Archive Monthly Archives: June 2009

How to Handle Tenant Deposit Disputes

angry_phoneAs a green, freshly minted apartment landlord with zero property management experience in 1990, I one day received an abrupt and stark introduction to the world of security deposit disputes. This occurred roughly three days after mailing my first deposit accounting to a departed tenant, from which damage deductions had been assessed.

The tenant response was a phone call of raw anger, yelling, threats, accusations of dishonesty, and some colorful language. I responded to this verbal assault with relative calm, given that I was caught completely off guard and at first, literally wondering if the tenant was joking, so ridiculous were the protestations.

I muttered short statements of fact in between the barrages of verbal hostility.

“We found fish tank rocks in the disposal and it had to be replaced”.
“Your dog left pee stains on the carpet and those had to be removed”.
“Someone punched two holes in the back bedroom door and the door had to be replaced”.

These, in my mind, were indisputable facts, not matters of subjective pettiness. I really couldn’t even believe the conversation was happening. Little did I know about the interesting psychology and visceral anger that deposit deductions evoke in some tenants.

The closest I can get to understanding is the jolt of anger I feel when I get nailed with a $2 late fee at Blockbuster. It’s rather curious. I know I was late. It was my fault. I did it. I remember dropping the movie in the slot at 10PM the week before, knowing I would get a late fee.

Yet, while standing there in front of the cashier, paying for a new movie and being told I owe $2 late fee for the previous movie, I feel an almost uncontrolable urge to argue about it, to demand to know “which movie” it was (even though I already know). When was it due. And to say how stupid the fees are and how it was better the old way when there were no late fees.

Lucky for me, the person in line ahead of me already made a complete ass of themselves doing all of the aforementioned, and holding up the line in the process, so I control myself and make no mention of it other than to say “ok” when the cashier asks if I want to pay the late fee now.

But it nevertheless is a curious feeling that defies logic. The notion of feeling victimized and abused for being held accountable for not keeping an agreement for which I had full and complete control, but nonetheless did not perform as required.

So, if a perfectly sane person such as myself, who believes 100% in personal responsibility and accountability, and who tries to live his life in accordance with those principles, can feel an emotional jolt of anger over a $2 late fee at Blockbuster, I can only guess that a tenant opening up a deposit refund statement might possibly feel something as strong or stronger upon seeing hundreds of dollars in deposit deductions, no matter how justified and no matter how much they may have been expecting the outcome.

So, my point in opening up with all of this is simply that, as landlords, it should come as no surprise when we receive angry protest from a former tenant who wants to argue over deductions that were made from the security deposit. I view it almost as a sort of temporarily insanity that comes over the tenant, and I don’t take it personally.

And, as a landlord, knowing that this situation is more likely than not, no matter how careful and fair you thought you were being in assessing damage deductions, you should have a clear and pre-established set of steps to follow when dealing with such disputes.

Step 1 – Set Expectations in Writing
I won’t cover the entire topic here, but in a previous blog article I wrote entitled “Why I Never Do Move-out Walk-throughs with Departing Tenants“, you’ll find a move-out instructions letter that I send to all departing tenants explaining what must happen if they wish to avoid deposit deductions. Feel free to borrow from mine or make your own, but have something that you send to tenants upon receiving a notice to vacate. This helps the tenant understand what needs to happen, and it serves as the first in several simple steps that protect you legally and make it more difficult for a tenant to paint you as an unreasonable landlord out to rip people off.

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Posted by Steve
7 years ago

I am NOT Austin’s Coolest Dad Apparently

A mere two days after Father’s Day my 13 year old daughter informed me that, although I’m a really good Dad, I’m not the coolest. She was having a sleepover last night and, again, the issue of when “lights out” shall occur came up.

She begged me “please Daddy, don’t come in and make us go to sleep at midnight. That’s so embarrassing! Nobody else’s parents make us do that”. She wants to be allowed to stay up as long as they want, which on occasion I’m told has extended at other parent’s houses till 5AM when the last kid falls asleep.

“Really?’, I said incredulously. “They just let you stay up all night”. “Yes”, she said. “I don’t believe you”, I said. “I think the other parents just fall asleep and you stay up later than they want”.

Then she told me the tale of the “coolest” Dad ever. While sleeping over at another friends house, the girls were still up at 1AM playing cards and were hungry. Her friend’s Dad then drove to a Wendy’s at, 1AM, and returned with cheeseburgers and frys, which the girls consumed with delight sitting around the breakfast table.

