Thursday, November 30, 2006
Please update any links you have. If you're using an RSS feeder, you should not experience any problems (as long as you're using the feedburner feed).
Please email me if you have any problems!
This is the last post that will appear on the blogspot page.
See you over at the new pad!
Monday, November 27, 2006
- I just stumbled upon a new site on which I've already wasted too much time: neighboroo. It allows you to analyze a few statistics about the population of the country by zipcodes, then work your way out.
- Check out John T. Reed's analysis of Kiyosaki's Rich Dad, Poor Dad, which goes completely against what you'll hear from most real estate investors. If you're familiar with Kiyosaki, I'd like to hear your thoughts on this analysis.
- A cool rental listing site: housingmaps,
- Maybe/Someday: Sotheby's International Realty
- I've been playing a bit of chess recently, and would like to play against any interested Shmandlord readers. If you'd like to play, start up a game with me over at Post Card Chess (using the email address landlordshmandlord AT gmail)
For a while I've wanted to overhaul my organizational system in hopes that I can improve my productivity and prevent important details from slipping by. In addition to my landlord ventures, I have a full time job and am also starting my own software company.
So, this weekend I made the move to implement the Getting Things Done system. The basic premise is that you:
- capture all the things that need to get done into a logical and trusted system outside of your head and off your mind
- disciplining yourself to make decisions about all the inputs you let into your life, so that you will always have a plan for next actions that you can implement or renegotiate at any moment
In the next few days, I will describe how I fit my landlording into the system, what worked, and what didn't. If anybody has or does use this system I would appreciate your thoughts.
Thanks kengo for the image.
Sunday, November 26, 2006
I know I've mentioned the blog before, but I cannot stop reading I am Facing Foreclosure. Just for the quick overview, Casey (the blogger) bought 8 properties to flip (not rent) with a combined value of over $2 mil. He did this by taking out over $140k in credit card debt, lied on his loan applications, and put no money down. He is now suffering the consequences.
Anyway, I just wanted to post a quote from one of his blog posts that struck me as funny. I have to admit that when I first read it, I felt a hint of jealousy, but quickly snapped out of it for obvious reasons. He is toying with the notion of renting out one of the houses that is being foreclosed:
I’m not paying the mortgage so why not collect some cash, right?
You know, I really wish I could just not pay my mortgages, and pocket the rent. Wouldn't you? He then enumerates the reason why renting is not worth it to him.
Funny. If you have any thoughts on how I can stop paying my mortgages please let me know. However, I will not consider suggestions that result in foreclosure.
Thanks sercasey for the image.
Friday, November 24, 2006
It turns out that the township code was recently changed, and that is why I need to fix the wiring in the basement. He just wants the visible wire properly replaced, which will have to be done by an electrician. He also gave me a very generous timeline.
Regarding the paint, I don't have to scrape and repaint all exterior wood like the sheet said, just the areas that need it.
Regarding the pipe, he was also very reasonable, saying that I could just properly cap it.
He also asked if I could call back Monday to schedule inspections of my other apartments, which is required by the township every two years. All of the remaining inspections will most likely be sometime in December.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
I don't think that I'm on the guy's bad side, but I just got the letter about this year's required fixes. The list isn't pretty, including:
- Replace visible wiring in the basement (the wiring hasn't changed since I've received a CO).
- Remove an unused natural gas pipe in the basement. (What? This has also been there for years.)
- Scrape and repaint porch, and all visible wood outside. (It really just needs patching, not a full scrape/repaint).
There are a few other requests, but the rest are understandable. I'm trying to get in touch with the inspector to see why all of the sudden he found things that have been there for years.
I will let you know what happens.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
As was pointed out in the last carnival, the National Association of Realtors has launched a $40 million campaign to
Now, I'm not one of the extreme pessimists who believes that you will spontaneously explode if you own investment property early next year, but I do believe that the market will continue to soften and that it may not be the best time to buy or sell all homes. Over at The Big Picture there are two articles about this, but the second one titled Analyzing why "It's a great time to buy or sell a home" dissects every line in the recent WSJ ad and explains why "every single statement in the ad is materially false or misleading".
I think it's worth a
Also, here is the first article.
Monday, November 06, 2006
There were lots of great posts this week, and it's been hard picking which ones to include. I was very impressed with the breadth of topics, and feel that we, the Carnival of Real Estate community, should continue to encourage posts regarding all aspects of real estate: realtors, mortgage brokers, landlords, stagers (yes, there was a good post on staging this week), etc.
I am going to list my top 5 and then include the remaining posts in no particular order. Here it goes:
- The Pumpkin That Sold Me a House describes how a realtor can differentiate him or herself. Whatever industry you're in, it is always important to focus on the customer's experience, which is something that is too often forgotten. This post is short, but illustrates how one realtor, without exerting much effort, is reaching their customers in a very effective way.
- Ugh. True Gotham has a really great read about a frustrating mess, at Co-op Board Antics-Redux.
- In Defense of Landlords over at hotpads.com explains why rental prices are rising.
- Mike's Corner Web 2.0 for Real Estate Pros has some good commentary about adapting to change in Change is a good thing.
- Transparent RE makes many much needed points in An Open Letter to the Title Insurance Industry.
- This Old House is Worth $1.23 Million compares two houses, each worth the same, in two different parts of the country.
- Are Zoomf and Nestoria imitating Trulia? What are British real estate sites like?
- The National Association of Realtors Takes an Ad in the Wall Street Journal. "It's a great time to buy or sell a home"? Doesn't sound like sound economics to me.
- Bloodhound blog refutes some of the ridiculous claims against Zillow by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition in Defending Zillow.
- We often don't hear from Stagers on the CoRE, but this week Home Staging, Rants & Ravings submitted a list of reasons to stage in Stagers.. are we red headed step children that get no respect?.
- What's the difference between the rich and the ultra-rich? Wisdom From Wencypoo's Mental Wastebasket describes it in A Revolt of the Fairly Rich.
- Zillow blog gives an overview of the Blog Business Summit containing many good tips for using your blog to help your business.
- Nubricks.com has a little insight into Parisian real estate at The future of immobilier in the Paris property market.
