I’ve spent the better part of the spring and summer improving one of my properties, and I’m now just getting to the point where I thought I’d post about this little maneuver I’d like to call the Canuck Landlord Shuffle. This has probably be done before, but I’ll give it a name now just in case no one else has.
The property in question was first built a while ago, by someone else. I can’t be sure exactly when, because it was built in stages and has had many different uses in its day. Suffice it to say that whether or not all building codes were followed along the way, it had some variances according to today’s standards. The major variance was that not all the bedrooms had two means of egress, or ways to escape a fire. Back in the day, no one really cared, but people take it seriously today. Serious enough that the room cannot be called a bedroom. So, I was left with units that have dens or studies instead of a second bedroom, which is what most people want.
The solution was simple… in theory: Convert a living room that has a window into a bedroom with a window, and convert the non-conforming bedroom with no window into a living room.
Why do this? In this market, a one bedroom unit with a den, living room, kitchen and bathroom can rent for around $600. However, a two bedroom unit with a living room, kitchen and bathroom can rent for around $725. The square footage is the same, but arranged different. That change nets an extra $125/month, or $1500/year.
This building had three units that were setup with a bedroom on an inside corner and a living room on the outside corner. The plan was to remodel each unit so that the living room was on the inside corner and the bedrooms were on the outside walls. The beauty of this plan is that I don’t have to lose any tenants. Read more…
Many times I’ve been to a unit for one reason or another and the tenant will have a maintenance request for something that is an easy fix, however, I didn’t have the right tool with me. This meant that I had to make a second trip to the unit to fix something that might only take 5 mins. Being able to take care of these little items quickly is the first step to becoming a stellar landlord. To avoid this, I bought a tool kit from one of the big box stores, and I leave it behind the seat of my truck.
When getting started, buy a tool kit with as many tools as you can reasonably afford. You probably won’t be using these everyday, so you don’t need to buy the most expensive kit in the store. Professionals can afford to buy the big names tools or the specialty, but for occasional use, the low to mid-range tools are fine. It should also be small enough that you can keep it in your vehicle at all times.
There are many kits that I would find useless. I see that Canadian Tire now sells a home plumbing kit and a home electrical kit. Both look great and I would recommend picking each one up. On sale, of course. Since a landlord has to be a jack-of-all-trades, you want a kit that will allow you to tackle the most common repairs that come up. Your kit should include the following:
- Hammer – should be sturdy enough to actually use. I’ve broken several cheap hammers and flying hammer heads ain’t fun.
- Tape Measure – 25′ if you buy your own. Only engineers and Europeans use metric.
- Level – many kits come with a small torpedo level, but you’ll also want a 24″ one.
- Screwdrivers – there should be several sizes of each type, or just buy a multi-bit version.
- Pliers – more the better, but I use channel locks and vise grips a lot.
- Wrenches – the more variety the better, but you need a basin wrench.
- Utility Knife – to cut things.
- Saws – you’ll need a multipurpose wood saw and a hack saw, to cut things.
- Electrical Tester – if you plan on doing anything with electricity, you want to know the juice ain’t flowing.
Many kits include a bunch of sockets, but they’re more for mechanical repairs. I rarely use them for routine repairs and maintenance in my units, so don’t be afraid to buy a kit without them.
Watch the weekly flyers for these kits to go on sale, because they often do. These generic tool kits are often used as loss leaders for the big chain retailers like Sears and Canadian Tire. Big name retailers offer lifetime exchange warranties on their store brand tools. So, if you wear them out, or in some cases, break them, you can bring them back to the store for a replacement. One time I brought a screwdriver in and was just handed a new one, but you might want to keep that receipt handy just in case.
In the movie Gran Torino, Clint Eastwood’s character says to the neighbour boy “Take these three items, some WD-40, a vise grip, and a roll of duct tape. Any man worth his salt can fix almost any problem with this stuff alone.” Make sure those are in your kit too.
As usual, this summer has flown by and it’s just getting started for those of us on the East Coast. This is a good time to check on the progress of the tasks you outlined for your properties for the summer. Our weather here has been very wet. We didn’t get three sunny days in a row until last week and August is over. This has made it difficult to make any significant progress on outside work, and has made it very humid to do many things inside. If you were planning to paint or replace a roof, forget it.
Expect The Unexpected
Another thing that delayed me this summer had to do with building permit issues. It seems one of the previous owners of one of my properties neglected to get permission to change a commercial space into a residential apartment. The result is that I was unable to get an occupancy permit for an apartment I had recently renovated, and rented. The occupancy permit says that the building/unit was built to code or better. I couldn’t take out any more permits until I went through the process of getting a development agreement, which takes months.
Review Your List & Prioritize
A quick look at your list of things to do will give you an idea of whether you need to step up your efforts or if you’re going to have to defer that maintenance until next year. I was planning to pressure wash and paint one of my properties, and I probably won’t be able to get to it even though there’s plenty of summer left since the building has to dry out for awhile after it’s washed. I still have to repair a deck and now I might have to replace a roof. Those take priority because (1) they relate to safety, and (2) it could cause more damage if it’s not taken care of. Since both time and money are tight, some things can’t always get done right away.
Reap Your Reward
Your ability to get things done so you don’t have to defer them will set your properties apart from other properties, and you apart from other landlords.
Do you have any chores you were planning to do, but couldn’t because of the weather?
I got myself involved in a discussion in the comments section of an article over at Landlord Rescue the other day and it gave me the inspiration to expand on it over here. The article began with a question from a reader, one that’s been asked many times, “how can I hire a decent contractor/handyman without being ripped off?” I talked about working with trades people before, but a point was brought up in the comments that is worth noting: once you own the property, repairs and maintenance have to be dealt with regardless of how much cash you have sitting in the bank. Believe me, I know this lesson and I’m still learning it. Read more…
Most of you already have your spring cleaning finished, or almost finished, and all the things that were in your way all winter are gone. It’s time to freshen the place up and get ready for the warm weather and fresh air. This time of year, or even a little earlier, is also the best time to start planning your summer maintenance.
The winter can be cruel to a property, and most exterior maintenance items are weather dependent, which means you need good weather to do them. You can’t schedule good weather, and it can get very frustrating when you’re trying to get several things done in a summer and the weather isn’t cooperating. This makes it even more crucial to have a detailed plan in place for your exterior maintenance items. Read more…
You should have a plunger in every bathroom you own. The benefits of this should be clear. Often when you need one, you need it right away. Don’t rely on your tenants having one, if they do that’s great, but often they don’t think of it. Dollar stores often have a basic model you can get for each unit, and you can buy a beefier model for each building for those more stubborn clogs.
Go one step further and make sure each of your buildings has some liquid drain cleaner or drain declogger and a snake. I’ve used the stuff that uses compressed air to clear the line and it’s awesome, expensive, but awesome.
As people bathe, their loose hairs get washed down the drains. Over time these, along with other things, build up in the drain line and create clogs. Why is it important to bring up this disgusting fact? Well, this means that eventually every drain becomes clogged, and someone has to clear the clog. That someone will often be you, but if there’s a plunger there already, you might be able to talk your tenant through the procedure over the phone and save yourself a trip to the property for a two minute fix.
A final note is that you should have the number for a reliable plumber handy. Remember to grease the wheels a little by getting to know the owner of the company and making sure there’s a bottle of rum in his stocking at Christmas.