We just took a big step in selling one of our rental properties. This was actually James’ baby, which he purchased in August of 2003, four months before I moved out to Washington. This studio apartment, in the heart of Dupont Circle and a whopping 336 sq ft, was what we initially cut our teeth on for managing rental properties. Since then we’ve purchased two more rental properties in the neighborhood (in 2005 and 2010).
We’ll be the first to tell you that being a landlord is not for the meek at heart and shouldn’t be entered into lightly. You may not know that you aren’t cut out for it until you are neck deep into owning a property, so take some time to consider all of the pros and cons.
When it comes to rental properties, this unit was about as easy as it comes. It was like one of those babies that make it look so easy, but you know well enough that they are not all created equally. In the ten years we owned the property we had only three renters, for 1, 4 and then 5 years a piece. The few times we did find renters was also astoundingly easy. The first time it turned over the renter moved out on Saturday with the place in perfect condition, we had over 20 prospective renters lined up on Sunday, and it went to the second showing. The next time we actually had our renter begging us to pick him, giving us his whole story (including a Purple Heart earned in Iraq) and he was a fabulous renter for the next five years. In sum the landlord calls amounted to dealing with a minor faucet issue and a replacement of a space heater that the tenant took care of when we were out of the country and just deducted from his rent.
To sell the unit we did all the calculations with the market as to whether we should do renovations. In the end we opted to move forward and partially renovated (replacement of the studio kitchen, the parquet floor with bamboo, and light fixtures, while leaving the pink bathroom nearly as is). Most first time home buyers looking for a studio don’t have the means to do a renovation, so we felt this would broaden the pool of buyers. We did admittedly go through a phase of appliance purgatory while suffering through the harsh DC winter, but more of those hassles were with out other rentals and our place than this renovation.
The unit was on the market for only two weeks before we had a ratified contract, but it actually took another three weeks to jump through the hoops of the buyer’s tax abatement loan that is offered through the District. We closed last Friday and walked away with a nice check and glad to be done with the process. In truth, James was a bit disappointed with not getting full asking price ($259k) and having things take awhile, but I felt that we came out pretty good in the end.
Purchased in 2003: $130K
Sold in 2014: $254k
Nearly doubling in value in ten years isn’t bad for an investment on a tiny studio.
In sum our rental management tips would be the following:
1) Location, location, location! They say this in real estate, but it is certainly the case for rentals. We would have never seen this kind of appreciation, or had such ease in renting such a small place, if it weren’t for the prime DC location.
2) Pick and keep good renters. This is definitely an art, and often takes some learning, but really will make a difference in the quality of your life as a landlord. For instance in the first transition of renters we picked the nearly 40 year old professional who seemed low maintenance versus a student who would have likely stayed for a year and moved on.
3) Play your strengths. Not everyone has the advantage of managing rental properties as a couple, but we highly recommend it. Over the years we have learned what things I’m better at managing, and what things James is better at dealing with. This has helped a great deal in managing rental properties successfully.
We’d be interested to hear from our readers who have owned rental properties or are interested in doing so!