Managing a vacancy in a city other than where you live.
A step-by-step guide to remote landlording.
For those who don’t know, Mr Meg and I live in Auckland and have rental property in Christchurch. We choose not to have a property manager because on the whole we have good long-term tenants, and we prefer to select tenants ourselves. After all, the risk is on us.
With property prices in Auckland at an all time high, many investors are looking to purchase a rental property in another town or city. I thought a checklist of managing a vacancy as an out-of-town landlord might help these people.
We’ve just come out the other side of an unexpected vacancy. A fixed-term tenant breaking their agreement because they need a bigger house to share with their immigrant parents. Not only was their tenancy not due to end until October, but they left us with an empty house in the middle of a Christchurch winter.. and rents have dropped considerably.
In the first instance I allow myself an initial grumble and freak-out – after hanging up the phone of course – and then I formulate a plan of attack.
Here is what we did..
- Breaking a fixed term – draw up a new agreement with an agreed end date so that you know a definite date that the house will be vacant – and can book flights. The earlier you do this, the cheaper the flights will be.
- Immediately line up tradespeople (if required) so that they can start as soon as the house is vacant. In this case, we teed up vinyl layers. It’s handy if you can get the departing tenants to allow them access to measure up so that you already have an accepted quote and start date before the house becomes empty.
- Book travel. In our case, this meant flights to Christchurch, a rental car, and accommodation. We also booked a carpark at Auckland Airport. Apart from the rental car, booking all of these things as early as possible will save you money.
[Up until the 4th of May we’d also have needed to arrange a dog sitter. After the trauma of having to make the decision with our 16-year-old border terrier, we are adjusting to not having a wee hairy complication. It certainly makes remote landlording a bit less of a logistical nightmare.]
- Book incidentals that need to take place during the vacancy. We sent keys to a friend in Christchurch so that she could keep an eye on the place for us. We also sent a ‘no circulars’ sign to prevent junk mail flooding the neighbourhood.
- Arrange a gardener if the lawns or gardens need attention prior to showing new tenants through.
- Approximately one week before landing in Christchurch, write a nice ‘To Let’ ad for TradeMe. Agree on a time when you will have finished cleaning, painting, etc. and will be able to show people through. Having everyone arrive at the same time makes this much easier when you have a plane to catch.
- Also at least a week before your departing tenants are due to leave, send them an email detailing your expectations of cleanliness of the property on departure. In this instance, the tenants had let the bathroom get very damp and mouldy by never airing it out. We were pleasantly surprised that they did clean all of this mould off before leaving. An estimate of cleaning costs to be deducted from the bond does appear to be a good motivator.
- Once you have your ad on TradeMe, be prepared to field enquiries. We have a scary application form that we send out to weed out unsuitable applicants. If people are very keen and organised, we’ll often get one or two of these forms emailed back to us prior to showing them the property. Completion of the form doesn’t obligate the tenant to take the house, nor does it obligate us to rent it to them. We assess all applications in the order that we receive them, this is a good motivator to get the forms back fairly quickly.
- Do tenant checks before leaving home. We do reference and credit checks prior to leaving home for Christchurch. If the tenant has driven past and likes the look of the property, we like to be able to offer it to them pretty much on the spot after viewing. This means that we need to have contacted their referees and done their credit check before the open home.
- Print all forms e.g. Bond Refund, Applicaton to Lease, Initial Property Inspection, Residential Tenancy Agreement, and Bond Lodgement. We have been known to sign one tenant out on the Saturday and sign a new one up on the Sunday. In some instances they have their bond and rent in cash and you can give them the keys all in one visit – remember you will have already checked them out before meeting them. Never rent to someone on the basis of a casual chat!
- If you’ve done any tidying / painting of the property, take some fresh photos for TradeMe in preparation for a future vacancy. We were so organised this time that we actually took our painting gear as checked luggage. You can take most things (sandpaper, scrapers, screwdrivers, brushes, drop clothes, rags) just no actual paint or chemicals on the plane. We bought paint at the local Resenes in Christchurch.
- On return to Auckland, process any applications if you haven’t signed someone up on site. Once you offer to let the property, ask for 1 week’s rent as a deposit so that you can remove the ad from TradeMe. Don’t remove the ad until the tenant is committed, has signed the tenancy agreement, and paid at least a week’s rent.
- Once you have the bond and the signed tenancy agreement, you can send the keys to the tenant’s current address. Never to the rental property itself! Don’t include the address in the package with the keys in case they get lost in the post. [Our vinyl layer lost his keys, so this is good policy].
- Lodge the bond and you’re done!
- Book a massage and remind yourself that you’re in it for the long haul and one day there will be a silver lining.