5 ways to collect on a judgment

Written by Laura Agadoni on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, Laws & Regulations, Leases & Legal, paid, Rent & Expenses, Screening

Collecting on a JudgementThe bad news: your tenant left owing you money.

The good news: you just won a money judgment in court against that tenant.

Time to celebrate?

Not really.

Although you’re supposed to get the money your tenant owes you after you win a money judgment, actually getting the money is another matter.

It’s not always easy to collect money on a judgment.

The court’s job ends with the judgment. Collecting on that judgment is on you. Your ex-tenant might pay you immediately, and if so, great. Now it is time to celebrate. But what do you do if they don’t?

Related: How to file a small claims lawsuit against your landlord or renter

1. Ask for it

This simple solution often works. Draft a letter to your ex-tenant requesting the money.

  • Let this person know what they owe you.
  • Tell them if they don’t pay by X date, you will begin a collection process.
  • Mention that if you begin a collection process, the transaction will appear on their credit report.
  • You might wish to remind your ex-tenant that having a collection on their credit report will make it difficult to rent another place or to obtain a mortgage.

Many tenants, not wanting their credit affected, will pay.

2. Garnish wages

Almost every state allows wage garnishment, a process that allows creditors to take up to 25 percent of a debtor’s wages until the debt is paid. You must know where your ex-tenant works to do this. You might have this information on the application your ex-tenant filled out. The rest of the procedure varies by state, but typically, you do the following:

  • Go to your local courthouse and ask for a garnishment order.
  • This goes to your ex-tenant’s employer.
  • The employer then withholds money from your ex-tenant’s paycheck until the debt is paid to you.

3. Garnish bank account

Similar to wage garnishment, you must know something about your ex-tenant—in this case where they bank—and ideally, their bank account number. You might have some bank information on the application your ex-tenant filled out, or you can get the information from a cancelled check. If your tenant paid you by check, then you have it. If not, you might be able to find someone who has received a check by your ex-tenant. You then go to your local courthouse and follow the procedure for garnishing the bank account.

4. Request information from the court

If you don’t know where your ex-tenant works or where they bank, you can request a formal procedure at your local courthouse, usually called a “debtor’s examination.” Your ex-tenant might then be ordered to fill out a form that lists their employer and bank information. Or they may be subpoenaed to appear before the court at a hearing to answer your questions. You will have the opportunity to find out the information you will need to collect money:

  • Where they work
  • The contact information of their employer
  • Where they bank
  • Their bank account number

5. Hire a collection agency

You’ll have to pay to use a collection agency, but recovering some of your money is better than receiving nothing. Unfortunately, the odds of a collection agent being successful in collecting money your tenant owes you are not that good. But you can increase your chances by hiring a recommended and reputable collection agency that specializes in working with landlords. Ask your lawyer, accountant, or other professional you know for a referral.

Related: The problem with collection agencies

The bottom line

Sure, you can collect on a judgment. But there’s no guarantee you’ll be successful or whether it will be worth your time and effort to pursue the money. Only you can make that determination based on how much your tenant owes you and on how busy you are. In most jurisdictions, you have between five and 20 years to collect. So if you’re not up to the job now, or if your ex-tenant has no assets at this time, you might be able to collect your money in the future.

The best course of action is to screen your tenants before renting to them. There’s no guarantee you won’t be burned when you screen tenants, but your chances of renting to a deadbeat tenant are lessened. Keep in mind that the Cozy tenant screening process is free for landlords, and I highly recommend it.

Related: 6 Ways to Find Your Deadbeat Ex-Tenants

Should you offer a deal to find new tenants?

Written by Holly Welles on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, Income Ideas, Maintenance & Renovations, Move-in/Move-out, paid, Rent & Expenses, Rental Advertising, Step 5 - List, Advertise & Show

incentivesWhen your property can’t seem to keep reliable tenants, you might start to consider ways of sweetening the deal, such as offering incentives.

Your property may be great, but that doesn’t mean you’re immune to bouts of bad luck with tenants, increased competition, and environmental nuisances like neighborhood construction projects. When the cards are stacked against you, a discount can help speed up the tenant search and reduce the negative financial effects of vacancies.

The benefit of filling your space may very well be worth the added expense, but make sure you first do a cost-benefit analysis by making sure adding an incentive won’t make your total expenses greater than your total income.

Here are seven practical tips and techniques.

1. Reduce your fees

Review your contract to see if you can be flexible with some of your listed fees. Tenants who review your agreement are likelier to sign on the dotted line if they don’t have to factor an excessive amount of additional costs into their budget. For instance, if you charge for amenities such as laundry or parking, the cost of waiving those fees may be negligible compared to the benefit of winning over a reliable tenant.

If you can manage without the extra income, waive the application fee for background and credit checks. Note that if you use Cozy, applicants are automatically charged for this, but you might apply this charge toward first month’s rent as a way to waive the application fee.

Remember that you’re trying to attract tenants. Applicants have a greater justification for renting with you if they feel like they’re getting a deal they couldn’t find elsewhere. The loss in fee collection is minimal compared to the vacuum of an unoccupied apartment draining your resources.