- Always a great read, The Landlord Blog has (one of many) great posts about Sifting Through Property Manager Candidates.
- YoChicago today on What does it mean when a Chicago developer moves into his or her own building?
- Real Central VA has a short but good post on Brand loyalty and quality customer service stemming from a recent consumer experience.
Thank you everybody for submitting the wonderful posts. Also, thanks to everybody who stopped by for the Carnival of Real Estate. Next week, the Carnival will be hosted at True Gotham. Please submit your posts by Sunday, November 12th.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
It's been over two years since I bought my first building, and since the very beginning my goal has been to accumulate as much real estate as possible. The phrase I've been using to describe this aspiration is to become a Reverse-Millionaire: to owe as much money to the banks, in the form of secured real-estate mortgages, as possible. The thought is, that the more money I owe the bank, the more properties I'll own and the more money I'll make, not necessarily in the short term, but by holding for the long term. If I can become a reverse millionaire while I'm young, in 15-20 years I'll most likely have "boatloads of money". There are lots of other advantages, for example, any rent inflation, becomes more money that I can pocket each month.
In order for this tactic make sense, I have a few important rules.
- Only buy a place when you definitely have the monthly cashflow to support it. I only want to buy a place if I know that I have the money to pay for it. I assume a 33% vacancy rate, meaning that if I receives $1,000 a month rent, count it as only +$666.67 toward cashflow to cover maintenance and vacancy costs (banks conservatively use 25% when calculating your income before giving you a mortgage).
- Only use 30-year fixed mortgages. Although you will have to pay a higher interest rate, this will keep the mortgage costs from spiraling out of control. After I buy a place, I know that my principle and interest payments will stay the same for the next 30 years, which is very comforting (although insurance and taxes go up).
- Do not lie on the applications. This should be obvious, but it isn't always as you'll see shortly. When a bank gives you a mortgage, they're betting based on the information that you gave them that you are going to pay the loan back. They use the information on the application to determine how likely it is that you will default. If they are willing to give you a loan based on an honest application, then they believe that they won't, within a tolerable level of risk, lose money. There are reasons for the checks and balances that the bank uses, when you lie you're much more likely to get yourself in over your head.
Now, using this method I've purchased four properties in the last two years. I am not quite the reverse millionaire that I want to be, but I'm about two-thirds of the way there. Because I followed the rules listed above, I am in fine financial shape. If interest rates go to 500% tomorrow, that's fine for me because I will be paying the same amount for the next 30 years. If a tenant doesn't pay rent for a few months (as regular Landlord Shmandlord readers are aware does occasionally happen), then I can handle it.
The key point that I want to make is that, if I didn't follow something similar to the above guidelines, it would have been very easy for me to achieve my goal of becoming a reverse millionaire by now. For example, I could have selected much riskier loans, like the infamous interest-only ones. Or I could buy more places from sellers that are in kahoots with shady mortgage brokers, which appear to be able to offer loans regardless of credit scores. The problem is, if I did these things the entire house of cards would be much more unstable than it is now.
Not everybody has been as careful. Case in point: Casey at I am Facing Forclosure dot com. This guy racked up 2.2 mil in debt (including 140k in unsecured credit card debt). Now, as you'll see very quickly on his blog, he's in trouble. I stumbled upon his blog on I Will Teach You To Be Rich, where oddly enough Ramit knew Casey from high school and gives some insight into Casey's character:
Casey had tried to sucker people into a scam real-estate deal less than a week before he admitted he was going through foreclosure. I was fortunate enough to recognize his pitch as bulls**t, but what if someone had gotten conned into it? Financial scams on unsuspecting people make me furious. So I read through his site. It turns out that he had bought multiple houses in different states (hoping to flip them quickly), lied on his applications to get his loans approved, and had grossly miscalculated how much it would cost to renovate and flip them. Bad move. His debt is now over $2 million.
Now I don't feel quite as bad about not being a Reverse Millionaire yet. However, I'm still confident that if I continue the course that I'm on, I'll eventually get there in a reasonably safe way.
Monday, October 30, 2006
Landlord Shmandlord will be hosting next week's Carnival. If you would like to participate, please submit your best post by Sunday November 5th.
Sunday, October 29, 2006
- The inspector always lists at least a few things that need to be done. Usually these things are extremely minor, but need to be done in order for the rent payments to continue. While I haven't done so myself, I'd imagine that if you get on the inspector's bad side, they can make your life very difficult.
- When I've requested a rent increase from Section 8, I've accompanied the request with comps from the local circulation. The rents of these comps are always a little higher than what I'm asking. To date they have not denied any of my requests.
- The rents are near the top the fair-market value range.
- Rent is always in your mail box, on time.
- Section 8 tenants have an extra incentive to take care of your place and pay their rent on time: if they don't, they lose out of the free money. This is powerful = )
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
I want to reiterate: make sure that you call a perspective tenant about an hour before you're supposed to show the apartment. I've found that usually when I forget to do this, they forget to show.
There was only one noshow this time around, who when I called 15 minutes after she was supposed to arrive, she responded: "Oh, I was not able to borrow a car. Can you show it to me this weekend?" She surprisingly was actually looking for an answer.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
When a potential tenant calls, there are several things I do to avoid wasting time. When they first call, they expect the landlord to lead the conversation. I usually start by describing the important details about the property. Make sure you include:
- Number of bedrooms
- Monthly price, and what's included. Water, sewer, heat/oil?
- Required amount when they sign the lease. Security deposit? First/last month's rent?
- Parking situation: Is there a garage? Offstreet parking?
- Date it will be available
- Are pets allowed?
- Requirements: credit check, background check, verifiable job?
The point of the description is to make sure the tenant knows what you're offering. Very often something in the list will turn them away and this is the end.
Next, they usually either have some additional questions about the property, which you should answer, or they'll ask to see the place. Before setting up a time to show it, there are a few questions you should ask:
- Who will be moving in?Make sure that the apartment is an appropriate size for the number of potential tenants.
- Do you have any pets? What type?Maybe you allow pets, but you don't allow elephants.
