Long Distance Property Management

ToolBagI was out of town for a seminar in Dallas for a few days last week.  I did not tell any of my tenants that I was leaving.  How did the week go?  Here is how I did long distance property management while I was away.

There is generally no reason to let tenants know you will be out of town.  It doesn’t necessarily hurt, but like anything, unless they are watching things while you are gone, it is information that should be restricted.  Why let anyone know you will not be at home; it is only an open invitation that could lead to problems.

I did get three non-emergency calls (actually texts) from tenants during the five days I was away.

  • One call was for a bi-fold closet door that came off the corner pins.  It was definitely not an emergency.
  • I got a call from a tenant that said her front door was hard to lock.  It still locked, but was difficult to turn the deadbolt.
  • I got another call from a tenant that said her screen in the window was missing.  This is something I try to check before a move in, but I must have missed it.  Always do preventative maintenance when you can.  It will save an emergency repair later, or even a routine repair when you do not feel like doing it.

I could have called a local handy man to fix all of these issues.  Or an electrician, or a plumber, or any other trades person depending on what issue was at hand.  That is what property managers do, take phone calls and delegate out the work.  And charge you money to do it.

Or I could just have the tenants wait for a couple of days until I return home.  I decided that I would fix the items when I returned, as long as the tenants did not mind waiting.  It probably saved over $100, and took less than one hour total.  Not bad for an investment of time return.

When I returned home, I first went to the apartment that had the deadbolt that would not lock easily.  It was the highest priority my mind.  The deadbolt worked, but you needed to lift up slightly on the door while turning the key.  Not a big deal, but an inconvenience.

The strike plate needed to be adjusted down, just a bit.  I probably moved it less than 1/16 of an inch and then it worked perfectly.  Total time spent, about 5 minutes.  I forgot my 18V Ridgid cordless drill, so I had to use a manual screwdriver.  I felt like a caveman…  I have like 5 of them, why didn’t I have one with me?

I did get some face time with the tenant, and all is well from their perspective.  At some point, all tenants have to make the decision on whether to move, or stay, and this face time is important.

I then went to the closet door apartment and spent about five minutes adjusting the lower peg on the bi-fold door, and put the closet door back in place.  The total amount of time spent inside the apartment was ~5 minutes.  I spent some face time with the tenants, and generated some good will.  The good will is important later, especially when you have a new tenant and want a recommendation.

Never under estimate the amount of goodwill have you make by talking to a tenant directly.  They know you are the owner, and regardless of how rich they perceive you to be, you still take the time to talk to them.  (In my case, any perception of richness would be incorrect…)  They know you fix stuff yourself; you are not just some maintenance guy.  If you are a bit behind schedule, they know you are busy and will typically wait a bit.  If you use a maintenance guy and they have to wait for a repair, they just think you are too cheap to send one out.

I still have yet to connect with the missing screen tenant.  That is a slightly more involved fix, I will have to make a screen frame and put it in. It will be a two trip process, one to get measurements, another one to install the screen.  Plus, I have to actually make the screen.  All easy tasks, but they take a bit of time.  Maybe ~30 minutes to make a screen, plus the trips.

… And when I got back, my upstairs tenant in the duplex left a pot of beans on the stove and went out for the day.  The started to smoke, the lower duplex tenant called the fire department.  The fire department came and had to bust through the door.  That would be a tenant’s responsibility to repair, and repair correctly.

Do you use a property manager?  Have you ever wondered what they do?


22 Replies to “Long Distance Property Management”

  1. I couldn’t help but ask if you or anyone you know has owned a long distance property that they may have never visited before in person. I don’t own real estate right now but have several friends that have purchased acreage in states they have never even been to before. That sounds like much more trouble than being a long distance landlord, except for the babysitting portion and putting out fires.

    1. Thank you for the comment!

      Acreage =, if it is just land, is a very low maintenance investment. If you have trees that can be logged, you run a risk that someone is going to log it out while you are not there. If it is tillable land, it can be rented.

      There are many ways to own property out of state. Private equity deals, or buying property and hiring a property manager are two. I think you are better off staying local for your first few deals, and managing them yourself, so you know what a property manager is supposed to do.

    1. Exactly. The tenant has made the door repair, but I have yet to see it. if it was not done properly, I will fix it and charge the tenant or take it out of the deposit. At least, the tenant is satisfied with the fix for now, and it can stay that way until they move.

