As I was sitting here on a dark and rainy Friday morning seething quietly after cutting a check for a $1825 special assessment from my condo’s governing HOA, I realized it’s been a few days since I posted anything. What can I say, rage, it seems, beings out my inner soul as a writer – or maybe it’s just the catharsis I need after getting gang banged by a homeowners association board who must have been holding on to a shit ton of proxies when they voted.
I’m always curious about those who see rental income as a surefire pathway to wealth. Maybe it is under certain circumstances – if you’re local and can do many of the repairs yourself, if you paid cash and aren’t using at least a portion of the rent to make the note, or if you aren’t governed by an HOA that’s at least as good at spending other people’s money as the United States Congress. I’ve been renting out this condo since 2003 and I’ll admit that there have been a few good years – those years when nothing breaks and there’s no damage to be repaired. Those years are the rarity. Far more often it’s a break even proposition where you’re lucky to be about $500 into either the black or red by year’s end. Then, of course, there are those years where you end up pouring your own cash into the place hand over fist. No one talks about those years when they tell you what a great idea it is having a rental property.
At least the bastards got the bills out in time to use the whole damned mess as a 2018 deduction instead of having to wait an additional year to recoup a few pennies on the dollar. When your “bright slide” is consoling yourself that you have something to help offset the decreased federal deductibility of state and local taxes, you’ve really got to rethink the whole plan from start to finish.
This dark and rainy Friday is going to largely be about resisting the temptation to drive down there and nail a for sale sign to the door and being done with the whole bleeding mess.
There’s an unfortunate assumption that if you have rental property you must, by some unwritten rule, be rolling in cash. It’s been my experience that there are really only two ways to strike it rich through rental property; either you have 100 of them to smooth out the cash flow from month to month or you operate more as a slum lord than a landlord. Those two possibilities, of course, are not mutually exclusive as it is entirely possible to do both at once.
Where you’re never going to strike it rich is in owning just one. The good years are the ones where you break even after expenses. The great years are the ones where you get enough of a tax deduction to maybe show a tiny slice of profit. For the most part, what comes in goes right back out in maintenance expenses, management fees, taxes, mortgage, insurance, and home owner’s association dues.
Owing a rental is like owning a bulldog in a way – both are things I wouldn’t recommend anyone try for themselves. Avoiding them both will save you a whole lot of heartache… and I’m not just saying that because my property manager called tonight to tell me the heating system is shot and needs to be replaced the same week I’m planning on financing knee surgery for a dog and two weeks after paying off a contractor to make sure a river doesn’t flow through the garage and cause my basement to become an indoor swimming pool.
Enough all ready. Fate, chance, or whatever gods control such things are really starting to get on my last nerve. Sigh. I’m never going to get my new bathroom at this rate. Sadly, I’m not a slum lord. Heat is important. And winter is coming.
Having gotten the final call from my realtor a few minutes ago I can state for the record that as of 5PM EDT today I am no longer a property owner in Memphis, Tennessee. I send the new owners good tidings and best wishes and hope that they have better luck with the place than I did over the last four years… but I’m super glad they didn’t call from the closing table wondering what I was going to do about a dripping gutter on the patio roof. Honest to God after the concessions I gave those two already I would have torpedoed the deal at closing just as a matter of principle. I’m glad that between their relator, mine, and the closing attorney they were able to talk them out of that particular course of action.
What I can tell you tonight with certainty is if there’s anything harder than selling a house long distance, it’s probably being an absentee landlord. Like grad school, though, I suppose it’s only a lot of work if you actually do it. God knows I did the work… an entirely new driveway, rerun sewer pipe from the house to the street, every painted surface inside and out redone, tile, backsplashes, tripled the size of the patio and roofed over the whole thing, and more work on the interior than I want to mention or even think about at this point. It’s all their egg to suck now.
Although I’m not quite out of the landlord business, the one that kept me awake at night is now a thing of the past. Let it stay there, ending the longest running and most expensive error of my life to date. Consider that lesson well learned.