- When are you looking to move in? What type of lease are you looking for?This is good because often people are not planning to move for longer than you're willing to wait? Also, the other day this question saved me because a guy wanted to see the place, but it turned out that he was only looking for a three month lease, which I was not interested in.
- Do you have good credit? Do you have a job? What do you do?These things are important. Are you going to verify that they really have the job?
Now if they made it this far, it's time to show the property. If you make the appointment a few days out, it is good to call them the morning of to make sure they are still interested (and that they remember).
At the showing, if they are interested and I like them, I usually have them fill out an application and give an application fee. Optionally, you can offer to apply the application fee to the first month's rent if they're accepted. The fee pays for the credit and background checks (which are now a mandatory part of the process). Also, the application fee commits them until you sign the actual lease.
Pete emailed a follow-up to what he found at the apartment:
Supposedly, the tenant moved out on Friday. No forwarding address. I stopped over on Saturday to see how they left it. I saw their car tracks on the lawn from the patio door, so that was a good sign! I went inside and everything was gone except a mattress, a lot of shoes, and a lot of junk. Oh yeah, and their abandoned car with the flat tire! I should have had that towed weeks ago, but I was just hoping they would take it with so I didn't have to worry about it. I figured I would give them one more day just in case they wanted their shoes. I got the report today from my cleaner... written on a closet shelf was "F*** you Pete!" I think that counts as official notice they moved out. There wasn't much real damage though. Just that kind note etched into the wood and some tooth picks broken off in my maintenance closet lock. Any idea how to take off a door knob from the outside? Oh the joys of being a landlord.
Thanks again Pete. If you haven't already, check out his blog, Visualize Milwaukee
Friday, October 13, 2006
Here is Pete's second blog post about what happened today in court:
For all of you on the edge of your seats wondering what's going to happen, here is the next installment of Pete's dog issues. Today was our court date for the eviction. Against popular recommendation, I moved through the eviction process without a lawyer. And this is the first eviction I have ever done! So I was a bit tense wondering what technicality I probably messed up on. I had my 5 day notice, an affidavit of service of the court papers, and my eviction papers. I had a lease, rent roll, and other paperwork as backup too since I wasn't sure what to expect. Then, I sat in court and waited. My tenant didn't show up so when I was called up everything went quick and smooth. I was given my writ of restitution and was my way. Before I called in the sheriff and movers, I tried calling the tenant. And glory to my ears: "that number has been disconnected." I called another tenant and they confirmed the dog owners were sneaking their way out! So, as long as they didn't do any real damage, this story is basically over. They owe me a little rent, and some court fees, but I doubt I'll ever see any of that. I will see what the place looks like tomorrow, then I start my search for a new tenant.
Congrats Pete, amazing that you were able to get them out so quickly! Let us know if the place is damaged. Thanks again for the great posts! Also, if you haven't already done so you can check out Pete's blog, Visualize Milwaukee, here
Thursday, October 12, 2006
Today we have a guest blogger, Pete from Visualize Milwaukee. He will actually be in court tomorrow for eviction proceedings relating to problems with his tenant's unwanted dog. I want to thank Pete for sharing this story, and I hope everything works out for him.
Rick’s dog issues were very similar to a problem I am having with a tenant now. The tenant is my on-site manager in a multi-unit building. They approached me in January about wanting a dog. I told them their lease forbids dogs without written permission and that I am not too keen on dogs. They persisted (“You know we keep a clean place”, “You already trust us, we’d be great dog owners”…), so I told them I would allow a dog under these circumstances:
- we sign a 1-year lease
- we sign a pet-amendment to the lease
- they provide an additional $200 pet-deposit
- a pet-rider at $50/month
- I could terminate the pet-rider at any time
They balked at that, so I figured I didn’t have to worry about it anymore! So, September rolls around and I get a call from another very upset tenant. After calming them down (why do I have to play therapist for my tenants?), they tell me that there was a dog running around in the hallway. The dog apparently chased/followed their young child and got its leg caught in the main entry door. The owners of this dog came out and started cussing at this tenant for hurting their dog, and that they are going to have to pay the vet bills for his broken leg! So, as the landlord, what do I do?
The dog owners a) didn’t tell me about the dog b) broke their lease c) were not controlling their dog and d) were threatening other tenants over it!
Well, it turns out the dog was a birthday gift (from my on-site manager), so what could they do about it? I’d understand right? They offered to pay $50 extra per month and a $100 deposit. I wanted to keep a generally good tenant who was helping me take care of the place. When I called them, the dog owner was still blaming the other tenant because the dog got out on accident!
After all that, I finally decided the only thing I could do was give them a 5-day Notice of Lease Violation. They had 5 days to get the dog out or move out. They called and said they’d move out before the end of the month (which was 2 weeks away). I figured that would be better than going through an eviction, right? Well, wrong. On the 1st they were still there with the dog, and had told another tenant they weren’t leaving. I filed for eviction last week. The tenant called and cussed me out on the phone. We’ll see what happens. The court date is tomorrow, Friday the 13th.
Part of me says, “Well, if I just allowed pets I wouldn’t be going through this mess.” But, in reality, I know this would be more of a problem if I did. I have had complaints from 3 tenants, I’ve had their dog chase a tenant, and I’ve had the dog owners threaten others rather than take responsibility for their own pet. So, in the end, I think I’ll keep the no-pet policy. What about that pet-rider though? I’ll have to rethink that too.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
She has been a good tenant and has been following the rules. Part of the additional agreement allows me to go through he apartment on a regular basis to make sure that there isn't additional damage.
Ain't nothing easy.
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
I've wanted to wait until I have all the renovation figures required before I go after them, because once I find them things are going to unfold rather quickly, and I want to be able to take them to court right away.
Saturday, September 30, 2006
- Joshua Dorkin over at Real Estate Investing for Real found a really great way to buy the vacation house you've always wanted. What an awesome idea! But unfortunately, I don't think it's a method we can all use at the same time.
- Whoa, homes selling for over $100 million. These things are pretty amazing: car washes, multiple golf courses, gold fixtures, titanic-style stair cases, 2+ million dollar taxes.
- The Carnival of Real Estate is up over at YoChicago today. Check it out here!
