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Rental Property Adventures

Multiplex for commercial and residential use.

At least the exterior is in good shape!

For those of you interested in becoming landlords, I thought I’d share some progress and problems from our latest rental property adventures. It’s not all roses and monthly checks, but rental property can be very worthwhile if you have the stomach for it.

Four Units For the Price of Three

When we purchased our latest property, we tried to imagine it as buy three units get one free. The fourth unit was unfinished and about as livable as a bomb shelter.We got a deal on the property, but it needed lots of work to achieve full potential.

The property came with two buildings, each divided into two apartments. There were three finished apartments that were rented when we took ownership.  Now, we are working to make that fourth unit a nice two bedroom apartment.

If you can imagine a 760 sq ft open space with cement walls, a dirty half bath, and no duct work whatsoever, that’s our place! It needs everything; walls, flooring, a functional bathroom, closets, lighting, windows, doors, a whole kitchen with appliances. It’s a huge project. We are two weeks into an estimated six week time line. (I’m betting closer to 12 weeks, but we’ll see). It’s expensive and overwhelming, but should be a money maker very soon.

building a kitchen

Gourmet kitchen, can’t you see it?



Is Squirrely a Word?

The other hurdle to cash flow is that the building utilities were not divided. This was OK for the previous landlord who paid all utilities and apparently cared little about profit. In order to have separate apartments where the tenants can put utilities in their names, we have to get building permits and new meters from the electric and gas companies. Electric went smoothly. Gas is being a real pain.

We’ve chosen a general contractor who didn’t submit the cheapest bid, but is definitely the most organized and most likely to finish somewhere in the estimated time frame. I am always amazed at how unreliable some tradespeople are.

Just last week, our contractor was having trouble getting the plumber to show up. His exact words,

He’s a bit squirrely, so we have to grab him when we can.”

remodeling a bathroom

Relaxing bathroom. It actually looks better out of focus.

I’d love to ask for a replacement, but I’m afraid they are all the same way. If I was young and business minded, I would start my own plumbing or electric company and make a reputation of being on time and reliable. I think a company like that could charge whatever they wanted and still have tons of jobs lined up because it sucks dealing with “squirrely” people.

Added to the mix, two of the holdover tenants from before we bought the building have moved out or given notice. This means we will have one unit out of four rented for the next month or two. It feels like we are bleeding money right now!

Glad About Losing Tenants?

The silver lining is that the pre-existing tenants had terrible leases, at least from a landlord standpoint. They didn’t pay any utilities, were all month to month, and had nowhere near a functional deposit. Two of the tenants had no deposit at all. By having those tenants leave of their own accord, it makes it easy to rent to new people who agree to our terms.

Booming Rental Market

The other really exciting thing is that rentals in our area are in high demand. There was an article in our local paper just a couple of weeks ago about how there were very few rental units in the under $800 range, while the demand for those type places is very high. We plan on asking $750 for the three older units and $800-$900 for the newer one. When they are available, they should rent quickly.

Final Numbers

Once we finish our current project and spruce up the other units a bit, we should be able to count on at least $3,000 in rent every month. Our expected expenses look like this.

  • Mortgage: $749
  • HELOC loan to cover renovations: $300
  • Property Taxes/Insurance: $188
  • Water/Trash Bill: Approx $200
  • Property Management: $300

Total Expenses:$1737

Expected Rents: $3050

Total Monthly Cash Flow: $1313

Yes, there might be some potential vacancies, but with the current rental market in our area, things look promising. I spoke with our property manager this week who told me she could probably have a vacant apartment rented within 7 days.

Why Not Just Invest in Stocks?

remodeling a rental fourplex

Invest in stocks when we can have a master bedroom like this!

We could have put our down payment of $37,000 into the stock market. That would have been easy, and at 8%, it should be worth about $372,000 in 30 years. With this rental, there are many variables, but let’s assume we make at least $12,000 per year on average. That gives us $360,000 in profit, plus someone else paid our mortgage and we own this property outright. It could keep funding our retirement. We could sell it or leave it to our daughter. It might be worth half a million by then.

Why I Love Real Estate

This is why I love real estate. There are so many choices, and we can start making money pretty quickly instead of waiting 30 years. There is the possibility that the rental market could crash or we get a bad tenant who wrecks the place, but I don’t see it as any more risky than buying stocks. I also like that I can see my investment as I drive home every day.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have second thoughts whenever I have to write a check to the contractor or spend what seems like a mint at Home Depot. Like with most long term investments, it’s important to keep your eyes on the big picture. I’m trying not to get too bogged down with day to day ups and downs, although don’t fault me if I get a few more gray hairs before this project is over!

Have you ever done a major renovation on a house? Do you have good luck with finding reliable service people?


About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. Kim, that is a good business aside from stocks! I am planning to build an apartment near a university. My friend has some units and she says she can now not work and can fully depend on the income from apartment. Now all income from units goes to savings. Wow, right?

