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Tenants moved out. Now what?

Hello Baron Readers:

With Elections, COVID-19 and an economic crisis happening all at once, it’s easy to become confused about the basics of tenant-turn over. Best of all, all of the ‘turn over’ can be done remotely. Here is a quick summary:

  • Pre-Inspection – Once you know the tenant is leaving on a specific date, arrange to inspect your property (if possible) 30 days out. To help you, have them take photos of each room and tell you where the issues are. Give the tenants a check list. If possible, incentivize their quick clean-up in exchange for, say speedy return of their deposit. Ask tenants if they would not mind new applicants to view the home during this phase. Advertise early, and often. Free services like those in a previous article are well-tested.
  • Transfer utilities back to you – Your preference involves no periods of outages for gas, electricity, internet, garbage etc. Baron strongly suggests the official transfer day is hand-over day. Also, make arrangements to paint and re-carpet/re-tile yearly rentals. Schedule handymen/landscapers to coincide with hand-over day.
  • Hand-over Day – On this day, do a final walk through of your house. Quickly negotiate problem areas ‘on-the-spot’ with the tenant-be lenient. Collect the keys, garage door openers, locks etc. Change your home internet password, reset Google Voice/Alexa, change the combo to electronic locks. Hire a locksmith to change out all of the physical ‘real-world’ keys. Secure your home. Your home should have no furniture. If you have a good relationship with your tenants-and you are not present, have them mail you keys back.
  • Make-Ready phase begins – Painting should be done first, then carpeting/tiling. Finally, a deep cleaning maid service. Line up contractors to work side-by-side if possible. Other area property managers while have the best people, so do ask. In the event you have no vetted pros, Barons suggestions are (in this order): Thumbtack, Home Advisor, Craigslist/Angie’s List, Home Depot/Lowe’s. Opening and locking the front door remotely comes in handy if you are physically not local. Home cameras also help. Phone call to people performing services, to provide you eyes-on reports are invaluable. Keep in mind this ‘make-ready’ phase usually takes 2 weeks before the home is ready for move-in. If you are squemish about being remote project manager, see if you can hire a local property manager for this phase only in exchange for one month’s rent (they will of course want you to give them a recurring monthly fee, but simply refuse.) Now is the time to upgrade your home with screens, home speakers, cable internet boxes, and other perks. The total cost for the entire ‘make-ready’ should be divided by 12 (one year) and this amount added to monthly lease payment. Most contractors accept (might I even say, prefer) mobile payments.
  • Showing – your property should only be shown to serious tenants. Run a credit report first (RadPad provides this service free). Yes, strangers blindly traipsing your property is not ideal, but go ahead and allow them access to your home if you are not there – if you have cameras and wi-fi enabled door locks this will provide some peace of mind. In fact, prospective tenants may prefer to explore solo given COVID-19 issues. Remind the tenants to close and lock the door when they depart. Have them call you afterwards to confirm all is well with the home. If you have wi-fi lighting, garage doors, blinds, etc, you can also do some of this remotely. As an owner of properties in with hot/humid summers, a remote thermostat becomes indispensable.

That’s about it.

You will likely be nervous. You will likely want to do more via the phone/text/email. However the basics of tenant turn requires a bit of talking to complete strangers and trusting them to do the right thing with your property. Come December, I’ll be doing many of these things again for property at least 4 States away.

Stay safe.

Feel free to leave any comments or suggestions for future articles.

Coronavirus and your rental

As the times for social distancing evolve, the work of property management never ceases. The health and well being of your occupants represents the overall health of us all.

In the meantime, look for ways to benefit your tenants, as well as reduce the risk of a turnover.

  • Many property owners are considering offering one or more months rent.
  • Realtors now conductvirtual tours of properties to be sold or rented.
  • With unemployment rising, the likelihood of late payments and evictions rises, while the need for housing also appears to be increasing.
  • Verifying thorough cleanliness of units (especially high-touch areas), as well as ensuring maintenance staff use safe practices (washing hands, disinfecting) when performing repairs is paramount.
  • Performing routine inspections of your unit may be done remotely (and possibly even tenant-led via their smartphone camera if they agree)
  • Let tenants know you support them when they contact you, or when they pay rent.
  • If your tenants contract the corona virus, and are quarantined in your unit, consider a small business loan or credit line until this phase passes. Forbes published a list banks now offer mortgage extensions. It is doubtful any overzealous evictions will benefit property owners now.
  • HUD, Fannie Mae-Freddy Mac and other US government backed loans prohibit evictions, by executive order.
  • Also, as of the writing of this blog, a stimulus bill slowly weaves its way through congress and may provide short-term benefits to property owners.
  • Review CDC and World Health Organization guidelines for preventing the spread of Covid-19.

