Landlord Skills To Make Things Easier, And Save Money

plumber-35611_1280-PDThere are many ways to handle property management at your rentals.  Knowing just a few landlord skills can save a lot of time and money.  And give you a great sense of accomplishment.  I do almost all of my own maintenance, and I actually feel good when it can be done, and I save a great deal of money.

You can hire a property manager (PM).  That property manager will handle all of the tenant calls, and if work is needed make the calls to get it done.  You will pay for the maintenance, plus a bit of extra added on top for the PMs minimal time and effort.  Remember, property management is not really maintenance, but maintenance is part of property management.

You can handle the calls yourself, and you call the maintenance person or business.  That saves the markup that a PM would add to the service.  But you will pay for any false positive, that is a call where the company shows up and nothing is the matter.

You can learn how to do a minimal bit of trouble shooting over the phone, and solve some issues that way.  And, if you have the ambition and tools, you can actually do the maintenance yourself, and save $50+ per hour, if your rental is close by.

All of my 24 rentals are within 8 miles of my house.  Most are within three miles, and I have a Home Depot almost exactly in the middle of that three miles.  I drive directly past it, with easy entry and exit back to my road.  I almost have to drive through the Home Depot parking lot to get to my rentals.  So it is easy to get most parts that I need for repairs.

Knowing a few troubleshooting skills is rewarding and can save a ton of money.

Garage Door Opener Repair

I had a call this week that a garage door was not going up.  I was at work, so I could not get away easily.  The family had an appointment to bring their kid to the urgent care center, and needed to get the car out.  My initial thought was a circuit breaker, or other easy fix.

I explained to them that the garage door had a quick release rope so that they could raise the door manually.  For whatever reason, they could not get the door raised, and still needed to get out.

I have a light switch that controls the garage door outlet in case one wants to ‘lock’ the door between tenants, or when someone is on vacation.  Or it can be turned off by accident.  It has a similar effect to unplugging the garage door, without needing a ladder.  I had them check that switch.  That too, was in the ‘on’ position so there was not an issue with the switch.

In my condo units, for whatever reason, the GFI breaker for the garage is in the bathroom, upstairs in the unit.  So, if you trip the GFI in the bathroom, your garage outlets do not work.  Not a great way to do it, but that is the way it is.  I should change that at some point, and add a GFI in the garage…  I advised them to check it, and they were able to reset the GFI, and all was well.

That would have taken someone a long time to figure out.  Now that I think about it, I will be switching them over as tenants move out.  If I was remote, someone might have wanted to re-wire the opener at a cost of several hundred dollars.

Simple Appliance Repairs

Dryer Heating Element
Dryer Heating Element

I recently had to change a dryer heating element.  The dryer was spinning, but no heat was coming out.  Assuming they have power to the dryer, there is a limit number of things that can be an issue.  It can only be a thermostat or a heating element, or at least that is a 99% good guess.

So, I looked for the part on-line and saw that the heating element and thermostats were ~$55.  A YouTube video showed it was a simple job, maybe an hour at most.  Once you have a set of tools, and you are not afraid of them, it’s easy.  I was able to remove and replace the thermostats and heating element.  One thermostat required a pop rivet gun to install, but other than not having one in my toolbox, it was easy.  I rarely use my rivet gun, so I keep it in my tool box at home.

Easily, this would have been a $250 to $300 repair.

Central Air and Plumbing

Recently, I was at a property that I needed to check out the Air conditioning unit.  It had not been above 70 degrees very often, so it was definitely not an emergency…  I was expecting to look at the thermostat and the inside circuit breaker and outside breaker.  I would also look things over to see if anything looked amiss.  Often, simple observation can uncover simple fixes and save a lot.

When I got to the property, I saw the central air unit was running.  That was a great sign.  So electrically, things were fine.  I went to the basement to see the furnace and look for any issues there.  The furnace and A/C was fine, but I noticed water ion the floor running to the floor drain.  I suspected the hot water heater, but all was well.  I saw water dripping from the ceiling, and found a copper pipe was rubbing against a ground wire attached to a galvanized pipe.  A microscopic pin hole was leaking a mist of water.  Not much, but a drop a second adds up.  It was on the hot water line, so I immediately notified the tenants and shut the hot water off.

So back home I went to get more tools; I needed my soldering kit.  I also stopped at Menards for a ½” copper shutoff valve.  (I had some ¾” valves in my box, but not ½”.)

