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How We Self Manage 16 Rental Units Without Pulling Our Hair Out

It’s not uncommon for people to act surprised when I tell them that my husband and I self manage 16 of our 18 rental units, and that we spend just a few hours each month (on average) doing so.

My good friend and favorite lender Cody Touchette recently asked me for more details on how we make it happen, and suggested that I write a post about it so for anyone who finds value in this post, you can thank Cody 🙂

I’m breaking down the different “jobs” that come up when managing your own rental properties and will share what we do for each. My philosophy is to get the job done with the least expense and with very little effort, so this is what has worked for us.

Tenant Screening & Placement

tenant placement and screening
This year was the first time that we actually leveraged this job out. We decided to hire a local property management company to market the property for rent, screen tenants and complete a move in condition checklist for 50% of a full month’s rent.
Prior to leveraging the tenant screening & placement job out we used this system:

  1. In the online rental listing I would require all prospective tenants to complete a free pre-application via google forms. Here’s what our pre-application looks like.The goal is to save time and not schedule showings for people who didn’t have first months rent + deposit, or who did not meet your criteria, which is why you have to state it to begin with. 
  2. Any email inquiries that came in would go to a dedicated Gmail account with an auto reply set up to direct them to complete the pre-application.
  3. I would review all pre-applications and those that met our criteria (criteria was stated at the top of the form) we would give all prospective tenants a 2 hour window to show up for an open house where they could come and view the property.
  4. Anyone who was interested in moving forward after viewing would then be directed to complete a written application and would be emailed a credit & background check request via Apartments.com which the tenants would pay for.
  5. I would cross reference the information from the pre-application to the written application and their credit & background check. Any inconsistencies would be questioned and need to be explained.
  6. I would also call all previous landlords, and verify employment.
  7. If all checked out I would approve the application pending receipt of a holding fee, equivilent to one months rent.

Marketing For Rent

marketing for rent
When it came time to market our properties for rent, I always made sure to get the best pictures of the property as possible. I think it shows prospective tenants that you care and that you are an experienced owner – versus an owner who has one sideways photo that is date stamped two years ago.

When we were handling our own tenant placement I would create a listing on Zillow and upload all of the photos that I had and made sure that I filled out all of the necessary information that a tenant would need.

I stopped advertising our rentals on craigslist a long time ago. I’m sure that I missed out on some tenants who were searching on craigslist, but I grew tired of all of the scams and just felt it wasn’t worth it.

The Zillow network now syndicates to the following websites:

Leases, Addendums & Notices

I am really lucky that in Washington State we have an organization called RHA WA – which stands for the Rental Housing Authority of Washington.

They have an annual subscription (around $100 per year) which allows you to access their latest and greatest attorney created forms and notices. These forms have pretty much cover every type of tenant situation possible and their lease is the best I’ve seen. They are also constantly updated.

Repair Requests

making repairs
The proper handling of repair requests is important when self managing your rentals. You definitely want to be familiar with the landlord tenant laws in your state, specifically regarding the response time for making repairs.

We’ve been fortunate enough to never have any major issues like loss of power or water, but we have had water heaters go and furnaces quit working.

Over the years we’ve found ways to lessen the amount of repair requests, though things still come up from time to time.
We don’t use a very sophisticated method of handling repair requests, though it hasn’t been without trying.

Years ago I created what I thought was a brilliant way of handling repair requests – I created a special google form that the tenants could fill out that would get emailed directly to my husband. It would be date stamped and include an option for adding a photo. I sent some basic instructions to the tenant and asked that they submit their repair requests using that system.

Only challenge was, the tenants didn’t use it!

In their defense we often go months and sometimes years without repair requests so they wouldn’t have remembered a link to a form in an email from forever ago anyway.

So we abandoned that method and just allow tenants to let us know about issues however they see fit. Some email, others text or call.

Making Repairs

After we’ve received the repair request and verified that it is our responsibility it’s time to actually schedule the repair to be done.
Over the years I’ve developed a preferred vendor list and most often I will have one of our vendors reach out to the tenant directly to schedule and make the repair.

