February 2010 — that happened, right? It was a stellar month for everyone, and especially for me. The Saints won the Superbowl, I turned 30 (OK, not that stellar), Mardi Gras was great, and I bought my first house — so much life-changing stuff packed into a three-week time span that I think I’m just now finally coming down from it.
The house my husband and I bought is a double, and we actually lived here for 5 years as renters before Katrina. It was the only house that my husband ever lived in when he moved to New Orleans, so this property in particular holds special meaning for us. We rented one side, and a string of friends and family members lived on the other since our landlord at the time basically let us pick our neighbors. Our decision to buy the 100-year-old camelback was rather serendipitous- we drove past, saw the “for sale” sign and immediately put in an offer. We weren’t even looking to buy at the time, having just been back in New Orleans for a year after a three-year stint in Arizona.
So not only were we proud first-time homeowners, but first-time landlords as well. The euphoria of such a big purchase was quickly zapped when the reality of having to put our responsibility hat on reared its ugly head. Termites, a leaking bathroom tub (our side), clogged dishwashers — let’s just say that we got some good practice in our first year. However, I always found owning a double really desirable. Tenants help pay the mortgage, you get to handpick your immediate neighbors and mine have all been trustworthy enough to serve as built-in cat sitters.
Of course all of that rental income isn’t quite free. Surprise! Uncle Sam wants you to pay taxes on it. The upside is that a lot of your expenses can be written off as tax deducts. Need a new toilet? Keep the receipt. Bought a new lawnmower? If you share a yard, you can claim half. All of these things are suddenly business expenses because, guess what? You are now a business owner, whether you realized it or not.
Landlords get a bad wrap. It’s kind of a dirty word for renters but I swear I’m cool. Not cool as in hip, I’d never claim that. Cool as in I fix stuff in a reasonable timeframe, I’m flexible and I know how to pick them. Just like any type of business, marketing your property is key. Shying away from college kids that might get drunk and puke all over the new carpet? Then don’t market to them. One person I know tried contacting his landlord but the guy didn’t have a working phone, and never bothered to update his contact info with his tenants. Don’t be that guy, because nothing suggests “Let’s move out in the middle of the night” like an unresponsive property manager.
My friend Seale Patterson is a landlord and head librarian of the Hubbell Branch (more on that later). Her experiences have been that the younger, college-age crowd is actually far more responsible than older renters.
“It’s a crap shoot, you know? Although I can say that I would rather rent to fresh-out-of-college and 20-somethings over older people any day. They’re usually a lot more respectful and law obedient. In all my experiences, it’s been the ‘adults’ who have screwed me out of money, snuck out in the middle of the night, or trashed the place. Or they had some sort of crazy-pants relationship drama and had to break the lease.”
Whenever I have a lease about to end, I start searching Craigslist to see what’s comparable in the area and how my property stacks up. Play up the positive, downplay the negative but certainly don’t cover it up. That hole in the roof isn’t a skylight, get it fixed otherwise you’ll be paying more for it later. Close to the bus line? Put emphasis on that. Is the property walking distance to a grocery store, a neat bookshop, or a night life hub? Make sure you mention that in your listing. I’m certainly not an expert, and maybe it’s beginner’s luck but I’ve had some pretty stellar tenants. Mine even used to bring me cupcakes when she worked at a bakery. Sweet.
A few other friends of mine pitched in with their own advice.
Jennifer Lloyd, another librarian-slash-landlord, suggests:
“Be responsive, but make sure your tenant has realistic expectations. Be clear about responsibilities (utilities, yard maintenance). Be open to communication. Don’t let small problems become big ones, especially when it involves plumbing.”
Aimee and Jeremy Miller, owners of Shultzilla, had this to say:
“Sometimes you might think you can fix something yourself in an effort to cut on costs, but often times it’s best just to hire someone who *really* knows what they’re doing. And as Jennifer said, be clear and openly communicate. As tedious as it might sound, touch on every little detail in the lease agreement.”
Finally, here’s some recommended reading from librarian Seale Patterson, all available from the New Orleans Public Library:
- The Art of Being “The Landlord” – A. Pierre Mouchette (2011)
- The Complete Landlord.com Ultimate Landlord Handbook – William Lederer (2009)
- The Successful Landlord: How to Make Money Without Making Yourself Nuts – Kenneth Roth (2004)
- The Landlord’s Handbook: A Complete Guide to Managing Small Residential Properties – Daniel Goodwin (1988)
- Leases and Rental Agreements – Macia Stewert *with CD of forms* (2005)
Christy Lorio, a native New Orleanian, writes on fashion at slowsouthernstyle.com and is also a freelance writer whose work has been featured online and in print magazines both locally and nationally.