About a year ago, Sept 2014, during a violent Austin thunder storm, a rental property I personally own in SW Austin was struck by lightening and caught fire in the attic.
As the thunderous flash of light, noise and immediate smoke jolted the tenant out of bed at 2:30AM, he quickly realized that he was standing in water. The home was flooding, and also on fire, simultaneously.
Wow! Wake up!! His elderly mother was visiting and he was able to get her and his son out quickly as the house filled with smoke. Then he called 911. Then me.
I showed up around 3:15AM, sloshed through about 18 inches of water at my driveway, as about 6 firetrucks were on the scene. It was an apocalyptic scene, like out of a movie. But everyone was ok, and the fire was contained to mostly the attic and three bedrooms. But the home was rendered uninhabitable.
Of course the tenant had to move out, insurance got involved, and a year later I’m just now getting ready to re-rent the home. Insurance only paid 4 months of lost rent, and denied my appeal for more, not accepting my explanations of why the job took longer. So, as it stands, I’m out of pocket 8 months rent ($12K) and about $8K more after insurance deductibles and other snafus that I won’t go into. Plus whatever continued vacancy loss I incur until I place a new tenant. Read more …
I recently had a tenant utter the phrase “greedy landlords”. Ironically, it was out of frustration for what was in fact a tiny rent increase of less than 3%, raising the rent to a rate still about $75 less than market value. It was one of those “no good deed goes unpunished” moments that property managers frequently experience. More about my philosophy of rent increases can be read in a previous blog post on that subject.
But for this article, I want to talk about just who in fact your landlord is if you’re an Austin Tenant living in a single family home. I don’t mean the identity of your property owner, but more generally, what caused the owner to own a home that needed to be rented.
Owners fall into the following general categories.
Pure Investor – These are pure investors who purchased the property from the outset as an income producing asset. Many have maxed out retirement plans, or simply lost faith in the stock market and need a way to invest. Investing in real estate is very risky, fraught with uncertainty and surprise expenses. But for those with the right attitude toward proper care of the property, holding longterm, and treating tenants fairly, it can be one of the best ways to build wealth. They also need to have the financial and emotional strength to weather the ups and downs of owning rental property. All of our “investor” owners fall into this category, else we don’t take them as clients. But most of our clients are in fact not “pure investors”. Most fall into one of the categories below.
As we head into the Spring/Summer leasing season in Austin, and I just mailed my first batch of renewal letters, I’m already fielding inquiries from tenants who have lease-end dates that don’t coincide with their future plans. The inevitable question is “can we have a move-out date of x instead of y?
For one tenant, planning to get married, extending the lease from a March 31 end date to a May 31 end date (two months) is not a problem. The home is owned by a long-term investor, and the new May lease end date benefits both the owner and the tenant. This is a win/win. It places the home dead center of the summer leasing season cycle.
In these win/win scenarios, I have flexibility because the adjustment benefits my client, the owner. I work for the owner and must only make decisions that are in the owner/client’s best interest. Thus, if that same tenant, in that same house, asked for the same 2 month extension for a lease that ended July 31st instead of March 31st, the answer would be “no”. Timing is everything.
Back in 2005 when Sylvia and I started CrosslandTeam.com and our Austin Real Estate Blog, we were in the process of taking a break from Property Management, having just sold our Property Management company the year before and taken a year off from real estate altogether. When we started back, we only brokered sales, mainly to investors at first, but eventually to mostly regular home buyers and sellers, which now make up the majority of our buyers and sellers.
Now, 5+ years later, we’ve built up a small portfolio of fee managed homes again, at present almost 50 managed homes. Sales remains our main focus, and we’re still very busy, averaging 3 or 4 closings most months, even in the down market. But the property management side of the business has slowly grown as well.
Why is that a problem?
The problem in trying to run two real estate brokerage specialties under one website is that each dilutes the other. It’s frustrating to me, when talking to a prospect, to hear “oh, you manage homes too?”, or, ironically, the opposite, “oh, you do sales also?”. Both have perused the same website here at CrosslandTeam.com but, depending on which pages they landed on and read, or which blog articles, come away with differing messages about what we do. Or, as one prospect told me incorrectly once, “you guys seem like you’re more of a management company than a sales company”. What? NOT TRUE, darn it. That’s the problem.
Additionally, in trying to remain findable by those who need to hire an Austin Realtor and/or Property Manager, it’s hard to focus the website keyword optimization efforts, as well as the site content, on two different types of businesses, no matter how closely related. This affects the choices for title tags and meta descriptions used on site pages and in blog articles.
So I’m announcing today the launch of our new sister site dedicated specifically to Property Management and Landlord-Tenant issues, CrosslandProperties.com.
Read more …
Yesterday, September 1st, I walked through a rental property in South Austin that had been vacated the day before. I had my Flip Mino Video Camera with me so I decided to make a short video of the walk-through and share a few things about what I look for when walking a vacant rental property after a tenant move out.
The result is one of the worst videos I’ve ever seen. I have no idea what I’m doing, or how to make a good video. I move too fast, muddle my words, don’t hold the camera steady, etc. I look like a dork and sound stupid. My Inner Critic is telling me to forget it, don’t post it. It’s terrible. Learn some video editing first. But if I wait until I know what I’m doing, it will never happen.
I have the camera mainly for vacations and recording family stuff, but I’ve thought for a while now that it might be fun to start making some video blogs, so this is what I’m starting with, for better or worse.
Here goes …
If you wonder what it’s like being a landlord, you’ll find it interesting (if you just watched the video) that the tenant emailed me the same day, after not following the instructions provided for returning keys, and stated in the email, “I spent a lot of time cleaning the house. I hope it was up to your standards.”
This is why I don’t allow tenants to walk through properties with me, or meet them for move-out walk-throughs. There is too big of a disconnect between what I observe and what a tenant deems to be acceptable. For more on that, read my past article “Why I Never Do Move-out Walk-throughs with Departing Tenants”
Back to video making and why I decided to go ahead with my first rough draft right out of the gate.
Read more …
As 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.