Baron property management specializes in custom based management. This approach depends what you, the property owner, may require at the time. Once that action ends, the contract also ends. It may be as simple as a tenant ‘turnover’, or possibly managing until the unit is sold-, or until ‘further notice.’ Please reach out to us via phone or email for any of your needs.

Be well, consider what’s best and look at ‘the long game’.

As always, thank you. We look forward to hearing from you.

Baron

Caffeine, Wi-fi and arranging receipts. It’s mid-February’s hat trick.

Safe Harbor ‘s receipt requirement in full effect

Greetings.

After President’s Day, the next official holiday does not come around for over three months. Despite this, you likely have all of the data you need to file your taxes. I’m not sure why, but for whatever reason, investment data remain embargoed until mid-February. Perhaps someone out there might be in a position to explain this annual event. In any case, filing 2019’s taxes should simply now be a matter of gathering all your data and preparing it to be sent to your State and the Feds.

2020 will be the first year for the receipt requirement for property owners accessing Safe Harbor relief. In my case, many of these receipts are stored in electronic formats: in folders for each property. Now that the large investment firms released their data, my tax software requires many of these 1099-Bs and Apex Clearing House Combined Forms to be converted from PDF (Adobe Acrobat) into a template CSV (Microsoft) file. Only the big companies send clients both formats. Does anyone out there know of alternatives? (Of course, hiring a tax professional to manually input each transaction solves this problem, but most charge a rather substantial fee.)


The good news is that the cold & dark February weather, the need to spend hours on the WI-fi and coffee oddly go together. The founders of Starbucks foresaw this certainly.
Baron sends a shout out to all of your property owners and managers facing this situation. Send me a quick comment on your 2020 tax adventures.

connecting that shinny new CES-rated smart device to benefit you, the landlord

gadgets aplenty but do they add value

This year’s Consumer Electronics Show pitched several exciting new devices to make your home cool, fun and provide convenience. Now that the dust has settled since then, which devices in 2020 help you manage properties? Baron lists a few which might live up to the hype. Some do. Some do not. The benefit may be less for you, but more for your tenant.

Home Security – (for the absentee or remote landlord)

My experience former insurance adjuster’s ‘spidy’-sense informs me that an occupied property with responsive tenants has no comparison. If you lack these, here are some possible free ‘human’ resources before you sink more money into your rental:

  • enlist nosy neighbors to keep watch over your vacant property (and tenants once it is occupied)-give them your contact info
  •  hold periodic property chats with your HOA manager (after all you are paying for this)
  •  keeping your home looking sharp-, modest, and to the extent possible, looking lived in. In the security world, this is called making your home a ‘hard-target’. Also, step up visit frequency of unoccupied properties

However, since everyone likes buying CES’s new ‘shinny’ things, here are a few recommendations.

-Preventing thieves from breaking in (exterior)–Insurance calls this FREQUENCY

  • a door cam (real or fake)
  • a semi-conspicuous sign or window sticker stating that the house monitored by a security service (real or fake)
  • Activating different interior/exterior lights on random days, window coverings, televisions, etc remotely. Hence, remotely activating these via your smart phone become advantageous when managing an unoccupied residence.

Once inside, preventing additional interior damage/theft–Insurance calls this SEVERITY

  • a trip-wire which activates some type of visible and loud-irritating audible alarm inside the house– and alerts you (and others-preferably the police) by text or phone.
  • A home speaker that activates allowing speaking and listening to your home as thieves are inside.

After the property is breached, the damage was done and all are alerted, how quickly the restoration gets completed–Insurance term for this is LOSS CONTROL

