ensuring that it is compliant with your local area.  This lease can be customized for all other tenants. So, it is a one-time cost that will save you big money throughout the life of your rental.

  • Use DocuSign to have the tenant sign the lease and store on Google Drive or your Cozy portal, providing access to your new tenant.
  • Set-up automatic rent collection with Cozy’s rental payment portal. It’s free for both the landlord and tenant as long as they pay with an ACH. A bonus: Cozy automates late payments.

Related:  The landlord’s guide to rent collection

Step 3: Move-in checklist

Think of a new tenant moving in like a new employee starting a job. There is an onboarding process.

  • Start with a move-in inspection with the tenant. Have the tenant sign it. This will be gold when the lease is up if there are any issues. You’ll have proof the tenant agreed the unit met their expectations. On the other side, if an issue needs to be resolved, the tenant can fill out a maintenance request, and the entire process is tracked.
  • You can track any tenant onboarding and maintenance expenses for tax purposes and write them off during tax season using the landlord portal.
  • Build a small team of contractors that you can rely on. You will need a handyman and a cleaning crew for maintenance and turnover needs. Having this team in place from the beginning saves you time throughout the lifetime of the rental.

Related:  The perfect tenant move-in package

By taking a small amount of time upfront to set up systems, processes, and automation, being a landlord becomes much easier. While landlords jest that owning rentals are anything but passive income, it can be much more passive with a plan in place.

Should you let tenants make improvements?

Written by Laura Agadoni on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, For Renters, Maintenance & Renovations, paid, Step 10 - Repair & Maintain

You have a house that’s, to put it mildly, ugly.

The front porch sags, the exterior paint is peeling, the carpets are stained and worn, and the circa-1960 bathrooms have never been updated. But you have renters anyway, and they want to make improvements. Should you let them?

That’s almost exactly what happened in one Pennsylvania home. It turned out badly for the landlord who gave the month-to-month tenants a notice to vacate … after all the renovation work was complete. The court made the landlord pay more than $11,000 to reimburse the tenants for the improvements they made.

So the question remains: should you let tenants make improvements?

The answer: it depends.

Your tenant asks

Tenants often ask to make improvements to a home they will rent. They need to live there, after all. Common requests are to paint the walls, drill holes to hang window treatments or run cable, replace the flooring, update the light fixtures, create a garden in the backyard, and change the bathroom sinks.

Related: Should I allow my tenants to paint a rental property?

What you should do when your tenant asks to “improve” the home is to calculate how much it will cost to return the unit back to its original condition if need be. That might be necessary if the tenant’s so-called improvements make your rental less desirable. But, on the other hand, the alteration might very well be an improvement you can leave. And that will be a benefit for you and will make your current (and probably future) tenant happy.

If the security deposit will cover fixing the alteration, you might consider taking the risk and say, “Yes.” If the security deposit won’t cover the cost to return the property to its original state, or if you just don’t like the idea of what your tenant proposes, you can—to use Nancy Reagan’s famous line: “Just say no.” This is your investment we’re talking about.

But who pays?

If your tenant makes an “improvement” that devalues your home, and if they did so without your permission, they typically need to pay, and you would use that money to fix the issue. But if your tenant adds value to your house, like the Pennsylvania example above, the situation regarding who pays becomes more difficult.

One option is that you strike a deal where you pay half and they pay half. Another is that you might allow an improvement but only if they pay for all of it. Or you might decide the improvement will be a good value for your property, and you will pay for all of it.

Whatever you decide to do, it’s best if you address the issue of tenant improvements in the lease. If you haven’t done that beforehand, you can add an addendum to the lease that makes it clear who is responsible for paying for improvements or whether they can be done at all.

Related: The differences between repairs and improvements

Here’s a sample of what I have in my lease:

That guards against renters who decide to take matters into their own hands during their stay and allows for some negotiation.

If you decide to let your tenant make improvements, you could include language like this, courtesy of Law Insider:

For work you will do:

That ensures you will be paid for work you do that is requested but not a habitability issue.

For work done by either party:

This clause makes it clear that you get to keep the improvements to the property.

A clause if the alterations devalue the home:

This is the clause you point to if you need to withhold all or part of the security deposit.

What if your tenant makes alterations without your permission?

As soon as you notice that your tenant altered your property without your permission, you need to act. At the very least, send a letter or email letting them know that you are aware of the change to the property and that this change is a violation of the lease.

Then let your tenant know the consequences of their action. The change might be something you like. If so, let them know that they don’t need to restore the property to the original condition but that you will not pay for the alteration since you did not approve it.

If you don’t like the change, tell your tenant to restore the property to its original condition. But if that doesn’t happen, let them know that you will do so and will deduct the money from the security deposit.

If the alteration was unacceptable and the tenant is not cooperating with you, you can choose to evict at that point for violating a lease term.

Related: 4 tips for first-time landlords

When you should consider making improvements yourself

Your rental property is an investment. You should, therefore, protect that investment by at least maintaining and repairing as necessary. It’s also a good idea to know what the competition is like in your area. Most tenants don’t stay in a rental property forever, meaning that you will probably need to re-rent at some point.

It’s good to understand what tenants expect in a rental property for your price in your area. If your rental is lacking, you might want to make upgrades to make it more desirable. Most renters, for example, like stainless steel appliances, renovated bathrooms and kitchens, and central air conditioning.

Related: Top 10 amenities renters can’t resist

The bottom line

Rental properties need improvements from time to time. The best situation is for you to be on top of maintenance, repairs, and possible renovations for your property. But if you don’t do that, or if your tenant has suggestions to improve the space, you might want to entertain your tenant’s request to make improvements. Just make sure you and your tenant completely understand the terms of the deal.

Have you let tenants make improvements? Have you ever improved your rental property? Tell us about it in the comments!

How to test appliances before a tenant moves in

Written by Chris Deziel on . Posted in appliances, edited, For Landlords, landlord, Maintenance & Renovations, move-in, paid

Landlords don’t have to supply appliances, but most do. After all, appliances make rentals more attractive.

If you furnish appliances, you’ll want to make sure they’re in good working order. You probably also want tenants to be able to use them to make their lives more comfortable and enjoyable.

Appliances don’t last forever, so when you’re getting ready to welcome a new tenant, test appliances to make sure they’ll last. Like people, appliances get sick, and when they do, they display recognizable symptoms. Looking for these symptoms when you test appliances usually doesn’t require any tools.

Related:

4 basic amenities that attract quality tenants

How long should appliances last?

The dryer

The dryer is the appliance that can cause the worst problems because it can overheat and start a fire. According to FEMA, dryers cause 2,900 fires in the U.S annually. After making sure the vent and lint trap are clean, dry a load of clothing you’ve just run through the washing machine and conduct these simple tests:

  • Turn the dial to manual and make sure the dryer starts. Check for excessive vibrations or squeaks, which could mean the drum belt is loose.
  • Set the timer to 60 minutes or the drying cycle to “Normal,” time how long it takes for the dryer to shut off. It will be 60 minutes if the manual timer is working. The timing is variable for an electronic dryer, but it should be close to 60 minutes.
  • Take out the clothes and feel how dry they are. If they still feel wet, the vent line could need a deeper cleaning. If you’re sure the vent is clean, it’s time to call a pro to check the burner or heating element on the dryer.

The washing machine

Like dryers, washing machines often malfunction because something in the outlet hose is blocked. In this case, the outlet is inside the machine, and you may have to have it professionally removed. But first, you need to know it’s there.

  • Do a load of wash and make sure the machine drains properly.
  • This test might also reveal strange sounds that could indicate a loose belt or a problem with the motor.
  • Doing a load of wash also gives you an opportunity to test the controls. If you hear any sounds, the machine vibrates excessively, or the controls don’t work, call a service pro. Most problems are fixable.

The refrigerator

Refrigerators also have moving parts, but they may make noise when they malfunction, and since a refrigerator is always on, you can probably hear it. The sounds are a warning to call a repair pro or get a new fridge. The gaskets, fan, and refrigeration system itself are also important.

  • Open and close the doors to check the gasket seal. You should feel a slight pull on the door when it’s almost closed. Replace gaskets that are torn.
  • Put a thermometer inside the fridge and turn the control to mid-range. Come back in 12 hours and check the temperature. It should be 40 degrees Fahrenheit. If it isn’t, turn the control to cold and check again in another 12 hours. Suspect a problem with the refrigerant if the temperature doesn’t reach 40 F.
  • Look for water on the ground or in the refrigerator compartment. It can indicate problems with the refrigerant or the controls.

The water heater

  • Turn on the hot water at every faucet and check the temperature.
  • Take a careful look at the color of the water. Cooler-than-expected water or a yellow or brownish tinge point to sediment and rust in the water heater.
  • Get it flushed before tenants move in to avoid water quality problems and premature water heater failure.

Related: The ultimate guide to “normal wear and tear”

The kitchen stove

The kitchen stove is probably the easiest to test.

  • Turn on each burner or heating element in turn and make sure it provides maximum flame or glow when the control is turned up all the way.
  • Set the oven to cooking temperature–about 400 degrees—and place an oven thermometer inside. Wait for it to reach the target temperature.

The other stove features are optional. They don’t have to work as long as you disclose that fact to the tenants.

Look for gas leaks

As you test appliances, be sure to listen for leaks coming from those that use gas. It’s a good idea to do a bubble test on each gas connection.

  • Make a 50-50 solution of dish soap and water and spray some on each connection.
  • If you see bubbles on any connection, tighten the connection.
  • If you can’t stop the bubbles, get a licensed gas technician to service the connection.

Check the lights, plugs, and smoke detectors

An outlet tester will come in handy. Plug it into each outlet to check for power.

  • Test GFCI outlets by pressing the bottom button on each one and verifying that the power goes off, and then press the reset button on the top to make sure the tester lights up again.
  • Turn on each of the lights to check for burnt-out bulbs.
  • Press the test button on each of the smoke detectors to make sure the alarm sounds.

Related: The long and short of smoke alarms

Give yourself time

As you test appliances, you may find problems that require professional repair. Give yourself time to make these repairs by conducting the tests at least a week before occupancy. That way, everything will be shipshape when tenants move in, and if anything goes wrong, it won’t be your fault.

9 maintenance issues tenants are responsible for

Written by Chris Deziel on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, For Renters, landlord tenant, Maintenance & Renovations, paid, rental maintenance

Maintaining a clean, safe, and livable rental property is a shared commitment. The law requires a landlord to provide a safe and habitable residence, but it won’t stay that way for long unless tenants share upkeep responsibilities.

Landlords can’t control how tenants live, but they have a right to expect proper use of their properties. Some commonsense tasks, such as proper disposal of trash, need no explanation. Other maintenance issues should be specified in the lease so everyone is on the same page.

1. Waste disposal

You have to throw away the trash if you want a clean and sanitary home. Most municipalities provide waste disposal services for which they generally charge a fee. Landlords often pass this fee on via a lease clause or include it in the rent. In places without regular trash service, it’s important to negotiate a disposal strategy and stick with it.

Related: How to handle dirty tenants

2. Pest control

It’s up to the landlord to ensure that a rental is pest-free before anyone moves in. Once the place is occupied, though, tenants automatically assume some of the responsibility for keeping it that way. If the landlord has corrected structural problems that allow rodents and insects to enter, tenants should avoid attracting them with poor hygienic practices. Tenants could be financially liable for abatement of an infestation caused by negligence, especially if they violate provisions specified in the lease.

Related: Best pest control and prevention tips for your rental property

How to deal with bed bugs at your rental property

3. Landscaping

Lawn and yard maintenance can fall to the tenant if a lease clause assigns these tasks. In that case, any violation of city or county ordinances would be the tenant’s responsibility. The tenant is always responsible for keeping the yard safe by removing obstacles and generally cleaning up. In certain situations, particularly in shared housing units, a landlord may contract a tenant to do yard maintenance in exchange for compensation.

Related: Should a tenant be paid for doing yard work?

4. Snow removal

Snow removal is a matter of safety, not only for tenants but for anyone using a public walkway that crosses the property. Some municipalities assess fines for failure to remove snow in a timely fashion. Able-bodied tenants are in the best position to handle this job, but it isn’t their responsibility unless the lease specifies it. However, because tenants have a responsibility to keep the premises safe, they could be faulted for failing to clear snow from doorways and walkways that access them.