Of course, make sure that you trust the potential tenant and your screening process before going down this route.

Related: Should I raise the rent on a good tenant?

2. Offer discounted rates

Discounted rates are clearly attractive to potential tenants, but this solution requires some careful math on your end.

Evaluate your expenses and the rates offered by your competition. Compare the costs of offering a monthly reduction against those of an extended vacancy, making sure that your property is still profitable with the deal you offer. Do you have the room to lower your rates if it means signing a tenant more quickly?

You could also offer discounts in return for more convenience. If a tenant can pay rent each month through automatic electronic payments rather than physical checks, for example, you can offer a rent reduction for making your financial life a little easier.

3. Consider a longer or shorter lease

Another way you may discount rates is to offer an extended lease for a lower monthly rate. The longer renters stay with you, the more your risk of extended vacancies is reduced.

The point of an extended lease is to keep your renters making regular contributions to your business. Keep an eye on your local market and any proposed tax changes to assess the risk of settling into a longer-term agreement. While you’ll receive less money for your unit, it may prove more consistent and reliable down the road.

On the other hand, some tenants may not be sure if they’ll be sticking around for a full year. If you need to fill a vacancy now, offering a shorter lease that allows for tenant flexibility may prove beneficial. This is especially true if you’re trying to find a tenant in an off-season. If the shorter lease ends in the summer, for example, you’ll have an easier time finding a more long-term renter.

4. Create more flexible terms

Renting an apartment is an enormous commitment, and a strict lease can turn otherwise excited applicants away. If you relax the terms of your agreement, applicants might feel more secure in deciding to sign with you. And there are small, inexpensive changes you can make to your contract to improve its appeal.

Offer a deal to find new tenants who may be perfectly great renters but crave flexibility that other landlords lack. Pet-friendly apartments are enticing to animal lovers searching for a place that accepts their furry friend. Permission to decorate the property may win some prospective tenants over. Others will find an early lease termination clause appealing, giving them a degree of freedom unavailable from your competitors.

Related: Pet deposits, pet fees and pet rent – what’s the difference?

5. Offer upgrades

If you can’t swing a rate reduction, property upgrades can be a powerful incentive for new tenants. Replacing an old oven with a newer model, painting the walls a more modern color, or increasing storage might win over tenants looking for a fresher living space. Property upgrades create value for you, too, since they will make your rental more attractive for years to come.

Be careful not to overspend on a project that will eat away at your profits. After all, you’re still responsible for all maintenance costs down the line. You don’t need to offer lavish upgrades to appeal to new tenants when simple improvements can make an impact. Something as simple as installing more shelving can please a renter without extending your regular budget for new projects.

Related: 7 Affordable Upgrades for Your Rental Properties

6. Put together a gift basket

For those new tenants who have recently signed a lease, welcoming them to your building with a gift basket can be a great first step toward building a friendship. Renters who feel a closer connection with their landlord are more likely to renew their contract once it expires.

It doesn’t have to cost a lot to look like a nice gesture. Gift cards to local restaurants or the movie theatre, food, or a bottle of wine are all possible options when stocking your gift basket. An edible arrangement can make a good impression on your tenants.

7. Provide a free first month

At first glance, it seems like a ridiculous ask of any landlord. Who in their right mind would sacrifice an entire month’s rent? But consider the money lost on an already vacant unit that’s accruing nothing but dust, and a month of waived rent is well worth the income that will begin to flow in afterward.

Related: 3 reasons you might not want to collect a security deposit

When does offering a deal become a gimmick?

Some potential renters are wary of deals, seeing them as “gimmicks” that a landlord uses to attract the naive and gullible. After all, if the landlord has to offer a deal to find new tenants who will stick around, they might think the property suffers from an issue not explicitly advertised.

This is particularly relevant to No. 5 above. Densely crowded urban areas with high rent prices often have apartments that advertise a free month’s rent in exchange for signing a lease. While this isn’t misleading, these concessions can lead tenants to enter an agreement they’re unable to manage.

As a landlord, you need to fill your rentals. The fortunate news is that there are many ways to accomplish this task. As long as you do it with respect and fairness to everyone involved, you’re well on your way toward managing a happy, busy property.

What to do if the deposit doesn’t cover the damage or unpaid rent

Written by Laura Agadoni on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, Laws & Regulations, Leases & Legal, Move-in/Move-out, paid, Rent & Expenses, Screening, Security Deposits, Step 13 - Return Deposit

You did the right thing in collecting a security deposit. But what happens when that deposit isn’t enough to cover damages or unpaid rent?

Most landlords collect a security deposit equal to one month’s rent at move-in time to cover any damages or unpaid rent at move-out time. But if there were extensive damages to the property or if the tenant left without paying last month’s rent and there were damages, you’re out some money, and that isn’t right.

You have options, though. Let’s explore them.

1. Communicate with your tenant

To legally withhold the security deposit, you must, in most states, send a letter to your tenant explaining why you are holding some or all the deposit. And you must do so within the time limit specified by your state. You can find your state law here.

Here’s a template for documenting and itemizing deductions from the security deposit.