  • Absent a property manager, or yourself, contact Thumbtack or another repair service. Don’t be shy about granting access through a keyed entry if you are remote LL. Give them authority by phone/text to complete all repairs and send you a report. Most accept credit cards, PayPal or Zelle. Ask for photos. Many localities have hundreds of an on-call service providers who can arrive before you or your property manager. Don’t quibble about price. The main thing at this point is to prevent further damage and secure the property as best as possible until a complete assessment can be made. *Note: If the property is occupied, do not completely hand over repair responsibility to your tenants. Rely on an expert. An added benefit is that as the owner you now have a second set of eyes, and may even obtain a more complete property report.
  • If you have property insurance, reach out to their 24-hour service number. Ask for their preferred contractors to arrive out ASAP.
  • If you or your property manager are unable to arrive in a reasonable time to assess the damage, the preferred contractor’s assessment (i.e property damage estimate) will become the official document describing the damage.
  • Obtain a police report if a crime has been committed. Now that the home is secure, the paperwork begins. The police report may include photos and may be purchased and retrieved online. If you have time to speak with the investigator before this document is finalized, be sure to add any contents or damage that might be missed. The investigator will also inform you the status of the case. This final report may be used later when the claim is adjusted, so the greater the detail the more you may receive from the insurance company.
  • If you have tenants, and you purchased a homeowner policy for rentals, be sure to have the adjuster place the tenants in new temporary digs ASAP- and – pay you for loss of rental income. After all, you paid for the insurance. Go ahead and use it. * Note: if you live in the US and rent your property, there is a strong likelihood that your renters secretly sub-rent your property to others using AirBnB or similar service. Don’t let this fact worry you. Insurance companies know this. This income is also covered (to some extent) if you carry the renter’s insurance. (Remember, you are ‘the insured’ so your tenants would not be entitled to loss-of-use coverage.) If you only have standard homeowners (fire) insurance, loss-of-use will not be covered.
  • Squeamish about dealing with insurance? You can always hire a public adjuster. However, although they promise higher returns and take the hassle-factor away from you, Baron discourages this, since they are paid from the proceeds. Additionally, most public adjusters seek large multi-million dollar fire loss claims and will treat your broken window claim contemptuously. Many good property managers gladly accept this responsibility at no additional charge.

Leak Detection

From the vantage point of a property owner, a leak detector may not be worth it in most cases if the house is occupied. Responsible tenants will let you know before most gadgets. If you have an area that is prone to leaking (frequency) it might be better to perform a more extensive repair that would lessen the likelihood of this event occurring. Ask a plumber for advice. That said, here is one device which might be worth investigating.

Flo by Moen detects leaks, but also humidity and temperature. Can be installed anywhere in the house.

Smart Lighting (indoor)

Although there are no statistics on this fact, Baron imagines that most homes currently have-, or will obtain some type of smart interior lighting. Smart lighting is defined as bulbs or fixtures which can be operated remotely. *Note, an argument can be made that an unoccupied property looks ‘lived-in’ when interior lights are activated and deactivated. However, the greatest benefit of installing smart lighting is for the convenience of the tenants. It is also a good selling point to prospective tenants. Motion-activated lights will save you money as they automatically shut off when not in use. As such, Baron recommends making every light smart by changing out the switch and not the bulbs.

  • Brilliant is more than an upscale light switch. It can be the hub of a interoperable connected home. Like Tesla, the software is constantly updated, increasing functionality and providing new features. No subscription required.

Smart lighting (exterior)

Similar to interior lights, the tenants receive the lion-share of the benefit of smart lighting outside of the home. Nothing beats a summer backyard barbecue when the sun goes down. Professionally placed permanent exterior lighting may also increase the home value-especially if a pool or landscape is featured (Baron questions the value solar-powered lawn lights which are cost and energy effective, somewhat diminish the look of many yards. Don’t @me!) Motion-activated floodlights around the home provide light where and when needed, and also make the home lived in. Although Brilliant can also be configured for this purpose as well, here is one recommendation from CES:

Signify‘s new pedestal outdoor lighting collection.

Door Cameras

Recent reports suggest that door cameras prevent crime. However, the benefits seem to be overshadowed by real privacy concerns. How would you, the owner, like to receive a suit for an unauthorized video depicting an unsuspecting tenant? Many door cameras also requires purchasing a subscription and accepting the company’s ever-changing privacy policy. Wirecutter recently pulled its endorsement of these devices due to security security risks. As such, Baron recommends either a fake door camera or one which the owner or tenant owns and controls 100% of the video.

Door Locks (exterior doors)

In the past, Baron strongly recommended companies like Kevo, Schlage Link and August. Each has the main benefit of a physical key as well as remote access options. A physical key provided to tenants is required in most jurisdictions (see the previous article). Generally, tenants enjoy remote locks. Walmart and Amazon now can enter homes to deliver items using them. However, as a landlord who regularly uses these on several properties over several years, the following events happened:

  • Tenants are unable to replace the door lock batteries when required or find it difficult. Schlage is easiest, Kevo is the most difficult, but Kevo conveniently nags the owner until the tenant replaces them.
  • Tenants steal them outright or damage these locks. Some cost over $250.
  • The Kevo app often does not correctly pass a usable key to an authorized person until the door is opened first. Also, Kevo forces the new user to download their app with an email invite (something handymen find clunky). Kevo does not have an override option allowing the owner to open the door remotely.
  • The design of the physical lock from the outside of the house is unlike other neighborhood doors-featuring a keypad or fancy design (often better looking in most case) possibly alerting that the house is a rental

As such, Baron considers Level Lock, which is otherwise invisible and uses your smart home network. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, there is a wait-list. Why should anyone know you have a smart lock?

