We’re now more than three months into owning our first rental property. Things are going smoothly except for a few very minor hiccups. (Like things going a little slow to get the first floor unit ready to rent, and the fridge drawer issue). So smoothly in fact that I find myself eyeing up other properties that would make promising rentals.
We use a property management company since we’re long distance landlords. We knew going in that being a long distance landlord comes with its own set of challenges in the real estate investing world. So, I thought I’d dedicate a post to some of the minor downsides we’ve encountered thus far that are directly related to being long distance landlords.
Arranging for contractors
Our property manager seems to just have one contractor / handyman that she uses. We had an initial list of things we wanted repaired right after closing (which I discussed in a previous post), and her contractor seemed to do a good job on most of the things, and at a very reasonable price. However, we had wanted the contractor to install a handrail on the small front deck, and it ended up looking like garbage. So, Ken and I have been contacting other contractors to install a better handrail. Occasionally contractors that we’ve contacted want someone to be at the house to provide an estimate. So, now that’s an extra step. Since we’re not local, we have to then have the property manager and the contractor arrange for their own times to meet on property. This happened as well when our landlord insurance company sent out an agent to do an inspection of the property. Meeting up on property was entirely out of our hands and had to be delegated to our property manager. Ken and I are fairly big control freaks, so this has been an adjustment for us.
Trying to sell used items
Ken and I are very adept at selling old junk that we don’t use anymore. Craigslist, Facebook Yard Sale Groups, eBay, etc. So, when we ultimately determined that we needed to buy a new fridge for the first floor unit, we figured we’d be able to get at least $50-$100 selling the old fridge, since it was still in perfectly good working order, it was just missing the crisper drawers. (For what it’s worth, the area that we rent out our property is relatively low-income, so used items in working condition tend to sell well). However, attempting to arrange a sale of a used fridge long distance turned out to be, well, impossible. We asked our property manager to take photos of the fridge, which she never did. She said she’d ask around to other property managers and realtors in the area if they needed a used fridge, but she never got any responses. We figured if she could take photos, we’d handle posting the fridge info to various sale sites. But, we would’ve had to coordinate the viewings of the fridge and the pickup through the property manager. Since we’re new to this, I’m not sure if this was “too much” to ask of a property manager, and maybe that’s why she never followed up on any of the things we asked. So, we ended up having to pay a $15 fridge “haul away” fee to Lowe’s, so they’d take away the old fridge when they delivered the new one. It just seemed like a loss of $50-$100. But, trying to look on the bright side, we just considered that a “cost” of being able to invest in a very affordable area.
Not being able to just drive by and “check up” on the property.
Again, this is a topic that we knew would be a downside of being a long-distance landlord, but we’ve already seen it in action a few times. A separate tenant rents out our garage. Since he prepays for the year and there isn’t much to go “wrong” with the garage, we decided that we’d manage the garage ourselves, instead of using the property manager (and thus having her take a cut of the monthly rent). So, that tenant has our contact information instead of the property manager’s. One day in early spring, the garage tenant called us and said that the grass was REALLY high on the property. We had arranged for a grass cutting service a month earlier, and the tenant said it looked like it hadn’t been cut all season (it was April at that point). It would have been nice to have been close enough to go check out the grass ourselves before calling the lawnmowing company without being able to describe exactly how the grass looked. After contacting the lawn company, they said they’d come more often. Then the property manager notified us that the upstairs tenant said that the grass was getting high in between cuts, and that the lawn company was leaving clumps of clippings all around. Again, this would have been a great scenario to be able to go and take pictures of the lawn. We decided to give the lawn company one more chance. The garage tenant complained again that the grass was getting too high. So, we fired the lawn company and hired a new one. We want happy tenants, so it would have been nice to notice a problem before the tenants needed to complain about it. As I’ve mentioned before, the property is in the town where my dad lives (and where I was born and raised), so we do travel there every few months. But, being able to see it on a more regular basis would certainly have its advantages.
Not being able to personally inspect contractor work
This has been HUGE for us. We have our property manager take photos of repairs that we had contractors complete (like installing handrails, fixing some exterior trim, etc.). BUT, there is something to be said about being able to personally grab onto that handrail and being able to yank on it to make sure that it feels secure to the wall. Writing a check for a contractor without being able to personally inspect the repairs feels so wrong and unwise. We tend to be very picky about the contractor type work we have done in our own home (like our basement wallpapering or our kitchen renovation), so this has been a huge adjustment for us. But, we’re just going to have to learn to trust the property manager, and hopefully we’ll eventually have a cadre of contractors that we come to know and trust as well. But for now, it’s all a bit stress-inducing!
That’s about it though, so I guess this is a pretty small list for now! We look on the upside that the properties in that area are very affordable and yield amazing cash flow each month. That’s something we’d never be able to accomplish here in the DC area with a cash outlay of only $26,000. So, we consider these minor inconveniences to be the “costs” of investing in an affordable, high yield area.
Do you rent any properties long distance? How do you cope with the challenges?