For example, if it’s an appliance issue I contact the warranty company, let them know of the issue and then have them deal directly with the tenant. Appliance issues seem to be the most popular repair so I always buy warranties on them. The cost is minimal when compared to having to replace the appliance and deal with trouble shooting the issue.

If the repair is something small or an easy fix my husband Travis will often take care of those.

Paying Bills

paying bills
I really dislike paying bills.

Spending your time on paperwork while lowering your bank account balance is not a fun task so I automate as much as I can so that I can at least be doing something productive while these bills are getting paid.

Between all of our rental properties, my real estate business and personal household bills it would take hours each week if I just paid them as they came in.

So with the utility bills for our rentals I have done a few things to save time.

  1. All of the utility companies have a landlord agreement on file so that when a tenant moves out and removes responsibility from their name, the account automatically switches over to me. When a new tenant moves in and accepts responsibility, it automatically gets removed from my name. If you own rentals and don’t have this set up you should ask!
  2. All utility bills are on auto pay using our designated rental portfolio credit card. I want to spend as little time as possible on our rental properties so instead of billing back to the tenants, I just set a flat rate for utility fees to be paid with rent and auto pay that bill myself.

 Then I set up an auto pay feature from my rental portfolio credit card to be paid each month from our rental portfolio bank account. Much easier to manage and takes no time and we get to use those miles to travel!

For all of the mortgage payments I have a similar process. I set each mortgage payment to go out on the 10th of the month from our rental portfolio account. Easy peasy!

I do have all of the rental income and all of the expenses come out of one account instead of separate accounts for each property, because I think that would be a nightmare and take forever 🙂

Bookkeeping

bookkeeping
Thankfully I have a great bookkeeping company who handles all of the bookkeeping side of things.
When we’re in renovation mode I find myself with a stockpile of Home Depot and Lowes receipts and having a ton of cluttered paper drives me nuts.

So I take the receipts and separate them out by property, then I do some basic data entry in a Google document with the vendor name, date and amount. So each property has its own running total of expense receipts. I then share the updated version with my bookkeeping company so they can cross reference the Home Depot charge with the corresponding property.

I take the hard copies and file them in each properties file for safe keeping – and in case we get audited :{

I also gave them logins to all of my mortgage online accounts so that they can go in and add the mortgage expenses to be broken out by interest, taxes, and insurance.

Each month they send me a P&L along with any questions, I quickly review and then we’re done.

I pay this bookkeeping company $100 per month to do all of my rentals, and they also do the books for my real estate business. I’ve begged them to offer a rental property owner only service, but they don’t offer that at this time.

If you’re a real estate agent with rentals I’m happy to send you their way, but everyone else is going to have to find a good one on your own.

Rent Collection

collecting rent
For collecting rent we use Apartments.com (formally Cozy) which is a quick and easy (and FREE) ACH rent payment service (they do other things too) for landlords and tenants.

All I have to do is input the tenants name, email and phone number along with the rental due date and the amount and Cozy sends an invite to the tenant to submit their bank information.

I have had tenants incorrectly enter the bank account information, which resulted in a rejected transaction but most seem to figure it out in one try.

There is a waiting period to get the rent deposited into your account, so the tenants that pay on the first of the months checks get deposited into our account by the 5th or 6th. Cozy says to expect 5 business days to receive the rent.

There is an option to pay $2.99 per unit per month to get payments within 3 business days, I don’t do this but its an option for those who want to.

Cozy sends out notifications when tenants have initiated their rent payment (most auto pay rent) and there is an option to automatically assess a late fee (ours is 10%) starting the day after the rent is due.

What’s great about Cozy is it saves me a ton of time each month by not having to deposit checks, or deal with the excuse that the rent got lost in the mail. If I ever needed to download the tenant rental payment history I can do so in seconds.
Here is a list of similar services to Cozy which offer online rental payments.

So there you have it folks, our self management systems in nutshell! Do you do something different or use a great tools that we should know about? If so, please share in the comments below!

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About the Author

Jennifer Beadles

I’m Jennifer Beadles, and together with my family, we are living the day-to-day of a financially independent family thanks to our rental properties.

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