Door Locks (interior)

Except for bathrooms, most homes do not need interior door locks. If you rent with public housing assistance, HUD, bedroom door locks are specifically forbidden. As such, if you must, Baron would only recommend Level Lock. Dumb door looks are the best option for interior doors. The only exception to this would be if you use a remote Garage Door Opener, and have an interior door to the home. This door between the home and garage might require a remote lock. Amazon, to prevent porch theft, offers the option to deliver inside of the garage, after giving them access to your garage door.

Garage Door remote

Following the interior door discussion, an owner or landlord would have little- or no need for remote access to your property’s garage door. This device is a poster child for gadget excess. If a person needed access to the house on a one-time or limited basis, it would be easier to grant them access to the front door. That said, your tenant may find the Chamberlain-Amazon Delivery service of some use. Baron’s advice: Beware of granting anyone access to your home. Also, if you are a remote LL, why would you or a tenant need to remotely open the garage door?

Smart-TV

Browsing the articles on Smart-TV’s I learned that manufacturers now partially subsidize the costs of new their high definition televisions through bundling of services and service providers like Roku. Data collection is a point of concern. Still, I am considering permanently affixing an inexpensive, 4K TV on a conspicuous wall inside one of the higher-rent homes, to appeal to a future tenant. Most UHD TVs sell for under 500 dollars, and this cost is often less than other appliances. It will likely be used even more. Otherwise, these devices have little LL benefit inside of an occupied home. I’ll need to remember to transfer the services and any digital access to incoming tenants.

Smart Speakers

Like televisions, the occupant gains virtually the entire benefit from these gadgets. Owning a smart speaker is also not without liability. Tech companies monitor and store your most intimate conversations for their own benefit. In the recent past, Alexa listened a hosted event where a murder occurred. A judge ordered Amazon to release the recording. If a landlord wishes to install one of these permanently, please be certain to de-link it from your account, transfer service to the tenant (with the option of them not using it) and add this to your lease agreement. Besides the aforementioned liability, these devices are wildly entertaining, popular and ubiquitous. The only scenario whereby a speaker would be of ‘some’ value to a landlord is in the event there is an unauthorized entry into your unoccupied residence. Assuming you were alerted (via another camera or sensor) somehow of the break-in you would be able to cast your voice inside of your unoccupied home. Google Home allows users to remotely (via the internet) ‘cast’ voices, or sounds through their devices to speak to occupants and possibly interact with them in real time. It should be noted that this is a one-way transmission. The speaker’s robust volume suffices for a normal-sized house. Sadly (or fortunately) however, the other party is unable to speak back through the device. However, a voice from afar might scare them away if you happen to be alerted in that moment. (Hey, its better than nothing). Brilliant similarly employs an intercom feature allowing both video and two-way conversation. Individuals must be within the viewing range of the light switch for this functionality to work, however.

Getting back to Smart Speakers Baron gives a cautious recommends a permanently installed the Sonos Soundbar–which provides two benefits: 1) After being blown back into your seat watching the Millennium Falcon go into hyperspace (for the millionth time), you may then ask Alexa or Google Assistant to tell you the weather, and 2) Sonos’ ecosystem includes thousands of free HD quality stations (unlike Sirus XM or HD radio), looks and sounds great, doesn’t spy on you, and seamlessly connects with other Smart TVs and other connected devices and subscription services such as Pandora and Spotify.

Smart Blinds and Window coverings

These devices will certainly add appeal to your residence. Like the smart lights, they may also have the added benefit of giving your unoccupied place the ‘lived in’ looks. That said, nearly all of the smart window coverings have downsides

  • If they use batteries, tenants may not replace them for years causing the casings to decay
  • If they are hard-wired and are not professionally installed, the cabling looks unappealing.
  • Solar-powered coverings seem to be not cost-effective.

Somfy and other companies are constantly updating their product lines making these devices more reliable and desirable. However, like the garage door openers, they demonstrate little value for most landlords–and only increase the time and cost of make readies during tenant move-outs.

In conclusion

For the professional landlord, there are only two environments for smart devices. For an unoccupied home, absent a human being, the smart device gives you a window to your home and provides access to others to view your property or perform repairs. As such connected homes have, and will continue to streamline traditional property management functions. For the occupied home, smart devices provides a benefit to the tenant. An ‘always-connected home’ is mandatory for their functioning, meaning property owners must be willing to pay for internet service at all times. To limit liability, property owners need to be frank and open with tenants (in writing) about what devices are ‘on’ and be certain to transfer their service to the tenant–or cancel it outright– once the tenant moves in.