- Once again I'd like to thank the people over at Zillow for their great API, which made it really easy to setup NetWorth. They have a great product, and I can't wait to see what new features are coming down the pipe.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
First, I wanted to see what else needs to be done before the place is rented. It is actually looking very good, and should be rentable this week. The largest outstanding items are the windows, but I have the quotes and know now which windows I'll completely replace and which ones will only get new glass.
The other ridiculous thing that happened is that one of my current tenants, who has been there for multiple years, informed me that she has already bought a puppy and wants permission to keep it. First of all, this is against her lease, which as of now forbids it without written approval from me (the pet agreement). I did tell her about 6 months ago that I would allow her to have a dog if she filled out the extra pet agreement, but that was before the dogs shmogs incident. Today I just said that I'm going to have to talk to my lawyer to determine if she can keep it. After I left, she called me to say that she spoke with her finance and decided if they can't keep it they're going to move out.
Of course, it isn't just any dog. It's a bullmastiff puppy. From what I've read, these things get huge, are powerful, and will defend its family well. I did find one funny note, according to Wikipedia's bullmastiff page:
The Bullmastiff is courageous, loyal, calm, and loving with those it knows. It has a very strong protective instinct and will defend its people against anything it perceives as a threat. However, it doesn't normally attack to protect, instead it simply knocks the intruder over with its massive size and pins them to the ground. Bullmastiffs become immensely attached to their families and do best when they can live inside with their people.
I don't know if I can deal with dogs anymore, especially large ones. At the same time, they have been very good tenants. Also, if I did allow them to keep it I would certainly require more rent.
I'm going to sleep on it. If you have an opinion about bullmastiffs, please let me know!
Monday, September 25, 2006
It is from a little web application that I've been working on called NetWorth. It allows users to monitor their Net Worth using real estate values from Zillow.com and stock quotes from Yahoo Finance.
Once you've input your assets and liabilities, you can then put a banner on your website like the one above. It'll then automatically update as it receives new values from Zillow and Yahoo.
There are actually three different banners to choose from You can show:
- The percentage change in your Net Value over the past week
- The dollar change in your Net Value of the past week
- Your current Net Value
Give it a shot, and I would appreciate any feedback.
Friday, September 22, 2006
The unit will be ready to show early next week.
We had to paint the whole master bedroom, which the previous tenants painted a hideous shade of purple. We also had to patch the holes left in the other rooms. Interestingly enough, one of the holes, which I noticed only after all of the junk had been removed, is fist-sized and was conveniently covered up by a wall hanging.
All of the rugs have been ripped up and the floors are being sanded, which will be completed tomorrow. We will then finish them, and cover them with throw rugs (easier to replace). I have a list of potential tenants, but am going to wait until early next week to show to show it (by then the apartment will be cleaned too). Hopefully I’ll get it rented by Oct 1.
I am also replacing the two windows that the last tenants broke. Actually, the previous owner replaced every window in the building except for these two, so I suppose I was fortunate that these were the ones that were broken.
Once I have the bills for all the repairs *and the place rented*, I will start tracking down the old tenants and bring them to court. I have a few leads, but as of now do not know where they are living.
Sunday, September 03, 2006
Flooding has been in the news a lot recently, and it can (obviously) be very devastating for a real estate investor. For example, look at what happened to investors whose buildings were flooded in New Orleans due to Katrina: instantly they're no longer collecting rents, their properties require extensive repairs, and their investments are worth significantly less than before the flood. Future investors will certainly need to factor these risks into any future purchases.
The above case is pretty easy to analyze because the risks are fairly well known. There are times when the problem isn't so straightforward.
One such case is when flood patterns change, sometimes very unexpectedly. The Delaware River, for example, runs along the border between New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Anybody who is familiar with the Delaware and its river towns are most likely familiar with the notorious Flood of 1955, which was the worst in living memory. Afterwards, there was a long period without much flooding. Seemingly all of the sudden there have been a series of very bad floods the past few years. In fact, if you examine historical flood data, you'll see that half of the "Major Flood Stage" crests on record occurred in 2004-2006 (For these numbers, I am using historical crest data at Riegalsville, PA. Major flood stage is 30ft.).
- 38.85 ft on 1955/08/20
- 35.90 ft on 1903/10/10
- 34.07 ft on 2005/04/3
- 33.62 ft on 2006/06/29
- 32.45 ft on 1936/03/19
- 30.95 ft on 2004/09/19
The first question that comes to mind is, why all of the sudden have there been so many floods. Proposed reasons include (source):
- Poor management: floods could be minimized by regulating flow into and out of reservoirs that release water upstream
- Overdevelopment and construction, both along the main stem of the river and its tributaries.
- Bad luck. Too much rain, too quickly.
A friend of mine lives on the river in what was thought to be a 50-year flood-plain (this means that he has a 1/50 chance, or 2%, of having his house flooded in any given year). The river entered his house in each of the three floods listed above. Each time, he has had to refinish walls, replace appliances, landscape his washed-away driveway and yard, etc. His house was worth upwards of a few million dollars in 2003, and he believes that these floods could have eaten away over 30% of this value.
His flood insurance does help somewhat, however each flood still ends up costing him thousands of dollars, not to mention the hours of work preparing, evacuating, and then restoring. He personally believes that upriver construction is primarily responsible for the problem, and is interested in selling the property if he can get what he believes it is worth. He acknowledges that this will most likely require him to wait for an extended period without floods.
As an investor, how can you prepare for a situation like this? Should you simply avoid buying a place anywhere near rivers or lakes? If not, how do you prepare for the potential financial hit? How about other natural disasters, like earthquakes in California?
Personally, each of the places that I've purchased are in areas where it is highly unlikely that they're going to have problems with a flood, and I am certainly comforted by this. I can appreciate how desirable water-front property is, but I believe that in order to purchase it as an investment you need to have a very large slush fund set aside (making it much less lucrative).
(Note: I took the above picture in Lambertville, NJ in April, 2005. If you would like to see more, check out this guy kayaking in his backyard, a submerged river-front shop, or an image of the Lambertville Station (there are two parking lots under there.)