Send this document or one like it to your tenant to let them know why you are withholding some or all the security deposit.

If they still owe you money beyond the security deposit, you’ll also need to send a demand letter.

2. Send a demand letter

Along with sending the itemized list, you need to send a letter asking for what your tenant owes you, called a “demand letter.”

Here’s a sample of a demand letter you can send a tenant who owes you money.

3. Decide whether you should go to small claims court

You might receive the money owed to you after sending the demand letter. But if you don’t, send the letter a second time, attaching the first letter along with the second. If you still get nothing, you need to assess whether it’s worth your time and effort to take your tenant to small claims court.

Related: How to file a small claims lawsuit against your landlord or renter

The upside of going to small claims court is that you’ll likely win a judgment against your tenant if you can prove to the judge that your tenant does, indeed, owe you money. You get your money (theoretically anyway: see about being broke below), and you get satisfaction in that you were not taken advantage of.

But there are downsides to small claims court as well.

It’s time-consuming.

You need to prepare your case, organize the evidence, learn how to go to small claims court, and attend the hearing in the town in which your rental property is located.

Your tenant might be broke.

If you win a judgment, you still need to collect on that judgment. If your tenant has no money and no job, you won’t be able to collect.

You might not have the evidence.

If you didn’t keep proof, such as how your property looked at move-in time compared with how it looked when your tenant left, you might not be able to win in small claims court.

You pay filing fees and might lose pay by taking time off work.

Filing fees are usually less than $100 and you get them back if you win your case, but if you don’t have a strong case and lose, you need to be prepared to lose your filing fee. And depending on how valuable your time is, if you need to take the day off from work, you need to factor that cost in as well.

Your tenant could file a countersuit.

Whether your tenant has a case against you or not, they could file a countersuit. If you haven’t done everything by the book, you actually might go home owing your tenant money.

But if you can say “yes” to the following, you should seriously consider going to small claims court:

  • Your tenant owes you a significant sum of money.
  • You have proof of what you are owed.
  • Your ex-tenant has a job or a source of income.
  • You have the time and energy for small claims court.

If you don’t think you’ll get much or any money, you might want to write this off as a loss and move on.

Try to prevent excessive damages in the first place

It’s good to know what to do if you’re owed money, but it’s even better to prevent this situation from happening in the first place. Here are three measures to take to help avoid being out any money.

1. Conduct regular inspections

One way to help prevent excessive damage to your rental property is to perform periodic inspections. It’s important to strike the right balance between keeping tabs on what’s going on with your rental property and not becoming intrusive to your tenants. It’s typical to inspect your property at least once a year. Some landlords do this twice a year or even quarterly.

Related: How Often Can a Landlord Inspect a Rental Property?

If you notice a problem, such as a tenant sneaking in a pet or an extra tenant or two, or if you notice a dying lawn or a water stain on the ceiling, you can nip the problem in the bud before a small issue becomes an expensive problem.

2. Have a walk-through a month before move-out

The time to do a walk-through is when the tenant is moving out or immediately after they move out. (You do that, right?) A walk-through lets you know whether you will need to withhold any of the security deposit.

But you can also do a walk-through about a month before your tenant moves out. At that time, you can go over with your tenant any items that need fixing. By doing the walk-through a month in advance, you give your tenant a chance to fix any problems so they can get all or most of their deposit back.

3. Screen tenants

A great way to help ensure you don’t lose money is to get good tenants in your property in the first place. And the way to do that is by tenant screening. Of course, screening doesn’t guarantee a perfect landlord/tenant relationship, but it helps immensely.

I use Cozy to screen tenants. I require a background and credit check on all applicants. The applicants pay directly to Cozy for this service, and I receive the information to review, which helps me decide whom to rent my properties to.

Bottom line

Making repairs because of damages tenants cause and being out rent for a month or more from a tenant who stiffed you are risks landlords take. Knowing what to do if this happens to you and helping prevent this from happening in the first place lessens your risk of losing money.

What to do if you’re underwater on your investment property mortgage

Written by Sarah Block on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, Income Ideas, Mortgages & Loans, paid, Rent & Expenses

Underwater mortgageWhat do you do if you’re underwater on your investment property mortgage?

I have been there. Most likely, many who bought during the infamous real estate bubble have been there, too. In 2009, I thought the bubble had burst and prices dropped as much as they would. How wrong was I? I bought an investment property and quickly became underwater on it. I was drowning on that mortgage, and I didn’t know what to do. However, I had options, and so do you.

Let’s take a look at some baseline numbers to determine your best move.

Are you making a monthly profit?

The first thing you will want to do is look at the month-to-month profitability of the property. While a rental unit might not have equity, it might have profitability each month. To determine the profit you make each month, add up your mortgage, monthly taxes, monthly insurance premium, and anything else you pay. Then, subtract this number from the rental income you make on that property.

(monthly PITI, maintenance, 10% to reserves) – Rental income = Profit

Related:  How to set the perfect rent price for your rental properties

Questions to ask yourself

1. Are you in the positive?

If so, hold out on selling. If you are making a profit, it makes sense to hold the mortgage and wait for the value to increase to build equity.

