Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Prepping an Apartment for Rent - Views of a Landlord

In the comments of a post from last week Esperanza said that, as a renter herself, she would be interested in hearing more about the rental process from a landlord’s perspective. I am happy to do that! Since I have an apartment that needs renting right now, I will be sure to write about the process as I go through it.

When it comes to apartments, my feeling is “Better rental = better tenant.” It is just that simple. If a person rents an apartment that is beat up or dirty, what reason do they have to take care of it? If the owner of the unit doesn’t care enough about it to keep it looking nice, why should the tenant? I know there are lots of slumlords out there who have different goals for their properties, but that is not the kind of person I am. Plus, from a business perspective - I don’t want the hassles that come with renting to people who are likely to destroy their apartment or people I need to evict. This apartment is in my own home, I want it to be a lovely place for someone to live - a place they can take pride in. My own conscience will not allow me to rent out a place that I wouldn’t be willing to live in myself.

So to that, whenever a tenant moves out, I take that as an opportunity to do some home improvement. My ex husband owned another home that had three rental units in it, and over the years we rebuilt bathrooms, re-tiled floors, had carpet re-stretched, added heating units, new windows, light fixtures and kitchen cabinets and of course, painted. My rental is actually in beautiful condition for the most part. The last tenant did a great job cleaning, and in my opinion, it is pretty much “renter ready.” However, since I don’t have anyone in it, this is a great chance to get a few things done...

The apartment is built out of a portion of the second floor of my home. The tenant has their own separate entrance from the front, and once you go through the door, you immediately go up the stairs. At the top of the stairwell is a small foyer area. This section was painted “apartment beige” and had gotten a bit beat up over the years from people moving in and so on. Also, there were some small pieces of trim that were broken and not looking their best.

The other area that needed love was the kitchen. I had put new cabinets in it a few years ago, but now the walls needed some TLC. For one thing, they were painted screaming “Georgia peach.” I mean, it was so peach it was nearly fluorescent. (I obviously, had not picked out the color - it was there when I bought the house.) Over time some cracks had developed in the plaster, so the walls needed some repair work and a fresh coat of a more neutral paint color.

Most of this is work I could have done myself, though honestly I wasn’t too keen on tackling the entryway molding. Since I was so busy this month, I decided to take the “easy” way out and hire someone to do it. The same gentleman who did the exterior paint on my home is working on it now. I would actually love to repaint the bathroom and the bedroom too, just to freshen them up, but neither is so bad that I have to do it. It will entirely depend on my time and my energy level. If I do decide to do these rooms, I will probably do them myself with the help of some friends and family - since they don’t need anything but paint, they’re projects that could be done in a weekend.

I will be taking a ton photos of the apartment for my advertisements, when I do, I will make sure to post some of the photos! I'll also keep writing about each step of the landlord process as it happens.

Photo by: Clarous Maximus
Via flickr

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Overworked and Under Stress

I am so very tired. I went to bed last night pretty early, but I still feel like curling up in a big ball under my desk and taking a nap. I think some of the extra work I have been doing, plus the stress from other areas of my life, has finally caught up with me.

There is good news though, my current freelance project is wrapping up. I have 95% of it done - just a couple more loose ends to tie up and I should be all set! I admit, it feels really good to have that pretty much under control. I have another project I am also working on, but since I have a little downtime between this one finishing up and that one needing to be in full swing... I plan on taking advantage of that time for a little R&R.

One of the things I think is really important in busy times is to take care of yourself. I work hard to try to eat healthy and get plenty of sleep. Ever heard of the expression, “Take care of your tools and they will take care of you”? It’s a good one and very apt. In this case my “tool” is my brain and my body. If I don’t make an effort to take decent care of myself, I’ll burn out - it is as simple as that. If I work myself to that state, it doesn’t matter how much extra money I make, it isn’t going to do me any good if I’m coming unglued.

I’ve done quite well on the eating side of things. I’ve been able to make some simple dishes that I enjoy and that are easy to reheat and eat. No fast food for this gal - after all, fast food is rarely healthy, is too expensive and most times, it isn’t even ‘fast.” No thanks! Instead I’ve been living on hearty soups, simple dishes and a lot of healthy snacks. It’s been great! I’ve even lost a little weight.