Thursday, August 31, 2006
I recently found this website, Trembicky.com, which is a site where "tenants can share horror stories about lousy landlords they've had". Viewers email in their horror stories, which are then printed (including the Landlord's name) on the front page. This is in hopes that would-be tenants can use the site as a resource to avoid renting from "bad landlords".
According to the court officer in my town, the tenants that I just threw out have been evicted two or three times already, usually leaving the apartment heavily damaged. I know (from a different tenant) that they signed a new lease elsewhere a few days before moving out of my unit. I don't know where that landlord is, but surely they'd like to know what I've just been through. Ideally, they would have had a similar website to look through before signing their lease.
In actuality, there are ways to look up if a potential tenant has been evicted, since evictions are part of the public record. But what about bad tenants that aren't evicted but cause problems while living there or leave the place a disaster when they leave? These types of problems wouldn't be recorded anywhere, though they should be shared.
My questions to you are:
- Is this legal?
- Can landlords do the same?
- If so, is there something like this already?
Oh, and if you're a landlord and your name is on the site, I'd love to hear from you.
At least my recent situation didn't get this out of hand.
LISBON (Reuters) - An 80-year-old man blew up his flat on Monday to retaliate for being evicted by his landlord, bringing down part of his five-floor central Lisbon block and setting it alight.
"He had threatened neighbours that he would blow up the place if he ever got kicked out," Carlos Pinto, a fireman with the Lisbon fire brigade, told Reuters. "I guess he kept his promise."
He said neighbours had reported that the man had threatened to pour petrol on his floor and set it alight, and one reported seeing him with a bottle of petrol moments before the explosion.
The man suffered severe burns. No other casualties were reported.
The place is now getting painted and the floors redone. I'm bartering with my tenants (the ones who cleaned the newly opened unit), in exchange for their work I am going to give them discounts on their winter rent. For me, this is better than discounts on current rents, because I'm already not collecting rent in the unit that is getting fixed. For them, this is better because they typically work outside, so the winter months are when they are most stretched.
They are very hard workers and charge very reasonable rates. Hopefully it will be finished within a week or two.
Friday, August 25, 2006
I was able to schedule a garbage cleanup, where a truck gets sent specifically to pick up the stuff at my building. I then contacted different tenants of mine who are always looking for some work. They looked over the trashed apartment, and offered to move all of the garbage out to the curb and clean the apartment for a reasonable price. I accepted.
Now, they're just about finished. I am going to meet them up there tomorrow to discuss the other work that needs to be done before I can rent the apartment out. Currently, it looks like the place will need to be painted, windows will need to be repaired (which I will be doing through a different person), and the floors need to be fixed.
I am not going to be able to rent the place out by September 1st, unfortunately, but hopefully sometime before October 1st.
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Well, today at noon I met the Court Officer at my property to finally evict my tenants. When I arrived, he had already placed a note on the door reading:
NOTICE By order of: The ****** County Special Civil Part, Tenants of these premises have been evicted and the plaintiff placed in full possession thereof. NO TRESPASSING.
He knocked on the door several times, there was no response and no sign of the dogs. I unlocked the door and we went upstairs...
The place was a mess. The first thing that I noticed was that they pulled up the rugs in the hall and the master bedroom, the rugs that I had paid them to put in about 10 months ago (at a good price including time and materials, and when I inspected soon after installation looked good).
They left most of the large furniture including queen size mattresses, several dressers, and cabinets. Besides that, they left an old television, an old microwave, piles of books, a huge bag of garbage, and tons of other items scattered all over the place. According to the neighbor, they moved yesterday by carrying the things that they wanted out in pillow cases.
Other than the junk, there were a few problems, but thankfully nothing permanent. Problems like three broken windows, lights, and door knobs.
Obviously, this is going to be an ordeal to fix, but I'm happy they're out. First I need to talk to my lawyer to figure out 1) Do I have to store the remaining stuff, or can I assume that they do not want it? 2) Should we pursue any criminal charges? 3) How should we approach small claims?
I am definitely going to take them to court to get a judgment, then work to get reimbursed.
As far as the apartment, one of my other tenants has a business that does jobs like cleaning apartments after tenants move out, painting, and sanding/staining floors (There are hard wood floors underneath the carpets, which I'm thinking about just fixing and leaving. What are the advantages to hard wood vs. carpets in rentals?)
The next few weeks will still be interesting, but at least I know where things stand and I don't have to worry about being liable for those vicious dogs. Unfortunately, I do not think that the apartment will be ready for September 1st, but hopefully by the 15th.
The line of the day goes to my friend's girlfriend, when she came up with today's theme song:
Who kicked the dogs out?
Rick, Rick, Rick Rick.
Saturday, August 12, 2006
There is an important question that you must know the answer to before purchasing an investment property in a new town:
How are you going to inform potential tenants that you have a place available for rent?
This is one thing that I was extremely lucky with when purchasing my first real estate investments. There is a popular weekly circulation which _everybody_ in the town religiously reads, and in fact is the only place I need to advertise when renting an empty apartment..
The circulation is distributed every Thursday night to quickmarts, grocery stores, donut shops, and others within a 20-30 mile range. It contains items for sale, service advertising, and most importantly rental advertisements. It has become the definitive source of pricing rentals, and is where everybody looks.
Before purchasing an investment property in a new town, I would highly recommend looking into how potential tenants find available apartments. There are towns where there is not a good source, and it will be more difficult for you to determine the fair market value, or even rent your apartments. I'm not saying that you shouldn't buy in these places, but if you do you should deduct a higher vacancy/maintenance percentage when calculating your monthly cashflow.
Another advantage is that I can easily follow the rental market. I try (try being the operative word) to input the rental prices into a database every week. I input the # of bedrooms and rental price. I can then track the price fluctuations of the units over time (broken up by number of bedrooms). I know that this isn't completely accurate, but it allows me to get an idea of how the fair market value fluctuates over time. This is particularly helpful when pricing a empty unit right before I advertise. Also, I can easily find renters (although I apparently don't always screen them enough). Once I put an advertisement in the circulation (about $10 for two weeks) I instantly get 10+ calls from potential tenants.
