Whether you are an “old pro” residential landlord or a beginner novice, you will benefit from and enjoy Mike Butler’s “Landlording on Auto-Pilot.” This now-retired cop and his wife built their realty empire by purchasing mostly single-family rental houses, plus some apartments. Along the way, they developed management methods to minimize the inconveniences often caused by tenants while still delivering superior service.
“Your tenants are your employees” is the novel approach Butler uses to manage his residents. Starting with the renting of the house or apartment, he trains his residents to pay the rent promptly and not cause problems. To accomplish this result, he rewards them for on-time payments.
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Butler shares his basic belief that most tenants would buy their own homes if they could afford to do so and if they had adequate credit. However, he acknowledges most tenants, at least in his class of rentals, are not able or are not motivated to own their own homes.
He admits most of his tenant applicants have less-than-ideal credit reports, yet Butler desires to rent to these prospects unless their situation is unredeemable. As a retired cop, he explains how he has rented to ex-convicts who became some of his best tenants after he leveled with them that he knew their history but was willing to take a chance on them.
An interesting twist to Butler’s property management style is he holds an annual Christmas party for his independent contractor suppliers, such as electrician, plumber, maintenance people, handymen, roofer, tree trimmer, and other vendors.
He started this tradition because, as a cop, he got invited to many holiday parties. Although Butler’s annual party for his vendors costs less than $1,000, including dinner and open bar, when his properties need fast service his vendors usually put him at the top of the list.
Another unique Butler strategy is for the property owner never to tell the tenant he is the landlord. Instead, he always refers to himself as the “property manager.” Although he usually makes quick decisions on tenant requests, sometimes he has to say, “I’m just the property manager so I will have to check with the owner.” That gives him time to think and to pass the buck if the answer is “no.”
One area where Butler is swift to act is when the rent is not mailed by the first day of the month. The postmark is what counts. Butler regales readers about how he once took over a property where the seller collected the rents weekly in person. He shares how the seller told Butler he would never get those tenants to pay by mail. Of course, Butler then explains how he got them to pay on the first of each month by mail.
Longtime property owners will especially enjoy the section about how to avoid rejecting a tenant applicant. Butler exposes many of the tricks used by applicants, such as forgetting to list an address where they were evicted. Sometimes, he even drives by an applicant’s current address to check out their housekeeping.
In the chapter about how to handle “inherited tenants” in rental properties purchased for investment, Butler emphasizes how to handle both tenants you want to keep and those you want to move out. He recommends always using written notes and letters to form a paper trail just in case a tenant causes legal problems.
Chapter topics include “The Hidden Tax Benefits, Especially If You Have a Job”; “What is Best? Houses, Apartments, Commercial Property, or Dirt?” “Never Call Yourself a Landlord”; “Your Tenants are Not Your Customers”; “The Many Hats You Wear as an Investor”; “What to do When You Have Too Many Units and Not Enough Tenants”; “Your Answering Service”; “Your Application is Your Crystal Ball”; “Protect Yourself by Never Disqualifying an Applicant”; “Removing Bad Applies the Safe Way”; and “You Really Can Get over 100 Percent of Your Rents.”
Is this book an automatic landlording program to rent houses and apartments without work and always collect the rent on time? No. But it provides unique methods not available elsewhere. A bonus is the free rental forms included in the Appendix and on the author’s Web site. On my scale of one to 10, this outstanding property management book rates a solid 10.
“Landlording on Auto-Pilot,” by Mike Butler (John Wiley and Sons, Hoboken, NJ), 2006, $19.95, 190 pages; Available in stock or by special order at local bookstores, public libraries and www.Amazon.com.
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