The sleep side of things, however, isn’t going as well...

I’ve scheduled naps, I’ve planned my schedule so I can get to bed early... all in vain. When you have insomnia, there isn’t a thing you can do. My problem is that my brain is racing - I’m awake thinking of what is going on in my life, what needs to be done, where I have to go, how much work is ahead and so on. I toss and turn and my mind is full of all that stuff, so even though I am going to bed early, it is still several hours before I can truly fall asleep.

I know it is effecting me. In the last couple of days I can tell that I am on edge and not myself. I’ve said and done things that aren’t really like me, and I know that's the reason my office floor is looking so dang comfy right now.

I have found one thing that helps though, and that is keeping a pad of paper and pen beside the bed. Just being able to get up and write down what is on my mind helps tremendously. Last night I was laying there with my eyes wide open thinking ...and thinking... and thinking... It was awful! Finally I turned on the light, grabbed my notebook and started writing down all the stuff that was keeping me up. I made a list of tasks that I needed to do today, I jotted down some thoughts for a couple of important emails I knew I had to write, and I also wrote out an idea I had about delicate situation that came up at work. Basically I got the information out of my head and onto the page.

Once I admitted to myself that this was what I needed to do, I felt better. My brain was able to relax a little. Eventually I actually went to sleep.

The reason I bring all this up is that I know from my own experience the same thing can happen when tackling finances too. When I first started working on mine, I had many a sleepless night. I was up thinking of solutions and things to try, things I needed to look into, and people I needed to talk to. Once again, I found that writing it all down helped. Don’t get me wrong, keeping a pad of paper by the bed it isn’t a cure for true insomnia, but it is a simple and inexpensive way to help your brain calm down in busy times. It is certainly worth a try!

Photo by: Richard Pluck
via flickr

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Spending a Little Too Much, Budgeting a Little Too Little

Has anyone else been getting a million spam comments on their blog? Ugh - it has been terrible lately! I like to allow anonymous comments, but the amount of spam lately is getting ridiculous. It always makes me wonder - does this stuff actually work? Apparently, or they wouldn't do so much of it, I guess.

I mentioned that I haven't been budgeting as well as I should lately. I plan on changing that, but one thing I have noticed is that I have been spending a lot more as well. It is okay, I have the money and I am on target for many of my goals, but I still can't help but notice the increase. Some of it practical - like having the apartment painted and having some routine maintenance on my car, other of it has been social - spending time out and about with loved ones and friends. I can't say much of it is totally frivolous, but it is more than I would have been able to do just a few months ago.

The question that I have been pondering has been: Am I spending more because I am not budgeting and watching every penny, or, am I spending more because I am making more money and feel that I can? My guess is, it's a little of both...

Knowing I am making more money, that my basic needs are met and I don't need to worry about foreclosure like I once did, makes me feel more comfortable spending. Not keeping track of spending, makes it easy to underestimate how much I've spent. It's pretty much a vicious cycle.

I don't feel bad about it though, and I am not going to beat myself up about it. It is what it is. It has been nice the last couple of months to feel the way that I did prior to all this drama - back before marriage and divorce, when I lived in a little apartment, well below my means. I've enjoyed not thinking about things too much.

However, it won't continue. As I have said, my goal for the year is to build up my safety nets, and that won't happen through spending. I have also found another little odd fact... I like having a nice amount in my checking account. It makes me feel safe. Right now there is more in my checking account than I ever remember having - even back in "the good old days." It's a really good feeling - it is almost powerful. It's like knowing that I have this shield that will help get me through the hard times.

Although, having been through hard times, I know just how fragile that is, so, time to buckle down, get serious, and get focused. More on that as plans develop!

"money Shot" photo by: borman818
Via flickr

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Busy Times, Drastic Measures

So, I mentioned yesterday how busy I’ve been. I guess I don’t need to add that my budgeting has gone straight out the window - you can see that on my sidebar over there. Budgeting is one of those things that when I am keeping on top of it, it only takes a couple of minutes a day, but when I fall behind like I have, I tend to stall and stay behind.

