Dad is FIRE

One dad's journey to Financial Independence Retiring Early

How to Maintain Rental Property

You’re a new landlord, or thinking about becoming one. How do you maintain a rental property? Look, I am not handy. Even if I was handy, fixing things was not part of my business model. I was comfortable paying someone to do it right so I could worry about other things. But there were times when I would jump in and do some work. When houses were vacant I would jump in and fiddle sometimes. If three houses were vacant I was more likely to jump in. But while rental houses were occupied I rarely did any of the maintenance.

Find a reliable contractor to maintain the rental property

This section deserves it’s own post. It’s hard to find a reliable contractor. My ideal contractor was someone who:

  • Communicated easily electronically with me and also with the tenant
  • Was reliable
  • Knew a little bit about everything but not an expert on anything.
  • Fixed things right the first time and that the tenant was comfortable being around
  • Accepted electronic payments. This wasn’t a requirement but was pretty close

These people are so hard to come by. Two decades ago they wouldn’t have been, but they are a dying breed.

Create a roster of specialists to help maintain your rental property

Create a list of go to people for different situations. These are escalation points. They will be much more expensive than your contractor.

  • HVAC for Air Conditioner and Furnance
  • Plumber
  • Electrician
  • Someone to snake your drains. I wouldn’t recommend the big boys. My experience is they charge a lot more because the situation feels like an emergency
  • Appliance repair . Pro-tip: I actually stopped renting most appliances because they are too expensive to repair. I found that at my price point for rent, tenants would prefer and could afford nicer appliances than I would provide.
  • Tree Trimmer
  • Brush Remover

Tenants leave a lot behind

This one is obvious. What isn’t obvious is it’s a good idea to have trash service turned on and bring trash out every week. It’s also a good idea to ask your trash company when bulk pickup is. For 10+ years I would create so many problems for myself because I was too stubborn to get a dumpster. A dumpster isn’t often needed, but chipping away at things is a good idea.

Most things left behind can be listed as free or for sale on craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. People will pick up almost anything. I’ve had the most disgusting mattresses picked up. I’ve sold appliances that do not work (I’ve disclosed that). People need stuff, and something that is trash to me isn’t trash to someone else.

Unless it’s trash. Turn on trash service!

Trees, sticks, and branches are a hassle

Find yourself a good reliable tree trimmer. Find someone that will affordably remove yard waste. These two people will relieve a lot of your stress to maintain rental property. When homes are vacant, it’s a hassle to get rid of piles of sticks and branches. I’ve wasted so much time burning sticks and branches, wood chipping myself, or hauling them away. It’s a waste of time, even if burning them is fun. Don’t waste time. Find someone reliable that will do to this for you.

I bought a wood chipper to help with this. I thought it was a great idea. It worked wonderfully when it was at the houses. But I drive a mazda 3 hatchback. It was more trouble than it was worth to get it to the houses.

Tenants ruin your flooring

Tenants will ruin your flooring. Get over it. It’s the cost of doing business. I wasted so much time and money on flooring over the years.

  • Get yourself a decent carpet cleaner. I like this one BISSELL Big Green Professional Carpet Cleaner.
  • Use vinyl plank flooring. It’s easy to install, feels nice to walk on, and looks great.
  • Similar to paint, buy the same vinyl plank flooring for each house. It makes it easier to match later
  • When you have hardwood floors, use Bona Products. These are favorites: Bona Ultimate Hardwood Floor Care Kit. No need to refinish until it’s time to sell. Plus if you refinish it between tenants the next tenant is just going to scratch it up too. A slightly less expensive alternative is Bona Hardwood Floor Care Kit

You will have flooding

  • I already mentioned it, but a carpet cleaner goes a long way to solving flooding issues. I like this one: BISSELL Big Green Professional Carpet Cleaner
  • A good dehumidifier also works great. BLACK+DECKER
  • When flooding happens (often toilets or plumbing issues) it is the landlords job to assure the tenant that you are going to address the issue. They need you to care. This is your chance to earn the premium rent you are charging for being a better landlord.
  • You rarely need to have the restoration companies involved. They make their money off of fear and impulse buys during emergency situations. Realize, and help your tenant realize, that most flooding is not an emergency. All the “experts” do is use dehumidifiers and fans and carpet cleaners most of the time.
    • disclaimer I am not making an absolute statement here, and I am not going to get into the mold debate. My point is the same here as it is all throughout this blog. Slow down and make good decisions. Emergencies are not emergencies if you slow down.
  • Find the cause of the flooding! Common causes that happen to be very easy to fix:

Try to shop at the same home improvement store

When I first started as a landlord I would shop around. I’d go to True Value, Home Depot, Lowes, Ace Hardware, etc. I was looking for the best price or the closest location. Don’t do this.

Shopping at the same store to buy items to repair your rental house:

  • Makes returns easier. You don’t need to hunt for receipts and figuring out what you bought where. This sounds silly, but once you start repairing a house, you’ll realize how large a lot of the items are
  • Makes matching product easier. You’ll need to match products over time. Paint, flooring, etc. If you can’t match it, you’ll have a headache and much larger project on your hands.
  • Helps you lookup what you bought. Depending on the Home Improvement Store you become loyal to, you may have access to lookup online anything you bought. This comes in handy often.

Personally I stuck with Home Depot.

Only buy 3 colors of paint

Don’t get too cute. You don’t need different color walls in different houses. You also don’t need different color walls in the same house.

  • Buy a neutral color with satin sheen for walls
  • Use semi-gloss white for trim
  • Flat paint works best for ceilings

Doing just these three choices makes it so much easier when tenants move out. You usually don’t need to paint the entire house, instead you only need to touch up because it matches. When the walls are in horrible shape you usually only need one coat so it matches.

Don’t buy cheap paint

Cheap paint = more coats. Don’t buy cheap paint. Buy the thicker more expensive paint and paint one coat.

Understand your market

I’ve seen so many landlords make what I think to be mistakes with this. I intentionally rented at the $1k price point. My demographic was middle class people with stable jobs (often divorced but whatever, that’s our society). Don’t buy nicer or less nice things than your market warrants. For this price point I would have wasted my money on a $200 faucet. A $50 faucet is also a waste, since it would break.

So many new landlords (usually their spouse), want to make the house so cute. They feel like they have money, watch home flipping shows, and make things nicer than they need to be. It won’t get you more rent. It only gets you more expenses.

But don’t be a slumlord. Give your tenants a comfortable home. Do not give them anything more or less than a comfortable home.

Hire a Rental House Property Management Company

You can hire a rental house property manager to help manage your rental house. This is something many landlords do, but it isn’t necessary. If you are considering this the read the Dad is Fire article on Rental House Property Management Companies first.

You are not special when it comes to maintaining a rental property

Your situation is not special. You are not unique. There may be some aspects of it that are unique, but everything that is happening to you and your tenant already has a YouTube and website addressing how to handle it. Slow down and figure it out.

Bottom-line on how to maintain rental property

Expect a roller coaster and create a roster of professionals that can help maintain your rental houses. Also don’t forget the most important thing: Your job as a landlord is to provide customer service. Treat your tenant like they are people, because they are people.

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