I’ve been stalling on writing a post about the state of our old house, which is now the rental house, for a few of different reasons. 1) Slow learning process: From figuring out how to rent it, and who to trust, and how to repair and improve the property all while we aren’t on site, we’ve had ups and downs to sort through. It wasn’t all intuitive, and I didn’t have a lot to share. Things are stable now, and I think if you’re considering something similar for your home, now that we’re not as green at the whole thing, you might enjoy hearing of our experiences. 2) I respect the privacy of our tenants: The house, and all of the projects I did for it are already on the internet (they do know about it). I don’t feel any overwhelming need to add more, at the possibility of exposing them. I rarely (if ever) acknowledge their home, take photos, or do anything that would seem violating. It’s kind of like posting photos of your neighbors kids all over the internet without them knowing. Boundaries! 3) I kind of forget about it? When it’s running itself like it is now, it’s not a top-of-mind thing (and sometimes, it’s not until someone asks about the house in passing that I realize “oops, it’s the 4th, I totally forgot to pick up the check.”).
Nonetheless, I know you’re curious. I regularly get questions from friends and family and blog friends (you guys!) about it; “Do you still rent it,” and “How are your tenants?” and “Is anything different over there?” so I tried to make a list of things that I most commonly hear, so I could give you the dish. (If curiosities are now piqued and you have more questions, just leave them in the comments!)
Are you at the old house often?
Thank goodness, no. It’s weird to be on the premises knowing someone else lives there, I feel like I’m snooping, even though I’m not. Strange to walk into your old house and see the core furniture organized differently (“no, that’s not where that goes.”). Or the cars in the driveway pulled up too far/not far enough (“you’re too far left.”). The time I spend there is purely for maintenance, and it’s like having an extra job. We continue to weatherproof the deck and pergolas every fall, and we replaced the driveway, and I did spend the spring and summer mowing the lawn once a week, but overall it no longer feels like my house. We contracted a snowplow service this winter for the first time, so we won’t have to be responsible for shoveling. Last winter, oof, not having hired that out was a big mistake. There were days that Pete would leave for hours at a time to shovel 2-3 times a day, early and late, while I was home with the newborn. That was stupid; everyone should have a plow service for their rental properties. Next year I’ll probably hire a lawn service too, but we’ll still likely stop by every few weeks because I like to maintain the gardens, clear weeds and trim back the rose bushes and other stuff that can get wildly out of control.
Are there a lot of rentals in the area? Were your neighbors upset to see you go?
There’s a nice blend of homes in that neighborhood; a good mix of permanent families and temporary rentals, but you wouldn’t really know it because all of the homes are single familes or duplexes. No big apartment buildings. There are also a lot of families that have lived there for decades, and younger families with kids as well. Fortunately, the house is surrounded by nice retired families who are quiet and unobtrusive but also are watchful over the property, like an extra security system… sometimes too watchful bordering on tattletail-ish (we had some issues right when we started out renting), but that’s OK, we appreciate their good intentions.
Yes, they were sad that we were leaving, or so they said. I understood it as they just wanted some permanence, and liked feeling like they knew their neighbors, and I can’t blame them for that. I promised not to rent the place out to assholes and so far, we haven’t. They like to see the baby when I stop by, and they like Cody a lot, so we’re still friendly with all of them.
Has anything changed? (For the worse, for the better?)
There was an incident one time with the garage door; it was manually locked shut, but the garage door opener tried to pull it open and the mechanism was so powerful that it literally tore the door in half, vertically. All of the glass in the windows exploded instantly (invisibly, into a pile of snow). That was something. We were able to repair the wooden door back to a solid state with some brackets, but we put wooden boards into the window spaces instead, and repainted the whole door white, so the door is solid now, which I kind of prefer anyways, for privacy purposes.
The driveway is perfect since we had it completely redone. It looked like shit the entire time I lived there.
The basement stairs need new treads. It’s on the list.
The tenants hung curtains, pretty decor, and even a gorgeous light in the sunroom that makes me want to curl up with some coffee and a good
One of our tenants bought mulch for all of the gardens in the backyard, which is something I had never gotten around to affording myself. The plants along the bed in the front of the house look great, especially this time of year with the lush, red dogwood and winterberries.