I could sort through my bank statements and figure out January and February, but the truth of the matter is, whatever has been spent has been spent. Right now I feel like the best way for me to get off on the right foot is to just start fresh in March. So far in this month I have made over $400 and am on track for my nine hundred dollar goal, and I feel pretty good about that.

I will say though that having my budget from last year really helped with my taxes. It was simple for me to see how much I have spent on business items like gas, water and trash - all of which a portion is used by my tenant. So, once things slow down a bit, I do have some motivation to go back and, at the very least, record the numbers from last month.

As for my tenant, that’s another kettle of fish...

My tenant moved out in January, so I did receive rent for that month. This is the first month that I did not get rent, but so far income-wise I am doing fine. I did take this opportunity to get some work done on the unit. I hired my house painter to come in and fix up the entryway-stairwell area (which needed both paint and trim replacement) and the kitchen (which had some cracks in the walls and needed painting.) He should be done with that this week. It cost me about $250. While I am sure I could have done it all myself for less, there has been no time to do it. I’ve been swamped - that would have pushed me out even further. I decided that the cost per hour was completely worth it. This way when I slow down and can start showing the place, it will already be ready to go.

Fortunately, the tenant left the apartment spotless. Seriously, I was amazed at what a good job she did cleaning up. So, the next step will be to get some photos and start advertising it. My friend Tracey recently was apartment hunting and she wrote me a fantastic email with all the kinds of things she was looking for when she rented her place, and which web sites she looked on. It was really helpful. I actually feel pretty confident about getting it out there and getting it rented.

The one big thing I have left to do is type up a lease. I have some that have been used in the past, I just need to make one that someone can sign and turn in to me. I actually enjoy making forms, (it’s one of the things I do for my job,) but I am not looking forward to the time it is going to take to do it right. Ah well! It is too important not to take my time with it.

My goal is to have someone in by April 1. I can show it through March and if I find someone right away, they can move in a little early. I’ll let you know how it all goes!

Photo by: cindyproject
Via flickr

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Working For a Living...

So, what the devil have I been up to? Well, working - and doing a ton of it.

Back in October I was offered a neat little freelance project. It was doing some work that I knew something about, but an aspect of the job that I never actually done before. I was hired on by someone I knew at a local college. It’s the same place where I take classes whenever I can, and they like to use students; so, even though I am sure there are people who are more qualified to do the work, I got asked to do it. (Of course, it doesn’t hurt that I have worked many times with the gentleman who was head of this project, so he knows me and he knows my work.) I had a great time on it, appreciated the extra money, and was eternally grateful to my friend Shelly who had suggested me. And when all was said and done I thought, “Well, that was fun, I probably won’t be doing any more of that for awhile.”

Then, in December, I got another call. Another manager (same college) called me and said he’d heard I’d worked on the other project. He wondered if I could help him out. I said yes and that project got under way in January and should be wrapped up sometime next week.

But then, I got another call...

It was the first gentleman again. This time he wasn’t working for the college, he was working for an independent group and had hired someone else... who had just quit on him. It turns out that the Pro that he had hired, who I know quite well (we’ll call her Kelsey) had just found out that someone very close to her has a fairly severe medical condition. Kelsey wanted to take time out to care for them and couldn’t do that and the freelance work. So, the question was, would I do it?

The “exciting” part about all this was that my college freelance project and Kelsey’s project coincided. They completely overlap. I talked about this with the manager, but we decided that since neither project was huge, I could treat both projects like one big one and just work on them both at the same time.

Now, don’t forget, all of this is going on while I still have a full time job and I volunteer on a regular basis, but the good thing about it is that the work can be done on in my free time. I can work on it on my lunch hours and after work. I can squeeze things in here and there and get a lot done that way. The hard thing though was that right in the middle of it, my part time job needed me for a week! A typical day looked like this:

6:50 a.m. - get up, get ready, be at “real” job by 9:00 a.m.

1:00 p.m. - leave job (I took 1/2 day of vacation time all week.)

