Career Story: Property Owner And Rent Collector

Property Owner And Rent Collector

Job Title: Property Management

Type of Company: I manage my income properties.

Education: BS, Electrical Engineering, Marquette University

Previous Experience: I worked for eighteen years as an electrical engineer. I spent the first five years designing transmitters for radar and the next five in program and project management. In the eight years that followed I was a project manager for a company that made medical devices and large test systems. Seven years into my career there I bought my first 2-family house. Since then I've bought three more.

Job Tasks: I manage properties I own on my own flexible schedule. How much work is required of each property depends on the quality of the property and on its tenants. Good tenants are the key to less work. One of my properties is in excellent condition with excellent tenants. I get maybe 3 or 4 phone calls a year from it but since the rents are low, the profit from the building is minimal.

One recent purchase is more profitable but requires a lot of work. The building has strong bones but is rough around the edges. I'm slowly updating it, replacing things like medicine cabinets -- this required a bit of tiling work by me -- and a bathroom vanity. I hired a handyman for that and had to meet him at the property. I've also hired an electrician for a major light issue and a plasterer to replace a ceiling that was coming apart. I tried to repair the light fixture myself but, despite my engineering background, it was over my head. To find these workers I get references from neighbors, friends and Angie's list. I interview them and discuss their past work. I ask about licensing and rates.

My new property has college students as renters. They have never lived on their own, so we get many phone calls saying "there's no hot water." Further conversation reveals that someone just took an hour-long shower. "The light doesn't work." Well, change the light bulb. I often get complaints via emails or phone calls. Again, the college students are the most annoying. I get at least five complaints a week from them. Some can be resolved on the phone but many require me to visit. I'm responsible for keeping the buildings in livable condition for my tenants. I also clean the buildings' common areas, vacuuming the rugs, picking up litter and shoveling sidewalks. I'm also responsible for screening prospective tenants. Right now I'm having tenant issues on paying rent. I've had to hire a lawyer and may have to take them to court.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of the job is no phone calls from tenants and the property running smoothly. The worst part is tenants not paying rent and many phone calls to schedule other workers (especially for emergencies on the weekend). Another bad part of the job is I don't have the interaction with other co-workers on a day-to-day basis that I used to have. That's one thing I miss about my old 9-to-5 job.

Job Tips: Not everyone can be a landlord or a property manager. You really need to screen tenants well. Don't let your emotions get in the way of picking tenants. If someone has had a hard time in life and their financial records are a mess, it's not your job to give them a break (they're not family). The three most important things in picking a property are location, location, location. If you keep that in mind you will not have any difficult time finding tenants.

Additional Thoughts: Property management does not provide much income with only a few properties but it gives you a lot of flexibility in your life. You may have to work a few hours on a weekend, though, when an emergency arises. For the most part, property management works around my schedule and not the other way around. You don't need a college education but you need to be very organized and have an ability to multi-task. Also it helps to be able to do some basic carpentry, plumbing, electrical work, painting, etc. You can hire out a lot of the work but then you will make less money.

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