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Make Ready Checklist with Auto-Populating Fields

12 Jan

There’s no way around it, make ready work is full of details to remember:

  • Will the electricity automatically transfer?
  • Is the trim painted the same color as the wall?
  • Do any fence pickets need replacing?
  • What size are the air filters? How many are needed?
  • Is the drill battery charged?
  • Are any doorstops missing? Light bulbs? Shower curtain rods?

Each misstep is another trip to Home Depot or another loose end to button up later. To complement my grab-and-go kit, I needed a make ready checklist.

Rental Make Ready Checklist

How it Works
The checklist needed to be universal in some ways (light bulbs, lawn care) and property-specific in others (paint colors, window dimensions). I also didn’t want to update 6+ separate documents every time I made an update.

My solution uses an Excel spreadsheet with a drop down list of properties. The drop down selection triggers vlookup formulas that auto-populate the property-specific fields with data from the last tab. Since we have duplexes, our data is separated by unit instead of property.

Rental Make Ready Checklist Drop Down

Once you’ve tackled the initial data input, you simply select the rental property (or unit/apartment) in the upper left-hand corner and print the first 2 tabs. Voila!

Tab 1 – Make Ready “Prep” List
I found myself distinguishing between tasks that happen during vs. immediately before a vacancy. The first tab addresses errands that begin a week or two prior: transferring utilities, charging batteries, pulling together supplies, and ordering discounted gift cards.

Rental Make Ready Checklist Clipboard

I also included a section to remember unit-specific projects that had been saved for another day/vacancy. For example, we provide a fire extinguisher in each of our units, but we haven’t bought a set for our newest property yet.

Tab 2 – Make Ready Checklist
My pièce de résistance. Selecting the property (or unit) in the upper left-hand corner will auto-populate:

  • Air filter quantity & size
  • Wall & trim paint color
  • Date of last dryer duct cleaning
  • Quantity of fire detectors
  • Fire extinguisher expiration year
  • Drip pan quantity, size & brand
  • # of bags of mulch needed
  • All window dimensions

This make ready checklist is COMPLETELY over-engineered – but I love it. ❤

Printable Make Ready Checklist for Rentals

My list intentionally excludes cleaning tasks since we hire that out. I also added some blank spaces for vacancy-specific tasks – like damage, prioritized improvements, and infrequent maintenance items.

Using the Make Ready Checklist
During my last vacancy, I printed a fresh copy each evening so I could translate that day’s notes and reminders into tomorrow’s shopping list and to dos.

The final copy is filed with my property-specific paperwork. Now if the refrigerator shelves go missing, I can reference the last checklist and be certain they were accounted for during the previous vacancy.

Feel free to download the make ready checklist template here. The document is partially-locked to help prevent inadvertent formula breaks, but the more adventurous are welcome to unlock it and customize (there’s no password).

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2015 Real Estate Resolutions

29 Dec

I hope everybody is having a wonderful holiday season. Santa was generous this year and left a Black & Decker Trimmer/Edger with Mower Deck under the tree – I’ll be sure to let you know how it works on the duplex lawns!

A table-sized tree, not a Godzilla-sized cat 🙂

Due to other financial priorities, we do not have plans to purchase a property this year. Fear not, we are 100% committed to the real estate empire, but that just means our 2015 goals will focus on the existing portfolio instead:

  • $10,000 Extra to Mortgage #2 – we anticipate a good bit of discretionary cash flow that can be applied to our pre-payment efforts. Averaged across the year, that $833/mo. will save an additional $16,668 in interest and shave just over 4 years off the mortgage!

  • Setup Umbrella Policy – with the addition of property #3, we know an umbrella insurance policy is in order. I’ve been putting this off because I really hate dealing with insurance agents, but it needs to be done.
  • Streamline Insurance Quotes – Did I mention I hate insurance agents? Like cable companies, customer loyalty is often penalized so regular price-shopping is a must. Resigned to my annual fate, I have a project in mind that should help expedite this process. I also want to consolidate my separate landlord policies under a single agent.
  • Tackle Some Deferred Maintenance – Some repairs need to be addressed immediately, and some need to be addressed… eventually. This year we’ll suck it up and prioritize (1) a new exterior paint job on duplex #1 and (2) some minor roof repairs recommended by the inspector when we purchased duplex #3.

Roof Tab Repair

  • Plant a Cedar Elm – Our apartment balcony has slowly turned into a rental-friendly tree farm. We’re currently growing a Texas Ash and a Cedar Elm from saplings, and the latter is now ready to be planted if the right opportunity (vacancy) presents itself.
  • Take a Vacation! – We’d like to prioritize some time, money, and reward points towards a vacation (or two?) next year. All things considered, it’s hardest for us to prioritize the time.

All of these goals are important-but-not-urgent – i.e. things that should get done but could easily get put off without a plan to stay on-track. I’m dreading some of them, but all the more reason to apply blog accountability. 😉

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Setting Expectations: Tenant Guidelines for HOA Success

17 Dec

Because HOA rules can be rather subjective, I recently met with an HOA manager to discuss lawn requirements for our rental property. It was a productive conversation, and I left with 5 key takeaways to share with our tenants and property management company. A few of these weren’t on my radar, so I’m glad we could prevent some misunderstanding and frustration.

