You can manage rental properties yourself with just a few minutes a day, while still working a full time job or as a full time parent.
No need to pay a property manager 10% of your rents. They aren’t concerned about keeping your tenants happy and expenses low.
I self-manage 30 properties and it takes very little of my time. Doing one or two properties will be a breeze.
I’ll cover these 3 biggest time savers for you:
- The secrets to Tenant Screening – including denying applications
- Dealing with Maintenance and Repairs
- Rent Collection including the right way to handle late fees
Let’s dive in.
First, where do we find the tenants that we’re going to screen?
Well, there are numerous ways to list properties, but I suggest these two simple methods.
Facebook Marketplace and Zillow.
Both are free at the moment. Zillow has a premium listing option for $29.99 for 90 days.
One thing I love about listing on these two platforms is they are not phone based. Inquiries come on the app and/or by email. you can keep your conversations text based and not waste time talking with applicants until they are prequalified.
Now that we have our property advertised, let’s screen applicants.
This is the part of property management that will either make or break you.
You will either have problem tenants that bleed you dry, or happy tenants that pay on time and stay for years sooooo listen up!
Tenant screening is about reducing your risk of problems. You do this with rental criteria.
Certain types of criteria identified in the fair housing act are illegal to use. Knowing those will keep you out of legal trouble.
Here they are:
Fair Housing Act
You cannot discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex to include gender identity and sexual orientation, nationality, disability, and familial status.
What ARE you allowed to use as criteria to find a good or low-risk tenant?
You can use information like how much their income is
information given from prior landlords or property managers about their on time payment history and whether or not they honored the lease.,
info from credit, bankrupcty and eviction reports,
and in most states, the existence of felonies.
Here’s a recommendation of rental criteria you could use on your properties that would be legal in most states. Check with a real estate lawyer on these before you do this for real.
Recommended Rental Criteria
- Verified income of at least three times the rent
- 6 Months at current job
- Good rental reference
- Credit score of at least 600
- No evictions, felonies, or open bankruptcies
Depending on your area, you may want a higher credit score, but I wouldn’t go lower.
While most of these are self explanatory. Let me talk briefly about a prior rental reference.
I think it’s smart t avoid first time renters. This means you are saying no to most people just moving out of their parents homes, and even people in college or just getting out of college.
I’ve found that one of the best indicators of success with tenants is that they’ve already done it successfully with someone else.
Don’t feel bad about turning down first time renters, there are plenty of apartment complexes and landlords that specialize in that.
Now that you have these legal rental criteria, you use those to prescreen those that contact you on facebook marketplace and zillow.
I’m going to share a process for this that saves the most time and energy, assuming you’re a busy person.
I recommend not showing a property to someone until they’ve filled out an application. The application is free, so you aren’t wasting their money, and youre not running a credit or background check until after they’ve viewed the property.
Some will complain that they want to see the property before filling out an application, but too many people lie about meeting my qualifications, and taking the time to show them the property is just a massive waste of time so make sure they qualify before showing the property.
You’ll get a lot of inquiries for your property on zillow and facebook. Most of them are not qualified. Here’s how to weed through those and get to the right one.
I recommend cutting and pasting the same initial message to everyone who responds.
Give basic info about the property, 3 bedroom 2 bath in this neighborhood- list your criteria, and then ask them where they work and how much they make every month.
More than 90% won’t answer you because they realize they won’t qualify.
Many will yank you around by saying they want to see the property first, or they don’t like giving this info out, or they want to talk on the phone and explain their life story and why they are a special snowflake and you should give them an exception.
Be polite, but insist on texting instead of phone and getting the answer about how much they make. If they don’t make enough, they don’t qualify. No need to waste your time or theirs.
If they dont have a traditional salaried or hourly job with a paystub, let them know they can show self employed tax returns to prove income.
If they get rude or argumentative, then stop responding and move on.
If they say they make enough, then confirm by asking if they meet the rest of the qualifications as well. Ask them specifically to estimate what their credit score is and get a numeric answer from them.
If they claim they fully qualify, then ask them to fill out a free application, and then you can arrange a time for them to view the property.
Some will refuse to fill out the application before seeing the property. That’s fine. Tell them it’s your process and it’s up to them. Don’t waste time on people who argue or get rude. Just move on.
Once you have filled out applications, your job is simple.
You need to make sure they weren’t lying about meeting your criteria.
Do people lie on applications?
Hell yes they do.
Here are the 3 main things you need to do to make sure they actually qualify.
- You will contact their employer to verify income. You will also have copies of paystubs and copies of checking account statements that show they were making rent payments and show deposits from their job.
