About ten days before move-out, I give my current tenants a checklist of everything that needs to be taken care of before move-out. It’s a busy time for everyone; it’s easy to forget things like leaving forwarding addresses and taking their names off the electric bill. Here’s what I included in my checklist this year:
My new tenants will be moving out on May 31st (at noon), and the new ones are moving in on June 1st (at noon). That means that I have precisely twenty four hours to:
- Clean the apartment thoroughly if the current tenants fail to do so
- Change the locks and get new keys made
- Replace the batteries in all of the smoke alarms
- Replace the outlets and outlet covers that the tenants have (unfortunately) painted over
- Paint the bathroom walls and ceiling (this is the only room that didn’t get painted during the last turnover)
- Caulk and paint the old wainscoating in the pantry
- Stain and varnish the new windowsills in the sunroom
- Any other miscellaneous fixes and spruce-ups that I discover while I’m up there.
- If I have extra time (which I doubt that I will) I’d really like to paint the ceilings. We’ll see.
My new tenants gave me their security deposit, and signed the lease tonight, which means I got to take that “FOR RENT” sign out of my yard. The lease itself, I’ve hemmed and hawed over since the beginning. I’m still not sure I’ve got it just right.
WHERE TO GET A LEASE
There are many standard lease forms out there. There are, of course, many online sources to sift through. My local multi-housing organization sells a standard form for a couple of dollars. I also have a book called Every Landlord’s Legal Guide that includes a standard form. My tenant screening service offers a lease. And, of course, my city’s tenant’s rights organization offers their own version of a standard lease, for free. When I first bought my duplex, my boyfriend at the time (who also owned a duplex) was using a lease drawn up by his father, a patent lawyer who had been renting out investment property for years. He claimed it was “bulletproof.”
The first time I screened prospective tenants, I wasn’t quite sure what to ask their references. I did some research on what others ask, and added some ideas of my own. I also found in Every Landlord’s Legal Guide that there are legal restrictions on what type of information you’re allowed to ask.
Some people I talk to are very talkative, and immediately volunteer shining reviews; in that case I don’t feel its necessary to go through the whole list of questions. Some people will ask me to fax a signed release (their application). And then, there was the guy who couldn’t get it through his head that I was a LANDLORD asking for a reference, not a TENANT… Usually getting references aren’t a problem, though 😉
Screening. It’s important. I’m about to allow relative strangers to move in above me, and be in possession of over $100,000 worth of my real estate investment, with only about a thousand dollars to cover any damages. That, and I’m counting on them to pay me on time, every month, so that I can make my mortgage payment. It’s kind of a scary thing. While I do feel like I usually have a good sense of “gut-feeling” about people, this is the kind of situation where I want to back that up with some objective information.
I had six showings yesterday. This was to be the big day, almost like an open house to sell the place.
Having watched a huge amount of HGTV’s “Designed to Sell,” I knew what I had to do to prepare — paint the cracked and marred walls in the front stairway, replace the ugly light fixtures, scrupulously clean the front porch, front door, and mailboxes; rake the yard, sweep the sidewalk, organize and clean the basement, replace all the 60 watt (and/or burned out) lightbulbs with 75 watts and turn on every single one of them, and get out the wd-40 for the squeaky doors. I thought about even baking a cake for good measure, but didn’t have the time. I practically pulled an all-nighter every day last week as it was.
KNOWING WHERE (NOT) TO ADVERTISE
In past years, I’ve found that I get inquiries from much less qualified persons via my for-rent sign and the newspaper. It makes sense — at least for young people, the most gainfully employed you are, the more of your life you conduct online. That, and newspaper ads are so expensive it makes my head spin.
This year, I advertised on Craig’s List , and on the off-campus housing website for the local university. Both ads linked to a page on my own domain, where I included a thorough description, detailed floor plan, nine interior and exterior photos, and a list of trendy neighborhood spots within walking distance.
THE PULL CHAIN SOLUTION
I had an epiphany while I was at the store the other day, waiting for them to mix my (Ralph Lauren) paint. I was browsing the ceiling fan aisle; they’re expensive, but I was thinking of putting one in the living room upstairs. It’s mostly pull-chain lights up there, so I thought that was my only option for replacing the ugly, out-dated fixtures. and then…. I found them. Ceiling fan light kits. With optional semi-flush installation! They work with pull chains! They look great, a million times better than what’s up there, and for a lot less than a ceiling fan. I buy them. I’m putting these up before the apartment showings on Saturday. this will be great.
Hi, I’m interested in seeing the duplex that you have for rent. It would just be me, along with my boa constrictor, two tarantulas, parakeet, three cats, a ferret, five rats, and a miniature pug. Oh, and a termite farm. We’re very quiet and clean. When could I come to see the apartment? (Sorry, it sounds like you exceed my pet-to-person ratio. But thank you for your interest. Would you also like the number for animal control?)
I got a note on my door this morning, saying that my tenants plan to move out on the end of May. It’s too bad, they were great tenants, and good neighbors.
And so, the madness of renting out the upstairs apartment begins. I’ve got to get a lot done quickly. My to-do list: