As a long-distance landlord, I have been managing all my properties by myself for a few years now. I owe a lot of my success to the fact that before we moved, I invested in a mix of 10 essential gadgets and platforms that have helped me manage my properties much more easily and efficiently from across the Atlantic. Here’s a little bit about each must-have so you can see how they all work to streamline the process.
1. Electronic lock with smart hub
Before moving overseas, I changed all my rental house locks from the traditional turnkey locks to electronic locks. I specifically use Schlage Connect electronic lock with a Samsung smart hub (make sure you do not get the Schlage Sense as I have had terrible experiences with this product).
I am sure there are many good locks out there, but I have found the Schlage Connect with Samsung smart hub to be very reliable for the past three years. This gadget is great in that I can program and erase door codes from anywhere in the world.
The electronic lock gives me excellent control over my houses while I am away. I can assign a one-time access code for contractors, cleaners, or future tenants so they can access my rental house without me having to physically be there.
Tip No. 1: Program a set of backup codes for each lock, compile them in a master document, and keep them somewhere safe.
You can only wirelessly control the electronic locks with a smart hub, so if your tenant ever unplugs your smart hub, you will lose your lock access. However, people can still open the door with its preprogrammed codes. So having a set of backup codes can allow anyone (e.g., your handyman) to come into the house even if you’ve lost control of the electronic lock.
Tip No. 2: Place internet and electricity under your name.
The electronic locks only work with your home’s Wi-Fi through the modem you received from your internet service provider. I found it difficult to reset the Samsung smart hub to another modem when a new tenant moved in and provided their own, so I decided to place internet and electricity under my name. I simply include the internet cost in rent and send the tenant the electricity bills to pay me every month.
Just remember to put these terms in your lease so that it is official!
Tip No. 3: You might need a virtual private network (VPN) to access utility websites and download bills.
I found out the hard way that most utility company websites do not allow overseas traffic for some reason, and it blocks IP addresses from Europe. The way around this is to use a VPN, which makes it so that your IP address appears as if it is from the United States. Then you can enter utility websites and download tenant bills.
2. Realtor lockbox and a backup set of keys in a plastic bag
As a secondary precaution, I bought this realtor lockbox off Amazon for $15. Even though the Schlage Connect and other electronic locks are “keyless,” they still offer keyed entry in case of an emergency.
So it’s a good idea to buy a realtor lockbox like the one above and attach it somewhere outside of the house. This way you can place a spare key in a small plastic bag (realtor boxes are not rainproof) and into the box. If the lock battery ever dies and the tenant is locked out, you can tell them the lockbox code so they can let themselves in.
Tip No. 4: Place terms in the lease to ensure that the tenant is responsible for changing the electronic lock battery. Also, if the lock battery dies and the tenant must use the key from the lockbox, you need to charge the tenant for replacing the electronic lock since it is no longer secure.
3. Internet-enabled carbon monoxide and water sensors
The Samsung smart hub product line includes internet-enabled water sensors ($25 each) and smoke/carbon monoxide detectors ($60 each) that sync with your smart hub. If the devices detect the presence of water or smoke in the house, an alert is sent to your phone right away.
One of the houses I bought was built in the 1950s and had galvanized steel waterlines and drainpipes throughout the house. In my second year as an overseas landlord, the main drainpipe broke. Luckily, the water sensor I bought alerted me immediately, and after several hours of investigation, we were able to effectively identify and replace portions of the drainpipe.
4. Security cameras
Make sure you install home security cameras—never indoor, only outdoor facing your yard—and provide the tenants access. I use Reolink cameras because they are cheap and easy to install.
There are many good reasons for installing outside cameras:
They help protect the property, especially when the house is vacant.
If you are expecting a visit from a service provider, you can see who they are before letting them in.
You can tell if the house needs lawn maintenance.
5. Good international cellphone plan
A phone call or text message is the easiest way for my tenants to contact me and for me to contact utility companies, Home Depot, Lowe’s, etc.
I personally have T-Mobile; it works great here in Europe, and all my texts are free.
6. Zillow Rental Manager, Craigslist, and Facebook Marketplace
For renting out a house, I advertise primarily on Zillow Rental Manager. This website breaks down my insights into things like how many people viewed my house, and it allows me to gauge the interest level in my houses based on the prices I established.
For renting out individual rooms though, my go-to place is still Craigslist, and sometimes I’ll use Facebook Marketplace.
7. Videoconference capability
Before I sign a lease with a tenant, I always do a video chat to get a feel for the potential tenant. I just use whatever the potential tenant uses, such as FaceTime, Zoom, etc.
8. TransUnion SmartMove
I like TransUnion SmartMove because it instantly gives me the potential tenant’s eviction record, criminal record, and credit score reports. You can bundle all three reports for a total of $40; I ask the tenant to pay for it.
9. Landlord Form Templates
If you don’t have a standard lease or aren’t sure how to write one from scratch, you can use ezLandlordForms.com.
It is very simple to use. With just a few clicks, it generates a lease that complies with your state’s regulations. I have each tenant pay for their lease as part of their application fee. It’s around $29.50 for a three-month unlimited lease service.
10. PayPal and Zelle
I typically see people use PayPal and Zelle, so I use them as well. Of the two, I prefer PayPal as it seems to process transactions faster. But make sure to have tenants choose “friends and family” when sending money because PayPal charges you extra fees if tenants select “send to a business.”
Up next …
So there you have it! These are my top 10 must-haves for managing rental properties as a long-distance landlord. I hope you enjoyed it and were able to get some ideas on how to manage your properties more easily and efficiently from afar.
Next time I will lay out all the details about rental management, including how to manage repairs and how to get new tenants without a property management company.