New Water Shutoff
New Water Shutoff

So, a few cuts in the pipe to add the new shutoff, and then a removal of the bad piece of pipe, and I was back in business.  It might have been three hours including the initial travel time and shopping, but only about one hour of actual work.  I re-routed the ground wire to avoid the issue in the future, and added a piece of pipe insulation to keep the pipes separated.


Finished Fix
Finished Fix

It would have been a $250 fix pretty easily.  I can put that money in the bank.  I am not saying a professional is not worth what they charge, but if you have the time, it can be a great feeling of accomplishment.



Window Screens

Window Screen

If you have windows, sooner or later you will have to fix a screen.  Or make a screen frame.  They are easy to make.  All of the Home Improvement stores sell frame material, frame corners, screen and screen spline.

Cue the frames with a hacksaw, or use your miter saw for a perfect cut.  it dulls the blade a bit, but make a very nice smooth cut.  Add the corners, and put the frame together.  Put the screen on the frame and secure it with the screen spline.

I just built a screen frame this week and installed it.  That repair would have been $75 to $100, just for a screen.  After all, it takes a bit of money for someone to just show up.


Have you ever called a ‘professional’, and found they fixed something you could have done yourself easily?

12 Replies to “Landlord Skills To Make Things Easier, And Save Money”

  1. I’ve found the same, professionals are worth it but a lot of the time you can do it yourself. I’m glad you mention YouTube because that’s my best friend when it comes to DIY repairs. I wish I lived closer to my property (1.25 hours away) so that I could handle all the small stuff. As it is now, I have to pay $75 just to get someone out there. Luckily, my tenant is pretty good about taking care of things himself and only calling when there’s a real problem.

  2. Great tips NNLL! My husband is very handy so I think it will be a great asset when we start getting into rental property. He watches youtube videos too, to learn how to do things he hasn’t done before.

    1. Thanks for the comment Deb! I learn a lot from the videos, it seems there is a video out there for anything you might want to do. It is certainly handy to be able to at least eliminate the easy fixes, it’s amazing how many tenants can not do the slightest simple fix.

  3. Although I haven’t started renting properties (yet), I’m hoping the skills I have learned from the rehab work I’ve been doing on my current residence will transfer over to the rehab/rental work I do in the future.

    Do you do any type of preventive maintenance schedule? I’m sure you go over the units in between leases, but I’m curious if you have something like a bi-annual check list that maybe coincides with the change in season that would allow you to address issues before you get a call from a tenant.

    The Stoic

    1. I try to being all of my rentals back to 100% after every tenant move out. If something needs to be fixed in the meantime, I fix it. I do not really have things I do while a tenant is in the unit, but when I am vacant, I go through everything.

  4. These are all great tips! We don’t have any rental properties, but the same idea still applies when you own a home. 🙂 I’m not terribly “handy” but have been able to teach myself a number of things and a few of them are on this list. If all else fails I can call my Dad and he can walk me through most things.

    1. Thank you for the comment!

      All the skills you use on your own home, generally apply to a rental. If you can weed out the easy fixes, and learn from ones you have to hire out, you are well on your way to making more money as a landlord.

  5. Eric,

    Great detailed post. I am certainly picking up how to repair more things over the years. With a full time day job already and self managing, I end up calling a handyman that I have on speed dial for most issues. He is my MVP for sure.

    I do like to walk through several things over the phone with my tenants to get a good idea of the issue and see if I can troubleshoot and resolve right away. Sometimes you get lucky.. As I get more handy it is certainly helping. Even the task of outsourcing the work can be a challenge: Coordinating when the tenants are going to be home, when is your trade available to stop by, if no one is home can someone leave a key, is the dog up, yada, yada…

    Glad I found your blog… good detailed posts – Going to enjoy going back and reading all your stuff.

    Take Care,

    1. Thank you for the comment!

      Great point about hiring a handyman. it is by no means a hands off venture. There is still lots of coordination. And your tenants trust you, not the handyman. I oftn have my tenants sent a picture, which is easy with a cell phone these days. Often, that is a good as being there.

      I am fortunate to be close to my rentals, most are within three miles. And lot of Home Improvements stores nearby, Home Depot, Lowe’s and Menards are all with a mile or two of the rentals.

      If you can get a handyman that lives in a multifamily that you own, that is the best case. On site maintenance cannot be beat.

  6. This is good advice for anyone who owns a property honestly. Fixing anything that you can yourself will save time not having to wait around for a handyman all the time and, obviously, money. Great idea!

Leave a Reply