Why Landlords Need To Change Their Perspective On Energy Efficiency

Came across this great piece about two Chicago landlords who decided that energy efficiency was going to be a central focus on their investment. Sandeep Sood and his wife own Chicago’s Jeffery Parkway Apartments, a 55 unit, 7 story building. They acquired the South Side building four years ago. They explain how the building was in bad shape, and one of the first orders of business upon purchase was the replacement of the building’s boiler.

“The first year we got this, we were able to retrofit a new stainless steel boiler. A little different design than your typical boiler. But we were able to increase our efficiencies by more than 60 percent with just this one measure,” says Sood. This and other efficiency upgrades cost about $110,000. Sood claims his total pay back on this investment occurred in about 2 years. Pretty impressive. In most cases, payback on efficiency investments like this occur in about 5-7 years. The Sood family’s units are all inclusive – in that they are paying the utility costs on rented units, but don’t assume that’s the only reason a landlord would do this. The piece goes on to mention a bit of a difference between older and younger landlords when it comes to stuff like this, and emphasizes the need for perspective with respect to investments in energy efficiency – even if your tenants are paying their own utilities.

Daniel Olson, the Senior Energy Efficiency Planner with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning has a supporting consideration when it comes to putting money down on energy efficiencies and consumption with rental units. Even if you aren’t covering the utility costs.

When you have happy tenants who have lower bills. They are going to lower your vacancy rates, so that you actually keep your buildings full with tenants which will increase the funds you have available,” Olson said. This is true. Keeping tenants in a unit can be less expensive than turning a unit over year over year.  The agency mapped out a regional plan that identifies energy efficiency as one of the easier measures that can move the area toward sustainability. Things like upgrades to a high efficiency hot water heaters, insulating buildings and simply changing light bulbs to compact fluorescent lights and L.E.D.s.

But it’s not all on landlords either…sometimes tenants don’t care.

The conflict between landlords and tenants stemming from “split incentives” to install upgrades has been identified as one of the top barriers to capturing energy savings in commercially leased buildings, according to an indicator survey published by the Institute for Building Efficiency in 2012. The same thing applies to small residential landlords too. What’s a “split incentive” you might ask? It’s when tenants often pay the energy costs, leaving the owners with no interest in efficiency. Or conversely, if landlords pay the energy bills, the tenants have no incentive to conserve energy.

British Columbia has focused on this issue of split incentives. They started up something called the Green Landlords Project, and they published a compelling executive report on it. Check it out here.

What’s your take on energy efficiency? Have you made investments into your rental property with respect to it? Share with us!

The Continuing Saga Of A Basement Apartment Renovation

So the continuing saga of my basement apartment renovation moves forth. I say continuing saga because it feels like a journey to Mordor.  Since my last post about this, I’ve managed to get a lot done. The walls were all covered up, mudded, sanded, and painted with what I think is a wonderful eggshell colour I picked up at Benjamin Moore paints (2026-70 for all the paint nerds). I fell in love with this colour after having used it in my kitchen at home, and since I feel a bright but neutral colour is essential for a basement apartment, I figured this was a logical choice. I think it looks good, but it also plays off the natural light in the unit.

Another recent element of this renovation was insulation. This was something important that I wanted to address, as prior to the work being done and when the old tenant was in there, I noticed a significant transmission of sound between the main floor and the basement unit. I took a cue from Scott McGillvray on this one and used Roxul Safe’n’Sound insulation. After putting the drywall up, and packing the ceilings with the stuff (hence the necessity to use insulated pot lights), it’s as quiet as a library. For more great house renovation ideas to beautify your living space, you can visit a site Archute for more helpful info!

Basement apartment renovation
The bedroom

The big main thing that was finished in the last couple of days was the completion of the wiring and the installation of some high efficiency electric convection heater systems by Dimplex and coupled wall mounted thermostats (3 to be exact). I didn’t want to go the regular route with electric baseboard heaters and am big on efficiency, especially if it’s electric, and especially if tenants are shouldering the hydro cost (which they are in this case). There’s a total of 4500 watts of heat in the unit, which is more than comfortable.The insulated pot lights were finished and all 18 of them use LED bulbs which are meant to last for 20 years. Considering the unit was also completely rewired, I’m curious to see how energy efficient the apartment is going to be.

What’s on Deck:

Property Management Software
Another shot of said bedroom

I’m doing a black and white tile kitchen and entrance, coupled with a contrasting darker colour for the bedroom carpet. Both the tile and the carpet have been ordered. I also have to buy some appliances, and get some kitchen cupboards and a counter top. I’m thinking of hitting up Restore from Habitat for Humanity for some of the last essentials. Beyond that, it’s taps, a bathroom basin and vanity, shower heads and handles, and a low flow toilet. I’m figuring I’ll have the place finished in the next two weeks.