Related: Snow removal—how to avoid being negligent

5. Mold prevention

Mold grows where there’s moisture, and the question of whose job it is to prevent it—and clean it up—can be a thorny one. In general, it’s the landlord’s job if the moisture comes from a plumbing or building leak. Liability for cleanup may fall to tenants if the mold is the result of poor hygiene practices, such as leaving piles of damp clothing in the corner. Tenants are also responsible for providing adequate ventilation and could be required to clean surface mold on furniture and bathroom walls.

Related: Is a landlord always responsible for mold remediation?

6. Proper appliance use

Appliances, such as stoves, microwaves, and dryers, won’t last long under abuse. Proper appliance use is a must in any living situation, and if any repair or replacement is clearly the result of negligence on the part of tenants, they may have to foot the bill. Landlords are typically responsible for routine maintenance, such as filter replacement or duct cleaning. This could be addressed in the lease.

Related: How long should appliances last?

7. Smoke detector maintenance

Smoke detectors are generally unnoticeable until they need new batteries or they go off, which hopefully never happens. When a smoke alarm needs new batteries, it’s the landlord’s job to replace them, unless the lease says otherwise. It’s up to tenants to avoid false alarms caused by shower steam or cooking smoke, but if an alarm goes off for no reason, they must notify the landlord as soon as possible so it can be fixed or replaced.

Related: The long and short of smoke alarms

8. Septic maintenance

Improper use of a septic system can seriously shorten its life. This is such an important maintenance issue that most landlords include a lease clause or provide a handout that describes best practices. They include treating oils, greases, and non-degradable substances as trash and not plumbing waste. Septic treatments, tank pumping, and pump maintenance are the landlord’s responsibility, but if the system fails, tenants could be dinged if negligent use is the cause.

Related: How to educate your tenants about using a septic system

9. Contacting the landlord

It’s illegal for a landlord to make tenants responsible for all repairs. Tenants do have a responsibility, however, to contact the landlord or property manager when the property needs repairs. Any damage that results from a failure to do so could cost all or part of the security deposit or more. Unless authorized by the lease, tenants can’t make repairs on their own unless the landlord does not respond. In that case, most states allow tenants to make repairs that affect habitability and charge the landlord.

Understand the lease requirements

When it comes to maintenance issues for tenants, it’s important to read and understand the lease before signing it. Certain clauses may stipulate maintenance tasks that don’t normally fall to tenants, and once they sign on the dotted line, tenants own these tasks. Encourage your tenants to take the lease home and study it carefully before signing.

Staple supplies for landlords to keep on hand

Written by Chris Deziel on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, landlord, Landlord Tips, Maintenance & Renovations, paid, painting, rental maintenance

If you’re a landlord who wants to run a tight ship, you need certain supplies on hand to deal with common situations.

These supplies include tools and maintenance items, paperwork to make your life easier, spare keys, and a way to remove unauthorized padlocks and chains.

Tools and supplies for basic maintenance

Your toolbox should include the basics:

  • Hammer
  • Saw
  • Tape measure
  • Screwdriver
  • Power drill

For small electrical repairs:

  • Multimeter
  • Wire splicing tool
  • Utility knife

For plumbing repairs:

  • Two pairs of locking pliers (One pair is for holding the pipe while you tighten a leaking fitting with the other.)

Besides tools, you’ll need a few supplies to complete repairs. If you keep an inventory of a few basics, you can complete simple repairs efficiently without repeated trips to the hardware store. The list isn’t long. It includes:

  • An assortment of screws and other fasteners
  • Wall anchors
  • Electrical tape, duct tape, and plumbing tape
  • Carpenter’s glue and 2-part epoxy

Related: A landlord’s toolbox for appliance repair and maintenance

Supplies for painting and cosmetic maintenance

When a tenant moves out, you almost always have to do some painting to make the rental ready for a new tenant. Keep the following in your paint closet:

  • Touch-up paint
  • Brushes
  • Rollers

The painting job inevitably involves a certain amount of wall repair. So it’s a good idea to also keep the following supplies in your paint closet so you can make these repairs quickly and minimize downtime for the rental:

  • Drywall joint compound
  • Drywall tape
  • Spackling compound
  • Patching compound
  • A four-inch putty knife and a 6- and 10-inch drywall knife
  • A paint scraper

Related: The top skill you should perfect: painting

Cleaning tools and supplies

Cleaning is an important part of the turnaround process, so your supply closet should include the following:

  • Mop
  • Assortment of rags and sponges
  • Bucket
  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Spray bottle that you can fill with vinegar (comes in handy for cleaning hard water streaks from the bathroom walls and shower door)
  • Squeegee

In addition, it’s a great idea to keep the following supplies in the cleaning closet:

  • Ammonia
  • Bleach-based cleanser
  • Dish soap for delicate cleaning jobs
  • Enzyme-based drain cleaner for slow drains
  • Scouring powder
  • Vinegar and/or hydrogen peroxide for disinfecting
  • Window cleaning fluid

Related: How to get your security deposit back

Paperwork to keep in your file cabinet

Your file cabinet should include the instruction manual for each of your appliances, as well as a copy of the warranty (if it’s still in effect). Besides these, it’s a good idea to keep the following paperwork:

  • Copies of lead paint and other disclosure forms that you are required to supply to new tenants
  • Fact sheets about the rental that include safety information and important phone numbers that you can supply to tenants
  • Ready-to-fill-out leases and/or rental agreements.

Related: Find a rock-solid rental lease and stick to it

Prepare for lockouts

It’s good practice to limit the number of keys you give out, and it’s an even better practice to have at least one spare set for each rental. Keep the keys in a place you can access quickly, and a late night emergency call from a tenant who has misplaced keys will be less of a bother.

Tenants who lose keys sometimes use their own locks to keep doors and other parts of a rental unit secure. It isn’t unheard of for these unauthorized locks to remain when the tenants vacate the premises. Keep a pair of bolt cutters in your toolbox, and you can remove them.

Related: 4 considerations when choosing locks for your rental properties

Consolidate all your supplies in one place

Not all landlords do all their own maintenance and repairs, but if you do, consider investing in an inexpensive used vehicle in which to keep supplies (except paperwork). This is a great idea if you have multiple units. You’ll always have the things you need right at hand, and you won’t have the hassle of organizing materials each time a job arises. You’ll save time and money, and every little bit helps to keep your rental operation in the black.

Top 8 ways to know if your rental meets safety standards

Written by Chris Deziel on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, landlord liability, Maintenance & Renovations, paid, safety, Step 10 - Repair & Maintain

The most successful landlords understand the importance and value of conducting regular property inspections. Making sure your rental meets the safety standards mandated by statutes (and common sense) is the best way protect your tenants and your bank account.

Make a checklist for each property you own, and update it when you inspect the property. Include these eight important items on your list.

1. Do you have GFI outlets?

The National Electrical Code began to require Ground Fault Interrupting outlets (GFIs) in 1971, and, over the years, it expanded the list of locations where GFIs should be installed. These include:

  • Kitchens
  • Bathrooms
  • Laundry rooms
  • Anywhere outside

Many older rentals don’t have these safety devices, and that increases the risk of shocks and fires. If a non-GFI outlet were to overheat and catch fire in a place in which a GFI is required, insurance might not cover the damage.

You don’t necessarily have to retrofit all non-GFI outlets in a kitchen or bathroom. You could simply install a GFI breaker in the main panel, or you can locate the first outlet on the circuit and replace that one with a GFI. If it’s properly wired, it will protect all downline outlets by tripping whenever one of them detects a ground fault.

Related: How to get your landlord to fix a bad electrical system

2. Are there smoke detectors?

Most states have smoke alarm laws, so it’s a good idea to become familiar with those in your state or municipality and obey them. State or local regulations usually specify where the smoke detectors should be, and naturally, most fire prevention authorities require the smoke detectors to be in working order.

Check the smoke alarms in your rentals yearly by pushing the test button on each one and ensuring that the alarm sounds. Respond promptly when a renter complains of chirping noises because that means the battery is weak and the smoke alarm may not function in an emergency.

As of March, 2018, 27 states require carbon monoxide detectors in residential units through statute, and another 11 states require them through the state building code. To avoid having to keep track of both smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, consider installing combination units. These come with sealed batteries to fire code requirements in California and elsewhere.

