Real Estate Investing: How to Be a Good Landlord

Although my husband, Sam, is a real estate attorney, and I write about real estate all the time, that doesn’t mean we necessarily enjoy being landlords.

Truth be told, I like it, and Sam doesn’t as much. He says that’s because he has to do all the dirty work.

There may be something to that. At least we don’t get calls in the middle of the night—which is every landlord’s nightmare.

But I think there’s more to it. I think being a good landlord is partly about setting appropriate expectations with prospective clients and partly about keeping a property in reasonably good repair so that you don’t get those midnight calls—ever.

Some of the best landlords I know are those who tell their tenants exactly what they expect them to do. Some of them want tenants to take care of little problems, change light bulbs and smoke detectors, and manage the situation if the refrigerator is on the fritz.

Other friends take a more hands-on approach to landlording. They are there to oversee every minute detail. They stop by and knock on the door to make sure everything is working properly and develop a closer relationship with their tenants.

The problem with being friends with your tenant is that the tenant might then begin to believe you won’t mind if she is a little late with the rent—after all, what’s a few days between friends?

Best-selling author Robert Shemin has written a host of excellent books about becoming a millionaire real estate investor, and in his book Secrets of a Millionaire Real Estate Investor, he offers the following tips on being a good landlord:

  1. Know that it’s about good management, not good luck. Shemin writes that to “succeed as a landlord, you need to be able to manage property and personalities.”
  2. Treat landlording as a business. He suggests you be “professional, not emotional. Establish clear policies and procedures, and stick to them.” He also admonishes wannabe landlords not to “let the business run you.”
  3. Screen your tenants well. Shemin believes that having one bad tenant is worse than having a vacant property for six months.
  4. Use current good tenants to find future good tenants. Shemin will give good tenants a poster that says “Wanted: Good tenants.”
  5. Stay in touch with your tenants. Return calls from current and prospective tenants on the same day.
  6. Pull a credit check on all your tenants. You want to know what you’re getting into before they sign the lease.
  7. Look at prospective tenants’ cars. Shemin believes that the way someone maintains his car tells you how well he’ll maintain your property.

I don’t think you’ll become a great landlord the first time out. But you can certainly learn how to do it better with each property you buy and rent.

Ilyce R. Glink is the author of several books, including 100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask and Buy, Close, Move In!. She blogs about money and real estate and at the Home Equity blog for CBS MoneyWatch.


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