Ok, guys, I hate to brag, but my tenants are awesome! After finishing the property renovation, screening tenants, and getting everybody moved in, I was really burned out. Really burned out. I needed a break. I actually took just about three weeks off before going back to the property. I still responded to emails and text messages from tenants, but I didn’t go to the property myself. It was wonderful. When I finally had to go back, I was bracing myself for a long day of work, and possible tenant complaints. I was pleasantly surprised. If you’re a landlord managing property yourself, screen your people carefully, and really try to get a feel for your prospective tenants at the walk-through. It may require a little more work on the front end, but it’s worth it to find great tenants.
Brief Overview of the Renovation Work and Timeline
As a reminder of the timeline: I bought my property in late February. It came with three sets of tenants and one vacant unit (the former owner’s unit). I gave everybody notice, had to evict one of them, but finally got everyone out on May 8th. I was able to start some renovations in about mid-April with the then-vacant units, but the real work started on May 8th. Here’s what my to-do list looked like, and that was before a few dozen things were added in along the way.
I estimate that I was probably working on the renovation about 40 hours per week in addition to my full-time job as an attorney. Weekends? What are weekends? I was bleeding cash the whole time, so I was super motivated to get the work done as quickly as possible and to get the units re-rented.
When we were reaching the end and the units were finally photo-ready, I took photos and put the listings online using Zillow Rental Manager. I was flooded with responses, and screened them through Properly. Within a week, I had my tenants picked out, and they were all scheduled to move in by July 1st. I still had a lot of final work to do, cleaning up the units, sealing the granite countertops, making sure all the tubs/showers worked, and scheduling last-minute repairs for some of those things. It was a crazy scramble to get the units totally ready before people moved in.
Getting the Tenants Moved In
Even after the tenants started moving in, they noticed little things that needed to be fixed. I tackled a few things on moving day itself, but then after everyone was in, I didn’t go back for THREE WHOLE WEEKS. I really needed the break. I was just so freaking burned out, and needed sleep and rest, and then my brother got married during one of those weekends in Utah, so I was out of state. Finally, I decided I needed to just get to the building and try to get the last bits of things done.
Just When You Think You’re Finished…
There were a few things that I had to finish up that I just didn’t have time to get done before people moved in: pulling weeds, getting key copies made, and painting some exterior trim. I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but my new insurance company for the building did an inspection and said that we needed to install new vertical slats in the railing because the balusters were spaced too far apart. Luckily, the contractor was able to fix that quickly, but it meant that I had to paint all those new pieces to match the rest of the building which had already been painted. I also had to paint the wood trim around the newly installed AC unit for Apartment A, which meant either standing at the top of a really tall ladder or stepping out onto the edge of the roof over the laundry room to reach it. Yikes.
And about those weeds…I was so focused on getting the building itself ready for rent that I hadn’t paid attention to the planter areas near the street at all. Every time I arrived, I just kept focusing on the building. It wasn’t until the building was all done that I turned around to face the street and really looked. I just about jumped in surprise when I saw that there were some TALL weeds in those planter beds. Some were taller than 6 feet! Those were definitely on my to-do list.
And then, in the week before I went back to work at the building, the washing machine apparently flamed out. The tenant in Apartment B texted me and said it looked like the agitator wasn’t moving, so the clothes were just sitting there in the water. The washing machine was also leaking water every time it ran, but that was a problem I knew about from the old owner. It’s a concrete floor, and it wasn’t really hurting anything to spill on the floor, so I just left it as is for now, until I could financially recover a little more from the renovations.
I asked the tenant if he was sure that it wasn’t just a quiet moment in the cycle, and he said he would double-check. He went out, put $1.50 in the machine again, and watched through the whole cycle to confirm that it wasn’t agitating at any point. Crap. What blew me away, though, was how NICE he was about it. He didn’t demand a refund of his money, he wasn’t upset, he just told me what was wrong. And he spent about 30 minutes of his time sitting there to verify that that was the problem before I could call a repair person out.
I texted the tenants and let them know that the washer was broken so they wouldn’t waste any money using a broken machine. I called a repair guy, and he said that the machine was basically toast. He said that the years of leaking water caused the bearings to seize up, and it would be about $500 to fix it, but the machine was only worth about $800 brand new. He said it was probably about 10 years old, so he would just replace the machine if it were up to him.
I did some homework, and ordered a new washer and dryer. I technically didn’t need a new dryer, but I figured that the old dryer was at least 10 years old, and getting a matching set would look way better and might perform a little better, too.
It’s Worth It to Find Great Tenants
When the weekend came, I loaded my extension ladder in the car, along with the supplies I needed. I arrived at the building, and immediately noticed a couple of things. First, there were NO WEEDS. Someone had pulled out those tall monster weeds! Woo hoo! I figured a neighbor somewhere on the street probably got sick of looking at them and yanked them out. I resolved to take better care of that in the future, but was happy that in the near-100-degree heat, that wasn’t on my to-do list that day.
I also noticed that there was NO TRASH on the ground. I just about did a happy dance. My last tenants were so filthy that every time I went there (at least once a week), there was a mountain of trash on the ground, especially under the stairs. It was usually candy wrappers, pizza boxes, beer bottles, happy birthday signs, you name it. They just didn’t give a crap. But now, with the new tenants? I was gone for three weeks, and there was no trash. Yeah!