Spend one hour either running errands for freelance work or working on building things for it.

2:30ish - Take a nap.

3:30 - Get up, eat dinner

4:30 - Be ready to go work at part time job

11:30 to Midnight - Get home, relax for a few minutes, then go to bed and be ready to get up and start it all over again.

Am I crazy? Maybe. But I can’t shake this feeling that my life arranged itself so that I could step in and help Kelsey just when she needed it. If I hadn’t done that first show in October or if I hadn’t accepted the second one in December, I wouldn’t have been ready to pick up her work and pitch in.

Plus, don’t get me wrong, there is a financial benefit to me as well. I will be paid for my work, and I don’t have kids or a spouse so having a few weeks of chaos really isn’t the end of the world. If I can make a good living and help someone out at the same time, you know I’ll do it.

...oh, and did I mention that another manager called me to fill in for Kelsey for her work in April?

Photo by: The Tim
Via flickr

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Thoughts on Having Safety Nets

We’re more than half the way through February and I am just starting to think about goals for the New Year. Honestly, I think I would like 2010 to be a year of rest. I’ve been feeling like Tarzan the last couple of years, swinging through the jungle of my life with crises for vines. I’ve swung from one traumatic problem to the next, barely touching the ground.

Last year I had quite a few goals and plans for the year. Some I completed, some I didn’t. This year, however, I want to take a step back. I realize that one of the big reasons that my problems were able to completely take over my life was simply because I didn’t have a big enough safety net. Divorce... fighting foreclosure... landlord problems.... every issue has been able to put me into a state of panic. Even little problems in life were able to derail me.

I have big dreams - going back to school, making some different career choices - but I realize that before I go jumping into something else, I need to take stock of where I am. Now, this isn’t to say I am going to sit around on the couch for a year and do nothing! If you’ve read my blog in the past, you know that I don’t let any moss gather on this stone! ...but, it does mean holding off on any major decisions, at least for a little while....

Being divorced put me in the strange situation of having a home I couldn’t afford, so when I first moved in, all I could think about was selling it and getting out. Now, I’m a lot more settled and I don’t feel quite the push to “escape” as I once did. I realize that the housing market has a long way to go to recovery and I am okay with that. As I’ve mentioned many times, I would also like to go back to school - but that takes a lot of work and energy, and completely changes your day to day routines and personal life. While I still want to do it, it occurs to me that if I want to do it right, I’ll spend a little time preparing first.

So, this is the year of mending and building nets - specifically, safety nets. I’m going to hunker down and build emergency savings accounts, I’m going to try to reconnect with family and friends in better ways, and I am going to try to try to get my ducks in a row, so when opportunity knocks - or crises bang down the door, I’m a little more prepared.

Here’s an example:

One of my goals for 2010 is to finish paying off my loan from my mother. My goal was to have it paid off by Christmas but, well, that didn’t quite happen. Why am I in this situation? Lack of safety nets! I ended up taking out the loan from my mother because I didn’t have quite enough money to finish paying for my to be house repainted last summer. I’m glad I got the house done, but I should have had a bigger pool of money set aside for the project before I even began it. Then, why didn’t I pay back my mom in full before Christmas? Again, lack of a safety net. I got the money to do it (I got a very nice year end bonus,) but I ended up taking most of it and putting it away into savings accounts because I was feeling nervous about not having them fleshed out enough. If those accounts had been better funded, I could have paid my mother back in no time at all.

I don’t regret the choices that I have made. I know that I made the best decision that I could given the information and circumstances at the time, however, I’m tired of feeling like I am flying by the seat of my pants all the time. Granted, its exhilarating, but it gets a bit old. One can only spend so much time on a roller coaster, after all.

So, to put it simply, I want to spend this year getting my house in order - both figuratively and literally. I would like it to be a year of fully funding my emergency fund, as well as setting aside money for the other things that come up in the course of a year - home repair, car repair, even tuition for seminars or classes I may want to take. I’m going to make a conscious decision to set aside some of the big things I’ve been wanting to do and instead, work on building a solid foundation. I’m going to continue to make my home a comfortable place to live, and organize it so it functions well with my busy lifestyle. Although I have some home repair projects I want to do, I’m going to put the big ones aside for now, and just work on the smaller ones when I have time and in my own fashion. I want to make more time for the people I love and try to strengthen those ties.