I also created “Guidelines for HOA Success” that we’ll include with our tenant on-boarding paperwork moving forward. This should be more effective than referring to vague rules buried within pages of legalese. I’ll share the outline below in case this strategy is helpful to others balancing tenants and HOAs.

Finally, I plan to incorporate some light weeding during vacancies to help reign in other plant species that grow faster than the rest of the lawn. Most of the prior violations seem to be related to tall weeds more than tall grass.

Guidelines for HOA Success

These rules have been created to help our residents avoid HOA violation fines. The HOA has final say on violations, but these 5 rules should help you avoid the vast majority of complaints and fines. Please do not assume that you will receive a warning before getting fined; fines are allocated at the sole discretion of the HOA Manager.

If you have questions about compliance or a violation, please reach out to [property management company].

#1 – Keep Lawn Height Under 4.5 Inches

HOA Lawn Height Maximum

#2 – Only Outdoor Furniture is Allowed on Front Porch

HOA Outdoor Furniture Policy

Examples of Allowed Items:

  • Outdoor Furniture
  • Lawn Chairs
  • Grills
  • Exterior Decorations

Examples of Not Allowed Items:

  • Couches
  • Dining Room Chairs
  • Coolers
  • Trash
  • Cans & Bottles

 #3 – Lawn Should Not Cover Cement / Sidewalks

Crab grass in particular is a weed that likes to grow horizontally. Crab grass can be physically removed by the roots or cut back to ensure that it does not extend beyond the lawn.

Lawn Violation Edging Explaination

Edging is recommended, but not specifically required. Regularly removing the crab grass by the roots, edging, or trimming will usually resolve the problem to the HOA’s satisfaction.

#4 – Mow Thoroughly Under Shrubs

Please take extra care to mow under all shrubs/bushes so that the mower can reach any tall grass and weeds in the flower beds.

HOA Violation Weeds

(we removed the stones for easier access)

#5 – Trash & Recycling Should Not be Visible from Front Yard (except on trash day).

Please return all bins to the backyard by the evening of trash day.

Hidden Trash Can

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Rental Property HOA Violations & Subjective Rules

22 Oct

Recently we had our first run in with a rental property’s homeowners association; it started with a couple warning letters letting us know that our duplex had a lawn care violation.

HOA Violation Notice

I wasn’t too concerned because (1) I assumed the lawn was in violation and (2) per our lease the tenant ultimately pays any HOA fines. It wasn’t until the fine was imposed that our letter also included low-resolution photos of the lawns in question, and I started to realize just how subjective lawn rules could be.

Lawn 1

Lawn 2

I’m not saying that’s a perfectly manicured lawn, but for a row of duplexes in rural Texas I was expecting something a LOT worse. It was also quite the coincidence that both tenants simultaneously stopped complying for the first time – more likely the HOA was now enforcing a higher standard of lawn care, but had not communicated those new expectations.

The violation letters themselves didn’t elaborate beyond “Cutting Grass and/or Weed Eating”. Our property manager reached out for clarification, but was told by the HOA manager that she didn’t have to tell them what the violation was – only refer them to the HOA’s covenants, conditions, and restrictions:

“Each owner will keep shrubs, trees, grass, and plantings
of every kind on the owner’s Lot cultivated, pruned, and mowed,
and will keep yards free of trash and other unsightly material.”

Why is nothing easy?  🙂

There were more questions than answers… was there a maximum length of grass allowed? Was edging required? Did they just want the shrubs pruned back? To help sort things out, I scheduled a meeting with the HOA Manager.

The goal wasn’t to get out of the fine – just obtain clear guidelines that I could communicate back to our tenants so they could reliably avoid the HOA’s wrath in the future. If the lawn standards weren’t clear to me then they certainly weren’t clear to the tenants.

Coming soon: the HOA meeting and aftermath

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Rental Landscape Watering; Hiring the Tenants

4 Jun

Being in Central Texas, our summers are brutal on landscaping, and this year I have 4 young trees at 2 different properties to keep alive, including the tree we incorporated into our wedding. I’m thrilled that the youngest two survived their first summer, but I’d still like for them to be more established before I leave them to the elements.

Watering can
(photo by anneh632)

Armed with a healthy distrust of tenant watering habits, last summer I had a weekly routine to drive to our duplex with jugs of water (cat litter containers work well for this as long as they don’t tip over) and water the trees. There was only 1 duplex then, but I knew good and well that this method wasn’t scalable. I also experimented with DriWater, with mixed results, but I would probably incorporate it again if the weekly waterings weren’t cutting it, or if I thought the plants might be established enough to thrive with only a 3-month supply of DriWater.

Looking closer at the estimated cost of last year’s process: the duplex is 11 miles away, so 4 roundtrip visits a month comes out to 88 miles. Using the IRS standard mileage rate as a guide, 88 miles * $.555/mile = $48.84 a month. That doesn’t include my time filling and lugging jugs of water to the car or driving to/from the property.

