Hiring a property management firm to rent out your duplex

I haven’t been as active on this blog lately, because I haven’t been as active of a property manager at my duplex. There are a few things that contributed to this step:

  • About a year and a half ago I started an exciting new chapter in my life, becoming a mom! As luck would have it, my downstairs tenant gave me notice that they were going to move out pretty much exactly on my due date, which was not going to be terribly convenient, to say the least. My husband could have fielded all of the calls and done the showings, but his day job is a lot less flexible than mine, so we were kind of in a bind
  • My husband owns another rental property, and is far less into the active management portion than I am (he has his rental property by “luck”, as he was unable to sell it during the end of the real estate bubble). He had already been working with a property management company for some time, and was reasonably happy with the results.
  • I had been getting tired of dealing with the inter-tenant issues that had been popping up since I’d moved out of the duplex anyway. My hope was that if my tenants were dealing with someone that they viewed as a “professional” property manager, they would be less likely to bug them about nit-picky he said/she said things and figure it out for themselves.
  • I own an unrelated business (that’s my “real job”), and things had been getting a lot busier, so I was looking for ways to simplify, streamline, and delegate.

Can I fix my slanting wood floors? I called a structural engineer…

My house is over a hundred years old. A hundred and nine, to be exact (although I suppose I don’t know exactly what month the construction was complete). So, for an old house, a person’s willing to forgive several things. The woodwork isn’t perfectly pristine anymore, how could it be after 109 years? The rooms aren’t as large as they would be in a brand-new house, but the house makes up for it in charm. Well, one thing that I’ve been forgiving since buying the house is the almost complete lack of level floors.

Gutter cleaning (well, hiring gutter cleaners) time again

When I first bought my duplex, I was aware that gutter cleaning was one of those things that responsible homeowners did every fall — to prevent ice dams on the roof, and as a measure of general maintenance. My boss, who also lived in a two-story home, told me that it was really easy, and there was no reason that I couldn’t do it myself. So, I got a friend with a van to take me to Menards to buy a 30-foot extension ladder, and talked myself out of my fear of heights. If my boss could do it, so could I.

New cellar doors

My duplex is a little over a hundred years old, and has those old wooden cellar doors in back, leading to the basement. Of course, there is an actual deadbolted normal exterior door in the basement, as well, for better security. I’ve been watching the wooden doors deteriorate over the past couple of years; the wood seems to have started rotting, even though I repainted them just a few years ago. I do wonder a bit if painting them a dark red may have caused more snow to melt on them? Not sure. Either way, they haven’t been looking good, and I had been thinking that I should do something about them this spring.

I heart my new storm windows. And that plastic window insulator stuff too.

It’s that time of year again. The time when the air conditioners get taken out of the windows, and the plastic film finally goes on. And I appreciate the biggest expenditure I’ve made on the duplex thus far — new storms and vinyl windows. When I first bought my duplex, the storm windows were in sorry shape. There were holes in many of the screens, and several broken glass panes too, which I got fixed immediately after I moved in. My floor had some rickety old two-track storm windows, and the upstairs had the very unruly three-track variety.

Trees, part II

My next door neighbor, who happens to be building a garage just opposite the fenceline from the old tree that fell, noticed that you could actually see through the trunk of what’s still standing of the tree…. which, naturally makes him a bit nervous for his brand new garage. I told him that I had a volunteer crew coming out to cut up what was still on the ground, and he’s been thinking of how we could get the rest of it down there.

Trees, tree removal, and trees that fall down all on their own…

This last year has been very tree-centric. Last fall, I had a big chainsaw party, at which three of my closest guy friends showed up and cut down most of the “weed-trees” that had been allowed to grow along my fence line — in exchange for beer and a big pan of homemade lasagna. It opened up the yard a lot, and let a lot more light in — paving the way an actual lawn that grew actual grass (as opposed to creeping charlie). The one tree that they couldn’t handle, though, was the enormous 100-year old box elder with a definite lean to it. The tree that’s had me a bit worried since I bought the duplex. I always hoped that it would fall down slowly, in small chunks, or at least just fall directly to the ground in the direction that it was leaning…

How to fix a sticky door (or a door that doesn’t even close)

My house is over a hundred years old, 108 to be exact. It’s settled a bit over the years, and seems to be still settling, ever-so-slightly. I’m a bit concerned about it, but most of my house-savvy friends tell me not to worry about it, the house is 100 years old and it’s only settled this far already… Because of all this settling, though, my front door has always been a bit sticky. In the past year or so, it’s apparently settled just enough to cross over from sticky to the top of the door not closing all the way.