- You talk to prior landlords or property owners, or in some cases email them to get a good reference
- You will run credit and background checks. Don’t take a credit or background check that someone provides you, they are often doctored. Some will say they already paid zillow to do a credit check. I don’t accept these.
If these three things check out, this will make a good tenant.
What if you end up with two or three qualified tenants?
Your rule for choosing a tenant should be the property goes to the first qualified applicant based on your rental criteria. If you stick with this rule, and have legal rental criteria, you’ll stay out of trouble.
Most applicants will not meet your rental criteria.
You need to deny applications the correct and legal way. This method works in most states, but you need to run this process and your rental criteria by a real estate attorney in your city to make sure you’re legit.
You need to let applicants know either by mail or electronically by email that you are not selecting their application and tell them why.
Typically this would be because they did not meet one or more of your criteria, but it also could be because they didn’t complete the application or gave false information.
This means they lied.
An example of what you might say is, We are unable to move forward with your application because you did not meet the income requirement, or because applicants with evictions do not qualify.
If a credit score was ran, you need to provide information about their consumer’s rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. I use www.rentprep.com for credit and background checks and this is taken care of automatically.
That’s #1 tenant screening.
The next important thing to get right in self managing real estate is number two how you handle maintenance and repair issues.
Maintenance and Repair Issues
The trick to this is setting up expectations from the beginning, and then sticking with them.
Tenants will test you, much like children test their parents, to see if you are a pushover.
Explain before they sign the lease how repairs will work.
You will fix things promptly that break or wear out.
If something is broken because of misuse then they will be responsible for paying for the repair.
Give an example.
If they call because the garbage disposal stopped working, and the plumber finds out they put pistachio nut shells and a few children’s toys into the garbage disposal (i don’t make this stuff up). That’s the tenants responsibility.
They pay that bill.
Conversely, If the garbage disposal is broken because it’s worn out and old, that’s your, the landlord’s responsibility.
Here is a great hack for communicating with tenants and contractors about maintenance issues.
Encourage your tenants to use texting only. If they call, I don’t answer, but then text them back and ask them what they need.
When they text you to say, for example, the AC isn’t working, put them in a group text with yourself and your AC guy. AC guy will coordinate with the tenant by text and get it taken care of. You will monitor the group chat that you started until it gets done.
Then you pay AC guy immediately, and have him email or text the receipt.
You can also use a bank billpay option to send electronic checks for free.
If the tenant’s maintenance request seems a little iffy, have them text pictures and video. You or the handyman may be able to walk your tenant through solving the problem without going over.
This is common.
Sometimes people just have their thermostat on the wrong settings, or just need to flip a circuit breaker. Boom, you just saved a hundred bucks.
Pictures also help contractors bring the right equipment on their initial visit, which also saves time and money.
It’s smart to get your contractors and handymen used to doing everything by text and taking pictures of the work, both before and after. In exchange for this, you typically pay them immediately, which, it turns out, they like a lot.
All of the sudden, they’ll respond to your requests quickly.
Now onto self management tip #3.
Rent payments and late fees
I’m going to make an important recommendation.
Highly encourage your tenants to pay you electronically. Ideally on auto pay.
I use a software called tenantcloud to manage my properties, and it allows them to pay automatically for free by ACH transfer, which is a bank transfer.
Sometimes they can set up automatic payments from their own checking account. They can also use zelle or a billpay feature, which is usually free.
Discourage cash payments. It’s a hassle, you have to go in person to get it, then you have to deposit it, you could be beat up while carrying the cash, there isn’t a paper trail, just don’t do it.
I don’t like money orders because if they get lost in the mail, it’s typically a month or two to get it replaced.
Collecting rent isn’t that tricky, but getting people to consistently pay on time can be.
With good rental criteria, you’ll weed out most problem tenants, but you will still get tenants that want to see who they have to pay on time each month, and who can wait.
Don’t be the one who’s willing to wait. Payments just get later and later each month.
Let me teach you how to combat this.
You need a process, and when you stick to this process, people realize paying rent late isn’t going to be an option, and they stop doing it.
You need to do these two things.
- The lease says and you verbally tell them before signing the lease that late payments are almost never waived, even for family emergencies, loss of job, or unexpected events.
- Be specific about which day the late fee is charged. maybe on the 5th day of the month and stick to this. Sometimes state law dictates a grace period.
When people inevitably tell you they’ll be a few days late this month, just remind them which day the late charge is added and how much it’ll be.
When they give you the reason they’ll be late, sympathize, but politely remind them again which day the late fee will be charged.
This works better than any other approach I’ve seen.
Armed with what you learned today, you can manage your own rental properties spending minutes a week on it.
Do you want to learn more about being a great landlord and making money in real estate?
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Rich on Money