Monthly Archives: January 2014

landscape

Save Money with Low Water Landscaping

landscapeWhile there has been some relief with spring rains, widespread drought continues to plague the Chico area which means property managers may want to reach a little deeper into their wheelbarrows for landscape options this year that don’t require as much moisture.

Landscapers across the state are getting more and more calls from concerned property owners about their water-starved landscapes. But lack of rainfall, depleted reservoirs and water restrictions don’t mean that property beds and gardens should become sand boxes. Many varieties of drought tolerant plants and grasses offer pleasing solutions that have sustainability.

Beautiful variations of contrasting colors of rock and fairly sparse plantings can evoke the effect of a healthy landscape that’s soft on the eyes. Done right, a property can have a beautiful and long-term landscape that will go easy on the water bill.

When considering a drought tolerant landscape, just look around. See what is growing on its own in nature without man-made irrigation or supplementation. What you see in the wild, on the side of the road or open areas are surviving with the cards that Mother Nature deals.

Species vary from region to region, depending on climate, and some are not so attractive. But there are many, many desirable plants, trees, bushes and grasses that when placed in a similar environment to their natural setting will react as they do in nature and give property owners a low-maintenance option during periods of limited rain and water supply.

Here are some property management tips to help beat the drought.

Get it Established
As with any plant life, the key to long-term growth is establishment. Don’t discount that any kind of landscaping, whether it’s drought tolerant or not, needs time to take root and needs water up front. And no matter how drought tolerant it is, the plant will have some issues with transplant shock and sensitivity to its new surroundings.

Adequate watering for the first couple of months after the planting is necessary, as well as keeping a close eye on progress. The plant will tell you what it needs if you pay attention. Once drought tolerant landscaping is established it should be able to survive on natural rainfall and environment.

Types of Drought Tolerant Plant Life
Each area has its own tolerances and properties should consult area horticulturalists or landscape professionals for the right choices. Again, take note of what’s growing around the area that doesn’t require much intervention from mankind.

A number of ornamental and maiden grasses are fairly drought tolerant and are sustainable. Muhly grass, known as Muhlenbergia capillaries, is a common ornamental grass that adds vibrant color to a property but can survive with limited moisture. The grass has beautiful pinkish and redish blooms instead of white blooms, which are common on most other grasses.

Rock On
A lot of the drought tolerant landscapes will incorporate rock and boulders as ornaments. Of course, they have zero water requirements. Something that is making a comeback is Lava Rock, which was popular in the 1970s and 80s, as evidence by recent requests.

Natural rocks come in a variety of colors and can add a distinctive presence to a property’s landscaping. They are inexpensive (and don’t require irrigation) and make great center pieces. Most stone specialists have ample supply of rocks from the region, as well as other types of stones that can add an always manicured look to any landscape.

Rather than surrounding a Red-Tip Photinia with Monkey Grass, consider stylishly situating a large rock indigenous to the region amid Muhly grass.

Turf Alternatives
Decomposed granite is a great alternative to turf because it can be compacted to the point where it’s easy to walk on and it’s easy for pets to run on. Decomposed granite is small, weathered chunks of granite that takes on the effect of gravel or course sand.

Most common uses are for driveways, garden walkways and heavy-use paths. It compacts well and comes in a variety of colors.

Deciding on a drought tolerant landscape can involve a little strategy, but for the most part Mother Nature has already put a plan in place nearby. Even in the most severe drought conditions, there is an alternative to create and maintain an attractive, well-groomed landscape.

Did you know we also do monthly yard services for Chico rental properties?

renting your home

Thinking of Renting Your Home?

renting your homeThough the housing market has started to recover, many homeowners still may find their homes aren’t selling as quickly as anticipated. If your home is lingering on the market, your best option may be to rent it out, and therefore becoming a reluctant landlord.

When putting your home on the rental market, follow these seven tips to help protect your property and yourself.