Have you renovated a basement apartment? Challenges? Hurdles? What were some of your experiences? Share your story with us!

Ottawa’s Vacancy Rate Has Almost Doubled Since Last Year

Landlords  in the national capital region – take notice! Ottawa’s vacancy rate has almost doubled since last year according to this piece by the CBC.

John Dickie, chair of the Eastern Ontario Landlord Organization, estimates there are roughly 4,000 empty or soon-to-be empty apartment units in the capital. Last April, the vacancy rate was reported to be 2.1%. This year – it’s 3.7%. That’s a pretty sharp increase. To top that off, the Ontario LTB announced  yesterday that the allowable provincial rent increase for 2014 will only be 0.8%. You can get the lowdown on the guideline from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing website. This is the lowest rent increase since 1975.

In an effort to paint a fair view of the situation, here’s some interesting stats to chew on, courtesy of the Ministry’s site:

  • The average rent increase guideline from 2004 to 2013 was 2.1 per cent. The average rent increase guideline from 1993 to 2003 was 3.1 per cent.
  • The guideline is calculated under the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006, which came into force on Jan. 31, 2007. The calculation is based on the Ontario Consumer Price Index, a measure of inflation that is calculated by Statistics Canada.

The province has committed itself to making a push for affordable housing for Ontario tenants, amid what The Toronto Star reported as a crisis across the province, 4 days ago.

Here’s the kicker with all of this – the rental market vacancy rate is calculated by looking at apartments in buildings that are three units or larger, and does not include condos or homes for rent. Uncertainty in the national capital region’s public service job market is speculated to be lending itself to the rise in the rate. Some analysts also suggest the increase of condo rentals could be contributing to the high vacancy rate as well, as condo units compete with traditional apartments. Kind of hard to dispute this if you ask me. Condo landlords are offering tenants pretty nice amenities and brand new units. This is all kind of upping the game for landlords who enjoyed minimal efforts with marketing centrally located units that kind of leased themselves.

What do you think? Share your comments and thoughts.

Lions…Tigers…and Renovating A Basement Unit. Oh My…

I’m going to share a progressing story with all of you. I’m renovating a basement apartment that desperately needed some attention.

3 weeks ago, I had a tenant move out of said basement apartment. He’d been there almost 12 years. The place was in pretty rough shape to say the least. The drywall was peeling, the lighting was dim and uninviting, and logistically, the layout of the place really didn’t make a lot of sense. It was dank, dark, and the rent that I was getting in the unit wasn’t reflective of the market norm. I was less concerned with that though. I just hated the way this place was laid out, and it looked and felt like an isolation cell on Riker’s island. When I got the tenant’s notice, I felt like this was an opportunity to give the unit the TLC it deserved. I decided to put together a budget to make my basement unit awesome. There are a few challenges with this though…which I thought I’d share with all of you.

Basement apartments are often thought of as problematic. They typically see a high turnover. Many are dimly lit. They often don’t show well because of the lack of natural light. They have a tendency to be colder and less inviting. There’s a reason for that. They’re below ground. I like to look at basement apartments, if done properly, as a place where you can have some of your best tenants. You just have to appreciate that basement units need a bit of a different approach. This is going to be a first in a series of posts dedicated to the renovation. Read on…

First order of business: Height!

This unit had more drywall boxes and creative ceiling and wall shapes than a modern art exhibit. Once I took the drywall down, it revealed a series of entombed obstacles in creating a spacious and well laid out space.

basementBack in the day they used to run humungous pipes made out of iron as supply and returns for water. Basements had all sorts of insane arteries and veins for heating, drinking water, etc. In old radiator systems, these pipes would run through a boiler. Pretty typical, except for the fact that any height that you might have is severely cramped with these massive pipes. One of the old owners of the building decided that just boxing all of these pipes up would do the trick. Well…this is 2013, and most people don’t want to live in a cubby hole. These pipes and their associated boxes did nothing but diminish the natural light out of the two windows, and decreased the height of the unit.

Allowing as much natural light into the unit as possible, is essential. One of the first orders of business was to ditch these pipes, and replace them with updated copper pipe, which was both significantly less stacked, shorter in height, and allowed a whack load more natural light into the unit. Even after putting drywall back up, I’ll have added about a half a foot of height and opened up one of the three windows in the space. At 7 feet and 2 inches of ceiling now, I was still beyond the minmum of 6 feet 5 inches for height, but it’s made a huge spatial difference so far.

In the coming week, we start on the bathroom and begin re-framing. Stay tuned.


Do You Have What It Takes To Be A Landlord?