2. Are you breaking even?

If you are breaking even, it might be a good idea to hold the mortgage. Each year, you pay down the principal a bit more. Your rent check each month brings you closer and closer to the surface. Unless you truly don’t enjoy being a landlord, or it is more work than you can handle at this time in your life, keep it in your portfolio.

3. Are you in the negative?

Did your calculations show that you were in the negative? That doesn’t necessarily warrant selling. Can you foresee an eventual turnaround? Real estate historically increases in value as time goes by.

What if I have a negative cash flow/loss?

For my property that was underwater, I was making negative cash flow the entire time I owned it, but I could afford to cover that cost. I covered the negative cash flow for nine years, knowing that the market would turn around, and it did. Earlier this year, I sold it at a profit. While it didn’t make sense for me to hold it as a rental because my mortgage was too high to ever have a positive cash flow from rent, it did make sense to hold until I could sell for a profit. My renters helped me pay down my mortgage and I made a little money in the end.

Look at your scenario and ask yourself these questions:

  1. Can you afford a negative cash flow?
  2. Will your property ever regain its value?
  3. Do you have consistent renters that help pay down your mortgage balance?

If you answered “Yes” to these questions, it makes sense to hold the property. However, if you answered “No,” it might be time to look at your options.

Related:  When to sell a rental property?

What are your options to sell an underwater property?

When you have an underwater property that you have decided to unload, you have three options:

1. Short sale

To sell a property with a short sale, the owner needs to negotiate with their lender to accept a lower payoff than the balance. An owner or their Realtor can call the lender and speak with the real estate short sale or work out department to begin the negotiation process. Once you have found a purchaser, the lender needs to approve the purchase price and might decline to pay certain added items such as inspections. After the lender approves the purchase price, you can request they do not report this to credit reporting agencies, and they may or may not comply with your wishes.

2. Foreclosure

While no one wants to go through a foreclosure, sometimes choices are limited. When starting a foreclosure, the first step is defaulting on the loan. After 30 days, a lender sends a notice of default. This likely comes after they have reached out trying to change the loan payments to work with your financial situation. After 90 days of being in default, the owner gets a notice of sale. The last step is selling the property at auction.

3. Sell + pay loan balance

You can avoid short sales and foreclosures if you have cash on hand. The last option for homeowners is to sell the property for what it is worth and bring a certified cashier’s check to the closing for the shortfall. While it is not ideal to pay to get out of the mortgage, it keeps your credit intact.

Conclusion

Investment properties with underwater mortgages can make an owner feel helpless and stuck. However, there are options. In my situation, my property was underwater for about five years. I was losing money each month, but it was a manageable amount. I chose to wait it out, and eventually I sold for a profit. But each person’s financial situation is different. Look at yours to determine what the best move is for your lifestyle.

When is rent considered received?

Written by Kathy Adams on . Posted in edited, For Renters, Leases & Legal, paid, payment, rent, Rent & Expenses, rent received

When is rent due?When it comes to paying the rent on time, all methods are not created equally.

A mailed check, for instance, may be considered received when a landlord receives the letter, not the postmarked date – depending on what your lease says. Online payments may go through instantly and considered received as soon as the tenant initiates the payments. No matter what, it’s best not to push the limits on your monthly rent calendar if you want to avoid landlord-tenant friction, or worse yet, eviction.

The due date is the due date

Although many mortgage companies offer a payment grace period beyond the listed due date, the same is usually not true for rental payments.

If your rent is due on the 1st of each month, for instance, your landlord expects to receive it by the 1st. However, in some states, when the 1st falls on a Sunday and your mailed rent check shows up on Monday the 2nd, this is acceptable.

Read your rental agreement

Some landlords give a grace period, so be sure to read your lease to find out the actual due date and whether there is a grace period. Read this section thoroughly, as it also explains what happens if the payment date falls on a weekend or holiday. This area should also list acceptable payment methods and what to do if the landlord is on vacation, for instance.

Grace periods

Some leases have grace periods, either by law or by preference. A five day grace period means that rent due on the 1st wouldn’t get a late fee until the 6th. However, this does not mean that rent is actually due on the 5th – but that’s the message that is inadvertently conveyed. Rent is due on the due date – please don’t make a habit out of paying within the grace period.

Related: Don’t allow a grace period unless required by law

When you can relax after payment

In person: Your rent is considered received when it’s in the landlord’s office, if you pay in person.

In cash: Get a receipt to prove payment if your landlord accepts cash.

By check: If you mail your rent payments, the “received by” date is when the letter is received by the landlord. Postmark dates don’t matter when paying rent. The IRS allows you to postmark your taxes because the Postal Service is part of the federal government and therefore the government has “received” your taxes as soon as you mail them. But the USPS is not an extension of your landlord, so you need to take into account the mailing time when sending your check. A check sent on time but  returned due to insufficient funds means your payment is late.

Online payments: If you pay via online bill pay, a confirmation email showing proof of payment should suffice.

Paying through Cozy: Paying rent becomes a streamlined process through Cozy. This convenient app allows you to make automated monthly payments on a date you select. It’s free if you connect the app to your checking account, and you won’t have to think about the rent payment ever again. This method is also ideal if you are paid via direct deposit or if you keep enough cash in the account to cover the rent.