Related: The long and short of smoke alarms

3. Are the outdoor railings safe?

If your rental has a deck or balcony, the railings need to be at least 36-42 inches high, depending on whether the local governing authority relies on the International Residential Code or the International Building Code. The railings must be able to withstand a minimum shear force, which is also specified by code.

Wood railings tend to deteriorate over the years. The wood rots, and the bolts holding the posts to the deck fascia work themselves loose. Check the railings on your decks and balconies every year. Tighten loose fasteners and replace rotting wood.

4. How safe are your stairs?

You don’t want renters, visitors, or anyone else to slip and fall on any of your stairways or walkways. You can’t prevent every accident, but you can minimize the risk of one occurring by keeping stairs in good repair.

Replace rotted wood on wooden staircases and fix cracks on concrete ones before they widen and turn into hazards. Painting stairs and walkways with a non-slip coating is a good way to guard against loss of traction in wet weather.

5. Do the doors lock?

Most states require landlords to provide secure housing, and courts are increasingly awarding large settlements to tenants who sue landlords after burglaries or break-ins.

A secure exterior door is one with both a locking lockset and a deadbolt. Re-key the locks or change them with every turnover to eliminate the circulation of spare keys. Even better, equip the doors with electronic or combination locks. Discourage renters from duplicating keys, and keep a log of the keys that you hand out.

In high-crime areas, installing an alarm system is an added precaution that could prevent a burglary and keep you out of court.

Related:

4 considerations when choosing locks for your rental properties

Should landlords (or tenants) install an alarm system?

6. Is that paint safe?

You should be concerned about lead-based paint if you have a rental that was built before 1978. Before that date, lead was a common ingredient in interior paints, and paint containing this toxic metal may be flaking off your old wooden windowsills right now. If your renters have children, and the children ingest lead-based paint, they could suffer developmental and neurological problems.

It’s in your interest, as well as the interest of your renters, to test painted walls and woodwork for lead. If you get a positive reading, consult a remediation expert to determine the best way to deal with it. According to federal law, you must disclose the presence of lead paint to your renters.

Related: Understanding “the lead disclosure rule”

7. Is there a pest infestation?

Besides being a general nuisance, pests such as mice, rats, and cockroaches are unsanitary and can spread disease and generally lower safety standards in the rental. Renters may attract them by leaving food around or failing to clean up, but it’s ultimately the landlord’s responsibility to get rid of them. If you add a monthly payment to a local pest control company to the rent, you won’t have to worry about this problem.

8. Are the appliances maintained?

The dryer: This tops the list of appliances that need an inspection and possible maintenance at least once a year. For the sake of fire safety and dryer performance, check the lint trap and the vent opening in the side of the house for lint buildup. Clean the vent if you can’t feel a steady stream of air from the vent opening when the dryer is on.

The washing machine: Check the lint trap on the washing machine.

The water heater: Check for leaks. You should flush the water heater every three to five years to prevent leaks and maintain its performance.

Related: How long should appliances last?

Mention known issues in the lease

You may not be able to correct all the issues that lower safety standards in your rental as quickly as you’d like. It’s important to get to them eventually, but until you do, disclose them in the lease as the law requires. That isn’t guaranteed to get you out of hot water if an accident occurs, but at least you’ll be following the law, and you won’t be misrepresenting the rental.

What to consider when buying a foreclosure for a rental property

Written by Sarah Block on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, Income Ideas, Laws & Regulations, Maintenance & Renovations, paid, Rent & Expenses

The lure of a good deal can make some pounce before they think, and foreclosures are no exception.

Let’s say you’re scanning the internet for some hiking boots. As you know, your search history follows you, and a pair of hiking boots pop up in an ad for 50% lower than others. You pounce. You get them in the mail, and they look like a floppy, sad version of what you actually wanted.

That’s what acting too fast on a foreclosure is like. You see a good deal, buy, and find that it wasn’t worth the money.

Related: Save 40%-70% on your next rental property with a pre-foreclosure

Four considerations when buying a foreclosure

Before you buy a foreclosed home as your next rental property investment, consider these four things.