1. Find a Good Tenant
You can find tenants by advertising in the print and online versions of local newspapers. Also consider online ads, which often are less expensive and more effective than newspaper. If you advertise for tenants on Craigslist.org, use caution, as you will have to sort out the scams. Also spread the word through friends, relatives and co-workers.

Ask potential tenants to fill out an application, listing their basic information: name, employer, salary, previous landlords and references. You’ll also need their Social Security number and signed authorization to check their credit reports and criminal history. If a prospective renter refuses to give you his or her Social Security number, you can still run a credit check based on name and previous address.

If you hire an agency to provide background checks, make sure it is accredited by the Better Business Bureau. Keep in mind you can do your own background checks. With the applicant’s authorization, you can pull credit reports from one of the credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian or TransUnion — as long as you follow the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Check for any criminal history by searching state and local records online, or hire an agency. Landlord.com offers tips on conducting tenant screening.

Be sure you know the law. In some states, if prospective renters have served time for certain nonviolent offenses, you still must rent to them if they meet your criteria..

Don’t give in to your emotions when screening tenants. Beware of potential renters who give you a sob story, hoping you’ll skip the credit check or overlook a bad report. If a renter asks to make a partial payment on the deposit before moving in and :pay the rest on Friday,” stick by your requirements. Check references, contact employers and talk to previous landlords. However, some previous landlords will not give references because of liability concern.

2. Determine How Much Market Rent is
Get an idea of area rental rates by checking newspaper ads, online resources and other neighborhood homes advertising for tenants. Be realistic: What you charge may be lower than your mortgage payment, but if you want to find a tenant, the rent must be comparable to other properties on the market.

3. Protect Your Rights With a Lease
Have a written lease so that each party understands their rights and obligations. A good lease complies with fair housing, rental, health and safety, and tenant and insurance laws of your region. These laws differ across states, counties and cities, so working with a local lawyer is a good idea. Avoid using blank leases from the Internet, because they may not comply with the laws in your area.

A lease should spell out the following:

  • Lease term. A month-to-month lease offers more flexibility if you’re still trying to sell, while an annual lease provides more stability if you plan to hold on to the property.
  • Security deposit. This is usually one month’s rent or more. Don’t agree to take partial payments, as this could indicate trouble ahead with your prospective renter.
  • Due date for rent. Spell out penalties if the payment is late.
  • Repairs. Detail who is responsible for what.
  • Routine upkeep and maintenance responsibilities. Lawn care is one example.
  • List of tenants. Know who is living in your property.
  • Rules of behavior. Lay out the acceptable noise level, proper neighborly conduct and whether smoking is allowed.
  • Pet policies. If you allow them, specify the deposits.
  • Homeowner association dues and rules. Explain whether these affect your tenants.
  • Arrangements for showing. If you plan to keep your home on the market while it’s being rented, spell out how this will be handled.
  • Eviction terms. Let your tenants know that not paying the rent or damaging the property won’t be tolerated.

4. Get the Right Coverage
Protecting your property with the appropriate insurance policy is extremely important. You need a different policy if you’re renting a property to a tenant versus using it as your primary residence. While you live in the house, you need a homeowner’s policy, which covers the structure of the home, personal liability, medical expenses and your belongings in the house. As a landlord, you’ll need rental property insurance.

In addition to covering the home’s structure, personal liability and medical expenses, this policy includes loss of rental income in the event of a covered loss. However, it provides very limited coverage for any personal belongings you leave in the rental property.

5. Encourage Tenants to Get Renters Insurance
Since you are not responsible for their belongings, encourage tenants to buy renters insurance. This will benefit you should something happen to the home that damages or destroys the tenant’s belongings. Tenants are also less likely to file lawsuits against landlords if their belongings are protected through insurance of their own.

6. Hire a Property Management Company
If you move from the area or just lack the time or flexibility to deal with tenants, consider hiring a property management company, like us!

Companies like us primarily charge fees for two services: finding a tenant, which includes advertising and background checks, and managing the property. Mainly the fee for filing a house varies from about 25% to 100% of one month’s rent, depending on the area. Then, for typically around 4% to 12% of the monthly rent, the company collects rent, charges late fees, handles repairs, and deals with early vacancies and evictions. We charge a flat 8%, no other vacancy fees.