Bank transfer considerations

A manual bank transfer is a way to pay the rent, but it’s not the best way (unless you and your landlord use the same bank).

Let’s say you pay via bank transfer performed manually (not automatically) each month. You initiated a payment on September 1, a Friday, for a payment due the same day. Two weekend days follow, then Monday is Labor Day and the banks aren’t open. The transfer doesn’t complete until nearly a week later due to the holiday and bank processing times, which can take three to five days. Your landlord isn’t happy that your payment took so long to show up in their account. Mailing a check probably would have been faster.

Note: The exception is if you and your landlord use the same bank. In that case, the money typically transfers immediately or within minutes.

If making transfers manually, set them up well ahead of the due date to ensure they arrive close to the actual due date. Otherwise, opt for an automatic monthly withdrawal via an automatic clearing house (ACH) to ensure your payment arrives consistently on time. Cozy uses this method.

The one potential drawback to ACH payments: you must have enough money in the connected bank accounted to ensure the payments clear. If you don’t have enough to cover the rent payment when an automatic payment initiates, your account might be charged for insufficient funds and/or your rent payment won’t go through.

Better early than late

Waiting until the last minute to pay rent could spell serious trouble.

Check your state laws to determine how soon the landlord can take action over late or missing rent. Your landlord has a legal right to evict any tenant who doesn’t pay within the legal time frame. Turning in that check a little late more than once could also make your landlord less likely to offer a lease renewal.

Paying a few days early helps eliminate the stress of wondering whether the landlord received your payment on time. It also shows the landlord that you’re a reliable tenant. A stress-free, peaceful rental arrangement benefits both you and your landlord. Ditch the due-date pressure and make your life simpler with Cozy or other early automated payments. Your brain will thank you for it.

Can I get more money from a furnished rental?

Written by Laura Agadoni on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, Income Ideas, Laws & Regulations, paid, Rent & Expenses, Rental Advertising, Security Deposits

Furnished RentalsAn interview with Lucas Hall, Landlordology’s founder and head of industry relations at Cozy.

Not only can you get more money from a furnished rental, demand is growing in the furnished rental market, even with the popularity of Airbnb. Over the past decade, there have been more renters overall, and a percentage of those renters prefer to rent a furnished home for a variety of reasons.

I recently spoke with Lucas to get his opinion on what it takes to get into the furnished rental business and to get his best advice for landlords who are thinking about breaking into this niche segment of “landlording.”

First, lets talk about what exactly a furnished rental is.

There are two types of furnished rentals: long-term, meaning a few months or more, and short-term, such as vacation properties.

Most long-term rental properties typically don’t come furnished. But they can. And there are some benefits for renters. Furnished rentals usually have all the furniture and appliances someone would need, and they may or may not have day-to-day essentials such as plates, silverware, and linens.

Short-term rentals for 30 days or fewer are completely furnished with linens, a vacuum cleaner, grill—everything you can want. The idea is that all you do is bring your suitcase and move in.

What kind of furniture should you put in a furnished rental? Cheap motel furniture? High-end stuff?

The type and quality of furniture to buy should mirror the type of unit you have. So if you have a high-end unit that commands thousands of dollars a month, then you should probably have a leather couch, a nice bed frame, and art on the walls. Whereas if you have housing that attracts contract workers, for example, who make between $20,000 and $40,000 a year, you can have used furniture that’s still in great shape. Or you can get furniture from places like IKEA.

In other words, if your clientele is willing to pay $3,000 a month for a two-bedroom, that’s the clientele who would expect to have a nice sofa.

Another consideration is that if you buy the nicest furnishings, there is a chance things will get stolen. If you buy the best coffeemaker or the most expensive knives, those items might ‘disappear.’ You’re better off buying middle-of-the-road items that serve their function.

What is the market for a furnished rental? Who wants to stay in one?

I have had renters for long-term furnished rentals who are moving from across the country for a job, and it’s a big convenience to just be able to move right in. There’s no need to move furniture or to shop for furniture right away.

Short-term is a whole different game. There you have weekly or monthly vacation rentals. You also have traveling nurses who tend to stay for two to six months, and the hospital pays for it.

Related: How to market your rental to traveling nurses

How do you market a furnished rental? What, if any, are the differences in your advertisement?

It’s important to put in the title that you have a furnished rental. Someone who needs furnished housing will be looking for that first. An unfurnished rental in this case will be a deal breaker. Also describe in the listing what the furnishings are. And make sure you show pictures of all the furnishings.

An important benefit of a furnished rental is that furnished units generally look better in listing photos, particularly when you stage properly. You want your furnishings to look really good in pictures. Your furnishings should be clean, useful, and complement the space and the color scheme.

Whenever you’re advertising a property, whether it’s a long-term unfurnished rental or a short-term furnished rental, you should photograph it with furniture in it.

Related: How to shoot real estate photos like a pro

How much does it typically cost to furnish a rental property?

