We all know “the look.” The look our service member has when he or she is about to break some bad or unforeseen news to us. These conversations go something like this: “I’m going on a three-month training mission to 29 Palms and I’ll miss your birthday and Easter” or “Remember when I said that our deployment was scheduled to leave in May? Well, we are actually leaving in two weeks.”
This conversation might also involve the word transfer, PCS or whatever synonym your spouse chooses for “moving.” After digesting this new information and reminding yourself that it’s all part of the military voyage, you suddenly look around your kitchen and realize that besides finding a new house to live in, you have to do something with your current house. The one you bought. The one with the farmhouse sink that you absolutely adore. You could sell – or you could consider another option and become a landlord.
If this is something that might work for your situation, here are some important things to do before listing your house for rent.
- Consider finances first. Research the most current Base Allowance for Housing (BAH link: www.defensetravel.dod.mil/site/bah.cfm) for your area as well as the going rental rates for similar properties. Spend time with your spouse going over the proposed rent, mortgage, expenses, what you will fund as landlords and whether you are going to hire a property manager.
- Start saving now. If there’s a gap between when you move out and a renter moves in, you’ll have to cover the mortgage and expenses (insurance, water, power, etc). Have enough of a reserve to fund three to five months of payments.
- Take high-quality, bright photos. But first, clear away the clutter, picture frames and tchotchkes from every surface including counters, end tables and windowsills. Stand on a ladder and get a shot from above, if possible. It makes the space appear larger and allows a potential renter to get a feel for the entire room. Be sure and snap the front door, backyard, the master bedroom closet and even the garage. Remember to put the toilet seat down in bathroom photos.
- When renters come by for a look, turn on all the lights before they arrive. Open window treatments and doors to make the house look bright and inviting. Have a spreadsheet of recent monthly expenses including water, power and other city services. It’s a great way to show the renter you’ve done your homework and it will better prepare them to make an informed decision. One other tip, grab a log of pre-made cookie dough and put a few slices in the oven. Nothing smells like home more than chocolate chip cookies.
- Keep good records. If, as a landlord, you decide to pay for pest control service or lawn maintenance, then be sure and keep your bills and receipts. Check with your accountant or tax preparer because often times, these types of expenses can be written off. Additionally, any repairs or maintenance done on the home (carpet cleaning, tree trimming, appliance upgrades) prior to the lease taking effect may also be written off.
- Use a state-specific lease and insist that both parties sign it. This is non-negotiable. Also perform a credit check on interested folks. You can request a landlord credit check using the applicant’s name and email address. Prospective renters buy their credit report and you are given secure access directly through the credit bureau.
When in doubt, talk to a lawyer, your local Judge Advocate General (JAG), a financial advisor or a real estate professional. My husband and I are landlords and while we enjoy getting to know our renters and watching the value of our rental properties increase, being a landlord is not without its challenges. There have been middle of the night fires, air conditioners gone kaput on a Sunday during a heat wave and busted water lines – all expensive repairs. Although these types of issues may be part of the landlord experience, the advantages of renting your home can offset them. Weigh the pros and cons for your situation carefully and consider if becoming a landlord is right for you.
- Molly Blake is a freelance writer. Her husband recently retired after serving 20 years in the United States Marine Corps. She attended the University of Dayton and writes about issues affecting military families and other parenting issues. Follow her on twitter @mblakewrites.