Oh, I’ll still be working 87 part time jobs, but I’m now doing it so that eventually, I don’t have to. I’ve felt what it is like to be in freefall, scrambling to make ends meet. I am very proud of what I was able to achieve and that I came out of it pretty much intact... but I’d certainly like to avoid it happening again!

There is this quote by Patrick Overton that goes like this:

“When we walk to the edge of all the light we have and take the step into the darkness of the unknown, we must believe that one of two things will happen. There will be something solid for us to stand on or we will be taught to fly.”

Great quote, but I can't help but think that in either case the leap is easier to make if you know there is a safety net down there waiting for you.

Photo by: ...storrao...
Via Flickr

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Filing and Organizing Financial Paperwork

Since it is January - a great month for organization - I thought I would write a little bit about the various systems I use, (and have used in the past,) for organizing all that financial... stuff. I'm not saying that what I do is the best, by any means. "Different strokes for different folks," and what works for me may not work for anyone else. However, someone might see an idea here that will spark an idea of their own. So, here you go:

I pay all of my bills through my online banking system. I usually do it during a few minutes of my lunch hour, so, when bills come in the house, they get opened, glanced at, then put in my work bag. This happens in pretty much one movement, no letting them pile up on a counter, they go straight into the bag! Then, the next day I will pop on my computer at lunch time and go to my bank's web site. Many of my bills I have auto-paid. I set them up in January and then they just pay out automatically each month. This works great for bills that are the same amount and due at the same time each month; when I had car loans and credit card debt they were all set up this way. Now it is mostly my mortgage and my utility bills that are on a "budget plan" (so they are the same each month,) that are on auto-pay. I still like to sign into my bank's site though and make sure everything is going out the way it should. It's just habit. However, the beauty of this is that even if I am on vacation or a statement is lost in the mail, the bills get paid on time. It is one of the reasons my credit score is good - because I haven't had a late bill in years.

Some of my other bills are more random, either in when they arrive or the amount due. Trash, water, insurance - they are all quarterly or semiannually. My cell phone comes at the same time, never seems to be quite the same amount each month. I don't have an automatic bill pay for these, instead I create a single payment each time a statement comes in.

After I verify a bill has been paid, then I file the statement in my work bag. I have a folder in it that contains all the statements from the prior month. This is when I glance and make sure that everything seems normal. When I saw my cell phone took too big of a jump up over the course of a month, I spotted it right away, because I have the prior month's statement at my fingertips. So, the new month goes in the Statements folder and the old one goes in a To Be Filed folder.

So that is the basic set up for simple bills and things, here's what I do with the old statements...

Talk about low-tech, I have two cardboard boxes for filing. One is marked with the present year, (I just made my 2010 one a few days ago,) and one is labeled Taxes. I use envelope boxes I get from work - they are sort of like shoe boxes, but wider and and flatter. Any receipt, statement or other piece of paper that has to do with my tax return goes in the Taxes box. Everything else gets thrown in the year box.

I have gone through a couple of different systems for filing statements and receipts. I actually originally started with the shoe box system when I read about it in a magazine years and years ago. Then I got more sophisticated and started keeping files in a locked file cabinet. This worked fairly well, except that while I had no problem adding something new to a file, I wasn't very good at taking things out. Soon my Auto, Credit Card, Insurance and other folders were filled to the brim. For some reason (laziness, perhaps) sorting out the cabinet and removing the previous year's statements just didn't really happen.

Then I became pretty eco-conscious and decided to try to go paper free. I kept one month of statements as I do now, but older statements and receipts were all shredded and recycled. I felt good about the planet, but lousy about my pocketbook when not having a receipt cost me a couple hundred bucks. That's when I went back to my shoe box filing system.

Checking my bank account online on a regular basis means I see instantly if there is any strange charges or odd activity in the account, keeping a paper trail of receipts and statements helps with taxes and returns. It takes up very little space and is super easy to use.