I have had experience furnishing a two-bedroom condo and a studio. For the studio, I spent between $2,000 and $3,000. With the two-bedroom, I spent about $10,000 to furnish it. I bought a little nicer for the two-bedroom because it was going to be a short-term rental. I needed durable furnishings.

My tip when it comes to buying furnishings, whether it’s for a short- or long-term rental, is to buy stain-resistant materials. Otherwise, you’re stuck with regular cleanings or having to replace the furniture every year.

Now for the question that helps landlords decide whether they will offer a furnished rental or not:

How much more money can you get for a furnished rental?

You can typically get 15 to 20 percent more for a furnished long-term rental. It’s a convenience. People are willing to pay for convenience.

And for a furnished short-term rental, you can get 40 to 50 percent more at a minimum. In some cases, you can even double that, getting 100 percent more, depending on the location of the property.

You can typically get 15 to 20 percent more for a furnished long-term rental. It’s a convenience. People are willing to pay for convenience.

Which locations are best for furnished rentals?

I’ve had the most success with furnished rentals in high-density or highly desirable areas. I’ve had a successful furnished studio, for example, right in the heart of Washington, D.C., right near Capitol Hill and a metro station. People wanted to live there and were willing to pay for the convenience of a furnished rental. Places like that appeal to people whose time is more important than money and who would rather spend more than deal with furnishing a rental property.

Can you charge a larger security deposit for a furnished rental? After all, there are now theft of furnishings and furniture damage to consider.

Absolutely. But you can charge only what your state allows. This is often between one and two months’ rent as a maximum. So most of the time, landlords charge one month’s rent as a security deposit for an unfurnished rental. But for a furnished rental, I think it’s smart to double that, or charge two months’ rent. And just like any security deposit, it’s fully refundable as long as there are no damages.

Do you have any further tips or advice for our readers?

A good opportunity for people who want to do long-term furnished rentals is to get into corporate housing or provide housing for traveling nurses. You figure out if there’s a company or hospital that’s willing to make a corporate agreement with you. They pay the rent and are responsible for finding tenants.

Are you interested in getting into the furnished rental business? Or are you in it now? Let us know in the comments!

Should I accept credit card payments as rent?

Written by Sarah Block on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, paid, Rent & Expenses, Step 6 - Applications & Screening, Step 9 - Manage Lease & Collect Rent

Should I allow rent with credit cardsUsing credit cards can be a tricky game, especially when using them for rent payments.

Do you earn points or miles for travel when you use them? Do you only pay the minimum each month? Or do you pay cash and focus on staying debt free? It gets even trickier when you are deciding whether to use credit cards for large recurring bills such as rent.

Using a credit card to pay rent could be a great way to streamline payments when your monthly expenses and paychecks don’t line up, or it could be a good way to get into major debt.

We’re going to review the pros and cons of using a credit card to pay rent.

Pro No. 1: Evens out the cash flow ebb and flow

Bill due dates often don’t fall in line with paycheck dates so cash flow can become an issue. You may be flush with cash during week three of the month but going in the red week one. Paying rent with a credit card could be a way to avoid that issue. If you set up your bills to be automatically paid with a credit card and automate paying the credit card on pay dates, this method could smooth out cash flow issues throughout the month.

Related: 6 warning signs when screening a tenant

Pro No. 2: Points and miles

According to Million Mile Secrets, paying rent with a credit card to earn miles and points is a method to earn extra points. Many credit cards provide perks such as early release concert tickets or a special airport lounge if you spend an annual minimum. Paying rent with a credit card is an option to meet that minimum if you have great perks to offset fees.

Pro No. 3: Builds credit

Someone with little to no credit could build their credit score by paying rent with a credit card. Each time you put the rent on the card and pay it off, you improve your credit score and prove your creditworthiness.

Con No. 1: Can lower your credit score

If you are not paying off your card every month, not only will your debt add up quickly, but your credit score can suffer. For those with a low credit limit, it won’t take long for your debt percentage to rise. When you are using a high percentage of your available credit, your credit score can go down, which hurts you anytime your credit is checked. When you are looking for a new car, lease, or credit card, a poor debt-to-credit ratio could raise your interest rate or result in a rejection.

Con No. 2: Credit card fees

When rent is paid with a credit card, there will always be a fee. Cozy has a standard 2.75% credit card processing fee. Look at your bills, points, and credit card perks to determine if the 2.75% fee is worth it. Rent that is $1,500 a month would result in a $41 fee each month. Are your points worth it? On the other hand, if you couldn’t pay rent on time without a credit card, would the $41 be less than a late fee?

Related:  My tenant won’t pay late fees, now what?

Con No. 3: You’re playing with fire

Do you have a history of high debt? If so, it might be a bad idea to use a credit card to pay rent. It’s easy to pay the rent with a credit card, but it might be difficult to pay the card. This could cause your debt to increase exponentially. Without the ability to pay the credit card off each month, not only will you be paying the processing fee, but also the interest rate. Your debt can get out of control, depending on your interest rate.

The landlord’s perspective

As a landlord, I would accept credit cards. Before accepting a tenant, landlords complete a credit check, reference checks, pay stub verification, and background checks. We are fully aware of the financial lives of our incoming tenants.

