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.

 

 

The real reason why sales are down

I’m seeing a lot of news articles with accurate data.  My issue is that I think most are drawing the wrong conclusions.

Most seem to want to make you think the sky is falling in real estate because sales are down.

You know who needs to care about the number of sales?  Appraisers, realtors, mortgage people.  Those of us who make money on each transaction.

As a buyer and/or seller, the number of sales isn’t really important to you.  What you care about is supply and demand-the ratio of buyers to sellers in the market.  If there are 3 buyers in the market and only 2 listings, then we have a seller’s market.

I am seeing a lot of articles stating that sales were down in November of 2018 versus November of 2017.  Of course they were.  It happens every election year.  The market pauses until we see which set of morons we will be stuck with.

The ones that really bug me are the ones that say the affordability crisis will hold the market back.  I think they have it backwards.

Sure, we have an affordability issue.  Many people can’t afford to buy a house with rising prices and interest rates.  All I know is that every house under $200k in this town seems to go very quickly, which allows that seller to buy up to their next house and that seller to buy up to their next house and so on.

Back when the market was terrible, I said that it was like a baseball game where the bases are loaded.  The seller on first base needed a buyer without a contingency to buy their house so they could buy the 2nd base seller’s house, who could buy the 3rd base seller’s house.  The first time buyer needed to hit a home run and push all those sales through.

Back then a buyer had a ton of choices for their next home.  The issue was selling their old one.

Today, no buyer really has a huge selection of houses.

For that reason, I think our current market is the opposite.  There are a ton of first time buyers eager to hit a home run and push all those deals through, but what is happening is that the person on 3rd base doesn’t like home plate and has decided to just stand there until they feel like running.

The buyers with the most selection are the people buying their pinnacle home.  The one they stay in forever until they begin to downsize.  These are mostly Gen Xers.  They are in their 3rd base home, which is probably a fairly large home in the $250-350k range.  They want to move up to the $400-600k range, where there are plenty of houses for sale.

Their only problem is that most are just tarted up versions of their current house.  These buyers aren’t getting a better house, a bigger house, or a bigger yard.  They are just getting prettier finishes.  They find the houses in this price range, well, boring.  And we have a TON of them for sale.

So what do these Gen X buyers do?  They wait for the right house to hit the market.  Since they already have a nice house, they are in no hurry.  Because they aren’t in a hurry, that means the people looking to buy their house are in the same position….all the way down to that first time buyer eager to bid their heart out on their first home.

And, that is where we are today.  Sellers wanting to sell but not finding anything they want to buy.

Some of my favorite marketing remarks for listings

One of my favorite things about getting a new listing is writing the marketing remarks.

My sellers often ask me what I am going to say about their house.  I tell them I don’t know yet.  What I like to do is sit down with a cup of coffee and look through all the pictures until something pops in my mind.

I like to use the words in the remarks to tell a buyer what they can’t see in pictures.  I also like to say something that will be memorable.  I know I’ve done a good job when all my realtor friends will text or call me saying how much they enjoyed reading them.

Here are a few of my favorites:

 

  1. “Get out your MUST HAVE list and let’s compare. Do you have these items on it: 1/4 acre level lot that is fully fenced & private? Hardwood floors? Replacement windows? A nicely updated bath? Stainless appliances? Fireplace? Good so far???? Come see it in person. Don’t just peek through the windows. You will love the shape and vibe of this house. The location is amazing.”

runnymede

 

2.  “DO THE OTHER HOUSES you are looking at have a wooded area & a lake behind them? Didn’t think so. Besides the wooded+water view, this house has numerous unique features: *HUGE finished room in the basement plus a full bath down there.  *HUGE storage room in the basement that walks out to driveway.  *End of Cul-de-Sac with nothing but Mother Nature behind you. Come check it out!”

harbor

 

3.  “Like Top 5 lists? The first 5 pictures tell you everything you need to know about what makes this house sooooo special. The rest are there just to make you drool 😉 Classical Character meets a whole house high end reno here….yeah, you CAN have it all, IF somebody else doesn’t beat you to it.”

firebrook

 

4. “Old. New. Modern. Distressed. Pinterest. IKEA. Style. Functional. Character. Unique. Amazing. These are all words to describe what the seller’s affectionately call their Frankenhouse. While you will be amazed at all the detail they have put into this house to make it look so cool, I want you to be sure to notice that you have 3 full bathrooms, an open concept eat in kitchen/family room, a large fully fenced backyard with two decks, a shed and a root cellar. Oh, and the HVAC was all replaced two years ago and the roof is 10 years old….so what you have here is the unique old house you have fantasied about WITHOUT the reality of all the expenses typical to an older house. They have got it all ready for the next caretaker. Could it be you?”

franken

 

5.  “If this house could talk, it would say: I’m a Mid-Century charmer in a fantastic neighborhood. I’ve got lots of hardwood floors, more than one bathroom, and have had updates but still kept my original character. Some people judge me because I back to a shopping center, but you can’t really tell since my large and level backyard has sooooo many mature trees. I mean, just look at the pictures? You have to look really close to even notice. My last people that lived here liked not having another house right behind them. They said there wasn’t any noise and it sure beat seeing a neighbor or hearing a barking dog…………..Since this humble houses doesn’t like to brag, you should know that it is in the Beaumont Middle and Dunbar High School districts.”

traveller

 

