So you just bought your first rental property? Well, congratulations on the purchase and making a huge investment into your future. Now that you’ve become a new landlord, are you wondering what your next steps should be? Here are 8 helpful tips to get you started on the right path.
1. You’re now running a business and you have to treat it as such. This means getting your house and financial documents in order. It’s probably a good idea to buy a file cabinet or safe if you don’t already own one. Make sure you file mortgage, insurance, tax, water and tenants files in a safe place. It’s also a good idea to keep a digital (scanned) file back up somewhere as well. If your paper documents are lost or damaged, it won’t be difficult to replace them if you have an electronic back up.
2. Make contact with your new tenants. You need to introduce yourself as the new owner, provide them with your contact info and collect each tenant’s personal information. This may be a good time to talk with them about any issues the building may have and a little about your plans going forward.
3. Consider establishing separate banking accounts for your rental business. Ideally, you would like to have rental income come into one account as well as rental expenses paid out of that account. You want to keep rental records clean for tax reporting purposes. If you’re combining rental and personal business into one account it can make things more complex for you and your tax preparer. You may also want to consider a separate savings account (reserve fund) or credit card for your rental business as well. You always want to be prepared for rainy days!
4. While you’re at the bank, you may also want to open your tenant’s security deposit account(s). If you’ve collected or plan to collect a security deposit from your tenants, YOU MUST HOLD THESE FUNDS IN AN INTEREST BEARING ACCOUNT AT A LOCAL BANK. Just tell the customer service rep you want to open a “landlord/tenant” account. Before you’re able to open this account you’ll need to have each tenant sign a W9 form. This is so the taxes on the interest paid are reported under the tenant social security number and not you as the landlord.
5. Buy yourself some basic home improvement tools. You don’t have to be very handy to solve many problems in a home; you just need to have the right tool. I would make sure you own a power drill, screw drivers, hammer, tape measure, and a decent size ladder. One $40 tool that will save you thousands is a toilet auger! It’s very simple to use and will help you avoid some hefty plumbing bills when a tenant’s toilet is clogged.
6. Buy a few books for yourself and make sure you have a basic understanding of landlord/ tenant laws in Massachusetts. You don’t have to read each book cover to cover but you should have some type of reference available to you for when things come up. Don’t rely on Google for your answers. The law is different in each state and there are tons of “gurus” on the internet giving bad legal advice. NOLO has an excellent book selection and they’re always up to date/ easy to read. Grab yourself a book on landlord tax deductions as well. There are so many tax write offs for landlords and you don’t want to be missing ones you should be getting. Don’t assume your tax pro will tell you.
7. Create a maintenance plan for your property. A systematic maintenance plan is the best way to keep each of your properties in top shape and avoid costly repairs. Each landlord will have a different plan based on the properties you own, but your schedule may include the following:
a. Changing out the apartment air filters once every 6 months
b. Hiring a rodent exterminator every 6 months
c. Changing out smoke detector batteries every 2 months (important)
d. Cleaning out the gutter in the spring and the fall
e. Cleaning out heating systems in preparation for winter
f. Covering your AC units before the winter months
g. Sweeping, mopping and changing light bulbs in common areas every month
8. Have your real estate agent send you monthly rental comps for your area. So many landlords leave money on the table because they don’t know what’s happening in their local rental market. They buy a new place and allow tenants to stay in the unit without ever increasing rent. Not only are they leaving money on the table, but they are also hurting the value of their property. When rents are on the rise you want to be in the know. Make sure your agent is sending you rental statistics for your area at least monthly. These reports are automated and easy for your agent to set up.