How to pick your first rental house

The first thing to know is that you want an exit plan.  You want to buy something that will be fairly easy to sell when that time comes.  That is why I usually suggest a single family home in a decent neighborhood.  When you sell it, your buyer pool will be owner-occupant buyers who will happily pay a full retail price.

The second thing to know is that you pick your tenants through them picking your house.  You have a crappy worn out rental, guess what type of tenant is going to be willing to live there?  You make your house one of the nicest ones in it’s price range and you will attract the best qualified tenants out there.  Also, if you have one of the best houses they could ever afford, why would they move?

Here are some things that I think make a house a good pick:

1.  A ranch house.  Who doesn’t like one?  They are suitable for buyers/tenants in all stages of life.  They are easier to paint by yourself since there is no staircase.  You can clean out gutters with a step ladder.  They are just easier to work on period.

2.  A house on a slab.  When the wax ring around the toilet fails and when water gets splashed out of the tub, there is no wood to rot.  Also there is no water to collect under the house and grow mold.

3.  A smaller house.  Fewer people can live in a smaller house.  That means less wear and tear.  While a 2 bedroom house has a little more limited market when you sell, tenants usually don’t care if a house is 2 or 3 bedrooms.

4.  A simple roof line with not much of a pitch.   The fewer ridges and valleys the better.  Not only are they cheaper to replace, there are fewer places to get a leak.

Here are some things I try to avoid:

  1.  Basements.  They all have the potential to leak.
  2.  Sheds.  They are just one more thing to maintain and tenants usually leave you stuff they don’t want when they move out.
  3. Huge yards.  When they get out of control, it takes a lot of time to bring them back.
  4. Big garages.  I’m talking more than a regular two car garage.  Usually tenants who are attracted to a huge garage have a lot of stuff to store or hobbies that need the space.  Either one means you might need a dumpster when they move out.
  5. Fireplaces.  Do you really want somebody starting a fire in your house?

Now a lot of this is based on paying retail.  If you get a great deal on a house with a huge lot or a basement, take it.  A good deal can make up for potential future headaches.

My ideal house would be a smaller ranch on a slab built after 1960.  It would be 2-3 bedroom and have 1-2 baths.  A normal sized, flatter yard for good drainage.  On the lower end, no garage is okay.  If the house is worth more than about $150k, I would want a garage more for resale than to make a tenant happy.

 

 

Why buy a house when you can rent?

Now that the market is becoming balanced, I am seeing a lot of articles predicting doom and gloom for real estate.  I get it, nobody wants to read an article that says “The real estate market is about to become boring because it will neither be a seller’s market nor a buyer’s market”.  They’ve got to go to an extreme to get and keep your attention.  I am seeing lots of articles telling people that their home is not an investment.  I’ve even seen some articles suggesting people continue to rent and get into the stock market instead of buying a home.

Which might be good advice if you were going to live in your car, or with your parents the rest of your life.  Sure, you might come out ahead over the long haul, but the reality is you will have to pay to live somewhere, may as well pay to live in your own house.

Why did I want to buy my first house as soon as I could save the down payment?

I used to mow lawns for a lot of elderly people.  I would always enjoy them telling me what they paid for their houses 30-40 years ago and what their mortgage payment was.  I had one little old lady who told me her mortgage was $163 a month and some months it was hard to pay it.

When it was new, her house might have rented for about the same amount.  Do you think rent prices have gone up since the mid 1960s?  Meanwhile, that little old lady paid $163 a month until the house was paid off. (Okay, I am sure her property taxes and insurance went up, but not by that much.)  And when she made her last $163 payment, do you know what she did the next month?  Nothing.  There were no more payments to make (Okay again, she would still have taxes and insurance to pay but both of those expenses would be FAR less than what the house would rent for at that time.)

Let’s take a look at what happens when this little old lady moves out of her house.  She pays a real estate commission and gets to keep the rest because there is no mortgage.

What if she had rented a house that whole time and moved?  She would have paid off the house for the landlord and had nothing to show for it.

I think owning your home is the best decision you can make.

Which seller did better?

Two houses on the same street.  One is smaller and has been renovated.  The other is bigger and has had a few minor updates.

The smaller renovated one sells for more money that the larger one with mild updates is worth.

Which owner would you want to be?

You are probably thinking that the renovated house that sold for more would be the owner who comes out better than the other, but you’d be wrong.

That’s because the cost of a remodeled kitchen with a tiled backsplash and stainless appliances, remodeled bathrooms and new flooring greatly exceed the difference in values.

Back when the market was slow, it could have been harder to sell a house that hadn’t seen any big ticket updates like a new kitchen and/or baths.  That’s cause there were more houses for sale than there were buyers.  The problem is the opposite today.  There are more buyers than houses for sale, especially in the sub $200k range.