The Globe and Mail published this great piece a few days ago entitled, “Do You Have What It Takes To Be A Landlord?”. It offers a sober look at the pros of being a landlord and the benefits of income property ownership. It’s a great counter piece to all of the discouraging things you might hear from people who’ve tried it and had it not work out. If you’re reading this, you know property ownership and property management are hard. This piece is refreshing because it paints an accurate picture of the situation with rental property ownership. In short – it’s a marathon, not a race.

Read the piece here: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/personal-finance/mortgages/home-buying/do-you-have-what-it-takes-to-be-a-landlord/article11636234/

Introducing Rent Receipts

Dear landlords,

We rolled out a cool new feature for our active trials and current customers. It’s a rent receipts feature in Renting Well, that makes supplying receipts for rent received from tenants a *snap*.

As you may know, come income tax time, you may get a lot of requests from tenant for receipts. You’re obligated to provide a receipt if a tenant asks for one. All that to say, adding this feature was something we were keen on getting to post launch, and is part of a series of additions we’re going to be moving forward with over the next few months.

Screen Shot 2013-04-15 at 1.12.31 PM

Firing off a rent receipt is dead simple. Next to each revenue item marked “rent”, you’ll notice a small button labelled “receipt”. Click that – and it’ll give you two options to either email the receipt directly to the tenant associated with the rent payment, or to print the rent receipt if you wish.

Questions? Comments? Share with us. We’d love to hear your feedback.

Landlord Is Sued By Tenant For Being Too Considerate

Being a landlord can be tough work, but a recent Toronto civil suit brought forth by Gerry Danforth underscores this fact with a degree of emphasis not seen before. Mr. Danforth recently sued Amanda Boileau, his landlord for the last 23 months, and cited the reason for the case as her “complete and total reliability and overwhelming personal consideration” in a suit asking for the maximum $5000 judgement allowed in Canadian small claims court.

Mr. Danforth went on to provide a few key examples of what Ms. Boileau has a tendency to do, which included but were not limited to 24/7 contact for any emergency, proactive measures to ensure that fire alarms were working and functional, as well as immediate concern to even the smallest of minor issues like a leaky faucet or broken window.

“There was an instance last year when Amanda came by my apartment and followed up on whether a creaky door was working quietly after the application of some WD-40 to the hinges. I’m not sure who she’s trying to impress, but to add insult to injury, that same day just happened to be my birthday, and she had the audacity to wish me a happy one”, said Danforth as he checked an important text message outside of the Toronto courthouse.

According to Danforth, Ms. Boileau’s other transgressions include things like 48 hour notices on dropping by or entering the apartment to repair items, a full extra day than is required by law, and being responsive to suggestions about purchasing him a new refrigerator for his unit.

“She literally listened to me, agreed with my assessment that the fridge I had was noisier than I would have liked, and proceeded to purchase me a stainless steel model with a built in purified water spout”, said Danforth. “I find Amanda’s personality and accountable nature compromises my ability to assume all landlords are jerks and to perpetuate the stereotype that they are the housing equivalent of dictators.”

The case is hearing closing arguments this week.

Canadian Real Estate Needs An Innovative Kick In The Ass

Small landlords are a component of arguably one of the least innovative markets on the web in Canada: real estate. When it comes to using services in the cloud, it’s a bit behind the pack. Strange, because in many ways, it’s a perfect example of a market  that can most benefit from using the convenience and utility of web based tools and services.

In an age where we see startups taking hard transformative glances at some of the most everyday things people do (couponing, group discounts, betting, customer relationship management, even organizing recipes), it’s difficult to understand why the Canadian real estate market in general has seemed to suffer from being left out in the cold – a frozen winter that is dated designs, unfriendly user interfaces, and a general sense of being stuck in the era of the internet pre-iPhone – when Internet Explorer 6 and Hotmail were standards.

A perfect example of this is Canada’s leading residential real estate listing service – Realtor.ca (formerly MLS.ca). Sure – it’s useful. It does the job – but it could really be a lot better. Canada’s number 1 visited real estate website hasn’t changed that much in over 10 years – and 2009’s mobile version of the application was met with as much enthusiasm as Microsoft’s Zune. Great idea – bad execution. It’s particularly embarrassing when you see what’s going on south of the border with great sites like Trulia and Zillow.com

So why is this? Is it possible that this market is controlled by a select group of barons – an old boys club so to speak – that just refuses to embrace the revolution that is Web 2.0?  The internet’s already in the throes of discussing what Web 3.0 is going to look like. We’re not sure. Is it too boring? It’s not a black and white situation. CREA has been fighting with the Competition Bureau about opening up the MLS database so that other sites and services can use it too. It’s been a real bone of contention. I’m not interested in making a comment on the spat between them. I’m simply pointing out that innovation on the web in Canadian real estate is perhaps being compromised because of it, and it doesn’t have to be. I’d love CREA to revamp the hell out of Realtor.ca and give some of these U.S. sites a run for their money. It feels like a bit of the Blackberry vs. iPhone/Android scenario. Come on! Canada’s real estate market is among some of the best in the world.