As always, your comments are welcome.

Unintended benefits of Autopay

And a few questions to ponder about its merits

Ok readers. Don’t @ me. The following blog makes a point – from the landlord’s perspective – regarding the benefits of leasing units to tenants using autopay (direct deposit).

Baron previously discussed virtues of rejecting cash or check payments. Instead, the property manager should use EFT (Electronic Funds Transfer) platforms such as Zelle, PayPal or Apple Pay. This suggestion remains valid. However, the new twist for property managers outlines additional benefits when tenants arrange lease payments through automatic withdraws (intended and unintended).

Of course, the benefits to the manager include:

  • 1. Consistency of both timely and accurate deposits
  • 2. The certainty of funds deposits allowing for forecasting
  • 3. Reduction of late/nonpayment notices

For the tenant, the benefits include:

1. Consistent payment without having to take any action. – Especially if more than one party is responsible for the payment.

However, this last point also includes a caveat (which ultimately favors the property owner): in an circumstances when the unit becomes unnecessary, the auto-pay arrangement quietly, and sweetly continues functioning. And in some cases, without the consent—or knowledge—of the tenant.

In the following story, the tenant died, unnoticed, inside his apartment. His automatic direct deposit kept the situation ‘status-quo’ with the landlord.

Presumably, this instruction to automatically pay every month, rain or shine, was for the convenience of both parties. EFT direct deposits may have been a part of the leasing application. It may also have been something the tenant originated, as the article indicates, his job duties as a government contractor often included prolonged periods of overseas travel. Regardless of the exact reason, the consistent, meticulous execution of these deposits laid the groundwork for a situation, which prevented a timelier announcement of his demise: Three full years to be precise.

(explicit warning) Add into the mix the: (1) tenant’s apartment choice for a remote location inside the building, (2) benign neighbors, (3) the tenant’s reclusive lifestyle and (4) infrequent property inspections, and one could easily imagine the tenant’s smelly, melting corpse remaining noticed indefinitely.

What is most interesting to Baron centers around how each of the above mentioned-factors worked harmoniously to the disadvantage of investigating authority and serving family members. On the other hand, the same mix of factors benefit the landlord. A dead, paying tenant becomes ‘ideal.’

As an epilogue to this event, the property manager would be responsible for a costly make ready in preparation for a future tenant. Deaths happen, and sometimes they will happen inside of a rental. Special cleaning and decontamination must be arranged. Leasing will always be an unsavory affair, and skittishness expressed by future tenants will be a given.

The surviving relatives will likely not seek reimbursement from the property manager – for the three years of back rent — for a lack of prompt notification.

Questions:

Is a legal duty is owed to promptly notify of death to the surviving relatives?

Should a ‘good’ property manager refund the surviving relatives the three years of rent?

Is there a duty to inform the new tenants about leasing a unit in which someone died?

Had the deceased been discovered earlier, the inheritance would have been larger for the tenant’s inheritors. However, as the deceased was well off, and had sufficient funds to cover years of monthly payments from his financial institution, the landlord inadvertently leased to an ideal tenant: causing no problems to the property, treating the neighbors with respect, not contributing to common area wear-and-tear, and paying on time-without prompting — even after his ability enjoy benefits from his leased property.

Of course, Baron welcomes comments and suggestions.

buy insurance like a pro

I adjusted claims for 2 major property & casualty insurance companies for several years. Settling claims with carriers may be another upcoming topic. That said, today we’ll uncover the 10 key tips landlords need to know to get the most from their insurance purchases.

