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Rental Property In A Foreign Country

The Secret To Success As A Long-Distance Landlord

Our apartment in Paris is rented right now to an American couple, him a university professor writing a book, her along for the ride, enjoying an extended sojourn in the City of Light.

As tenants, the pair could be described as, well, demanding. 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 what we were going to do about the drafts blowing through the 300-year-old nowhere-near-square windows and their old frames…they wanted more seating for guests in the dining room…and on and on.

We’ve been working our way through addressing their demands, then, this week, 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 toppled with the fixture to the ground, where, fortunately, he sustained no injury but the sink crashed into a number of ceramic pieces.

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

Linda wrote today 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 a few years ago) and that she’s been able to address all the other items on the special-request list. 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 four 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 even of our annual primeur wine order; 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 of all, 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’re working with in Paris right now) will:

  • 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 several days after Renter #1 departs for another two-week stay. A good management agency (in an active market) will fill some of those gap nights…
  • 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…
  • Perform a post-renter check…to look for damages, to check inventory, and to oversee cleaning…
  • Keep a detailed and current inventory of everything in the unit from wine glasses to pillowcases…
  • 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…
  • Solicit estimates for necessary repairs, oversee the work, and update you in real-time (with photos) as to the progress…
  • Send you (by e-mail) regular reports (say, monthly) on occupancy, nightly rental rates, expenses, fees, taxes, and (with luck) profits…
  • 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 (called 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

French Course Online

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