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.

Noise issues and tenants who can’t get along

The issue is that the two groups of tenants can’t seem to get along with each other… they keep different schedules, have different lifestyles, and seem to keep butting heads over issues that I would think that reasonable adults could solve amongst themselves; but, alas, I keep getting dragged into the middle, having to play police (or perhaps more aptly, “parent.”)

tenants in a non owner-occupied duplex

I’ve now moved out of my previously owner-occupied duplex, and the duplex has been a “regular” (i.e. non owner-occupied duplex) now for a little over a year. For a while, the upstairs tenants stayed on; they had started living there while the owner (myself) was still downstairs, so it still had that sort of “owner-occupied” feeling, but now I have a whole new batch of tenants up and down, who are used to the owner being off-site the entire time. I was a bit concerned that things would be different with the owner not around, but thus far haven’t run into any issues…

Big changes ahead — moving from “owner-occupied duplex” to just “duplex”

I’m about to make the switch from owner-occupied duplex dweller to straight-up landlord — my boyfriend (who’s been starring in some of the latest posts as the uber-handy guy) has asked me to move in with him, and I said yes. With the current real estate climate, it’s a terrible time to sell a house. And, the plan with buying this duplex was to live in part of it for a while, but hold onto it as an investment when I eventually moved out into a single family house.

Toilet update – needed to replace the toilet

OK, so I called the plumber to check out the toilet upstairs, after it was still malfunctioning a few weeks later. He did the “bucket test” (pour a bucket of water into the toilet, and see how well it flushes on its own), and got a good healthy flush. This would indicate that the vent system was working just fine, and nothing was clogging the drain system. However, when we flushes the toilet using the handle, it went much, much slower. The water wasn’t getting into the bowl fast enough to create a big flush. I’d never realized this before, but all around the bowl of the toilet, under the rim, are a bunch of tiny little holes that let water into the bowl. These holes can get clogged, over time, with sediments from the water and other miscellaneous gunk.

Mysterious toilet problems. It flushes, but not quite enough

A few weeks ago, I got a very disturbing call from my tenants. They called on a Friday afternoon, saying that their toilet wasn’t flushing at all, and hadn’t been for FOUR DAYS. They had already called a roto-rooter type drain person over, thinking that they had clogged the pipes, and a hundred dollars later, nothing was resolved. Also, the guy they called simply told them that the problem was that “the toilet was old.”

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.

Utilities during a turnover–what if there’s a gap?

Or, what happens if the tenants conveniently “forget” to set up the gas bill in their name? This happened to me during my last turnover. My new tenants, previously apartment dwellers who were only responsible for an electric bill, set up the electric bill in their names, but not the gas bill. Of course, I had told them that they were responsible for both gas and electric bills (which aren’t provided by the same company in my area), and it was stated on the lease as well. However, assuming that everyone was set up properly, I had no idea that they hadn’t set up the gas bill in their name until the first bill came. To me….

Turning a three-season porch into a finished room

I just bought a treadmill. Sort of on impulse, actually… It’s starting to get way too cold and icy for me to want to run outdoors, and with holiday eating approaching, I’m just not feeling like now is the time to give up running. Ironically, there’s a gym just three blocks away from me, but I seriously hate going to the gym. So, after Saturday’s icy run, I came home and scoured the internet for the best deal. I found one for about half-off (Black Friday deal), and went for it.

Now the next question… where am I going to put this thing?

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.

Dryer sheets!

Every time I’m downstairs to do my own laundry, there’s at least one dryer sheet wafting around down there. One the floor, on top of the dryer, on the ironing board, in the sink, what have you. There is a garbage can down there, and I know that at least one of them knows where it is, because they’ve put their empty laundry detergent bottles in it. This of course isn’t really any sort of valid complaint, it’s just kind of bizarre.

Tenants file for bankruptcy (not my tenants, thank goodness)

So, remember my friend, the would-be, could-be landlord? Well, he couldn’t sell his house for what he wanted for it, so he decided to give landlording a shot, for a couple of years until the market turned around. He found a family that was interested in renting his house, did a credit report (which didn’t turn out all that well, but he figured that a family looking to rent in his part of town wasn’t likely to have perfect credit anyway). He signed them on for a year lease, and they moved in.

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…

Keeping a mileage log for tax purposes

I recently met with my tax accountant — early this year, as I had a hunch I would have to pay in. I’m self-employed, and have been paying taxes through payroll, but hand’t been withholding quite as many as I should have. That, and I haven’t done much work on the duplex this year, so my “loss” from the duplex venture isn’t quite as great. One thing that could have helped a bit – keeping a better mileage log.

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.

Including neighborhood information in rental ads.

Location location location. When I’m trying to rent my apartment, I’m not just trying to sell people on the space, I’m trying to sell them on the neighborhood, too. The last ad that I ran included a list of “neighborhoodhood amenities” — restaurants, coffeeshops, stores, bars, parks, etc., that were within 5-15 minutes walking distance. It helped catch the attention of people who were unfamiliar with the neighborhood, and made my apartment sound like it was right in the center of everything.

I recently found a website that lists that information for you automatically, and gives your location a “walkscore” – a rank between 0 and 100, 100 being th highest.