At the intersection of the rise of remote work and the booming rental market, you’ll find a new hybrid role: The remote landlord. Maybe the remote landlord had to take a new job across the country, but didn’t want to sell their home, so they rented it. Or maybe they got a great deal on an investment rental in a hot market that happened to be several hundred miles from where they live.
Thanks to technological advances like secure banking, property management apps, and video calling, it’s easier than ever to act as a landlord on a rental that’s across the country from where you live. And with mobility near an all-time high — nearly one in three Americans moved in the past year — rental demand is all but guaranteed to remain high for the foreseeable future.
Despite the trends, managing a rental from several states away can be tricky. Here are the top tips on managing a rental property from across the country.
Don’t try to do it all yourself
Most landlords are go-getters and entrepreneurs who are highly motivated to tackle every problem themselves. The problem is that when you’re living several states away from your rental, you can’t fix a clogged toilet or help a locked-out tenant yourself. You’ll need to have a trusted, dependable team who can help solve problems on the ground.
Arguably, the easiest way to handle this is to hire a professional property manager. Unfortunately, this is also the most expensive solution. Property managers generally work for a percentage of the rents they collect, so if you do go this route, prepare to give up a significant chunk of your revenue. Generally, property managers keep 8 to 12 percent of rents collected. Although that price can be steep, you do get peace of mind from having a professional manager handling your tenant problems.
A less expensive but still workable solution is to assemble a team of vendors and professionals you can trust. You’ll need cleaners, painters, a general contractor, a plumber, a locksmith, a landscaper, a rental agent to handle vacancies, and possibly a local accountant and lawyer. If you’re new to the area, ask your real estate agent for referrals.
Let tech help you
If you’re living across the country from your rental, you can’t drop by on the first of the month to pick up a rent check. Even the postal service, while pretty dependable, can be risky — not to mention the fact that it will take days or weeks for a paper check to reach you. Luckily, there are many tech-oriented solutions to this problem.
Property management software allows your tenants to pay instantaneously through a debit or credit card, ACH, or mobile payment app, and can track payment history for all your tenants. Many of them also incorporate instant messaging, so you can communicate with your tenants directly through the app.
Technology can even give you a presence in the building. Smart devices can allow you to monitor entries, control tenant building permissions, and toggle lights and other utilities. Smart cameras can also allow you to visually monitor common areas like entryways or laundry rooms. If you’re thinking of using cameras to monitor your property, make sure you’re in compliance with local surveillance laws.
Go deep on tenant screening
Tenant screening is always important. But when you’re living across the country from your rental, and you’re paying people to handle your problems, it’s even more important than usual.
Tenant screening is no mystery; you just have to be thorough. Have prospective tenants fill out a comprehensive application and perform a complete credit and background check. What is their credit score? Have they been evicted before? If so, why? Do they have a criminal record? Ask for landlord references, and make sure you contact those landlords. Ask if the tenant paid on time damaged the unit, and was generally responsible and responsive.
Confirm employment and income information, and contact employers if you want further references. Finally, meet in person and have a substantial conversation. Trust your gut — if you pick up on any red flags, there are a lot of other suitable tenants out there. When you’re a remote landlord, filling vacancies is extra urgent — and extra difficult — so you should place a premium on low-maintenance, stable tenants.
Finally, when you decline tenant applications, make sure you don’t run afoul of fair housing laws that prohibit discriminating against prospective tenants based on age, gender, race, disability, or other protected classes.
Get quality insurance and a home warranty
Make sure you have an insurance policy that’s geared toward landlords. Standard homeowners insurance isn’t going to be adequate if you’re renting out the property. Landlord insurance covers the property and your liability. It won’t, however, cover your tenant’s personal belongings, so encourage them to consider renter’s insurance. In some areas, you may be able to purchase add-ons that protect you against burglaries or vandalism.
Landlord insurance also won’t cover things like appliance breakdowns. For that, you’ll need a home warranty. A home warranty will cover HVAC system repairs, roof leaks, and other system issues. Keep in mind that a tenant can’t purchase a home warranty; only the property owner can buy one.
Don’t be a total stranger
Make time at least once a year to travel to your rental property and inspect it in person. If that’s not possible, explore the possibility of hiring someone to do a quick visual inspection of the exterior — perhaps at different times of the day — to get a sense of how your property is faring, and how your tenants are behaving.
Also consider having annual, semi-annual, or quarterly home inspections done on the property. This will help you stay on top of small maintenance issues before they snowball into big problems, and doing so will keep you updated on the overall state of the property.
Build up the community
Just because you live across the country from your rental doesn’t mean you can’t be part of the community. Make an effort to meet the people who live near your rental property, and give them your contact information so they can get in touch if there are any problems with the tenants. Neighbors can serve as a reliable early warning system at your rental property.
If your rental is in a homeowners association (HOA), you’ll be able to check in with the HOA to find out if your property has accrued any violations.