I tested the new mailbox key I had made, and it worked, so now I know I can go to TrueValue and get the rest made.
I also had to caulk around the kitchen sink in Apartment C, because they discovered it wasn’t quite sealed to the countertops properly and some water had leaked through onto my brand new cabinets! Aack! At least they discovered the problem quickly and dried up the water immediately. They said they wouldn’t be home that day, but said I could go in to fix it while they were gone. I rang the doorbell, and waited quite a while, but no one answered, so I used my key to unlock the door. Unfortunately, I woke them up. Both tenants were sleeping in the living room downstairs because there was a big heat wave, and it was too hot to sleep in their upstairs bedrooms with just the ceiling fans on (their wall AC is downstairs). Oops. I offered to come back later, but they sleepily said it was fine. They were really nice about it, and didn’t even give me grief about the fact that it was too hot for them to sleep in their bedrooms.
I then stopped by Apartment B to drop off a roll of quarters for the tenant who helped diagnose the washing machine issue. He answered the door, and I thanked him for his help. I gave him the roll of quarters, and he said “you don’t have to do that!” I said I absolutely did, because I know he wasted at least $3 in the machine from running it twice to diagnose the problem, and I really appreciated his help and his friendly attitude about the whole thing. He was very appreciative, and so nice about it.
I then started painting the stairs in basically direct sunlight. It was SO hot. The tenants from Apartment A were on their way out, and I had a pleasant chat with them. Later, one of the tenants from Apartment D came up to talk to me about putting a screen door on their front door. He had a white security screen door he wanted to use. I told him the problem with those is that once people start putting those up, the place starts to look like a prison. Plus, the white doesn’t match the charcoal trim at all. I asked if he would compromise and use just a regular swinging front screen door, in either dark grey or black to try to match the trim. He said that would be ok. He then mentioned that it was really hot, and offered me some cold bottled water while I was painting. That was so sweet. I thanked him and declined, but it was just really nice of him to offer. I wasn’t even painting anywhere near his unit.
Apartment B – My New Favorite Tenants
Then the tenant from Apartment B came out of his unit and mentioned that there were a couple of wooden boards on top of his back patio, on the pergola. They were intended to provide some shade, but one of the pieces had shifted and was falling down. I said I could fix it for him, and he said “no, that’s ok, I was just going to get to it when I got a chance.” He works nights, and said that sometimes he gets bored during the day and does things around the house, or cleans up around the property. It was HIM who pulled the weeds. “I hope that’s okay,” he said. Are you kidding? That’s fantastic!
There was also one area underneath a tree where some trash got dumped during the construction process. I tried to pick it all up, but there was still some that got missed because it was half buried by leaves and dirt. He had combed through the whole planter bed and picked up all of the trash and threw it away. He said “I also noticed that behind the garages there was some discarded lumber, so I’ve been throwing the pieces of that away a little each week in my own trash can.” WOW. I love this guy.
He wasn’t asking for any compensation or anything, and he didn’t even imply that. With one of the former tenants, he would do a little extra but basically have his hand out for every little thing (even stuff I was going to do myself and not pay someone to do). For this tenant, though, you could tell that it was just important to him that his home area looked good. He even said that part of the reason he pulled the weeds and picked up trash was to send a message to the neighbors on the street that this was not the neglected-property-loitering-spot. People live here, and they care about the place, so if you want to sit on the curb and drink beer and smoke cigarettes, pick somewhere else to do that.
Watch for Clues from People When You’re Showing Your Rental
I love these guys in Apartment B. I remember that during the walkthrough, I was showing them how to use the electronic keypad lock for the laundry room door, and said people would just have to make sure to hit the lock button on the way out to keep the laundry area secure. The guy half of the couple said “oh absolutely. We gotta take care of our community space. Don’t want anyone else coming in and wrecking it.” He sounded 100% genuine about it. There were a couple of other similar comments he made at different areas of the tour that just showed that his mindset was about the group, not himself as an individual. I had such a good feeling about this couple, and was thrilled when they qualified for the apartment. The only problem was that they wanted to move in on July 15th instead of the 1st. Part of the problem was that they didn’t have quite enough cash to pay double rent for so long, plus have one month’s security deposit up front. I offered to let them pay half of the security deposit on move-in and pay the rest in monthly installments for the next 8 months. They said they could do that. I’m so glad we could make it work, because these people are gold.
The other tenants all had their own “signs” too, when I was showing the units to them. They were all clean, and respectful, and texted me in advance to confirm that they were coming. And so far, I’m thrilled with every single one of them.
What could have been a stressful work day full of complaints about the washing machine and other issues was actually really pretty pleasant. Yes, it was hot and I had to paint in the sun, but I didn’t have to spend a bunch of time sweeping up trash, because the tenants care about how their homes look, and so they don’t throw trash on the ground. I didn’t even have to pull weeds because that one tenant went above and beyond to do it himself. I’m not taking all the credit for having found great tenants. Part of it is having a good screening process and getting good at reading people, but I know part of it is luck, too. I am just so thankful to have tenants who want to keep things nice and who make my job easier.
For landlords: have you ever had a great tenant who went above and beyond? For tenants: have you ever gone above and beyond to take care of your surrounding area, even though it wasn’t technically your responsibility?