Renting out your investment property can be a tricky – and trying – business
IT SEEMED like such a great idea at the time. In our early 30s, married, with a toddler and a baby on the way, we needed to trade up. We weren’t looking for anything fancy, but our chic little townhouse was yearning for the lost party days, and wanted rid of us with our increasing number of buggies and bulky plastic toys in primary colours. Squeezing our baby in with us had been an adventure, trying to accommodate a family of four in the house would have been a disaster.
We found what we wanted – a three-bed semi-d in a nice area, close to good schools and public transport. It needed a little work, but nothing insurmountable. So there we were, our little family climbing the next rung of the ladder that is property.
But wait a sec, says our friendly bank manager. We could, if we were clever, buy the house we wanted and keep our little townhouse. The rental income from the latter would more than cover the interest-only tracker mortgage he would happily give us, and there it would sit. An investment. Bricks and mortar. Safe as . . . well, as houses. A nice little pension for the missus.
Now neither of us is a fool. With an Engineering Degree and a Masters in Business between us, we were more than capable of making informed decisions. But in the early months of 2006, it wasn’t difficult to be convinced by the bankers who wanted nothing more than for us to borrow as much as humanly possible. Indeed in those days it was difficult to find one other person to dissuade us. The older generation still trusted the bank managers like they trusted the priests. And our peers – well, our peers all seemed to be doing the same thing as us.
So this is how I came to be sitting at my computer, opening an account with daft.ie; housewife, engineer, pregnant mother . . . landlord.
It all started rather well. After quickly dismissing the notion of using a letting agent – a month’s rent wasted – we decided that working part-time and caring for two small children left me at least enough time to manage one small property. Being one to relish a new project, I approached my new role as I would any new task – with research and lists and a new ring-binder.
Photos of house, check. Listing on daft.ie, check (was there no clue in the name?). Suitable insurance, check. Rental contract and PRTB registration, check. Later came the BER Certificate and the NPPR payment. Check, check. I discovered that none of these tasks required a degree in photography, PR or law. So far, so good.
Showing the first interested parties around the place involved some childcare juggling, until I discovered that the same small children also had their uses in the letting business. It’s a lot easier to glean background information from prospective tenants when you have a baby on your hip. A wonderful conversation starter. I disregarded completely an otherwise perfectly acceptable couple when they pointedly ignored the cute blonde two-year-old in my arms. Well, if they couldn’t smile at a baby, they certainly weren’t going to care much for my carpets.
So it’s five years later and. for the most part, we have had lovely tenants.
The house has proven fruitful in more than one way, as four of the five tenants have given birth to new babies while living there. (I gave serious consideration to mentioning that in our advertising blurb: cosy three bed, lovely garden, 95% pregnancy success rate.)
We have made a point of being the best landlords we can be – addressing any problem with the utmost urgency, be it a broken oven, peeling paint, or dodgy radiator valve. The house is cleaned to a sparkle before a new tenant moves in. Perhaps the gifts at Christmas time are a step too far, but I can’t help it. I strongly believe in being nice to everyone you meet, and I could never play the role of intrusive, greedy landlord. Im not a professional career landlord. I’m a housewife who fell into this through a little avarice and a lot of bad advice.
And therein lieth the problem.
We have just waved goodbye to our first . . . er . . . “not-nice” tenants. With us for a year, they had apparently been the perfect renters. Anything done for them during the year had been greeted with gushing thanks and texts ending in smiley faces. Never late with a payment, they had been undemanding and unproblematic.
And so when the time came for them to leave, and they promised to finish moving the following day, but they desperately needed their deposit back as down payment for their new place, the amateur landlord in me took them at their word, and handed it to them. Well, there were no holes in the walls, no burns in the carpet and well, they promised.
I’m guessing a career landlord would have laughed at their pleas, and told them they could have their deposit back when the last mat had been shaken out, not before. Then he or she would not have had the experience of returning two days later to a filthy house with enough rubbish left behind to necessitate the hiring of a skip and a garden so full of dog poo that the grass was barely visible.
The lovely tenants, it seems, were not so lovely, and when asked nicely to pay for said skip the smiley face texts changed to two-fingered emails.
The fault, of course, was my own. Approaching the letting business as an on-line agency for finding new friends is apparently not the way to go. It seems there is a reason that the stereotypical landlord is painted as a snarling old man with wads of dirty cash bundled deep in the pockets of his threadbare slacks. There’s no place in this game for welcome hugs.
So, be warned. If you are looking to let a cosy, three bed townhouse in South Dublin with supernatural fertility powers, be prepared for a landlady who ignores your cries for help when the boiler packs up in December, who peeps in the front window randomly and unexpectedly, and who will hold on to your deposit until the last breath is gone from her body. A real landlord. Like in the good old days.