I guess I should explain.
A few weeks ago, my husband and I made the decision to take back the management of our rental properties. This month the weight of that decision landed on us with a thud.
On the one hand, I’m excited. I actually wake up every day raring to go – it feels like I’m back where I was in 2008, building an empire!
Taking back the management of our rental properties
We tried to work with other people – property managers, maintenance supervisors – but it just didn’t work for us. We were losing money. Our properties are not where I want them in terms of curb appeal. I am about 50% happy with our current tenants, and that is not a good percentage. And this is nobody’s fault but ours.
I don’t blame anyone we worked with for the current state of our business. The buck stops with us. There will be a point in the future when Steve and I will have systems in place that work well for running our properties, and we will have the where-with-all to hire good, solid employees to work those systems. Until then, it’s us. Little Savannah is 6 years old and is being integrated into the family business. She helped Daddy show apartments last week and earned $15 in commission! Earlier this week Savannah accompanied me to meet a tenant at one of our buildings who was trying to catch up on back rent. We got there a little early, and while we waited she helped me bag up garbage along the side of the building.
Garbage: probably one of the biggest problems with multi-unit rentals
Garbage is an ongoing problem at this building – one of our six-units. During my weekly grocery shopping trip to Price Chopper I picked up some garbage bags and rubber gloves to carry around in my car. Whenever I see garbage I bag it up and bring it to the dumpster we keep for construction debris. This is a band-aid. More long-term solutions include installing security cameras on the side of the building to catch whoever is dumping (or at least dissuade them) and offering a current tenant a discount on the rent to keep the area cleaned up. That tenant will be my eyes – if it’s someone in my building dumping she’ll let me know. And she’s more likely than I am to catch someone from the neighborhood dropping their garbage off on my property. Hiring a weekly service to clean it up is another option. I’ll probably have to raise rents to cover the costs. I’m going to try to avoid raising rents, but I have to run this like a business.
It was the garbage piled up on the side of that building, and my desire to clean up my property, that has led to my upcoming Adventure in Dumpsterland.
The tenant we were there for is an elderly woman in ill health. She’s in the hospital, due to come home next week. Her daughter is in charge of her affairs. I was meeting the daughter to try to work out an arrangement to catch up on back rent. This was a confrontation I was dreading. The account had been underpaid for months, and in June no rent at all was received other than the small portion covered by the elderly woman’s Section 8 voucher. I made some pre-judgements I was not proud of. I pictured a daughter in charge of her sick old mother’s money, not paying the rent and forcing me to eventually evict an elderly cancer patient! How could she?! Where was the money going, up her nose?
No, it wasn’t.
Tenants are human. So are landlords.
When I met with the daughter, I saw not an irresponsible spendthrift but an overwhelmed caregiver. Typical sandwich generation, trying to take care of her mother while raising her own family. She gave me a check for some of the back rent and said she was going to Section 8 to try to clear up some of the confusion there – they were supposed to be paying more. She’s going to another agency to get some help with the balance owed. If all that fails, she will make arrangements with me for the balance. This is not someone trying to rip me off. This is a woman at the end of her rope. My heart goes out to her, and that’s why I’m willing to pull on some old jeans and dive into a dumpster this afternoon.
As I sat down to write this blog post, I got an urgent message on my Google Voice app from the rental office “Call me now, very important.” No name, but I recognized the number as the daughter’s. And someone else had called and left a more detailed message – some blankets were left on the porch and now they’re missing. A white garbage bag full of blankets – the blankets this old woman’s babies were brought home from the hospital in. My God!
Why would anyone leave those in a garbage bag on the side of the building?!!
When you’re overwhelmed and trying to clean up your mother’s house for her, I guess this sort of stuff happens. I remember that bag. I remember thinking it strange that someone threw away blankets. They looked like perfectly good blankets, too! I was going to donate them to the Salvation Army, but thought there must be a reason someone was throwing them out. I didn’t want to spread small pox or anything.
I threw the blanket bag and some other garbage I bagged up into my Prius, all that would fit. I drove it to our dumpster and threw it in. I don’t think we had a pick-up scheduled, because we just had one. So if God is smiling on this poor caregiver daughter, those blankets are still there.
My husband thinks I’m nuts. But if he wasn’t fixing a plumbing emergency at one of our other places tonight, I’m sure he’d help me. As it is, it’s me and Savannah Leigh. After I write this blog post (what’s the point in rushing over?) I’ll go home and change into old jeans and my Good People Good Homes company polo, and throw on some old sneakers. I’ll tie my hair back in a ponytail and grab the step ladder. My rubber gloves are already in the car. Then I’ll call and see if any of that family would care to meet me at the dumpster to help out. For liability reasons I’ll have to be the one doing the diving. But there wasn’t much in there, so it should be easy to get at the bags.
No, I don’t believe I’m doing this. But I am.
Collections this month have been pretty good. Only a few slow pays that I may have to crack down on next week. Another Section 8 tenant that is months behind on her portion of the rent – it isn’t much because Section 8 pays most of it, but it’s a problem I will solve by mid-July.
Three of our empty units have been rented, five to go.
What should be our showcase property on West River St. in Wilkes-Barre has fallen into a sad state of landscaping neglect. I got some bids last week for a clean-up job. I actually joined Angie’s List and paid for the premium membership, with the PayPal discount it’s only $23.99 for the year.
One of the guys who has done decent work with my husband has agreed to do the clean-up, tree removal, weed whacking, etc. for a really inexpensive price. So he’ll do that on Monday, supposedly. I’m a little skeptical using “guys” – but Steve says this one’s good. At least I’ll have a better idea of what I want to do for the curb appeal when all that clutter is gone. I love that building. It’s really nice – it just needs some landscaping, some power washing and some touch-up paint on the façade. And regular maintenance on the curb appeal.
If I’m on garbage patrol every week, so be it. My last name is often misspelled as Refuse, so why not?