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How To Manage A Rental Property

8 Secrets To Choosing A Rental Manager In A Foreign Country

Our apartment in Paris is rented right now to an American couple and their young daughter. He’s a university professor writing a book, she’s a stay-at-home mom enjoying this chance to spend six months in the City of Light.

And the pair has been the most demanding renters we’ve encountered to date. The week they moved in, they submitted a list of special requests. They wanted curtains at all the windows that didn’t already have them (including those with full working shutters)…they wanted more lamps…they wanted to know how to reduce the draft blowing through the 300-year-old windows…they wanted more seating for guests in the dining room…and on and on.

We were working our way through addressing their demands when we received word that the husband had slipped in the master bathroom, reached out to grab the leg of the sink to break his fall, and then toppled with the fixture to the ground, where, fortunately, he sustained no injury but the sink crashed into a number of ceramic pieces.

I cringed upon hearing the news but reminded myself that things could be worse.

The key to a successful experience as a long-distance landlord is a good rental manager. And in Paris right now, we’ve got one.

Linda wrote yesterday to report that the bathroom sink has been replaced (she managed to source a new one just like the special-order Victorian-style sink we’d installed during our renovation of the apartment years ago) and all other items on the special-request list have also been addressed. The tenants are happy. The photo Linda attached to her e-mail showed that the master bath appears none the worse for the wear. All’s well.

During the past five years that Linda has managed our Paris apartment rental for us, she has also arranged to have the fireplace chimneys cleaned; taken delivery of new furniture and of our annual primeur wine orders; replaced broken glassware in the kitchen and repaired torn upholstery in the salon; responded to every tenant request and question so efficiently and effectively that we’ve never had to communicate directly with a single renter; and, best part, she has kept the place fully occupied.

This is an exceptional situation. We know from experience that the life of a long-distance landlord can be far more hassled.

There are just so many ways for things to go wrong. You need systems to manage bookings, renter comings and goings, payments, expenses, cleaning, inventory, repairs, maintenance, renter complaints, keys, breakage…

Plus, of course, and most important, you need a system for generating and accepting reservations. Where do you advertise? How do you vet tenants?

Bottom line, a good rental manager (like the one we’ve been lucky enough to find in Paris) will:

1.Be flexible enough to accommodate reservation changes and to fill the gaps. Say you’ve got someone in your place for two weeks…then someone arriving three days after Renter #1 departs for another two-week stay. A good management agency (in an active market) will fill a couple of those gap nights…

2.Meet and greet every renter. A representative from the management company should meet each renter, deliver the keys, explain systems (how the DVD player works, the trick to using the dishwasher, where to find the air-conditioning controls), suggest restaurants and services in the area, answer questions, etc. Some of these things should also be explained in full in a Renter’s Manual, conspicuously displayed in the property, along with, say, a bottle of wine or a box of chocolates…

3.Perform a post-renter check…to look for damages, to check inventory, and to oversee cleaning…

4.Keep a detailed and current inventory of everything in the unit from wine glasses to pillowcases…

5.Contact you immediately if he (or she) notices anything damaged or broken. The rental manager for our rental apartment in Buenos Aires neglected to inform us for two months of a leak in the master bedroom ceiling. In fact, she never did inform us. We got in touch with her when we noticed in her reports that the place hadn’t been rented for weeks. Nada. “Que pasa?” we asked. “Oh, well, I can’t rent the place with all that water damage in the bedroom,” she replied…

6.Solicit estimates for necessary repairs, oversee the work, and update you in real-time (with photos) as to the progress…

7.Send you (by e-mail) regular reports (say, monthly) on occupancy, nightly rental rates, expenses, fees, taxes, and (with luck) profits…

8.Respond to your e-mails. You’d be surprised how many agents don’t…

One agency we worked with in Paris regularly left renters standing alone and confused outside the front door to the apartment building awaiting someone to show up with the key to let them inside.

Another agency we worked with in Paris never thought to keep an inventory of the apartment contents. We’d visit now and then ourselves to check in…to discover that there was a single drinking glass in the cabinet, say, or two lonely forks in the cutlery drawer.

It’s the exceptional agency that remembers to factor in all related expenses, fees, taxes, etc., in projections and reporting. In Paris, for example, don’t forget the building fee (it’s called the syndic fee) or the local property taxes that you, the owner, are liable for (in France these are the taxe d’habitation and the taxe fonciere).

And don’t forget to plan for the things that can’t be planned for—like leaks in the bedroom ceiling and broken bathroom sinks…

Kathleen Peddicord

Continue reading: Capital Gains Taxes On Real Estate In Italy

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