1. Can you view before you buy?

When you find a good deal, it might be tempting to buy sight unseen because of the fear of missing out (FOMO) nagging at your brain. Don’t let FOMO win. Always make time to see your potential investment before you buy, even if you need to travel to see it. No one wants a surprise money pit.

By seeing the property ahead of time, look for the following:

  • The neighborhood. This can tell you what kind of tenants you will likely have.
  • The house. This gives you an idea of what work needs to be done.
  • Area rents. You’ll need to know what rent you are likely to get to determine whether the deal will be worth doing.

2.  How long was it empty?

When homes are unused for a long time, the decay gets worse, not better.

Rodents and bugs infest the house. Plumbing dries up from being unused. Bigger problems could have happened and never noticed like a roof leak, plumbing burst, mold, or vandalism/theft.

If you are purchasing a foreclosure that had been abandoned for some time, it’s even more important to get a thorough inspection before buying. You always want to get an inspection, but when it has been empty for a long period of time, ensure that the inspection dives deep.

Related: Risks of leaving a property vacant

3. Should you find skilled labor before you buy?

With nearly all foreclosures, there will be repairs that need to be completed. You should have a team of tradespeople in place before you buy, and have them review the property with you.

By having trusted tradespeople lined up, you have a better idea of what you are getting into or on whether to pass on the property. Ask them to go to the inspection, and then begin pricing repairs before you purchase. Ask their opinion on whether this is a good investment. A reliable team can help you budget properly, quickly repair the property, and turn a profit faster.

4. Are there any rules I should know?

Foreclosures have different rules than a typical property-buying situation.

Some government programs will not allow a buyer to rent out a property for up to five years. Understand the program you are buying your foreclosure from, and ensure that you are allowed to rent it once you own it.

If there are current tenants, legally, you need to honor their lease in some states. The Helping Families Save Their Homes Act of 2009 requires that all new owners of a foreclosure honor leases of previous tenants if they plan on renting the property.

However, if the new owner plans on living in the property, they are allowed to give the tenants 90 days’ notice. This law expired in 2014, and now tenant’s rights vary by state. In Illinois, tenants still need 90 days’ notice; however, in Wisconsin, they can be evicted immediately.

Related:  Are tenants required to move out during a foreclosure?

Use the same best practices as with any property

The same considerations for any rental property are still valid with a foreclosure.

Before buying, consider the cap rate. What is your predicted rent? Subtract expenses, including expenses to get the property ready to rent, from the annual rental income. Divide that number by the value of the property. A cap rate of 5%-10% shows that the property is a good investment.

The bottom line

Before making the decision to buy a foreclosure as a rental property, know what you are getting into. Landlords need to find tenants, make fixes, collect rent, and have great relationships with your tenants. You’re running a business, so weigh the pros and cons before diving into renting a foreclosure.

Don’t buy the discount hiking boots without doing the research first.

10 landscaping tips to save water

Written by Ruth de Jauregui on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, For Renters, Maintenance & Renovations, paid

Drought, water restrictions, and increasingly expensive water bills should motivate everyone to learn how to save water in a landscape plan.

Whether you’re a landlord or a tenant, there are ways to save water without busting the budget on initial changes. Before beginning any project, review any HOA or city/county restrictions on landscaping. And tenants should always discuss landscaping ideas with the landlord before adding or removing lawn, shrubs, or trees.

5 suggestions for landlords

Implementing water-saving measures can range from repairing a faulty sprinkler system to fully renovating the landscape. Adding plants, shrubs, and trees suited to the local climate reduces the time required to maintain the landscape as well as reducing water usage.

1. Select the right type of grass

Save water by selecting the appropriate grass species for the USDA hardiness zones and environmental conditions. Grasses are divided into cool- and warm-season species. Most grass species require full sun or a minimum of six to eight hours of direct sunlight daily to thrive.

Bluegrass and fine fescues grow well in USDA zones 2 through 7. The fine fescues, Chewings, creeping red, and hard, are better choices than bluegrass due to their drought and shade tolerance.

In USDA zones 6 through 9, zoysiagrass requires the least amount of water. It, like bermudagrass, becomes straw-colored in winter.

Bermudagrass is another tough, spreading grass. It’s found in USDA zones 7 through 10. It is invasive and will take over the flowerbeds if not separated by a barrier—such as concrete edging—and edged regularly.