If you hire a property manager, find a licensed professional, and someone that is also an investor.

One big advantage of using property managers is emotional distance. Often, you as the owner will get involved with the tenant emotionally. Even though property managers take good care of tenants and they’re sympathetic, their job is to make sure that owners get the rent.

7. Prepare Properly for Evictions
If you get a bad apple, you’ll need an attorney to lawfully evict a tenant. If the tenant doesn’t leave willingly, you can’t just go and move their personal property and kick them out. You have to go to court, and the sheriff needs to come out and physically remove the person.

Legal fees alone in such a case can run from $300 to $1,00. But when all other costs are added, you could end up spending easily a month’s rent.

We have never evicted a tenant we found for our owners! And we want to keep it that way!

evictions

Management Tips for Chico Landlords

evictions1. Screen Your Tenants!
This seems too obvious to mention. But it’s not! Don’t rent to anyone before checking credit history, references, and background. Haphazard screening and tenant selection too often results in problems such as a tenant who pays the rent late or not at all, trashes your place, or lets undesirable friends move in. Use a written rental application (or online like we do!) to properly screen your tenants.

2. Get it All in Writing
Again, of course! Be sure to use a written lease or month-to-month rental agreement to document the important facts of your relationship with your tenants including when and how you handle tenant complaints and repair problems, notice you must give to enter a tenant’s apartment, etc.

3. Handle Security Deposits Properly
We establish a fair system of setting, collecting, holding, and returning security deposits. You should inspect and document the condition of the rental unit before the tenant moves in, to avoid disputes over security deposits when the tenant moves out. And don’t be greedy. If in doubt, refund….

4. Make Repairs
It’s best to stay on top of maintenance and repair needs and make repairs when requested. If your property is not kept in good repair, you’ll alienate good tenants, and tenants may gain the right to withhold rent, repair the problem and deduct the cost from the rent, sue for injuries caused by defective conditions, and/or move out without needing to give notice. Plus it’s bad for your reputation!

5. Provide Secure Premises
Don’t let your tenants and property be easy marks for a criminal. Assess your property’s security and take reasonable steps to protect it. Often the best measures, such as proper lights and trimmed landscaping, are not that expensive.

6. Provide Notice Before Entering
It’s the law. Notify your tenants whenever you plan to enter their rental unit, and provide as much notice as possible, at least 24 hours or the minimum amount required by state law.

7. Disclose Environmental Hazards
If there’s a hazard such as lead or mold on the property, tell your tenants. Landlords are increasingly being held liable for tenant health problems resulting from exposure to environmental toxins in the rental premises.

8. Oversee Property Managers
Not all of us are cut from the same cloth. Meaning, you should keep an eye on your property manager (unless of course it’s us!) Choose and supervise your property manager carefully. If a manager commits a crime or is incompetent, you may be held financially responsible. Do a thorough background check and clearly spell out the manager’s duties to help prevent problems down the road.

9. Obtain Insurance
Purchase enough liability and other property insurance. A well designed insurance program can protect you from lawsuits by tenants for injuries or discrimination and from losses to your rental property caused by everything from fire and storms to burglary and vandalism.

10. Resolve disputes with a Win Win Attitude
Try to resolve disputes with your tenants without lawyers and lawsuits. If you have a conflict with a tenant over rent, repairs, your access to the rental unit, noise, or some other issue that doesn’t immediately warrant an eviction, meet with the tenant to see if the problem can be resolved informally. If that doesn’t work, consider mediation by a neutral third party, often available at little or no cost from a publicly funded program.

If your dispute involves money, and all attempts to reach agreement fail, try small claims court, where you can represent yourself. Small claims court is good for collecting unpaid rent or seeking money for property damage after a tenant moves out and the security deposit is exhausted.

Just a few of our tips for property managers and landlords. Questions? Contact us.