    1. Thank you for the comment!

      It really depends. I have 25 renters that I manage, 24 of which are my own. I generally get a call, text or email every few days for something. But on any individual property, I go three weeks easy.

  2. You are quite the handyman. I manage my two local properties but will probably outsource them in the near future. I know a lot of people manage from afar, but I don’t think I want to attempt that… I’m hoping to raise rents by then, so that should offset some of the PM costs…

    1. I am able to do most of it. Owning my home helped with the learning process. I am able to do most drywall repairs, popcorn ceilings, remove walls, and most electrical, and plumbing repairs. I even fix the minor furnace repairs, like clean burners and do initial trouble shooting.

      If you can learn math, which I know you have a strong background in, you can learn most of these other items. I figure that if I am going to pay $50+ per hour to someone, it may as well be me.

  3. I manage one property(my own from about an hour away). I’ve had several issues come up(small to big) and it’s been relatively easy to find/call whatever type of repairman was needed and have them go out and fix it. Things like appliances breaking can be costly but it’s very easy to set that up from long distance(done that twice for A/C and dishwasher).

    I wouldn’t be able to fix those on my own but I can do nearly everything else. That’s the only bad part. I have to pay a handyman $75 just to get out to the property, regardless of whether it takes them 5 mins or 1 hour. I would think it might be worth it to hire a handyman if you had multiple issues to fix. Then again, if you’re local and you have the time $50/hr to do a couple hours of work seems like a pretty good rate to me 🙂 Wouldn’t want to do it 8 hours a day but a few hours a week would be fine with me.

    1. It definitely helps being closer. I like to say the best rental property is one you can walk to. I probably spend less than 8 hours per month doing the routine on-site stuff. I do some improvements, like remodels, which add to the time.

      I recently put in a closet under the stairs at one of my 4-plexes. Cutting open the wall, installing the door, adding a light, sheet-rocking, tape and mud the joints, and painting takes ~16 hours or so for the project. But it should make a nice storage closet and save me time in the long run. I will store a small step stool, light bulbs, vacuum cleaner, etc. in there.

  4. Interesting stuff and I’m glad you shared it. When we went on our cruise we did talk to our downstair’s tenant but we also were having her take care of our cat so it made sense – we also wouldn’t have been available by phone. We had two contacts for her to call who could make decisions (i.e if something catastrophic happened they can handle it and make decisions for immediate repair, etc). I hear you about inviting problems by telling others you are away. I might have to get a house sitter or something next time we’re gone.

    1. Notice I was back before I posted it…

      It never ceases to amaze me, despite all of the warnings not to post about vacations on FaceBook, people still do it anyway. A cruise is a blast, but that is the most Un-assessable that you can be. I would probably forward my phone to someone, and have them answer the calls. Maybe a Google Voice forwarding phone, or magic jack, and the emails would have any messages.

      I would have to think of the best approach for that one.

      1. I did check my email once or twice a day on the ship. It was like a race to see how quick I could check it since I only had about 60 minutes for the entire trip haha.

        Now that you mention it, I definitely might need to have one of my siblings or a good friend house sit next time I go…

    1. Thank you for the comment!

      It’s always a challenge to manage property from a distance. Most property managers have an office close by, but they physically never go there. They send a crew or an employee. It’s all about the contacts that you need to do it, not paying for someone to take calls.

  5. We do have a property manager for our one residential rental, and that’s perfect for now. Maybe when my husband retires he might take over, especially if we get more properties, but that’s a while down the road. I would be fine to take calls and triage situations, but I’d need a handyman on call if we didn’t have a PM.

    1. Thanks for the comment Kim!

      With one property, you should not get too many calls. One a month would be a lot. All you need is someone that can do the basics, and it doesn’t have to be one company either.

  6. I would have done the same thing as you did and waited until I got home to fix these things myself. They are all easy fixes and I’m surprised you were called about them. When I was a renter, I would have either tried to fix them myself, or just let them go!

  7. You raised many valid points. However, luckily there is a company by the name of iPsylancer that will make long distance property management possible. I haven’t read all their features, but it sounds like they link you with service providers who help you out and at the end of the day you end up spending way less than if you were to use a real property manager. For me, leaving for more than a month makes me nervous, so I try to not buy property far away for that reason. Job transfers, however, are unavoidable, but that has only happened to me once.

    1. Thank you for reading!

      iPsylancer might be a great tool, when it is fully implemented. There are others too. Of course, HomeAdvisor and Angie’s list are great ones too. I will be interested if they could do an apartment turn in a proper manner.

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