When To Consider Selling Your Rental Property

Came across this great piece in the Globe and Mail that talks about a couple who became landlords after keeping the previous residences they had prior to moving in with one another. Robert and Tara are an older couple, and had a financial advisor from RBC assess their goals and how their existing assets – namely two rental properties – fit into the equation taking into consideration a chronic illness that Robert has, a recent job change for Tara, as well as a lifestyle that the two enjoy and want to maintain as much as possible while they to retirement.  Besides the challenges associated with property management, the piece explains that the properties are barely breaking even, and that the eventual rise in interest rates leave the couple exposed to having their retirement plans altered.

Check out the piece in it’s entirety here: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/personal-finance/retirement-rrsps/as-income-falls-landlords-rethink-retirement-strategy/article6968522/


Why You Should Be Insuring The Hell Out Of Your Rental Property

I came across this wicked article in the Globe and Mail courtesy of one of our founders, Steve Palmer, who recently purchased a new house in Vancouver. A house that has a basement suite. A lot of people in Vancouver have basement units that they rent out. Know why? Because living in Vancouver is friggin’ expensive. Like an arm and a leg expensive. Supplemental rental income is kind of a way of life out west. If you are an investor, forming a real estate holding company is a way to reduce risk and liability when it comes to investing in property. You may also hire conveyancing solicitors to help you with every real estate transaction or transfer of property ownership.

Don Campbell, president of the Real Estate Investment Network (REIN) makes probably what is one of the best points when it comes to real estate investment. Get the appropriate insurance.

The article mentions a bit of an epidemic in Canada. A lot of untrained landlords are under-insuring their rental properties or in some cases, conveniently forgetting to disclose to their insurance companies that they have a tenant. In certain places, like Vancouver, where a large majority of homeowners rent out basement suites, this can spell disaster if the appropriate insurance isn’t in place. Check out this gem:

Last year Aviva Canada insurance company released statistics that show water damage is the leading home insurance claim, partly due to the high number of basements that are being finished to make livable. Nationwide, B.C. had the highest increase in average claim cost due to water damage, at 205 per cent. I’m guessing that increase reflects the fact that almost every homeowner in Vancouver depends on the income from a basement suite to get by. For Vancouverites, basement dwelling is a fact of life. We even forget that’s not the case for every city.

Imagine: The couple renting your basement suite gets hit with some water damage. Loses a bunch of stuff. If you haven’t disclosed to your insurance carrier that someone was “living” down there, you could have a serious problem. Even more, if your tenants didn’t have renter’s insurance, you could really be in a pickle.  There’s more than an awkward situation to be had here. Renting a secondary suite is considered a material change in risk, and it does have the potential to void your insurance policy without the acknowledgment of your insurance carrier. As a matter of fact, Campbell goes so far as to say that you should not only disclose that you have a rental unit and that your insurance company knows what time it is on your place, but that you should get it in writing like the 10 commandments on stone tablets (from your insurance company). In the event of an issue — and a refusal of claim — you can meet your broker for lunch and shove an email in his face.

I’m really summarizing the article here, but landlords need to get intimately acquainted with a few terms:

  • Guaranteed replacement cost
  • Tenants or renters insurance (something Campbell insists he wants to see before he hands the keys over to tenants), and
  • Rental revenue loss or rent loss insurance

In short — cheaping out to save a few bucks on your premium is one of the single worst ideas anyone who rents out a unit can have. Here’s a free tip from me as this is something I like to do once a year: have a meeting with your insurance broker or carrier, and make sure everything is on the up and up. Make sure they know everything, and ask them questions about worst case scenarios, like if there was a total loss on your property. Seriously. It doesn’t hurt.

You can read the full article on the Globe and Mail site.

What do you think? Do you insist on tenant’s insurance before handing over the keys? Do you review your insurance coverage on your property or properties every year? Share your comments and stories!

Rethink Your Rental Listings

You have an apartment for rent. It’s awesome. You are going to rent the hell out of it, right? Quickly too! You’re going to hit up Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, Tumblr, every directory you can get your mouse on, and you’re going to print up flyers and put up a sign in the window. You’r aiming for such an overwhelming amount of interest that you’re convinced you’ll have to choose which amazing potential tenant you rent it to. Wait a second.