These circulations are most important when purchasing investment properties in smaller towns. If you're renting out an apartment in a city, there are other good ways to go (craigslist for example). In smaller towns not everybody uses the internet. You could go with a realtor, but that ends up costing a lot. Really, your best bet is to understand what the locals use.
Friday, August 11, 2006
The judge denied my tenant's Order to Show Cause.
Unlike last time, we had a courtroom all to ourselves. As of 9:15, the tenant did no show up. The judge was already seated, my lawyer was already on the speaker phone, and I was seated at the plaintiff's bench. As the judge was researching whether or not the tenants were served, my tenant and her child walked in (18 minutes late).
The judge invited her to her bench and swore us both in. His first question was directed to the tenant, asking her why the court should grant her request. Her points were, mainly:
- She does not have a job, and her boyfriend (who is also on the lease, but has not showed up for either court session) was "out of work for a month".
- They had to pay off other fees, including tickets and "a warrant to keep him out of jail"
- The remainder of their money went towards the security deposit of their new apartment, which they will start renting Sept. 1st. Until then, they have nowhere to live.
- She "is receiving $30k" in a settlement in about 2 weeks. The money will be directly deposited into her account.
When she was finished, the lawyer asked her for the name of her lawyer who was handling the settlement. She couldn't name one. He then asked her for the name of the lawyer that was representing the other side, she couldn't name one.
Then, my lawyer asked if he could respond to her points. He said:
- My client has been more than patient with the tenants. He sent them notice regarding the dogs before I became involved, after which I sent them formal notice.
- Her dogs are vicious and dangerous. The neighbors are scared, and if left in the unit could very well hurt somebody.
- My client's water bill has been four times the normal cost since they moved in. I'm afraid that they've maliciously left it on since moving in.
- They have been completely incommunicado, unresponsive to my client's inquiries until "judgment day" is imminent, at which point they suddenly are interested
- I ask the court not to interfere with my client's legal rights, when he's been toocompassionate and they've made no effort to remedy the situation.
At this point, the judge made his decision. His points were:
- If they were really getting the settlement, there are many places they could go with the judgment to get an advance (if they could prove that they're going to get the money). Why haven't they made an effort?
- These dogs are dangerous, and they've made no effort to temporarily move them somewhere else.
- The water situation is troubling. Are the tenants just running the water? At this point the tenant interjected that this was the first time she had heard about the water. In fact, I had told her boyfriend multiple times about it. There is no evidence of leaks, he simply said "the faucet drips", even though it has been replaced.
There was a back and forth about how she had nowhere to go. The judge asked her if she had family in the area, she nodded. Then he announced that he was denying her request. She quickly got up and left, with her daughter. The lawyer hung up, and the judge excused us.
Obviously, I was pleased with the verdict. I can not imagine that it would have ended any other way. They've made absolutely no attempt to pay their rent, or to keep me up to date on their situation. This has been a learning experience, and now I know several things to look out for. First and foremost, I am going to run criminal and credit checks before signing the lease next time.
Now, I just have to wait until Tuesday at noon, at which point I will inspect the apartment. My lawyer recommended bringing a digital camera and video camera, in case there are problems we can use that later (pressing criminal and/or civil charges).
Thursday, August 10, 2006
Well, things took an unexpected turn today.
So the Warrant of Removal was served, and I've set up an appointment with the court officer to take back the property next week.
Then today, at around 3:30pm, I received a call from my lawyer's secretary. It turns out that my tenants filed an Order to Show Cause today, which means that there is an emergency court hearing scheduled for tomorrow where my tenants will have the opportunity to convince the judge to halt the eviction process, thus allowing them to stay for (at least?) the rest of the month. Remember, they now owe me three months rent, over $500 in attorney fees, and over $200 in late fees (actually, according to our contract they owe me $10 a day after the 6th of the month, but on the forms that have been filed $200 was listed).
The first problem, is that I personally have to appear in court, I cannot be represented solely by my attorney. Secondly, they only schedule landlord tenant matters on Fridays, so if I want to get them out next week, I have to show up tomorrow. This is regardless of whether or not I have an important meeting that I _need_ to be at tomorrow at 3pm. This is also regardless of whether my attorney is booked all morning and cannot show up until at least 1:30pm.
So, I'm going to go by myself at 9am, and then teleconference my attorney in so that he can hear/participate while he's doing the other stuff that he needs to do (the court apparently has the facilities for this).
On the form the tenants filled out, they crossed out the section about the tenant paying what they owe. They say that they do not have the money, but potentially will come up with it (They've mentioned an unrelated settlement, but they've said that several months ago and I no longer buy it).
The thing I don't understand is how they haven't cared about getting booted out _since June_, and now the court is even considering stepping in to slow it down? Now we just have to wait and see.
An Order to Show Cause, according to Nolo's legal definition
An order from a judge that directs a party to come to court and convince the judge why she shouldn't grant an action proposed by the other side or by the judge on her own (sua sponte). For example, in a divorce, at the request of one parent a judge might issue an order directing the other parent to appear in court on a particular date and time to show cause why the first parent should not be given sole physical custody of the children. Although it would seem that the person receiving an order to show cause is at a procedural disadvantage--she, after all, is the one who is told to come up with a convincing reason why the judge shouldn't order something--both sides normally have an equal chance to convince the judge to rule in their favor.
I'll keep you up to date...
Friday, August 04, 2006
The Warrant of Removal was filed yesterday, so now the waiting game continues. The timeline is still silly. After the paperwork is filed, it takes 2-3 days for it to be transfered to the Court Officer. He then serves it, after which the tenants have three days to leave. After that, if they have not left, I'll go with the Court Officer to lock them out.
Hopefully this will be finished by some time next week.
Monday, July 31, 2006
Saturday, July 29, 2006
While in court yesterday I saw another example of how important it is to understand the eviction process before jumping in:
When their case was called up before the judge, an elder man was escorted by what I think was his son to the plaintiff's table. He was also accompanied by a young woman, who appeared to be his lawyer. The tenants did not show up.
The judge quickly started: "I have reviewed your paperwork, and think I understand why the tenants did not show up. They didn't have to."