Related: Top 5 exterior maintenance items to perform before residents move in

2. Use ground covers

Water-saving alternatives to grasses are ground covers and native plants. Replace part or all the lawn with ground covers, preferably natives, which are suited for the site to save water.

Sun-loving miniature daisies, creeping thyme, and blue star creeper cover bare soil while reducing water usage.

In part-sun to shade, easy-maintenance ground covers like ajuga, also known as bugleweed, provide green coverage and flowers. After the ajuga finishes blooming, clean up and rejuvenate the plants by setting the mower at its highest setting and mowing over the fading flowers and foliage. (Avoid Vinca minor, also known as periwinkle and myrtle, and English ivy; both are invasive.)

While people often use decorative rocks as a ground cover, in time they begin to look drab and dusty. In addition, they harbor weed seeds and can develop into a messy expanse of unattractive weeds. Instead, weed cloth covered by organic mulch helps prevent weed growth and slows the evaporation of water from the soil.

3. Practice xeriscaping

Xeriscaping doesn’t mean cactus and bare rocks. The primary focus of xeriscaping is reducing water use. Plant drought-tolerant perennials, shrubs, and trees that may be natives or originated in a similar climate. The plantings might include iris, daffodils, daisies, hardy hibiscus, poppies, salvias, and other flowers that require less water once established in the landscape.

4. Consider installing a drip-watering system with a rain-sensing timer

Each plant, shrub, and tree receives water directly over the rootball according to the plant’s needs with this system. This allows specimen plants that may have higher water needs to receive the correct amount of moisture, while other plants are not overwatered. Set the timer to water in the early morning, between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., on the city- or HOA-specified days. The rain sensor prevents wasteful watering on rainy days.

5. Inspect existing sprinkler systems

Repair leaks and replace broken or inefficient sprinkler heads. Adjust the sprinklers to ensure that the water lands on the lawn or in the landscape and not on surrounding hardscape, such as sidewalks or the driveway. Add a timer to prevent overwatering.

5 ways tenants can reduce water usage

Tenants have fewer options than landlords, but there are a number of water-saving steps that can reduce the water bill while maintaining the landscape according to the landlord’s or HOA’s rules.

Related: Should a tenant be paid for doing yard work?

1. Water grass deeply in the morning

But water only once or twice a week. Frequent, shallow watering encourages shallow roots. Less frequent watering that moistens the soil to a depth of 6 to 12 inches encourages the grass to develop deeper roots and better withstand drought conditions.

2. Mow the grass at the recommended height

Remove no more than one-third of the lawn’s height at each mowing. Leave grass clippings on the lawn to decompose and return nutrients to the soil. In spring, dethatch the grass, mow, and then rake a thin layer of compost over the grass.

3. Remove weeds from the lawn

Weeds compete with the grass and plantings for water and nutrients. Landscape as soon as they appear. Rake and remove debris under shrubs and trees before adding mulch. Spread 4 inches of mulch over bare soil or landscape fabric, beginning 4 to 6 inches from the trunk to the outer edge of the canopy.

4. Wind soaker hoses through the flower beds and around trees

Do this instead of hand-watering or using a hose end sprinkler to save water. At the spigot, install a simple battery-operated timer set for early morning on the watering days set by the city or HOA.

5. Add compost to a garden

If your landlord approves a vegetable garden:

  • Dig several inches of compost into the garden bed to improve the soil and to increase its ability to drain or hold water, depending on whether it is clay or sandy.
  • Plant the fruits and vegetables at the recommended distances, or consider a square foot garden to increase productivity in a small space.
  • Add trellises to the north side of the garden for peas, beans and cucumbers to save space and keep the fruits off the ground.
  • Use soaker hoses covered with loose organic mulch between the rows to reduce water usage while keeping the soil moist.

Landlords can implement a range of water-saving measures or can completely renovate the landscape to reap the maximum benefits of xeriscaping. Meanwhile, tenants can reduce their water bills by adding easy water-saving steps to their weekly lawn maintenance routines.

A well-kept home with a thriving green landscape is an asset for everyone. It makes the property more desirable, and reducing water use is good for the environment and the checkbook—a win-win.

 

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