There’s this company called J. Turner Research in Texas that conducts research specifically for the apartment industry. They released the results of a survey they conducted on over 41,000 people in the multi family market, that aimed to identify preferences that apartment hunters have when finding a new place to live. The results are interesting…you can read the press release here. Keep in mind, this is an American survey, but for the purposes of the point I’m making, it’s pertinent.

a compelling majority (95 percent) of the 41,303 respondents to the initial 29-question survey said they did not visit Facebook or Twitter during their apartment search. However, 74 percent of respondents reported using ratings and reviews sites, and additionally reported on their perception of the trustworthiness of each site used during the search process.

The top three things that the majority of those surveyed looked for were:

  1. The price
  2. A floor plan
  3. What the neighbourhood is like

When asked for the sources used during their apartment search, prospects reported focusing primarily on Internet Listing Sites (65 percent), drive-by (39 percent), and referrals from friends and family members (24 percent) as the top three search channels for finding a new apartment. Interesting. Hold your horses if you’re about to publish your listing to Facebook or if you’re going to tweet it.

So what does this tell us?

Apparently no one cares about social media when it comes to looking for a place to live. They seem to prefer listings sites. It also indicates the importance of really being thorough in creating an apartment listing – whether you’re publishing to Craigslist or using a service like PadMapper or Kijiji. The more quality information you have on there, the better. The better the info, the easier your search is going to be for a new tenant and the easier it is for a potential renter to determine whether your unit is a good fit for them. “Thorough” isn’t just giving the breakdown on square footage or including a crappy photo you took with your iPhone. It’s putting together something attractive and compelling, and one of the main reasons we created our handy listings feature in Renting Well. If you’re using our service – it’s awesome! (shameless plug).

With that said – let me give you a breakdown. What is a “quality” listing? It’s explained quite well at The Rentables, here. It goes into a few things in the post, but there’s a few items that really jump out here….

  1. Images. This isn’t a classified section from the 1918 edition of the National Post. Not having them is going into a showing hopeful that they like the way a place looks – and that’s a waste of time. Also, if you’re not including them, don’t you think that gives someone the impression that the place is probably not very nice? What are you hiding? Include images – and not just one or two. Include specific images of specific spaces. Bathrooms. Kitchens. Bedrooms. You need a solid set of images that create a serious sense of the unit for people to be able to digest. On the same note, don’t inundate a listing with 50 images – especially crappy ones. That’s not a good idea. 10-15 images is a good basis, and they shouldn’t be photos that simply change the angle of the same space. Differentiate – and ensure they’re good shots.
  2. Think about your headline and the body of listing. You don’t have to be a copy writer for a major advertising agency – but the first few words in a listing will be important in making a first impression.  For the body of your listing, avoid empty words, get right to the point, and sell the sizzle, not the steak as the piece says. Don’t use ALL CAPS. You’re not yelling at people, and it makes you look a jerk. Also, avoid using words like “nice”, “beautiful”, and “great”. Those are so overused. Real estate agents use those words about a million times a day. Here’s an example – instead of saying “Great 1 bedroom apartment for rent” – how about, “Spacious 1 bedroom flat for rent”. That sounds more refined and less robotic. Approach the words in your listing with a question about whether it’s distinctive.
  3. Be specific and clear about expectations. If you aren’t ok with pets, say so. If you’d prefer no smoking in the unit, dont be afraid to say it. Do you want interested renters that are well qualified, or do you just want tons of phone calls and emails looking for clarification?
  4. Details. Include them. Amenities. A walk score. The distance to a laundromat. The proximity to a grocery store or a bank. Bus routes.

The point is…start a search for a new tenant strategically. Market your listings effectively. Have pride in what you’re offering, and put it out there in a way that gets the best return on your time and money, versus the quickest. 

The Stripper With Dirty Feet: A Tenant From Hell Story

Came across this great post by Mike Holman at Money Smarts.