This rental house on the Elk Neck peninsula was supposed to be an expedient. It was available immediately and met my criteria of having a fence and room for the dogs. With a kitchen and bathroom that I can only generously describe as “dated” and with what I still think of as an oddball three-level layout, it was really the only option I looked at because it had the supreme virtue of being available. That’s a bit of a concern when you’ve driven halfway across the continent and every stick of your belongings are following along less than 24 hours behind you.
I never intended this place to be a long term commitment. The plan was to do a year and be out to something bigger, better, and more importantly, something my own. Of course the housing market continued to tank, the notion of taking on a 3rd mortgage got even more farfetched, and inertia set in. Let’s just say I couldn’t (and still can’t) muster much interest in packing everything up and just moving from Rental A to Rental B. If I’m going to jam everything back into boxes, it’s going to be to go somewhere with a little more permanence… and between pay freezes and impending furloughs that’s not happening in the immediate future.
Once I managed to get the asshat property manager out of the way and started dealing directly with the owners, at least the “retail” side of being a renter again got easier. That counts for more than you’d think… which is why I just renewed the lease out through June 2014. It’s not optimal and certainly not where I expected I’d be three years on. I’ve come to think of it as the blood sacrifice I’ve had to pay for getting my feet back on the good earth of my native state. At least that’s the story I tell myself to keep it from being too aggravating.
Last year I was fastidious about winterizing the rental house. Since I’ve been waiting two weeks now to get the go ahead for a simple repair of the faucet/knob assembly in the bathroom, my level of interest in doing anything over and above the basics is pretty slim this time around. That translates into adding some weatherstripping and insulation and a few other odds and ends to save on the winter’s electric bill. Anything over and above that is just not going to happen. For the last 18 months I’ve been doing my best to treat the place like it was mine. Since that doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere, well, if it’s not a hazard to life and welfare I guess I’ll just go ahead and let it fall apart. It’s a pity that it’s got to be that way, but I can’t see myself expecting any less from my landlord than I expect from myself as a landlord. Silly expectations.
I spent most of Saturday morning outside laying siege to the trees, bushes, and random foliage that kept smacking me in the face while I was cutting the grass. Sure, I could just duck, but that’s nowhere near as fulfilling as chopping off branches and making nature look you want it to look. While I was standing hip deep in the ditch obliterating a tree that had no business growing there in the first place, I heard a car pull up behind me and a door open. It’s my experience that random people stopping by for anything usually doesn’t end well and I expected a pitch about why I should come to their church or at the very least who I needed to make a donation to some cause or another.
What I ended up with was an introduction to the old dude and his wife who live diagonally across the street from me – nice people who just wanted to stop and say thanks for making the outside of the place not look like crap. Not surprisingly, he brought up the previous tenants who apparently were every bit as worthless as I imagined them to be. Not like that’s a surprise, but it’s always nice to have confirmation. Other than keeping things mowed at a reasonable length and laying down plenty of weed killer, I haven’t actually done much. I should probably be grateful to the last guy for setting the bar so low.
The old dude would be less impressed if he saw the inside of the place with its god awful drywall patches, cut-ins done but walls not painted, doorknobs missing latches, and general lack of even the most basic maintenance. I’m fixing the things I can with the tools and supplies I have on hand, but lord knows I’m not sinking a dime of my own money into this place. I just need to nurse it through the next year or two and then it will be someone else’s problem. There’s very little I can do to remedy a cheapskate landlord or lazy property management, so the least I can do while I’m here is try to prevent this place from being that house that drags down everyone else’s property values by having that nice abandoned look about it. But seriously, thanks for noticing.
You can imagine my surprise when I walked upstairs a few minutes ago and found the temperature hovering somewhere in the low 80s. The A/C was on after all and even though it’s a smallish window unit, it usually doesn’t have any problem cooling the bedroom and office to something approaching a livable temperature. That is, of course, when the condenser coil isn’t frozen solid. Before I rush to judgement and start raising three kinds of hell about it, I’m going to let the thing thaw out and then run some tests to see if it was just me letting it run too long in high humidity we’ve had this week or if it’s something wrong with the unit itself like a freon leak.
Given the upstairs issue, I thought it would be a good time to check the main wall unit in the living room. I almost wish I could have avoided that experience. After dropping the front cover, I have suspicions that this was probably the first time the cover has ever been off the unit. And there’s not one chance in a 1000 that the filter has ever been so much as brushed off, let alone actually cleaned. Any guesses how I spent the last hour of my Sunday night?
