In today’s article, I want to break down my overall strategy in being a long-distance landlord without having a property manager or a realtor.
Before I get into this topic, I want to provide some context of my rental house situation so that you understand how I implement my distant-landlord strategy. Even if you are not in my exact situation, I think you can still gather ideas and create your own strategy by observing what I’ve learned along the way.
Background and mindset
Starting out, I want you to understand why I bought my rental houses in the first place and how these houses fit into my overall financial goals.
First of all, my main goal for buying these rental houses back then was to:
Hedge against inflation.
Obtain long-term capital gain from house appreciation.
Provide a source of income when I retire in 15 or so years.
Accumulate positive cash flow to cover all expenses and maintenance.
Pass these houses to my kids as part of my estate planning.
This strategy means I am looking extremely long term because I am keeping these houses forever. I firmly believe that before I retire, my goals of hedging against inflation and capital appreciation will yield me much more money than the positive monthly cash flow that I receive now.
Therefore, I am not really going to squeeze myself here and there just to save a dollar on repair costs.
This is a very important mindset in that to a certain degree, if you want to be a distant landlord, you must choose convenience and assurances (in a smart way) over saving a little bit of money.
Now the caveat is that a realtor or rental agency is very convenient in some ways, and depending on what you have a rental agency do, they can give you some assurances.
However, I find that with a little bit of planning, you can afford even more assurances and convenience by doing almost everything yourself.
Before we dive in, take a look at my two previous articles :
for essentials and helpful tips on how to be a successful long-distance landlord. They will give you an even better understanding of my rental strategy. So without further ado, let’s get started!
Making a friend (or better yet, two friends)
The center of my rental strategy is having a dependable friend that I pay every two weeks to perform basic tasks.
For example, one of my rental houses is a rent-by-room situation, so I pay my friend $40 every two weeks to go into the house and take pictures of the common areas, such as the kitchen, living room, basement, etc. and text them to me. This is basically to ensure the common areas of the house are clean.
Note that I am not asking him to clean the common areas — only to take pictures. In reality, I know the house is clean because I have good tenants. But by paying my friend $40 every two weeks, I am basically retaining his services in case I need him to do something for me (which I then pay additional money for).
Based on the last three years of this arrangement, I have asked him to perform the following tasks at the following rates:
Inspect the rent-by-room rental house biweekly. $40 per visit
Dropping off checks to various handymen. $25 per visit
Pick up merchandise from Home Depot, Lowe’s, etc. $30 per visit
Inspect the rental houses biannually. $75 per inspection
Inspection when tenant vacates the house. $75 per inspection
Change lock codes/battery for my electronic lock. $25 per lock
Open door for handyman who I have not done business with. $40 per instance
The reason I pay my friend is that he is providing me a great service, and I want to ensure he knows it is of value to me. It also makes him feel appreciated. The money is honestly not a lot, but as long as someone feels appreciated, they typically will do it.
I have learned over the years that everyone has certain expectations when they help others even if they don’t say it. If you want to keep a good relationship, pay your friend or family member for their service so they know they are appreciated.
In my case, my friend is critical to my distant-landlord operation. Thus, I want to make sure I compensate him for his time.
When you’re choosing a friend to do this, you want someone that lives close to your property. If they have to drive 30 minutes to get to your house, you will need to up the rates to compensate them for their time and effort.
In my instance, my friend happens to live within a mile from most of my rental houses and 15 minutes from my one stand-alone rental house. So the tasks I am asking him to do are easy and don’t take a lot of time.
If at all possible, before you go on your distant-landlord adventure, I recommend you find someone near your house and forge a relationship with that person. And before you’ve left the area, you should have already started the service with that person to ensure you have worked out all the kinks.
Identifying a backup friend
Because my friend’s role is so critical to my operations, I also have a backup friend who was, in fact, my neighbor. He is retired, so getting a bit of money from time to time is definitely something he is interested in.
I started out my repair strategy by choosing a handyman, who I have been using now for years for most of my houses, and I had American Home Shield as a backup.
However, after being a distant landlord for a year, I came to realize that American Home Shield is not so useful. When it comes to emergency repairs, they cannot send anyone until the next day at best. And the typical repair takes two visits, which is very hard to coordinate with tenants. For this reason and a multitude of others, I decided to cancel American Home Shield entirely.
How to pick a handyman
With this said, I have also had to change several handymen during the last three years, mainly because they either moved away or became too expensive or too busy.
However, through this handyman turnover, I found out that choosing a new handyman is not too difficult. My go-to places are my community’s Facebook page and Nextdoor. I just ask my neighbors on Facebook who they use for general handyman work or more specific work such as furnace or AC repair. Then I get the contact information for a few local handymen or AC technicians.
For the rental house where I rent by the room, I have the friend I talked about in the previous section open the door for the new handyman to perform the work. After the first time, I ask the handyman if I can pay them via PayPal or direct bank transfer. If the handyman is hesitant, I ask my friend to drop off a check to the handyman’s house. After a few successful repair jobs, the handymen typically become more comfortable with the PayPal idea. I like using handymen that live in my community because they respond the fastest — often the same day or within a few hours if you become their No. 1 customer. That is one of the reasons to buy lots of houses in the same area: the economy of scale.
Major Tip: If you have appliances that break down, it is probably much cheaper to replace them than to call a specialist to fix it unless it’s a brand-new appliance. If you opt to buy new, order online and have your handyman pick it up and install it instead of using Home Depot or Lowe’s installers. I have had many bad experiences where, after days of coordinating the delivery, the store’s installers would show up and say they couldn’t install it because the flooring is uneven or something else as equally unanticipated. This is why it’s easier to just use a handyman for installations. And you’re also giving more business to your go-to handyman, which makes you even more important to him or her.
How to handle tenant turnover
I have a unique strategy on handling tenant turnover that is guaranteed to save you time and money.
When it comes to the rental business, it’s all about aligning interests. So I tell all my tenants to give me a 45-day notice before they leave.
At that time I offer them $400 if I can find a tenant before they vacate the property. All I ask is literally a four-hour time slot once each weekend (i.e., Saturday or Sunday) to host an open house.
I then advertise the house on Zillow and tell everyone there will be an open house in the agreed-to time slot. I typically make the rent about 10% below the current market rate so that I can attract a new tenant quickly. I also give tips to my current tenant the day before the showing on how to show houses.
Typically, by the third or fourth open house, I have several applicants. This strategy has worked like a charm for the past three years. My tenants love the extra income, I love getting my house rented out before the existing tenant leaves, and I have not had to use any realtor or property manager thus far.
That’s my rental strategy in a nutshell. There are lots of specifics on various aspects of managing overseas rentals.
In the next blog, I will discuss how to identify good tenants while you are overseas. Please let me know if you have a process that has worked well for you or any other tips you’d like to share as I am always ready to incorporate other people’s ideas into my strategy.