It turns out that the woman is his property manager, and when she filed the eviction forms she signed her name instead of his, which she did not have the authority to do. So now, they'll need to refile all of the forms and wait another month to get their tenants out.
The man and the property manager tried telling the judge that since the clerk looked it over before it was accepted it should be valid. The judge cut them off, stating that it simply wasn't filed properly and that they must refile.
As I stated earlier, there are many pitfalls like this, so it is important to be fully aware of the process. If you are not (like I am), it highly pays to have a lawyer available. Also, you need to remember that if anybody is going to receive sympathy at a landlord-tenant hearing, it certainly will not be the landlord.
Friday, July 28, 2006
Today I had the court hearing regarding my favorite tenants, the ones with the aggressive dogs who have not paid rent since June.
First, a few brief updates. I tried cashing their June rent check again at their bank for at least the 20th time. This time the bank clerk accidentally revealed more information than she was supposed to, informing me that the bank account had been closed. Looks like I'm not going to get paid this way. Also, the second quarter water bill came in and, like the first, water usage was far above normal levels. This has been a problem ever since they've moved in, I'm not quite sure what it is that they're doing. There is not a leak, but their water is usually running when I go over.
Ok, so now the court hearing:
I showed up at the court house 20 minutes early. There were about 10 people waiting to go in, but neither my lawyer nor tenants were there. About 5 minutes after sitting, the female tenant showed up with her ~3 year old daughter. We nodded at each other, but that was all and she passed me to sit a few benches down. Then my lawyer showed up, and we left for the stairwell to go over over the process. There were a few strategies that I wanted to discuss with him, like how the dog situation fit into today's eviction proceedings. Yes, the eviction was initially over the dogs, but after serving the Notice to Cease they stopped paying rent, which was then included as an additional reason for the eviction. It turns out that it is much quicker and cleaner to evict somebody over non-payment of rent, so that was to be our initial plan of attack. If for some reason they end up paying the rent in full, we will just continue the eviction process over the dogs, although it will take a few additional weeks. At least I wouldn't be out so much money.
My lawyer wanted to talk to the tenant to determine where she stood. This was the first major advantage of having a lawyer represent me. He could communicate on less hostile ground than I, which allowed us know what we were dealing with and plan accordingly. When he went to talk with her, I sat in the courtroom. She explained to him that she would not be able to pay in the time required to avoid eviction. Like too many tenants, she mentioned that she was expecting to receive a lot of money "next month" in a settlement, which besides from being unlikely was an excuse she gave me back in June.
Inside the courtroom, we watched a video describing the rights of both the landlord and the tenant. They then read the order in which the cases would be heard, and called a recess for 10 minutes during which they encouraged everybody to talk over the case to see if an agreement could be reached before trial. The clerk came over to us to ask if we had settled or were actually going to have a trial. We told her how the tenant was not going to pay, and she handed us a blank Judgment of Possession form to fill out. We decided not to push for monetary damages on the JoP, but indeed reserved the right to go to small claims court afterwards. The thought was that we'll wait until they are out of the house and we know how much money they owe, including late fees, attorney fees, repair fees, and unpaid rent. My lawyer then brought it over to the tenant, who also signed it. The clerk informed us that we'd still have to meet before the judge.
Getting a Judgment of Possession was the sole purpose of the day. Three business days after the JoP is filed, we can get a Warrant of Removal and schedule a time for the sheriff to lock the tenant out.
When we were called in front of the judge, she already had the JoP in front of her. The tenant carried her daughter on her way to the table, and of course had very teary eyes trying to gain sympathy. The judge asked the tenant, "Are you sure this is what you want to do?", at which point the attorney from Legal Services asked the judge if she could have a moment with the tenant. The judge agreed, and the tenant and newfound attorney went out into the hall, followed by the judge, followed by my attorney. This was another time where it paid to have my lawyer there. It would have been unacceptable for me to accompany them and monitor the situation, but not for him. He went right out there to make sure things didn't get too out of control. Even so, I was a little anxious waiting. I wanted to make sure that if for some reason the rent issue was set aside, the dog one was brought up.
Eventually they all came back and nothing had changed, the JoP still stood. There is really nothing that can be done for a tenant who has not, and cannot, pay rent. While she has other options, like applying for Section 8 housing and finding a different apartment, she will not be able to stay in my apartment without paying me.
We went back before the judge, who again asked the tenant if this is what she wanted to do. She started shrugging and saying that she really had no other options, at which point the judge cut her off and declared it finalized. The JoP stands, and next Thursday we'll file for the Warrant of Removal.
Overall, I think the day was very successful. I am extremely pleased with the job that my lawyer did. There are so many nuances that I definitely would have messed things up had I went without him.
Now, again, we wait...
Thursday, July 20, 2006
This post on TheLandlordBlog talks about how HUD-1s are never correct, and I completely agree with this. It seems like many mortgage brokers and title agents go out of their way to pull the wool over your eyes, and that the first and last time you'll see these extraneous charges are on the HUD-1. For an inexperienced investor, these pointless charges can go undetected and get paid. If the mortgage brokers are questioned, they will be removed, but you have to know to look.
From my experience, dealing with a mortgage broker requires extra care compared to dealing with a bank. The worst experience I've ever had dealt with one company who slapped on several thousand dollars in fees that I saw for the first time on the HUD-1 (at the closing, because "it wasn't ready until then"). I was refinancing two properties at once, and planning to use the money to purchase another. When I looked over the HUD-1, I noticed that there were several extra thousand dollars in fees to the mortgage broker and to the bank. Things like "Processing fee", "Commitment fee", "Appraisal review fee", "Funding fee", and of course the unexpected 1-point "Loan origination fee". None of these items were listed earlier when the broker was enumerating my closing costs. And although I had never heard of any of these fees before closing, they wouldn't remove any of them. I ended up just dropping the deal and walking out of closing, because the people were just too slimy. Since then I much prefer banks = )
While most cases aren't typically this bad, there still may very well be a few hundred dollar fees that can and should be removed at closing. Here are a few things that you can do to minimize the risk of getting taken advantage of at closing:
Be familiar with the process and know what fees are typically paid at closing.