I don’t know why something like that would surprise me about this place any more. If they can’t figure out the big maintenance issues, I don’t suppose there’s a prayer of them paying attention to the details. Admittedly, most of my experience with renting has been in apartment communities, but I just don’t remember those having such problematic upkeep and management issues. I hate the thought of moving all tis crap again, but unless there are some radical changes in the way things are done around here, I’ll be looking for new digs in about 10 months.
On the up side, I just sent the owner a $225 bill for having the Expedition towed. That at least gave me a warm fuzzy.
It’s a case of now you see it, now you don’t. After five weeks of haranguing the property manager about getting the junk Expedition out of the driveway, I was forced to demonstrate my level of resolve. I guess most people gripe and complain initially, but then accept whatever is happening and quiet down. I’m not wired that way. Never have been. I start off complaining, ratchet up the noise level, and then, when I’ve pretty much exhausted every other option I can think of, come out swinging. Today was pretty much that day. And was really the first major improvement/repair project around here that went exactly by the numbers. I called the towing company, they sent out a truck, and the POS Expedition that had been mocking me by its very presence for the last 32 days was gone before I got back to the house this evening. Getting my belongings delivered felt good. Getting them unboxed felt better. But getting rid of this eyesore is the first time in a month that I feel like I’ve really accomplished something. Plus I know it’ll piss off the property manager to no end since he says he wanted to part it out to recoup someone of the money they lost on the last tenant. I guess putting that thumb in his eye makes it $200 well spent.
Today marks the official one month mark since I moved in. That’s enough time to finally have things (mostly) settled and to figure out how livable the house is. All things considered, the place itself isn’t bad, really. There are a few layout issues and plenty of things that I would have done differently if it were my house – like the magenta bathtub and toilet. I mean seriously, how on earth did anyone ever thing that was a good idea? Other than that, the place seems to have good bones and is suffering only from the obvious neglect of the previous tenants and the general laziness of the property manager… Which of course brings us to the crux of the matter: A full month after moving in, there is still a Ford Expedition sitting in the driveway.
If someone drove up with a rollback and “disappeared” this Expedition, I certainly wouldn’t be filing a police report. I’d probably be willing to give them a hand loading it on the truck. It’s got a little body damage and I don’t have keys or anything, but I’d guess that you could make a good profit parting it out. I don’t have the time or energy to do it myself… and the point, of course, is to get it out of my driveway and into someone else’s. Maybe I’ll put a “Free to good home” sign on it before I leave for work in the morning.
Since I think 30 days is more than sufficient for the property manager to take care of this issue (and since the car seems to meet the legal definition of abandoned), I’ll be calling the Motor Vehicle Administration and the local police tomorrow to start the process of formally declaring it abandoned. That takes about 30 days from start to finish, but after that I can file for title and then sell the damned thing myself. I hoped I wouldn’t have to be a douchebag about this, but from here on out that seems to be the way we’re going to have to handle things. That’s probably what I should have done from the beginning. Serves me right for trying to be a nice guy.
I got a call Friday afternoon from my own property manager. It seems the crack in the kitchen window had finally gotten to the point of needing to be replaced. If I hadn’t been thinking months ago about the house becoming a rental property, I would have fixed it already. The up side of being a landlord is that alot of projects that were a normal expense when you were living in the house magically become a business expense (and therefore deductible) when you have a tenant.
You didn’t really need to know that little bit of administrative minutia except it was my way of saying that there’s a right way and a wrong way to be a landlord/property manager. The right way is to adress issues as they come up and do it as expeditiously as possible. It helps build the tenant-owner relationship and maybe buys you some good will when the lease is up and they have to decide between renewing and moving on. The wrong way would have been to make the tenant call half a dozen times, not show up when I said I would, or otherwise ignore the problems. Doing things that way tends to breed an attitude where the tenant doesn’t give a damn what happens to the property.
I guess there are two schools of thought when it comes to owning rental property. For some, it’s an income stream and nothing more. For others, it’s a long term investment that builds more value when it’s well maintained. Both ways of thinking are probably valid to some degree, but only one of them is right.