Grounding an ungrounded outlet, and other electrical wiring adventures

There are many electrical shortcomings in my duplex. Lucky for me, I have a friend who is an electrical engineer, and likes to work on houses. Of course, I don’t want to wear out my favors with him, but he’s started helping me with a few wiring projects here and there. I’m a bit sheepish when it comes to electricity (beyond installing new light fixtures, etc.), so it works out well for me.

When it rains it pours (Out of my bathtub faucet, that is. It won’t shut off!)

Ever since the plumbing catastrophe that happened last week, my bathtub hot water faucet has mysteriously developed a drip. Could be coincidence, but I think that it has something to do with the pressure of things being clogged, plunged, etc. I’ve been choosing to ignore the drip, as the fixtures on the bathtub are fairly old and difficult to work with.

Apparently the bathtub faucet wasn’t content with that, because this morning, the situation changed such that I COULDN’T ignore it — the faucet WOULDN’T SHUT OFF! (at all! hot water gushing full-stream out of the faucet, even when it was turned all the way off!)

Washer water… in my kitchen sink (part II)

So, to recap the last post, I was minding my own business last night, when all of a sudden, I’ve got sudsy washer water coming up through both my kitchen and bathroom drains. It overflowed in the bathroom, and then refused to go down in either sink. I plunged away at them, but only managed to change the sudsy, clean-ish water into black gook. I panicked, I worried, I envisioned people having to install a whole new plumbing system in my house, and/or dig up my front yard… I called my only male friend in the neighborhood like 40 times (no answer, of course). I called the drain guy I’ve hired in the past, bracing myself for the worst…

Washer water… in my kitchen sink???

So, it’s Sunday night and I’m minding my own business, doing some laundry, potting a couple of plants, tidying up the house, getting ready for the week. When all of a sudden….

Water — sudsy water — from the washing machine starts coming up in my bathroom AND kitchen sinks! my bathroom sink actually overflowed before the water started going back down!

How much will it cost?

If you’re like me, you’d rather not trouble your contractors with endless questions about how much things will cost. Granted, I’m sure that they hear plenty of “so, just ballpark-wise, how much would it cost to…” But I know that it’s difficult to give an accurate estimate without knowing a lot of the specifics of the job, and they don’t want to throw out a number that they’ll then feel held to. I’ve found a good online tool, however,that I use for a lot of theoretical “I wonder how much it would cost to…” ideas.

Attic Adventures- part I: An attic with NO insulation

When I bought my duplex in 2003, at had a brand new roof on it — the previous owner had put it on just before selling the duplex. I can guess why the roof was previously in disrepair — there was ZERO insulation in the attic. None, zip, zilch, zero. In the year 2003!!!!! Now, while this may not be a big deal in some parts of the country, where I live the temperature frequently dips below zero in the winter, and insulation is a pretty important thing — for keeping heating bills low, as well as keeping the roof in good shape. What did the lack of insulation have to do with the condition of the roof, you might ask? ICE DAMS…

Self-stick vinyl tile — Think before you stick!

In my very humble opinion, self-stick vinyl tile is a very, very bad idea. Yes, it’s cheap, easy to install yourself (well, relatively easy, anyway) and comes in some decent-looking designs. But for a duplex, it just doesn’t hold up.

The previous owner of my duplex installed some of the self-stick stuff in my rental unit, in the kitchen and bathroom, right before selling the house. It made the house look nicer for the sale, and he, of course, wasn’t concerned about the longevity of his improvement.

However, exactly 12 months after the installation, I got a note from my tenants, saying that some of the tile had started to “flip up.”