Ask your loan officer to enumerate all expected closing expenses when first applying for the loan. While unexpected costs can and do occur, it is helpful to remember verbatim what was stated earlier to make sure that he was at least being somewhat honest with you.
Go through every line in the HUD-1 with somebody who is both good at math and understands the process. Ideally this person should have no financial stake in the outcome.
Be prepared to walk away from the deal. If you are not, they'll smell blood and won't budge. You'll end up getting jammed with the costs.
Shop around early in the process, use a bank or trusted/recommended mortgage broker (recommended again by somebody who doesn't have financial interests in the deal).
Use your own title agent
Don't be too excited/excitable, you need to be able to think rationally during closing.
Use a lawyer
Any other suggestions?
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Now, if the judge rules to evict, they have four days to leave. If they don't, then I file with the sheriff and he has four days to get them out. Any of their remaining items in the apartment must be properly stored for a certain period of time.
Hopefully I'll get this unit rented out by Sept 1.
Thursday, July 13, 2006
Certainly part of the problem is that Corzine shut down the state government last week, so they were not in the office Wednesday July 5th – Friday July 7th. They also had July 4th off. Even so, there were still at least 6 business days since the forms were submitted, and yet they still haven't done it. A court date will then be set between 13 and 30 days from the date it is processed.
This is particularly annoying because this delay is costing me money. The tenant's check for June rent was bad, and now they have locked themselves in the apartment, phone lines have been canceled, and there is nothing more I can do to protect my other tenants or to receive the money they owe me. I was hoping to have them evicted by the end of July, and somehow fix up and rent the unit before the beginning of August, but now it is looking like I'll lose August rent too.
I simply wish that the employees at the courthouse were more responsive. I don't think that they understand how important their job is, and they certainly don't have a good enough incentive to get through their work in a timely manner. If somebody were to get hurt by the dogs during this unnecessary delay, I'd think that they should be held partially responsible. I've been very prudent in doing everything I can to remedy the situation, but my hands are tied and I must wait on these slow government employees.
Thursday, June 15, 2006
As the housing market cools down, the rental market will heat up. Rising rental prices are obviously great for landlords. I’ve already noticed this happening in the area surrounding my rental units, where rents have increased 10-15% in the past six months. This change is also happening in Philadelphia, where apartment buildings are full and are increasing prices of the remaining units.
The WSJ has a good article on the topic here.
Generally, rents in East and West Coast cities are expected to rise the fastest. Archstone-Smith, which owns apartment buildings in 41 cities, says it is increasing rents 8% to 10% in New York City and Southern California. And in South Florida, vacancy rates are so low that some landlords are raising rents as much as 28%, according to McCabe Research & Consulting. In Chicago, just five of 34 large apartment buildings offered concessions to renters in the first quarter, down from 19 a year earlier, according to Appraisal Research Counselors, a real-estate consulting firm.
It's partly a supply-and-demand issue. Years of soaring house prices (and recent increases in mortgage rates) have simply priced many people out of the home-buying market. Indeed, the portion of U.S. households owning their own home slipped to 68.5% in the first quarter from 69.1% a year earlier, according to the Census Bureau.
For long-term landlords/investors, this is a great situation. Day-to-day fluctuations in the current market value aren't exceptionally important, because I’m not going to be selling them anytime soon. Even if we're heading into a downturn or cooling off period, housing is cyclical and will come back and appreciate over longer periods.
Monthly cashflow is what is important today, and higher rents will directly benefit this.
Thursday, June 08, 2006
I've just sent a Notice to Cease to the tenants in P1b (the 2BR) informing them that they no longer have permission to keep dogs in the apartment. Naively, when they were first moving and told me they had two dogs, I didn't question them as thoroughly as I should have. It turns out that the dogs have a history of viciousness (although the tenants assured me that they did not before signing the lease). I found out this week that they have a history not just in the town where I'm a landlord, but also in adjacent ones. Luckily, I made them sign an addendum to the lease which gives me the authority to revoke permission if they break any other clause of the pet agreement. Because they are in violation of this agreement, I just sent out the Notice to Cease yesterday, so it looks like the next few weeks will be interesting.
Until last week, I had only received relatively minor complaints. Over Memorial Day weekend things changed when the police were called three times for noise complaints. Later that week a neighbor called the town's animal control to report abuse, and found out that the dogs have a history of viciousness. One particularly disturbing encounter involved the dogs running around the neighborhood terrorizing people. Eventually, several state police officers showed up, were chased, and were preparing to shoot the dogs when the animal control officer arrived and instead tranquilized them.
The other person who is apparently familiar with these dogs is the town's mayor, who was aware of an incident where they had attacked a guy's face. When I spoke with him, he explained (like my lawyer, and others) that the speed with which I can get rid of these tenants depends mainly on the quality of my lease. Luckily, the clauses appear to be tight enough to allow me to request that the dogs get removed, otherwise I can (and will) evict.
Now I just have to wait to see what happens next.
Monday, June 05, 2006
To date, I own four different properties. I will refer to them in the order in which I bought them. The first three properties, P1, P2, and P3, are all located in New Jersey, a little more than an hour away from New York City.
The first property, P1, is a two family house comprised of a first-floor, one-bedroom unit and a second-floor, two-bedroom unit. I bought P1 in August of 2004, the same day that I bought my second property, P2.
P2 is a mirror-image of P1, except that it is only one three-bedroom unit. Actually, P1 and P2 are each sides of a single duplex, which I was able to split into two separate deeds on the day of closing. The backyard of P2, unlike P1, has a detached 1.5 car garage, G1, that I rent separately from the main unit.
I purchased my next property, P3, in October of 2005. P3 is in the same neighborhood as P1 and P2, but on a different block. P3 is a free-standing three bedroom with a front and back porch, two off-street parking spots (which are quite valuable in the area), and was completely renovated just before I purchased it.
The final property, P4, is located in Philadelphia, and is the property that I actually live in. I most likely will not go into much detail on this property because it is not currently rented out.
Hopefully, I will be able to convey some of the experiences that I've had renting out P1, P2, and P3. Currently all three are rented out. What led me to start this blog today is that I am having some problems which I feel others will find informative and interesting. I will start describing them soon.