    • I think university areas are great places to have rentals. There will always be a market because students aren’t looking to buy.

  2. Another perk? All your renovation costs can be deducted and improvements depreciated on next year’s taxes. You don’t get the same tax benefits making money on the stock market!

  3. Awesome, Kim! It seems like every service worker I have ever dealt with is “squirelly!”

    • I do not understand it at all. My guess is there must not be enough to go around. Otherwise, I’m not sure how they stay in business.

  4. Aside from some of the hassle it seems like you should be able to turn this property around and providing some decent cash flow – especially considering you’ll be able to get tenants to your liking & the demand. I hate dealing with service people like that. We have no clue what we’re doing when it comes to stuff like that so we normally like to go with referrals if at all possible. You’re dead on with regards to why you like real estate – I want to ourselves, we just have so little time with the business that’ll likely be a few years before we can.

    • I almost always go with referrals. I don’t know enough about some stuff to know I’m getting ripped off, so I use work of mouth as much as possible.

  5. I can’t wait to see it when it’s all finished. Hmm, 750 rent sounds pretty darn nice to me right now. Maybe I’ll fall in love with the area when I’m there and be one of your tenants. 🙂

    • There is no beach volleyball, but we could hook you up with some great trail runs and the rec center does roller derby!

  6. We actually built a home while I was pregnant and it was one of the most stressful situations, especially as the clock wound down to my delivery day. The whole experience has made me gun shy as far as home renovations, so my hat is definitely off to the two of you! I can’t wait to see the final results, though!

    • Oh my! It was super stressful building our house and that was long before I was thinking baby. It is not as stressful when it’s someone else’s house. The money part is scary, but at least I get to go home to my own house at night that isn’t in a construction zone.

  7. We just closed on a new home a few weeks ago. We’re redoing the kitchen and my fingers are crossed everything goes smoothly. Like you, I always add on time to their estimate. Sometimes it is through no fault of their own and other times … I think it just sounds better to say it will take weeks versus months! I’m glad the rehab is going well overall. It sounds like it will make a winning addition to your real estate portfolio!

  8. I had a rooming house once. It was a huge headache, but I was also living on a shoestring. So every new expense stressed me out.

    I definitely want to save for at least one rental property. We’ll see how it goes after that. We’ll just invest in a house, I’m sure, but I think we’ll also choose something that is in relatively good shape. If our financials get more robust with the first property, we can investigate fixer-uppers.

    • I would love to hear stories about a rooming house. I think this property was kind of like that with mostly younger police officers coming and going. I believe that’s why the old landlord kept everything month to month. It would drive me crazy to turn over tenants that quickly.

  9. I would love to get into the rental property.

  10. Wow! Big project. So glad to see the numbers working out so well for you. We bought a house for my in laws a couple years back. Fast forward through lots of events, and three months ago, it was time to move again, but this time we didn’t buy the house. We debated keeping it as a rental. But it was only going to work out to be ~$200 in cash flow a month. And that didn’t allow for vacancy or repair fund. It was a no-go. And I most definitely think that sqirrelly is a legitimate word!!

  11. I don’t understand how many tradespeople can stay in business. I sometimes think all they care about is making enough money to keep gas in their truck and pay their cable bill. We will schedule for a bid and they don’t show up. Or they arrive at 10:00AM to begin their workday, leave at 11:30 for lunch, return around 1:30 and leave at 3:00. I finally found a general handyman who was super reliable but after we sold our last rental, he retired.

    You sound like rental property is good for you. I hated owning it. I hated having tenants who locked themselves out at 2:00AM and expected me to bring a key. I hated having to fix places up after they’ve been trashed. I hated having to deal with late payers who always had a sad tale to tell about why the rent wasn’t timely. I recognize right away that I’m not cut out to be a landlord so the closest I get to RE now is through a REIT. I do see great income potential in a well chosen piece of property, but I just don’t have it in me to deal with it. There are easier ways to make money.

    • Lots of these reasons are why we currently use property management. Someday, when I no longer work, I’ll probably do it myself. I think my career has prepared me well because I really have little sympathy for the sob stories anymore. I agree about the service people. I know there are some good ones, but they are few and far between. We have a good general contractor and a good painter. I also have pretty reliable electrician. The rest is usually a crapshoot.

  12. Ah, yes, the squirrelly service people. I’ve had a few no shows. The hard part is knowing who you can trust.

    You make me want to get back into rentals;0)

  13. I laughed out loud at the blurry bathroom! A project of this scope would stress a lot of people out, but it’s great reading about it from your perspective!

  14. Wowee that is amazing cash flow Kim! I am so jealous. Nothing is even remotely close to that in my neck of the woods.
    That’s fantastic that the tenants moved out on their own volition. Here’s to raking in the coin!

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