  1. Buy coverage for the structure and land only. Don’t buy other lines of coverage unless your property is furnished (see below). Renters should purchase their own insurance to cover their property in the event of a catastrophe.
  2. Shop early and often. Select the lowest price carrier. Feel no loyalty and don’t fall for the ‘bundling’ gimmick. If next year’s insurance is higher than this year, this is all the motivation you need.
  3. Find a happy deductible between 250 and 5000. The higher the deductible, the more you become your own insurance company for yourself.
  4. Seek ‘replacement value’ policies. Reject ‘specified peril’ and only buy ‘special-form’.
  5. If you cancel your policy during the middle of the period, you are entitled to a refund for the unused (unearned) portion.
  6. Purchase the policy with one payment. The insurance company profits when you make multiple payments.
  7. Be wary of providing PII (personal information) such as your social security number, your income, or date of birth. This data will be used against you. If the company insists, this is a red flag. Provide them moderately incorrect information.
  8. Generally, hurricane, flooding, and earthquake insurance is not advisable. If there is a major disaster, the US federal government will step in and provide coverage. — The only exception to this is perhaps obtaining a ‘special endorsement or ‘rider” for surface water (for those properties which will likely flood).
  9. If you receive a quote, and then after the purchase, the price suddenly increases, investigate: a. whether the increase is still lower than the competition, and; b. call your insurance agent and demand an explanation. Keep in mind, the explanation for the price increase may be reasonable. If the revised price is higher than your competitors’ quotes: i. send the agent one or more of the aforementioned quotes-ask for a match, ii. inform the agent this appears to be ‘bad faith’ iii. Notify your State’s Department of Insurance commissioner of what happened via snail mail. Await their response. If you decide to cancel, remember step 5.
  10. There is no such thing as ‘full-coverage’. Most policies are surprisingly similar. If you wish to learn more about what each line of coverage means, and how much each is worth, ask your agent or google this subject. Rule of Thumb: Insurance companies desire to up-sell you on unnecessary coverage. Wealthy people generally do not buy/need insurance, so begin with the basic (bare bones) coverage with a reasonable deductible.
  11. Bonus perks for the off-site landlord: Not having to always (ever?) schedule time with a live agent is always a plus, especially if a perfectly-patient AI (artificial intelligence) or convenient 24/7 web interface is available. Exchanging emails and detailed attachments with a live person is 2nd best to a well-designed web/mobile interface. If your insurance company sports features like i. online renewals, ii. online policy management (where you can price a policy before you purchase) iii. text-based claims, bank endorsements changes, pdf printouts, etc. are always a plus. If your agent is not a ‘captive’ agent servicing only one carrier, have them work for your business by seeking lower policies, and explain to your satisfaction about policy differences.

If your properties are leveraged (you have a lender), then it may not be a bad idea to have them inform you, from their perspective, what a good ‘basic’ insurance policy looks like. **Do not ever allow your lender to buy insurance for you and add this cost to the mortgage. It will be much more expensive than any insurance, and will not likely not provide you with even adequate coverage. If your bank has done this already, ask them how to remove this ‘fire insurance’ coverage from your mortgage.

The Home Owners Association (HOA) fees actually pay for a ‘fire policy’ for one of my townhouses. Be sure to ask your HOA for a copy of this policy and keep it for your records.

Leasing a home as furnished requires coverage for your effects. In the United States, cabinets, sinks, tubs, carpeting, tile, appliances, and most lighting fixtures are included as part of the ‘structure’. The structure is known as first-party coverage since you, the insured, are the beneficiary of the policy. The insurance company is known as the second party. Third-party coverage or liability caused by the house is also included: For example, your old rotten tree falls crashing through your neighbor’s fence and breaks his window. However, Baron will write a future article about this in detail.

Baron welcomes any feedback about this, or any other blog.

How to bank 10% without raising rents. (& make happy tenants in the process)

Try it

How is this possible? Drop your property management company. It is easier than you think. Here’s how to do it successfully.

About two months before your lease renewal, notify your current property management company that you would like to manage the property solo.

fear is not a good thing

Brace yourself: The property manager has a vested interest in keeping you fearful about: ‘unspoken’ hassles of dealing with tenants, property upkeep, and needing to be ‘geographically close’ in the event of an emergency. The reality is that, except for tenant-turnover, property management is quite similar to Tesla’s autopilot feature. The majority of the time the rent check comes in, and no action is required. The 10% monthly premium you pay your management company is nearly always 100% profit.

Scenario 1 – your tenant’s renew and the property is in relatively good shape.

  • Generic leases (and renewals) pdf files can be located online, at no cost. Download, edit, digitally sign and send this to your tenant’s email.
  • Edit your lease so that your tenants pay directly through Zelle, PayPal or Venmo. All three are free, provide privacy to your bank account, notify you immediately upon payment, and some direct deposit into your account within seconds. Do not accept cash. Tenants without credit can convert cash into PayPal at local 7-11s.
  • Purchase an annual home warranty for about 300-500 dollars, depending upon what appliances you wish to cover (Baron strongly recommends the higher options for HVAC and septic systems.) Set it up so the tenants call the home warranty company for all repairs, first. Many companies also cover key locks, initial roof inspections, and plumbing issues. Give the tenant a copy of the warranty. Let them make claims. You may need to pay a deductible or copay for each claim, but this is only after the issue is resolved.

Over the years, Baron received tens of thousands of dollars of new appliances, HVACs (including roof installation costs) and new plumbing. This cost is tax-deductible. You’ve also eliminated numerous tenant complaints through a warranty while simultaneously increasing their satisfaction. If you have long-term rentals, home warranties provide you with a prompt response and ‘fair’ estimate for items that are not covered—saving you the hassle of locating a repairperson and getting estimates.