If you are comfortable entering a lease with a new tenant, then trust that they can decide whether paying rent with a credit card makes sense for them.

4 reasons you should not use a real estate agent to rent a house

Written by Laura Agadoni on . Posted in edited, For Renters, Move-in/Move-out, paid, Rent & Expenses, Rental Advertising, Step 5 - List, Advertise & Show

Don't work with an agentCall me crazy, but I get a little annoyed when real estate agents call me about a rental listing.

Why?

Here’s a typical conversation:

Me: Hello.

Agent: Hello, this is John. I’m a real estate agent with AAA Real Estate. Is the home for rent at 123 Main Street still available?

Me: Yes it is.

Agent: Well, it’s not in the MLS.

Me: A silent pause

Agent: Anyway, my client requested to see it. And I want to show it now.

Me: I’m having an open house Saturday at 3 p.m., and your client is welcome to come.

Agent: No, that doesn’t work. My client wants to see it sooner. When can I show it?

Me: You can’t show it at all. Tenants are currently living there, and I’ve made arrangements to have an open house Saturday at 3. Please invite your client to come then.

Agent: Do you pay an agent commission?

Me: No.

Agent: Thank you. Goodbye.

And I never hear from this agent or their client again.

Here are four reasons why you shouldn’t use an agent when you want to rent a home:

1. Real estate agents use only the MLS

If you ask a real estate agent to find you a rental property, they will most likely look only on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), which only agents can access.

In fact, I asked an agent the other day how he finds rental properties for clients. He said he finds them through the MLS.

Here’s the problem of looking only at the MLS for rental properties: Since only agents can list properties through the MLS, real estate agents are missing all the properties landlords like me advertise. And if your real estate agent is missing out on properties listed by non-agents, you are too.

You are better off, when looking for a rental property, to look online.

You’ll probably find lots of rental homes by looking at various real estate sites on your own, more than what your real estate agent will find by using only the MLS. Of course, you can always find properties and send them to your agent, but then why not just contact the person on the listing yourself?

Related: The Only 3 Websites You Need to List a Rental Property

2. Agents expect to be paid

Real estate agents mainly work with clients who are buying and selling homes. In those cases, the seller typically pays the real estate agent by giving the agent a percentage of the home’s selling price.

So the expectations for most real estate agents who are helping a client trying to rent is that the landlord will pay the agent for finding a tenant, typically one month’s rent (similar to getting a cut of a home’s sale).

But in a rental market where most applicants find rental properties without an agent, landlords have no reason to pay an agent. In other words, if I have five applicants for a property, four who represent themselves and one who comes with an agent who expects me to pay them a month’s rent, guess who I’m not renting to?

If you use an agent in a market where most people are finding properties on their own, you will likely be taking yourself out of the running to land a rental property.

3. Agents don’t really want to work with you

I’ve always suspected that statement to be true, and now I have a couple of stories to back this up. I think this probably represents what many agents think.

A real estate agent called me the other day on behalf of her client, and when I told her I don’t pay an agent commission, she let me know that she doesn’t know what to tell renters who call her for help. She wants to help them find a home, but if the landlord won’t pay her commission, she is not interested in working for free.

Another agent told me that he usually doesn’t work with clients looking to rent but that he will sometimes do so to help a friend out.

Since it’s not the norm for homebuyers to pay an agent (home sellers typically do), renters and agents expect the landlord or property owner to pay the agent just as home sellers (owners) do. But while most home sellers use and pay real estate agents, most small-time property owners do not use agents to get their property rented, so they have no interest in paying your agent.

If you really want to use a real estate agent to help you find a rental home, you might want to consider paying your agent yourself.

4. Agents often do more harm than good

Landlords who know their business find out what market rents are for similar rentals in their area. (I use the Cozy rent estimate tool in addition to keeping up with rent prices in my area.)

But when a real estate agent comes along, they are usually loaded for bear and ready to negotiate rent price—it’s just part of their job, like offering less than asking price for a home to buy. Although that’s standard practice for the home buying process, it’s not typical for landlords like me who plan to rent the property for the price listed.

Just as I don’t pay agents a commission, I am not interested in taking less than my advertised rate for my rental properties. If you’re paying an agent for their great negotiating skills, your money is largely being wasted when it comes to renting versus buying a property.

When real estate agents are helpful

There’s a place for real estate agents and rental properties. In big cities like San Francisco or New York where it’s difficult to find housing, you might benefit from using an agent. Or if you are relocating and know nothing about the area, you might need help from an agent who can show you around. Other than that, you are typically better off to cut out the middleman and find a rental house yourself.

Should I raise the rent on a good tenant?

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

Every June, my husband and I have the same question: do we raise the rent?

Our leases run August to August, and June is when we begin to consider the pros and cons of raising the rent on our tenants. Sometimes it’s clear. If they paid late or were difficult, we raise the rent. But many of our tenants are amazing, so it’s a difficult decision. Do we risk losing a great tenant by raising the rent?

Here are three questions to ask yourself when deciding whether to raise the rent.