This year we have second property that is farther away, so this method becomes even less viable.

My ideal scenario would be a landscaping service that waters once a week (only the front yard trees, I’m not worried about the lawn), but I don’t think that’s a typical business model. A more realistic option might be a vacation watering service, swapping houseplants for trees. For example, I found an individual who would water houseplants for $16 per half hour, so $64/month per property assuming 4 visits a month.

The plan: I’m going to attempt to strike a deal with a trusted tenant at each property to water the front yard trees on both sides once a week. Both tenants I have in mind are good communicators, so I think they will be ideal candidates for this experiment. In exchange for a deep watering of both trees, I will pay them $30 a month for their trouble. I’ll also send them a friendly reminder email once a week since I know weekends get busy and even the best tenant is bound to forget sometimes.

My intention is for this to be a win-win offer – my watering needs are being accomplished at a lower cost and with less personal effort, while the tenants are happy to earn extra spending money for a relatively simple task. The agreement will run 3 months – June-August, for a total of $90/property for the summer. This method probably only works with the right tenants, but I like my odds for this summer.

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Choosing Landscaping for Rental Properties

17 Jul

This summer we experienced the very essence of sweat equity.

Some of our shrubs were casualties of the 2011 drought, so we set out to replace them with something more attractive but durable.

Similarly affected plants in the neighborhood

Hubby with power tools

The bulk of the old shrubs were extracted with a reciprocating saw.  Removing the roots was quite a feat, but made much easier by the wise advice of Mike’s Backyard Nursery. With only a spade and spud bar, we removed all 5 well-entrenched root balls in about an hour.We turned to the city’s guide to native and adaptive landscape plants for replacement advice; I don’t expect the average tenant to water the plants regularly.  We settled on the Golden Showers Thryallis, an adapted shrub described as “easy to grow; needs room to spread; little maintenance required” that will sprout small yellow flowers in the warmer months.

After planting our wedding ceremony tree this spring, the duplex was a little lop-sided, so we also added a second cedar elm for the other side.  I’m diligently watering the 1st tree until it gets established, so it’s no extra work to water a 2nd tree while I’m there.  I’m pleased to see that several trees have been planted around the neighborhood recently.

Total cost of tree, shrub removal, new shrubs, edging, soil & mulch: $149.23.  Hopefully this is an investment that will pay off for many years, and put us in a better position to get top dollar the next time we have a vacancy.  The next challenge will be keeping these new plantings alive!

Planted thryallis shrubs with new edging and mulch.

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Report: Effects of Trees on Rental Rates

17 May

Courtesy of, I stumbled upon a 2010 report on the effects of trees on rental values. While there were other motivations for planting the tree from our wedding ceremony, I do plan to add more in the future to improve the property overall.

“A new study by the U.S. Forest Service found that planting trees along the perimeter of a rental property increase the rates the landlord could charge by $21 a month. Planting right on the property increase the value by at least $5 a month. The survey was done by combining the price of rental listings on Craigslist for Portland, Oregon with tree data gleaned from Google Earth.”

It’s a little dry, but in case you’re interested here’s a PDF of the full report.

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Tree Ceremony and Rental Property Improvements

10 May

The Wedding Tree Ceremony
We were married last month, and during the planning process our officiate suggested we make the ceremony longer – apparently I took my abhorrence for mushy wedding stuff a little too far.  I found a tree planting ceremony online, which fit well with our park-setting.  The tree ceremony is essentially a metaphor on the nurturing of marriage:

Tree Ceremony During WeddingLike this tree, marriage must be resilient. It must weather the challenges of daily life and the passage of time. And just like the tree that they are planting, marriage requires constant nurturing and nourishment. As they provide the sun, soil, and water for this tree, they will provide the encouragement, trust, and love needed on a daily basis to consciously nurture and nourish their connection to each other.”

Which then begs the practical question – what do you do with the tree afterwards?  Since we live in an apartment, we decided to plant it at our investment duplex.

Wedding Tree CeremonyPicking the Tree
With tenants in play, I needed to pick a variety that had good odds of living on its own devices.  I went to a local nursery to get some expert opinions with a few criteria in mind:

  1. Relatively Attractive – for both curb appeal and the wedding photos.  🙂
  2. Low Water Needs / Heat Tolerant – 2011 saw a bad drought for Texas, so this could be the difference between the tree surviving the summer or not.
  3. No Acorns or Fruit – with rental properties, this could be a recipe for disaster.

The nursery staff was crazy helpful and knew their stuff – she understood exactly what I was trying to accomplish, recommended several trees, and introduced me to some city resources on native trees suggested for the area.  I ended up picking a small Cedar Elm.  Total cost for the tree: $4.32 – what a deal!

Planting the Tree is a great resource for DIY projects:

Cedar Elm Investment PropertyHere’s the tree in its new, permanent home.  Now I just need to keep it alive during the upcoming Texas summer – it sounds like the first year is the hardest and then I’m probably good. 

We intentionally planted it in the front yard so we could help supplement the watering as needed.  I expect I’ll make frequent trips to ensure it survives the summer, which will give me an excellent opportunity practice tracking my driving mileage.



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