Back in 2008 – a little Canadian startup called Zoocasa entered the scene, hell bent on changing what a real estate listing looked like and how you found and searched for a home. It was “Home Search With Smarts”. It was developed as a slicker, more efficient alternative to the Multi Listing Service, and aimed at using the web to browse the housing market intelligently. These guys are a Rogers Ventures business – an impressive fact on it’s own. While the execution was great, realtors are required to post their listings proactively to the service, and there’s been issues with Realtor.ca in the past with “scouring” listings. Zoocasa was also successfully sued recently by Century 21 in Canada, and lost cases with individual realtors who took issue with the company “scraping” listings to populate it’s service.

The landlord market is no different. Most of the products for professional property managers and self managing owners seem like they’re geared more for corporations than landlords who have a secondary suite. Television shows like Income Property promote the benefits of having a subsidized mortgage, which has spurned increasing numbers of people to invest in duplexes and triplexes in the climbing Canadian real estate market of the last 10 years. It’s been a good ride and a lot of people have made a lot of money – but when it comes to “managing” a rental, it seems like you’re better off to keep that old manual ledger you picked up at Staples 10 years ago. Dust it off buddy – you’re a landlord now.

That’s changed in the last few years, and there’s been a series of new startups focusing on the small time landlord that have received a significant amount of attention, and in some cases, a significant amount of capital investment. Cozy – a San Francisco based startup –  is an example of that. Raising 1.5 million dollars of funding from the likes of Google Ventures and business guru and internet sensation Gary Vaynerchuk. Their aim of focusing on the two biggest pains in the butt for landlords – rental applications and tracking payments – takes a radically simplified look at the job of owning and managing rental property.

There are even cooler examples within the greater real estate realm. Lovely – another San Francisco based startup – has elegantly innovated the common apartment search for renters. One of the more interesting examples I recently came across which is real estate related, is The Dirt, a cool startup out of Toronto – that aims to populate it’s own property database “socially”. Cool idea. Their idea is about the sharing of information vs. Zoocasa’s aim to enhance what existed with MLS.

So what’s going on real estate? Share your thoughts with us.

Why A Mortgage Broker Is A Landlord’s Best Friend

Had the opportunity to sit down today with one of our customers, Jacquie Bushell, of Oriana Financial, to discuss why a good mortgage broker should be one of the main contacts of every landlord and real estate investor.

Couple of things – Jacquie was one of Renting Well’s first users. She owns 2 condos (1 in Toronto and 1 in Ottawa). Also – over the last 4 years, Jacquie has helped me with financing and refinancing two buildings I own. She’s a pro when it comes to understanding some of the fundamentals in purchasing income property. She’s a mortgage ace, but she’s also a landlord herself, and that’s a good combo to have if you’re looking to get into the landlord pool. I had the opportunity to sit down with her and discuss some of the big pillars real estate investors and landlords to-be should know before they start their search or as they’re conducting one for that perfect building.

There’s essentially two different kinds of landlords. Live in landlords (a lot of first time buyers who want to live in central areas or who reside in higher priced cities like Vancouver and Toronto pick up multi families and live in one of the units – subsidizing their personal mortgages with added rental revenue) and live out landlords (real estate investors who don’t reside in their properties and rent out to others). If you’re a live in landlord, you can get away with a smaller downpayment because you’re residing in the unit as your primary residence. If you’re a live out landlord, you’ll be required to put down at 20% of the purchase price. Let’s say you’re buying a $360,000 triplex. That’s $72,000 if you’re not putting your head on the pillow in the place.

Also, if you’re purchasing a condo or buying in a higher risk city like Vancouver or Toronto, many lenders may want an additional 5% for no good reason other than safety.

Here’s another few choice gem facts Jacquie shared.

  • If you’re buying anything more than a 4 unit multi family, that changes things. With the addition of  a fifth or more units, it will now be considered as commercial mortgage, and is treated differently than a traditional duplex or triplex situation – whether you’re living in it or not. Interest rates are typically a little higher.
  • Don’t assume that if you’re purchasing a rental property that all of the rental revenue that the place generates will be considered. It won’t. In many cases, lenders will only take into consideration 50% of the income received, which can make it harder for you to qualify. If it’s an owner occupied situation, up to 80% of the income can be considered. 
  • If you’re buying a rental property, the only way that the income on the unit will be considered when qualifying you for the loan, is if it has a separate entrance. 
  • Triplexes and fourplexes typically require 10% down payment if its owner occupied and 20% if you’re not living in it.

The statements above are general. Each purchase has its own uniquenesses and “yes” their can be creative financing. Your mortgage broker can help you with knowledge and optionsHave you used a  mortgage broker for your rental properties? Share with us!