“Wow”, I said. I needed a moment to digest that. I thought to myself “that’s rediculous ridiculous … and pretty cool”. How can I compete with that?
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Posted by Steve
7 years ago

I Need to Get Stupider so my Website will rank Higher

I’ve been doing some housekeeping lately on the Crossland Team website. This involves looking at website stats to see how people find us, re-evauating page titles and other “on page” aspects of search engine optimization, as well as “off site” aspects such as where our inbound links come from and how many we have, and looking at website visitor habits, such as which pages are read the most.

I also ran the website through the Website Grader by Hubspot, which provides a website “grade” along with a list of detailed analysis and suggestions for improvement. Take a look. The grade is 96.3 (out of 100), which is pretty good, but there are things I can do that will supposedly improve our search engine ranking.

The most interesting possible improvement is this:

E. Readability Level: Advanced / Doctoral Degree
This score measures the approximate level of education necessary to read and understand the web page content. In most cases, the content should be made to be simple so that a majority of the target audience can understand it.

Translation: I need to dumb down the writing on this website! It’s too hard to read according to the Website Grader.

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Posted by Steve
7 years ago

Austin Real Estate Market Update – May 2009 Stats

The Austin real estate market continues to chug along in a manner that would be considered unimpressive if not for the fact that it was expected to be doing so much worse by so many. Average sold prices are down about 3.5% and the Median is down about 2.25%. We’ll take take that. I’m not complaining.

Austin Real Estate Sales Market Update May 2009
Houses only (condos, duplexes, etc. not included) compiled from Austin MLS data

Apr 2009 May 2009 May 2008 Yr % Change
# Sold 1522 1610 2060 -21.84%
Avg List $245,130 $268,001 $274,380 -2.32%
Med List $198,170 $199,970 $203,037 -1.51%
Avg Sold $234,444 $256,603 $265,878 -3.49%
Med Sold $190,000 $195,250 $199,788 -2.27%
Sold/List % 95.64% 95.75% 96.90% -1.19%
Avg SQFT 2136 2208 2154 2.51%
Med SQFT 1950 1989 1945 2.26%
Avg $ SQFT $109.76 $116.22 $123.43 -5.85%
Avg DOM 74 75 61 22.95%
Median DOM 44 43 36 19.44%
# Expired 391 383 516 -25.78%
# Withdrawn 648 590 598 -1.34%
Not Sold 1039 973 1114 -12.66%
Not Sold % 40.57% 37.67% 35.10% 7.33%

One interesting thing to note is that the “Not Solds” have dipped down to 38%, barely higher than the 35% for the same month last year. This is the first time the Pending/Withdrawn listings (not solds) have been less than 40% of the total departing Austin MLS listings since June 2008, when they represented 37% of the departing listings. We hit 61% in Jan 2009 and 62% in Nov 2008, which meant a lot of sales efforts were ending in failure last fall and winter, but things have improved a lot since then.

Personally, Sylvia and I have 6 closings this month and we are really, really busy. It’s starting to feel like 2006/2007, but the numbers don’t look like 2006/2007. We’re running really fast on our hamster wheel, but putting together transactions that stick is as hard as ever.

Below is the Year to Date (YTD) chart for Austin, followed by several other charts and graphs that will bring you up to date on current conditions in the Austin real estate market.

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Posted by Steve
7 years ago

Austin MLS Now Allows 25 Photos – Too Many?

Our Austin MLS system now allows up to 25 photos to be included with each Austin MLS listing. That’s too many, I dare say. Sometimes I have a hard time even coming up with 12 (the previous limit) photos that are MLS-worthy to include with a listing.

Not that twenty-five Austin MLS photos won’t be appreciated by some listing surfers, but I predict we’re going to end up with a whole lot of crappy photos saying “3rd bedroom” and showing a vanilla wall with a window. Or we’ll start seeing a photo of the doggie door, or the mailbox, or, one of my favorites “front door”, as agents stretch to find additional shots to fill the bucket with all 25 photos.

How many areas of interest are there in a home anyway? We have the kitchen, living(s), dining(s), baths, bedrooms, exterior front and back and … uhh … let’s see, I guess that’s about it.

That would cover 12 shots in a standard 3 bedroom home with 2 living areas, 2 dining and 2 baths. What shall we serve up for the additional 13 photos? We’ll also be seeing a lot of photos that say “another view of kitchen”, which I actually do sometimes already when I’ve run out of interesting or worthy shots. I guess that’s ok. But come on.

An aside: Does doubling the number of MLS photos have any affect on our carbon footprint? Just wondering. I’ll bet it does in various secondary ways. That’s gonna have to use up a lot of extra hard disk space and bandwidth. But I digress.

But here’s the thing. As a buyer surfing Austin real estate listings online, you can only ascertain so much about a property from photos.
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Posted by Steve
7 years ago