6.  “Jessica & Duane looked at many house before picking this one…..and if you’ll take a look at the pictures you’ll see why! For starters, this simply has to be the BEST lot in the whole neighborhood. The house is at the end of a cul-de-sac that is in the very corner of the neighborhood and backs to FARMLAND…..has a bunch of space between the houses too. Step inside, and you will notice that this house feels much more expensive than it is. Sure, it has the open floor plan, fireplace, upgraded laminate floors, separate tub/shower & tall ceilings that everybody wants, but look close and you’ll notice things like an office nook, crown molding just about everywhere, beadboard on the back of the kitchen island, a multi-level deck, cabinets in the laundry area, some floored storage space in the attic, a coated garage floor……well, you get the drift here. Come see it for yourself, but open your eyes so you don’t miss the other cool details of this home!”

crockett

 

7.  “I honestly am challenged to describe this place in less than the 1000 characters I have. I mean, the setting is fantastic. You are on top of a ridge, but don’t have to drive up a steep road nor driveway to get here. Fantastic views & very private. Then there is the house. It has been totally remodeled with attention to design, detail and character. Look at the pictures? This place could be in a magazine!! When you come see this place, walk around it several times to take it all in. Want to be a farmer? A vineyard, orchard trees, chicken house, pond & barn are ready for you. 30 minutes to Lexington & 10 minutes to Nicholasville-can it be any more ideal?? (there is more but I am running out of room.)”

taylor

 

8.  “I don’t often have 61 pictures of a house……but then again, there aren’t many houses like this!! Some thoughts that popped into my head as I toured it today were: Craftsmanship, attention to detail, LOTS of crown molding & trim work, farmhouse sink, awesome cooktop hood, lots of hardwood, wrap around porch, custom built, elegant while being inviting, the best breakfast room I have EVER seen, natural light, I can’t believe it has a great room AND an upstairs family lounge AND a basement family room, Pottery Barn, Southern Living, STORAGE, an unfinished room in the basement that would be a perfect Theater Room. Then as I left, I noticed it is across from dedicated Green space. Before you check out those 61 pictures, let me point out a few other things: The main level bedroom is being used as an office. It works great either way. The basement bedroom has French doors & could be anything you want….Lots to love. Worth a visit!!”

Vanznat

 

9.  4 ooooh 5 ooooh 2.The best zip code in all of Lexington….and this house is in THE most awesome location with access to The Lansdowne Shoppes, The Signature Club, Chevy Chase, Downtown, UK, The Arboretum, Southland Drive, Fayette Mall and The Summit. Map it. This place is right in the middle of all that. You also get mature trees and are in the Glendover Elementary/Morton Middle/Henry Clay High district. But what about this house? Well, to begin with it sits on nearly a 1/3 acre corner lot that offers a very private backyard. It’s got hardwood, tile and a nice mix of updating and all the original charm that you want in a mid century home. My favorite thing about this place is the floor plan. All the rooms are big and bright and flow well. The kitchen is open to the family room just like in a newer house. When you come check it out, be sure to spend a few minutes sitting at the kitchen island. It’s a great gathering space.”

_SEM6025

 

10.  Let’s call this the TRIFECTA house: You get greenspace, a water view and move in ready condition. You also get a lot of natural light, an open floor plan, a walking trail, are close to Hamburg as well as two of Lexington’s newest schools, Garrett Morgan Elementary and Frederick Douglass High. A little extra icing on an already good cake is that there is more space than usual between you and one of your neighbors, the driveway is flat and it is going to be the cleanest most move in ready house you have ever seen. (Even the lawn is in immaculate shape!!)”

3276 Sweet Clover - 013

 

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.

The house I almost sold

It is like April of 2005.  I am sitting in a class to teach me how to be a realtor.  It’s all been common sense stuff so far.  I’m the only one who isn’t taking notes and who is wearing shorts.  I am also the only person in that class who is still a realtor.

The day I have been waiting for finally comes.  It’s the day they teach us how to do CMAs, which means Comparable Market Analysis, which means what a house is worth compared to what has sold in it’s neighborhood.

Figuring out value has always been fun for me.  I like the numbers.  I like the fortune telling aspect too.  I love it when I am right, which happens almost all the time.  The only time I don’t like it is when a seller thinks their house is worth more than I tell them.  Usually what happens there is that some other agent gets the listing and I watch them reduce it until it sells for what I had already told the seller.  It’s a hollow victory.

Back to that day.  A line I will always remember was said by the broker of that agency.  He said “If the comparable sale is superior, you subtract value.  If the comparable sale is inferior, you add value.”  Most of the people struggled with this since it is worded counter-intuitively.  Sort of like asking somebody “Is red NOT your favorite color” verses asking “Is red your favorite color.”

By the end of that day, everybody finally understood that if the house you are about to list is better than the comparable sale house, then you need to add value to what the comparable sale house sold for to know what your listing is gonna be worth.  There are assigned values for differences such as square footage, number of bathrooms, etc.  Some of it is subjective too, and that is where experience comes in handy.

And all of this leads me to the real topic of this blog post.  I almost sold a house last weekend.  I looked at the comparable sales in the area for my clients.  All the similar houses had sold for about $170-172k.  The list price on the house they wanted to buy was $172k.  Why did I suggest the value was about $165-168k then?  All of the comparable sale properties had flat and usable backyards.  The backyard for this house was flat for about 3 feet and then sloped steeply uphill.  It needed to be worth LESS than the other similar sized and equally finished houses in the neighborhood.

The seller got a higher offer than the one we submitted.  Good for him.  Bad for the buyer.  I am finding in this fast moving market that agents don’t seem to be doing as much leg work as they used to do.  I suspect that the buyer’s agent just looked quickly and saw that similar sized houses sold for $170-172k and thought it was okay to pay that much.  Looking at all the pictures would have helped.  The buyer is probably happy to have gotten the house, but if they need to sell in a Buyer’s Market, they will realize that buyers who have choices prefer not to have a sloped backyard.

Those same buyers of mine ended up with a move in ready house that has a perfectly flat and private backyard.  It will sell well in any market.