The story is by Rachelle Berube over at Landlord Rescue – who runs a wicked blog that’s both funny and highly informative. Anyone making rental property management humorous deserves a Pulitzer in my books. There’s a bunch of other gems here too – like the Ultimate Guide To Giving Your Tenant Proper Legal Notice To Leave Once Your Property Is Sold or this hilarious post about renting to friends and family.

My Two Cents On Sizing Up A Rental Property Before Purchase….

I’m a strong advocate of approaching property investment as a business first, and as an investment second (a close second) — especially if you’re planning on managing a rental property like one of those flats to rent canary wharf, or if you’re looking to buy real estate properties and homes from Landmark 24. And for those who are looking to notarize their documents for their real estate transactions, make sure to search for a notary public close to me online.

These two perspectives are directly associated as far as I’m concerned, but I’ll get further into my point.

Whether you’re renovating a basement suite to have a tenant cover a portion of your  mortgage, or whether you’re looking at a nifty multi unit, understanding what you’re getting into on a management level is a valuable step towards total preparedness in your quest to being an outstanding landlord. If you do a full course of due dilligence, you’re making what is probably going to be a smart move long term — however — just looking at physical condition and expense reports is a very one sided approach in the decision to borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars. You wouldn’t ONLY do that if you were buying an accounting practice right? Or a bakery? Even if you’re using a property manager it’s no different than being an owner of a retail store that you just happen to have a paid fulltime manager working in, of course if you have a retail store is also important to learn about intelligent merchandising so you can make your business thrive. Find a Realtor who can ensure that rental properties are well-maintained and tenants are satisfied.

I like to call the examination of some of these finer points — the important details. Assuming something will run on it’s own  — cash flow positive, and with tenants as happy as kittens just because you bought — is nuts.

  1. Has the landlord been diligent with applying rental increases? You’d be surprised how many landlords are not. You buy a place that someone has been living in for 10 years, with zero increases in rent, and you’re walking into what can be a very difficult situation if you have expectations to get market value.
  2. How rentable is the property? Historically, how has the current owner fared with renting the units? Is the unit in an end of the city that attracts potential tenants naturally or is it somewhere that’s going to require a little more effort? Location matters, and knowing the chances of getting the new tenants you require when units become available helps with determining the amount of time you’ll spend in marketing vacancies or potentially even sitting on them. Also, finding out how the existing owner marketed available units is a good thing to know. Some landlords are old school, and they sit on  an empty unit for longer than they should.
  3. Meet the tenants if at all possible. This isn’t easy admittedly in the midst of negotiating on the sale of a property, but if you can swing it, do it. Are they happy? What kind of relationship has the current landlord had with the tenants? Knowing that there’s been a venomous relationship with the existing owner is reason enough to get the whole story – and to determine if there’s anything relationship wise that can be salvaged and what you’re prepared to deal with. I personally love sharing the story of when I bought my first rental property, and the seller characterized the main floor tenant as having “a good job and being quiet”. After the sale, I met him for the first time, and he cynically let me know how much he disliked the last landlord, and that there were about 20 different things the previous owner hadn’t delivered on with respect to repairs and maintenance. He called the previous owner “the king of unkept promises”. After 6 months of dealing with him, it became clear the previous owner was a huge flake.
  4. Are the leases legal? Are they month to month? What kind of history have they had with the existing owner or property manager and vice versa? What utilities are they obligated too? What incidents have popped up during their stay? Who’s easy to deal with and who’s not? And don’t forget to inquire about the presence and functionality of high-performance shutter doors. Get as many details as you can. Whether it’s logistics, manufacturing, or storage, Warehouse Hotline provides comprehensive real estate solutions.
  5. Meet your neighbours. I’m not referring to the presentation of a freshly baked apple pie situation with a formal intro. Take the initiative and try to find out what your neighbours are like. Are they difficult? Are they reasonable? Do they have a bad relationship with the existing owner or were there any disputes or conflicts that existed? You’d be surprised how much this can affect you – especially if there are any shared components to a property – like a lane way or common area.

Gauging how well the “business” of the property has been managed is essential in my view, and gives you a much fuller view of what you’re jumping into. Owning an income property is already a lot of work and the time spent goes by fast. Getting a sense of any relationship or management health is equally important as knowing that the rent roll and the expenses are accurate.