1. What’s the market value of the rental?

I’ve been lucky to have long-term tenants on multiple occasions. All landlords know, finding new tenants is as enjoyable as stepping on a rusty nail. Still, if you haven’t raised the rent in a while, chances are the market value has increased. Is your rental way below comparables? You have a few choices for learning the market value.

  • Property managers—A property manager can compile a comp report to determine the ideal rent price for your rental market. This route isn’t cheap. It’s usually part of hiring an apartment search or property management company and their tenant-finding service. They usually charge a one-month rent fee.
  • Rent Estimate reportSet your rent price with confidence with a Cozy Rent Estimate report. See how your rental stacks up to nearby single-family homes and multifamily properties, with up-to-date info about the actual rents they collect. Each report includes comparable rent prices, local vacancy rates, rental trends, and investor metrics. A report costs $19.99.
  • Do-it-yourself comparables—Before rent estimate platforms existed, I came up with my own by using Apartments.com, Redfin, and Craigslist to look at local apartment listings. I would use their data, rent prices, locations, and time on the market, to determine my market value. It takes time, but not money.

Related: Should I increase rental rates every year?

2. Will the current rent still yield a profit this year?

Rent isn’t the only thing that increases in cost. Taxes go up. Insurance premiums may increase. Upcoming maintenance needs might be expensive. Take all these things into consideration before renewing a lease at the same rent.

Consider these things:

  • What were your costs on the rental the previous year? You should have this information from your taxes.
  • Are any costs expected to go up?
  • Is there any expensive maintenance expected to happen soon?
  • What is your monthly mortgage?

Add up your expenses and subtract from your rent. Will you still make a profit? If so, and the tenant is great, don’t raise the rent. Lucas Hall, the founder of Landlordology, says, “A quality tenant is far greater than a 3% rise in rent.”

Related:  3 ways to stay up-to-date on rental prices

3. Can I raise the rent without losing my tenant?

It is possible to raise the rent on a good tenant without losing them if you do it delicately. If you choose to raise the rent, follow these rules for the best opportunity to keep your great tenants.

  • Raise the rent, but keep it $100 less than comparables, and let your tenant know that while you needed to increase the rent, it is still lower than typical rents for the neighborhood. After receiving the notice that rent will increase, your tenant might begin looking around to see if they are still getting a good deal. However, if you keep the rent below market value, they will find a benefit in staying.
  • Provide plenty of notice. The amount of notice that is required depends on the state. However, the more notice the better. It gives your tenants time to prepare for the cost increase.
  • Be honest and communicate kindly. Remember, your tenants are people. While you are working on determining your finances, they will be doing the same. Be honest and communicate with them. When I raised the rent on a long-term tenant, I provided her with the market report I had and explained to her that the market value was $500 more than I was charging, but I was only planning on raising it $100 because I enjoyed having her as a tenant. Being honest and open about the process I went through in determining the rent went a long way with her, and she stayed for several more years.

In summary

When you’re a landlord, you have to be everything. You’re an accountant. You are a maintenance person. You are marketing. But, most of all, you’re customer service. To keep a great tenant when you need to raise the rent, keep customer service in mind, and make decisions based on data.

Now that I can get my data in Cozy Rent Estimate reports, June will be a lot less agonizing.

Tenant move-out letter plus 2 other free templates

Written by Laura Agadoni on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, Landlord Tips, Leases & Legal, Move-in/Move-out, paid, Rent & Expenses, Security Deposits, Step 12 - Move-Out

Your goal as a landlord is not only to have tenants but to keep tenants (the good ones anyway) as long as possible. But no matter how wonderful you are as a landlord, and how great your rental may be, there usually comes a time when your tenant needs to move.

When your tenant plans to move, you should make the move-out process as smooth as possible. This benefits you and your tenant—when your tenant knows what to expect, they’re more likely to meet your expectations. Here are some templates you can use when your tenants’ leases are about to end.

The lease renewal letter

If you want your tenant to sign a new lease, contact them about two months before the current lease is due to end. The purpose of the lease renewal letter is to find out what their intentions are and to explain what they need to do if they wish to continue to live in your rental.

Tip: This is the time to raise the rent if you intend to.

Related: How to raise the rent in 4 easy steps [free template]

Related: Should I increase rental rates every year?

Note: If you do nothing after the lease ends, and your tenant stays, your tenant becomes a month-to-month tenant.

Lease renewal letter template

Note: You don’t have to increase the rent. If you don’t want to, change that section to reflect the rent will remain the same.

2. The move-out letter

If your tenant decides not to renew and wishes to move, send them a move-out letter about a month before the lease ends. The purpose is to give instructions on what you expect of your tenant.

Move-out letter template

Note: This letter contains language about lease requirements. Make sure yours does as well before you include that.

3. Notice to pay rent or quit

If your current tenant missed a rent payment (or two), you probably shouldn’t invite them to renew the lease. In fact, you should send them a letter asking them to pay the rent ASAP or leave.

Notice to pay rent or quit template

Once you rent your property, you will hopefully have wonderful tenants who stay a long time. But since that isn’t always the case, you can still make things easier for everyone involved if you are proactive with your tenants by letting them know what the expectations are during move-out time.

PayRent.com