Once, after numerous years and numerous property experiences, a warranty company non-renewed a property This resulted after many frivolous claims during a year. I visited the property and, can verify they were unnecessary. An example tenant was not happy with the temperature of the refrigerator. They wanted everything ice-cold in the non-freezer section so that it frosted inside. Even after the company repaired the issue 3x, and verified the base-cooling unit, the tenant’s persistence ultimately succeeded in annoying the warranty company enough to non-renew. The good news is that there are many warranty companies with boilerplate policies. I also subsequently non-renewed the tenant, encouraging them to leave before the term date (without penalty to hasten their departure).

  • Have tenants text you instead of calling. The most common text message Baron receives is that the tenant will be late on the rent.

Should you desire anonymity, purchase a $15/for 6-month Skype phone number for this purpose. If they call and leave a voice mail, it is saved on their servers until you retrieve it. Tenants feel empowered if they are able reach out to you, the decision-maker, quickly.

Most property managers have a side-deal with late-paying tenants. As a landlord, you will not see this money. When tenants are late, they may need to pay the extra money, unseen directly to the property manager. You will never know about this. When the property manager pays you on the 15th or 20th, the secret transaction has already taken place between the two parties, but you receive only your normal 90% cut of the base rent. Property managers will often say they need this 15 – 20 days to ‘process personal checks’. – Sometimes property managers also charge you to direct deposit into your account, profiting from these small-dollar transactions as well. (link)

  • Next month – Scenario 2 – Your tenant’s departure is expected, and you need to inspect & re-tenant.

Brilliant update is a game changer

What are must-haves for remote managers of vacant properties? First, you require on-demand status updates. What better way to do this than have the house provide this, seamlessly.

This blog is not a product endorsement. Baron receives no compensation for the products found on this site. That said, Brilliant Smart Home Control recently dropped a LiveView update which changes the remote management duties of any property manager.

Brilliant makes an upscale Smart light switch, which some reviewers have criticized as ‘trying to do too much’. Brilliant’s control is essentially a smartphone on your wall: complete with camera, mic, screen, wi-fi connectivity. It makes all of the lights it controls SmartLights. In addition to controlling your lights, It operates with the usual voice assistants, displays your favorite photos, and allows users to: see the current time, control thermostats, their music libraries, and use other connected Brilliant controls as a video intercom system. 

This last feature, until now, only worked when you had 2 or more Brilliant controls in your home. The idea was to use this feature as a baby monitor, or perhaps to video chat with family members while you were in another part of the house. A high level of security setting required both the individual rooms to both be physically present, and also required both parties to ‘accept’ a video chat before the camera would activate.

However, the recent update allows activation of the Brilliant camera and mic to remotely activate using the mobile app. 

Since I’ve installed Brilliant in one of my properties, I’ve been most pleased with the photo displayed on the touch screen. I’ve hesitated to purchase additional controls because of the high entry costs. Having only one control, I’ve not used the intercom feature, or used the camera to monitor rooms. That is until now.

It works well. The video is clear and the sound crisp.

This is a game-changer because it adds another dimension to managing properties for the remote landlord. I’ve positioned the Brilliant unit at a light switch facing the busiest part of the house. When the LiveView is on, I can see whether a person is at the door, and monitor sounds in the kitchen and family room. My future installations at other homes will consider optimizing positioning to maximize viewing near the front door. 

Baron strongly recommends adding at least one of these to each of your homes. Here are the benefits for remote vacant properties.

  1. Live, on-demand viewing for security, and visiting contractors
  2. If you have deliveries, or if people waiting at the door, a light switch facing the door can verify, in real-time, whether you will allow your smart lock to open the door.
  3. Brilliant also has a smart-sensing feature, which can be configured to notify you when movement is detected. I’ve not yet investigated this feature, but the benefits are self-explanatory.

For occupied or leased properties, Baron recommends this device for the following reasons.

  1. It looks aesthetically pleasing.
  2. It converts all lights it controls SmartLights, saving you money.
  3. Your tenants are able to upload their own photos and display them on the touch screen.
  4. Privacy controls prevent you, the landlord from spying while the house is occupied and set up with the tenant’s information.
  5. There is NO monthly fee for this service.
  6. Brilliant does not store or keep any information used by your device. 
  7. The rent value of your home will increase if it is smart.
  8. Works alone, but also interoperable with Smart Locks, Smart Thermostats, Smart Speakers and Voice Assistants.
  9. Even if the unit is disconnected, it still works like a light normal (dumb) switch. Some, all or none of the features need to be activated. This gives some tenants a degree of peace of mind and may allay privacy issues.