We removed a bunch of raspberries that grew in the back left corner of the yard, because they had metastasized into MONSTER BERRIES THAT ATE EVERYTHING THAT CAME NEAR THEM. Including my hands when I mowed. Off with your head!
Our wooden planter boxes are still there, and this year were filled with gorgeous dahlias. The tenant sent me home with a bouquet once, and made my year. The peonies that I transplanted from my parent’s garden get better and better and lusher and bigger – I trim some of those for myself because they are my faves. I would totally take them for our house if I knew the deer in our unfenced yard wouldn’t devour them.
I have never once in my life managed to tear a screen on a window or a door, but in 18 months, we have already replaced two, plus the entire sliding screen door, plus a new glass insert for the front storm door. Bottom line here: People are really rough on things that aren’t theirs, I think whether they mean to be or not.
Our neighbor man lost a large branch off his tree in the late summer during a bad storm; it was bizarre, really, like the branch exploded off the trunk, flew 20 feet sideways, and then crash landed on our back fence and in our yard (it almost missed landing in his yard all together). When one of our branches falls, we would just chop it up. When one of his branches falls, it becomes a whole situation with insurance companies, an investigation over fence ownership, a negotiation with professional tree cleanup crews, and the realization that people are lazy and nosy and always looking for loopholes so they can get more money out of State Farm. After about a week, we got tired of the shenanigans and cleared it ourselves in an hour. The fence, come to find, is just a hair onto his property line, but Pete was able to get it back upright and secured so that we could still have a fenced in yard. He’s manly like that.
How are your tenants?
My canned answer for this is: We’ve only rented to people we would legitimately be friends with so far, and I think that is great. We started out on a rough patch, renting to a couple who’s relationship seemed to disintegrate, like, minutes after signing our lease, so the girl never fully moved in and the guy couldn’t swing the rent on his own, and there were kids involved, and there was a subletter (fine) that was being laid off (uh) sleeping in the unheated sunroom? Into like, October? (I was totally not OK with that set-up). So, in the nicest way possible, we asked them to leave, and then we had to help the guy move out and clean because all his friends bailed. This was also after a situation with a BB Gun and broken glass, and a slip and slide that transformed our backyard into a sunken mud pit (and still, to this day, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Pete more angry than I saw him when he discovered our trashed yard). This is when it paid to have really watchful neighbors. Side note, did you know that there are adult people who DON’T have checking accounts and have to pay for everything using cashier’s checks? Can you actually be denied a checking account? I probably shouldn’t judge, but in amazement, I shake my head. Somehow, we did not lose any money on this situation, and we were able to turn around a new lease very quickly. This actually all happened the week before I had my baby, for some surrounding reference, so if you’re pregnant, and considering renting your home, maybe you shouldn’t put yourself through that much stress in the third trimester.
All that said, our current tenants are good people, I want them to stay there forever, and if it didn’t seem like I was crossing an unspoken boundary, I’d totally try and meet up for drinks (on the patio in the backyard, where I could also snuggle one of their friendly kitties).
Your tenants have pets?
Yeah, and I have no problem with it. Cody smelled/smells way worse. As far as I’m concerned at this point, there are hardwood floors throughout, no carpets to stink up, and a fenced in yard. It’s perfect for pet lovers, so I’m glad to see it used in that way.
Do you think you’ll continue to rent it?
Mixed feelings central! Life would be a bit simpler without it, but it still kind of runs itself. We’re on the brink of some pretty big expenses relating to the house – it will need a new roof, a new furnace, a hot water heater – so we’re trying to save carefully so that when those expenses hit, we’re prepared for them.
It would be a bit harder to sell the house if we chose to do so, because it would likely be completely empty and unstaged. So, there’s that.
And our accountant encourages us to keep it for some certain amount of time, so that we begin to see the benefit of owning it in our tax return. Eventually, it will be worthwhile, at least that’s what I keep telling myself. I’m aggressively chipping away at the mortgage, in the hopes that in another 10-15 years I’ll have another small stream of income.
We have had an easy enough time renting it out both times we’ve tried, so I’m encouraged that we can continue to find families who appreciate it for what it is, with the size and privacy and the location that we loved so much.
But if the right offer comes along, I think it’s yours.