There are always a million things you can look at when you buy a rental property:
- What is the rent?
- Is there any water damage?
- Is the house on a concrete slab?
- What kind of neighborhood is it in?
- Do the cabinets need replacing?
- How many more years does the roof have left?
I could make a list a mile long, and it still wouldn’t cover everything a person could check or all the mistakes I have made.
There is, however, one set of questions that I always ask: How long has the tenant been there? How prompt are they with paying rent? What kind of maintenance do they request?
Why Do I Make This a Priority?
Landlords say tenant screening is one of the most important things to do. There are easily available tools online to get credit score, criminal history, and other applicant information. This processes is necessary to predict how reliable someone will be in paying their rent and how responsible someone may be with your property.
I would suggest that if longevity, reliability, and responsibility are the markers of a desirable tenant, there’s no better way than observing and verifying how someone currently live in their own home. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could visit each applicant before you rent to them? I would certainly have a better quality tenant on average if that were possible.
There is one circumstance where an investor can actually visit a tenant in his or her home: When buy the house they live in! Quality tenants are like neon signs in the jungle on a moonless night. The house is well kept and neat. The lawn is cared for. They do minor maintenance items themselves. They don’t bring up broken items when you are there.
Quality tenants are worth buying. They are worth paying up for. If you are a numbers person, think about it in terms of cap rate. Consider a $100,000 house, financed for 20 years, that rents for $1,200 per month. Here’s how a desirable, high quality tenant could affect your investment:
When a tenant turns over, it costs money. A modest $500 in repairs, not covered by a security deposit and one month of lost rent, is $1,700. That’s about $70 a month in terms of month-to-month cash flow. Cap rate drops by just shy of 1 percent. If your property manager charges a re-leasing fee and/or advertising costs, that amount can grow up to 1.5 percent.
Tenants who pay on time every month save collection headaches. If you have to evict a tenant (at least in the markets that I am in) costs can be up to $1,000 per occurrence. If you assume that 20 percent of all slow paying tenants have to be evicted this add another $25 per month, averaged over a person’s rental portfolio. This knocks the cap rate down by .3 percent.
It’s harder to quantify what minor maintenance is worth. If a quality tenant puts up his own ceiling fan or fixes a leaky bathroom faucet, savings can easily get to $50/month on average — for another .3 percent on the cap rate.
Figuring out what a new tenant’s longevity, reliability, and responsibility is difficult at best. Sure, you can call their current landlord, but can you be sure you haven’t been given fake numbers to friends or forged references? Sure, you can check a credit score, but does that tell you if a person moves every 18 months? Existing tenants are simply an easier prospect to evaluate.
As we see here, finding properties to purchase that already have great tenants can be worth $170 per month or more to an investor. In our example house, this can amount to over 2 percent on the cap rate. This is easily the difference between profit and loss or a good investment and a great investment
Most markets and most tenants won’t let a landlord raise rents by $170 per month. Look for hidden value in single-family homes by buying great tenants, and reap the benefits for years to come.
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