Sure, everybody loves a renovated house with all the trendy finishes.  Buyers will pay top dollar for that look, but for the person who wrote the check for the work, it is a little bit of a bummer because most of the time a seller is lucky to get half back in the increased value.  Great for the buyer.  Bad for the seller.

I had to tell a seller not too long ago that her house was worth about the same as she paid for it nearly 10 years ago.  On paper, you’d think that wasn’t possible.  She hasn’t done anything to the house other than enjoy living there.  Everything is nearly 10 years older now.  Sure, her house could potentially be worth another $15k, but she would have to spend over $20k to add that value.  She is actually coming out ahead by selling for about the same as she paid for verses getting a high sale price that lost money to achieve.

They don’t tell you all this stuff on HGTV.

The best bang for your buck on updates are paint, flooring and lighting.

Don’t do this to your house

I showed a house yesterday.  Nice place.  It was all original except the kitchen.

It wasn’t that old of a house, so it wasn’t what I would call outdated.  Since it wasn’t that old, nothing was worn out either.  I would call it neutrally nice-not bad and not great at the same time.

But that kitchen was super nice, and that was the problem with this house.

Yeah, you read that right.  The remodeled kitchen was a negative.

Why?

Because the people who are attracted to the house due to that super nice kitchen will be disappointed that the rest of the house isn’t as nice.  They leave thinking they would have to “Finish” the rest of the remodeling.

The people who won’t mind the rest of the house don’t care about that super nice kitchen and won’t want to pay for it through the higher list price.  They leave thinking the house is overpriced.

It would have been better for this seller to have spent less on the kitchen and updated all of the house evenly.

That has always been my advice after observing how buyers react to houses.  All of your house should be consistently nice if you want your updates to add value.  If they aren’t, then you are usually giving away that one space where you spent the most money.

Do this if you never want your house to sell

I showed a pretty nice house last night that is going to be very hard for the listing agent to sell.

It was one of the lower prices for a huge house on a gorgeous lot in a very desirable neighborhood.

You’d think that would be enough in any market, yet alone one starved for listings.

This is what it was like seeing the house.  You walk up to a freshly painted facade with recently mowed grass and fresh mulch.  You are feeling good about it.  You go inside.  The foyer is nice.  It is a little strange that you can’t see any rooms from the foyer, but not the end of the world.

You go towards the left and see the dining room.  Wall paper from the 90s.  You go into the kitchen next.  Red wall paper from the 90s.  You go into a really nice sunroom.  What do you see?  Murals painted on the walls.  You go back through all those rooms and then you enter the great room, which was super nice.  Then you see a bedroom.  Ok.  Then you see a bathroom that not only has wall paper, but wall paper boarders on the ceilings and top of the walls, as if they were making crown molding.  The shower curtain is heavy, like the dress Scarlett made in Gone with the Wind.  Then you enter the living room which is set up as an office and has way too much furniture in it.

Heading upstairs, you notice that all the bedrooms are painted a different color.  The basement is pretty normal.

The sellers furniture was nice, but they probably bought all of it when the house was new in the early 90s.  I am not bashing anybody’s stuff because my own house is probably the most boringly decorated house in the whole world, but I am not trying to sell it.  I would need to stage my own house if I were selling because my stuff would make my house feel as dated as this one did.  All of my furniture is stuff my parents gave me and that my wife and I put together from a box.  I’m just not into decorating……maybe that is why I can always see the house past the decor.

It sort of made me sad because I could picture the house vacant and with a coat of fresh paint.  It was nice.  Sure, the house would have still been a little outdated since it was about 25 years old, but it wasn’t terrible at all and typical for the neighborhood.

There was a stack of realtor cards on the table in the foyer.  That means all those people in addition to my buyers said “No” to this house.

What sellers never realize is that a buyer will walk through their entire house in about 20 minutes.  Having too much furniture in a room may suit the sellers needs, but it makes the rooms feel smaller to the buyer.  It is also hard to see the room past the furniture.  I always say that when you live in a house, the room exists to show off your decor.  When you are selling, the decor should show off the room.  Also, colors make a big difference.  A seller may be in one room of their house for a while and then go to another.  The buyer, when walking through the entire house, gets sensory overload if every room is drastically different.  A uniform color can also help when the house has a choppy floor plan too.

I am sure all the feedback on this listing has been that it needs too much work.  If this were my house, I would remove as much furniture as I could stand.  I would put a fresh coat of neutral paint everywhere.  People ask me all the time what is the biggest bang for the buck.  I always say fresh paint.  Nothing makes as big of an impact as fresh paint.

With all the wall paper gone, most of the dated furniture out, and a coat of fresh paint, the house would feel so much better.  The 25 year old finishes were neutral enough that buyers would find them acceptable in the absence of the 25 year old furniture and wall paper.

When I go to sell my current house, I am taking my own advice since my place is very similar to this one.