44 - Re-letting IP#1

For rentOur Brisbane tenants vacated the property in early September at the conclusion of their lease. No clear motivation for their departure was supplied to us by the property manager, apart from the girlfriend being pregnant. I wonder if the $5/month rent increase we applied when the lease was renewed/reworked was partly to blame but I suspect the tenancy simply ran its course. The local Griffin rental market is currently oversupplied and rents have fallen slightly.

The outgoing tenants willingly tidied up and addressed a handful of issues that required attention (a chipped kitchen tile, dog faeces in the back garden, some cleaning residue on the walls). Having the house empty was also a good opportunity for the builder to rectify a roofing defect and related ceiling damage from a recent water leak.

The property was not producing income during this vacancy period but my (admittedly pessimistic) budgeting plans anticipate a four-week annual vacancy period.

While home inspections were not widely attended before the last tenants vacated, interest picked up gradually from September. The property manager tells me the local rental market is oversupplied with new developments recently coming online and we eventually dropped the weekly rent from $415 initially to $410 and then to $405 as the weeks went by. Every $5 decrease translates into an additional loss for the investment of $260 per annum—less than I would have thought.

The “competition” (i.e. rentals exactly like or very similar to ours) were including a free week of rent and/or other incentives like six months of free gardening services. Our PM also suggested we could upgrade the realestate.com.au advertisement to feature/highlight our property but the rent decrease seemed the obvious way to go as it impacts the tenant’s bottom line.

We had a diverse range of applications through while the property was vacant:

  • An ideal first application came from a mum and dad couple with two older, pre-teen boys and no pets. Dad was working away but mum was not employed and is, presumably, a homemaker. Unfortunately the neighbour’s aggressive dog growling through the fence scared them off (a friend initially inspected the property on their behalf as they were all living North); one of the sons was reported as having a disability and being afraid of dogs.
  • We then received a second application from a mother with an older daughter, who herself has a 2yo and a newborn baby. They have a large breed dog, only 12 months old. It wasn’t clear whether mum was effectively planning to serve as guarantor for her daughter but they could service the rent payments between them. Kids and dogs don’t make for ideal tenants in my mind but that’s exactly the market we’re targeting with this style of property (4x2) in this location (outer-ring suburb). The pair were ready to go immediately on a six or twelve-month lease but, between my prompt reply to the real estate agent and their following up with the applicants, the applicants had accepted another property.
  • On the back of the second application falling through, we received a third application from a very young couple (late teens/early twenties) with no rental history and very little rental affordability (<30%). Although without kids, they too have an active dog. As our only option, we discussed the risks with the property manager who thought the affordability risks were high. Meanwhile, my wife and I were both thinking back to when we were the same age, with very little income, a cat (and eventually a dog); we stayed in our first rental for four years, paid the rent on time every week, kept the property clean, and caused no damage. The PM discussed having a parent join the application as a guarantor but this couple also found an alternative rental before anything further happened.

Between applications and twice-weekly home opens, the property manager was working to see what could be done about the dog next door. The ranger was called and inspected the situation but decided the neighbour’s property is adequately fenced and the dog could not be labelled ‘menacing’. The ranger did speak with the owners and it was agreed a barrier could be placed against the fence to prevent the dog from getting as close to the boundary. Our PM also spoke to the neighbour’s PM about the situation and was told the dog would be brought inside during home opens (and is friendly once it gets to know someone).

We finally received a fourth application for a couple with two kids under five and two dogs—an older large breed dog and a younger small dog. They were requesting a 12-month lease commencing within the coming days. We approved their application and an executed lease document soon came back. At last!

The property was physically vacant for six weeks—and someone likely kicked a hole in the letterbox during that time, just for good measure—but the new tenants are hopefully in and happy as of last Friday.

Given the length of time the property was vacant, I consulted my risk matrix for some hints as to what to do next—should the vacancy period continue. My mitigation and contingency strategies were minimal (‘review property manager’ and ‘review financial controls’) but, following this experience, I added ‘review market supply’, ‘offer incentives’ and ‘promote advertisement’. I also increased the Probability rating from Remote to Occasional. Fortunately, we’re not cash flow investors and have sufficient cash buffers to weather an extended vacancy.

Although I naively expected our first tenants to stay on for another year at least, I likely need to adjust my expectations to assume a tenant will stay somewhere between 6-12 months. A 12-month lease gives us some surety but also locks us in to a rental amount and the tenant, who may or may not be problematic.

In terms of lessons learnt, I created a Landlord’s Vacating Tenants Checklist. This checklist differs from the standard checklist which might be supplied to the outgoing tenant or used by the property manager during the exit inspection in that it lists the things I need to check and do to a) ensure the tenants have done the right thing and b) ensure the property manager has done the right thing. More about the checklist and b) soon.

I suppose a disclaimer is also worth posting: I'm just a guy, I'm not an accountant, lawyer, solicitor, tax agent, mortgage broker, banker, financial adviser, insurance agent, land developer, builder, government agent, or anything else so I disclaim your application of anything I write here is to be applied at your own risk. What I write may be incorrect and you are best to seek your own professional advice (tax, legal, financial, and otherwise) before entering into contracts or spending your money. Your situation is unique to you and what I write here reflects my experience only. This content is not professional advice and is not tailored to your situation. I’m not selling anything and I do not receive any form of commission or incentive payments for any companies or individuals I endorse. I'm learning too and expect to make many, many mistakes along the way.