Saving money as a do-it-yourself landlord is always in fashion. If you can save the customary 10% on-going property manager fee by doing a few simple things, this adds up over time. If the tenants are also comfortable and happy in your home at the same time, it can only make the entire experience better.

What could possibly go wrong renting a SmartHome?

what matters most

People who’ve driven cars before the millennium change are familiar with what is now known as “Level 0” automation. The driver controls the machine without assistance: steering, braking, throttling, power, driving in reverse, parking and all of this without airbags–using a physical key to manually open doors.

Current automobiles are equipped with “Level 1” autonomous functions: anti-lock brakes, power steering, airbags, and cruise control. Often many of the these Level 1 features are required by law.

Some cars come standard with “Level 2” features: automatic parking, automatic steering & braking. Many sedans self-park between two cars on a street, while a majority of 2019 vehicles warn and direct drivers as they back up through rear-facing cameras.

Level 1 and Level 2 autonomy in vehicles allows drivers a choice to either employ the SmartFeatures, or not (in most cases).

This post is not about providing an equivalent rating system for homes (although this might not be such a bad idea for a future blog). However, instead, this contribution focuses on the idea of tenant choice, disclosure and training prospective tenants to use Smart Home Features.

Choice: Yes, No & perhaps this, but not that.

A previous post highlighted a landlord who required all tenants use an eKey. He disallowed physical keys entirely.

A court ruled against this action. Among issues cited: the landlord had the ability to constantly monitor tenant’s entry and exists. The decision required tenants to also carry a charged smartphone with a 3rd party app at all times. The court was persuaded mostly by this later requirement and not the privacy issue, per se. (Although, privacy and quiet enjoyment of living are in my opinion equally as important.)

It is good to let tenants know the features are available in your prospective rental properties. However, property owners should allow them the option to activate features and exercise the liberty to disengage others. When renting your properties, allow preferences for newbies and experts alike in using and customizing your pre-installed devices. *Also, should your tenants desire to expand or reduce your pre-installed Smart Devices, allow them this flexibility well.

After all, at lease signing your property becomes their rental. Like the Level 1 and Level 2 cars, allow them to opt in or opt out of each SmartHome feature, for any reason they may have.

Towards that end, also mentioned in a previous post, Baron recommended: vacant Smart Home rentals remain connected to wi-fi, and; incorporating the monthly internet charges into the lease payment. There are many advantages to these actions-especially for the remote landlord. Wi-Fi extends property management options to unoccupied rentals. Connected homes are safer, cost-effective and provide peace of mind. That said, a future article will detail more on this subject. For now, prospective tenants should be aware the wi-fi utility is always on, but may also be: disconnected entirely, customized for their exclusivity, or changed out with another provider — should they elect — after lease signing. (However, the original connection must be restored prior to lease termination.)

Greater choice given to your tenants managing your Smart Home confers more control and satisfaction. And finding (and keeping) satisfied tenant makes your life easier.

How to train (and amaze) your tenant

The walkthrough makes an ideal time to introduce tenants to smart connected features. During my showings, most tenants are delighted to see all of the upgrades to the property. It also makes a great time to take them on a test drive with your smart light bulbs, smart blinds, and automatic door locks. If your property has a smoke alarm, CO2 monitor, motion-activated sensors, Bluetooth or other speaker systems, there will be no better time to demonstrate them than when both you and they are in the house.

If a smartphone app is required for them to download, show them where to find it and how to install it.

If your tenants need to ‘set up and individual account’, walk them through this set process so they can activate your devices within their ecosystem. ( I’ve noticed most of my tenants have a Nest/Google account and most already have Alexa or Google Assistant are familiar with setting up). Tenants may be familiar with installations and even have an accounts on their own.

Let tenants know that during their lease term, no other person will have access to these devices.

Disclosure: Bare all

Finally, these connected devices, hubs and appliances should all be spelled out individually and clearly in the rental contract. Listing these might advantageous for a future ‘hand over’ walkthrough. Leases should spell out responsibility in safeguarding or storing any unused cable modems or other disconnected/unwanted devices. (For example, if a working smart bulb burns out, do you require an exact replacement, or will a normal bulb suffice?) As a property manager, if you have parameters about adding new Smart Home features or devices, this should be disclosed in writing. Finally, explain your policy of returning the rental and Smart Home devices in the same condition as they found.

Final thought

Video Doorbells, Cameras, and listening devices should be boxed up removed after lease signing, for liability reasons. Unplugging them may not be enough. Tenants and AirBnB guests are rightly paranoid about this growing ‘Illuminati’ problem.

by Baron