How Will Being Landlords Affect Your Relationship?
In a tight real estate market, the hot-ticket item on many first-time buyers’ lists isn’t a granite countertop; it’s a basement apartment. What could be more fab than roping in willing participants to help pay off your mortgage, right? That’s what my partner, Ben, and I thought when we bought an aging duplex, but after a few years of “sharing” our nest with renters, we have learned that being landlords is more than just collecting checks every month. There are a few things to consider before you start dreaming of becoming the next Donald.
1. A bigger, better house. A willingness to live with basement dwellers may actually get you closer to your dream home or ‘hood. Our bank took the potential rental income into account when we applied for a mortgage, and we ended up approved for more than we could afford on our own.
2. You get paid. Becoming a landlord changes your relationship with the first of the month. All of a sudden, instead of wondering when that absentee guy is actually going to cash your rent check, you are that guy! It’s kind of like opening a birthday card from Great-Aunt Betty, every month.
3. It’s a good excuse to reno. Rental income can help you afford upgrades that you wouldn’t otherwise have the cash for. And you can write off some of those investments: If, for instance, you share half your house with tenants and you get the roof fixed, you can write off 50 percent of the repairs against your rental income at tax time.
4. Loving thy blowtorch. If you already own a drill, a rental apartment will give you plenty of chances to unleash your inner handyperson. Doing maintenance work yourself can save you cash and teach you a lot about your biggest investment.
1. Axe murderers and sloths. You can ask for references and examine their financial backgrounds, but this won’t guarantee tenants will treat the place nicely. Finding a friend of a friend, or someone you have a connection with, is the best way to go. Email, Facebook and Craigslist will let you share pics of the place for free. The nicer it is, the better the tenants will be.
2. The taxman cometh. Yes, you get monthly checks, but it’s called “income” for a reason: You have to pay income tax on all the rent you earn. But you can write off mortgage interest (not principal payments), plus any maintenance or improvement costs, against the rental income for that year. If you don’t have an accountant, get one.
3. Frozen pipes on a Saturday night. You might think it can wait till morning, but you have a legal obligation to provide your tenants with the basics. Broken water heaters and the smell of gas can ruin your plans at any time. Believe me. I’ve been at a formal party with spray foam insulation welded to my fingers.
4. Things that go bump. At the end of the day, your house with tenants is not entirely your domain. You may find yourself tiptoeing around or wondering if they can hear you. You just have to get used to that.
THE VERDICT. As a couple, Ben and I have learned to shoulder the headaches and the risks of our rental property together. Sure, it’s an extra layer of stress on our relationship, but it’s something we’ve taken on as a team. Ben is better at dealing with the issues, and I’m better at tiling and baseboards. And we’re both really good at depositing the checks.