Not all my financial documents are in envelope and shoe boxes, however. Important documents are kept in a fireproof safe in my basement. Documents I update regularly like my budget, are kept in my computer in spreadsheet format. Now in my file cabinet I keep more "timeless" information - taxes, important paperwork on my home and other purchases, generic account information, things like that. It is no longer stuffed to the gills with 3 years of statements from every bill I have ever gotten!

What do you do with all your financial paperwork?

Photo by: SpecialKRB
via flickr

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

It's Not All Bad...

Wednesday I posted about my big financial fear when it comes getting a new tenant. However, I have to admit that if ever there was a time for me to have this problem, it is now. The first quarter of the year is actually looking really good for me for extra income. Here's the scoop:


I got a raise!! Ha! I am so excited. I just found out about it today. It isn't some huge, massive raise, but in this economy (and don't forget, I am in Michigan - where we have one of the worst economies in the country) I am absolutely thrilled to get one at all. In truth, it was far more than I expected. I'll tell ya', this is the reason I continue to work where I do, they have always taken really good care of me, on so many levels.

Profit sharing!! At the beginning of December I wrote about getting a rather handsome profit sharing bonus. Our year end profit sharing is split up into two payments. They pay an estimated portion before Christmas and the final amount after the December books are closed. That means that sometime this month I should receive Part 2. The second half is usually a bit smaller than the first, as they try to give us a slightly larger portion before the holidays, (See? My company is just so thoughtful.) but I am still really excited about it.

Part Time Work - I have scheduled a couple of shifts at my part time job. I was only able to pick up two for January based on availability... I didn't have it, and my coworkers did. That is just fine though, I worked a ton of extra shifts last month when they couldn't so I'm happy to take the backseat this month.

Freelance Work - Okay, this is just plain nifty. You may remember that back in October I picked up some freelance work. This was a new thing for me. Someone I knew needed a project completed and a dear friend recommended me for it! Well, I just picked up another one. This work pays by the job. Admittedly, if you calculate the hourly pay, well, it isn't all that much. However, it's work I can do mostly from home, on my own schedule. I'll have to do some meetings and driving around, but it fits into what I already have planned and best of all, this is still a new thing for me so I am really excited about doing it. It is creative work with neat people and I am just tickled to be asked to do it. I'll be working on it this month and next. The final project is due at the end of February. My guess is that it will pay the first part of March.

Which brings us to next month....


More Part Time Work! I have another part time job that hires me for just three weeks out of the year, and one of those weeks is near Valentine's Day. That's always a hard week, I'm working practically two full time jobs at that point, but it is only a few days. In fact, it isn't even a full week, it is just Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. For a few extra hundred dollars, I can work extra hours for five days!

Plus, the part time job I mentioned above will be having some more work starting at the end of February into March, which means I could pick up a few extra hours here and there.


Not only is there a lot of part time work that could be available this month, it is also:

Tax Time - Normally I try very hard for a even balance of taxes. I don't want a refund and I certainly don't want to pay them. In fact, I adjusted my payroll taxes to decrease the amount of taxes withheld and try to even out my tax burden. However, I am able to claim 25% of that very expensive house painting project I did this summer as a business expense, along with other expenses I invested into the property. I just got my packet from the accountant yesterday, if I get all my tax forms from banks and employers by the end of January and submit it right away, I usually see payment by March.

Other Factors

Had my tenant had to move out and to another state back when I first started this blog, I would have been completely terrified about it. The fact is though, over the last couple of years I have really gotten a lot of my financial ducks in a row. Not only do I get spare income as mentioned above, but more importantly I've found significant areas where I can save or reduce spending. I've created a living, breathing budget I can work with, and I have increased my monthly income in other ways that pay every month (like changing tax withholding on paychecks.) I no longer have any consumer debt, so I have greatly reduced my bills. I've also created an emergency fund and other funds to help pay for these kinds of issues. All these things add to a much more stable situation.

So, while I'm still nervous about not having a steady source of income for a month or two, its not nearly as bad as could have been.

Photo by: Rail Life
via flickr

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