Managing Your Property From A Distance Is Risky

Why landlords should consider hiring property managers.

By: Eveline H. Brownstein (c)

In a previous article I wrote about how to decide what rental homes to buy, I said:

Don’t be afraid to buy in affordable areas outside of the state you live in.  Conventional wisdom has always been that if you are going to buy property for rental income, you should live nearby.  This does not take into account the fact that the best places to buy may not be in your neighborhood, or even in your county.  They may indeed be in another state.  Of course it is unrealistic to expect you to manage a property from a distance, but that’s where really good property managers can be your best tool for getting the most out of your rental.

Despite the sound advice in this writing, problems can arise when those who buy rental income real estate elect to follow the first piece of this advice and dismiss the second.  It is important that anyone who follows the advice to look for lucrative rental income opportunities outside of the area in which they live, also follows my advice to hire a local property manager to manage the property.

The first critical part is, that if you are considering an out-of-area rental income property and after running the numbers you realize that you will not have sufficient income from it to hire a property manager, then I believe it is unwise to purchase the property.  Property managers typically charge around 10% of the rental income as a management fee, though there are areas of the country where a flat fee is charged after a certain maximum rental is reached, and others where managers will work with you to give you a “bulk break” if you have more than one property.  In a prior writing I emphasized the need to carefully calculate what your costs will be.  Factoring in the cost of property management for a property when it is unwise for you to manage it yourself, such as in the case of an out of area property, is an essential part of those calculations.

There are significant risks to a property owner if that property is not carefully managed and the greatest is with those properties where the landlord is absent.  Here are some of the more common risks:

  1. Never meeting the prospective tenant.  Despite all of the best background checks that might be done, there are risks when a landlord is unable to meet a prospective tenant face-to-face.  Many people can look great on paper, but how do you know for certain that the paperwork they give you indeed belongs to them?  Being able to check some things in person, like drivers’ licenses or other identity documents, is a more reliable way to know that the person who is renting your property is who they say they are.  Landlords who manage from a distance risk not knowing the veracity of the person who has applied for tenancy and is more limited in their ability to verify the information presented.  Additionally, it is more difficult for landlords who are absent from the area to conduct in-person tours of the property, or do a move-in checklist of the property’s condition, so that damages to which the security deposit can be applied are noted.  A landlord will not know that damages were done by a tenant, if the landlord is not certain of the condition of the property when the tenant moved in.
  2. Lawsuits.  A poorly managed property that does not meet the legal standards of being fit for tenancy, or one that is managed without careful regard for the legal rights of the tenant, can cause the property owner to be sued.  A lawsuit such as the one filed by Montrose, Texas tenant, Mark Kaufman against Harvey Horowitz of California can have devastating financial consequences for a property owner and could easily equal more than the sum total of any property management fees that the landlord would have had to pay to have the property managed by a local, competent management company.
  3. Destruction of property.  Some comfort resides in tenants who know an owner is not going to just drive by and check on their property.  In one case in Asia, the “trusted” tenants removed the entire house, brick-by-brick and the landlord was left with nothing but an empty lot.  The neighbors were apparently not concerned, figuring that the tenant had the landlord’s permission to remove the house.  This is clearly an extreme case of property destruction, but nevertheless, a landlord cannot rely on the vigilance of neighbors to ensure that a property is being properly cared for by a tenant.
  4. Failure to maintain the home.  Those areas of the home that are the tenants’ responsibility to maintain could be neglected if a landlord is not present to ensure that they are undertaken responsibly.  Simple matters like mowing the lawn or removing snow, which are designated in the lease as responsibilities of the tenant, may be neglected or not undertaken properly.  An absentee landlord will not know that these issues are not being taken care of, if the landlord is unaware of them because the landlord is not able to inspect the property.
  5. Failure to hire competent repair professionals.  Absentee landlords are less likely to know who might be the best local professionals to handle repairs and maintenance on their properties.  Local managers, who are diligent about how they conduct their business on your behalf, make it their business to know who to hire for repairs and who can be trusted to make proper and guaranteed repairs to your rental home, so that your investment in it is secure.
  6. Delays in making repairs or taking care of maintenance.  Landlords who are not nearby the property they own may necessarily delay needed repairs or maintenance as they investigate who they might hire, get referrals and quotes, and make arrangements for the repair person to meet the tenant at the property.  Successful property management companies make sure they keep copies of the keys to the property and make legal arrangements to enter it so that the repairs can be made, even if the tenant is not available to facilitate access to the property.
  7. Lease Violations.  Landlords who are not able to regularly inspect or drive by the properties that they own will likely not become aware of some rather serious lease violations, for example: if the tenant acquires a pet that is not permitted in the terms of the lease; if the tenant moves additional people into the home or sublets it without permission; or, if the tenant engages in a business out of the premises which is not permitted under the terms of the lease.
  8. Delayed necessary evictions.  A landlord who manages from a distance will find it difficult, if not impossible, to evict a tenant who is not in legal compliance with the lease.  Finding a local attorney to take care of the situation will likely cost more than if a local manager handled the process, because the attorney will be required to hire people to undertake the more simple tasks, like serving the paperwork and monitoring the eviction.  While an attorney is generally necessary for the filing of the paperwork and for making sure that all aspects of the eviction are in compliance with applicable law, there are, nevertheless, certain aspects of the eviction process that a manager can handle.  These aspects vary from state-to-state, but may include: serving the initial paperwork to let the tenant know that the tenant is not in compliance with the lease; ensuring that all deadlines for compliance are met, and in some cases even taking care of removing an evicted tenants belongings from the property timely, so that it can be rented out promptly.  It is usually financially impractical for an absentee landlord to make the many trips that may be required to complete the eviction process timely and with minimal delay.  Delayed necessary evictions not only cost money as a result of the process involved, but generally also come with a loss of rents that could have been minimized had they been carried out timely.

These represent just a few of the risks that landlords who choose to manage properties from a distance may be confronted with, and why it makes sense for any out-of-area landlord to rather spend the time more wisely, that is: in pursuit of a competent property manager who is properly qualified to manage residential properties, and who diligently monitors the actions of any tenants who are permitted to rent the property.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.