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3 Reasons to use a small property manager over a large one

Matthew Whitaker - Tuesday, August 16, 2016


Once again, I’ve decided to take on a topic that is the proverbial, “shoot yourself in the foot” post. To remind you, one thing I think that separates us from other managers is our ability to be uncomfortably transparent. So, in an attempt to do that, I do believe there are some times that a smaller manager would be a better choice than a bigger management alternative.

Before we get started, let me begin by defining what I mean by a “small manager”. Since small can be a relative term. In my opinion this is a manager who typically manages less than 300 homes and every person that works for that company (including the owner) is directly involved in daily working IN the business.

We recently purchased a company in Nashville that describes this scenario exactly. The gentleman who owned it started the company 25 years ago. All of his clients had his cell number and could call him 7 days per week if they needed to. He ran an excellent business for 25 years and this type of management did very well for him and his clients.

Again, choosing a manager is all about preference. So let’s talk about what it would look like for you to choose this style of management over a larger company. . .

1. You don’t trust very easily. One of the cornerstones of property management is this idea of trust. You have to trust us to manage your property properly. If it is hard for you to trust, the idea of a smaller manager maybe a better solution, because there is a good chance you will be dealing with the same person during the length of that relationship. Once you trust THAT person, you would be able to allow THAT person to handle all the important decisions regarding the management of the home.

2. You want control. If you don’t trust easily, it will be very important for you to have control. A small manager is better equipped to take on the “a la carte” type requests you may ask them to do. Larger managers are built on systems and processes. Smaller managers are built to react.

3. The smaller manager specializes in an area you have a home. Much like real estate agents in certain neighborhoods and vacation home managers in certain places, some small property managers have learned to specialize in one certain area of town. This may be one condo complex or one subdivision or neighborhood. Bottom line is they are happy simply managing those homes and making a living doing what they know really well and have no goals to branch out into other areas or other types of homes.

As you can see there are some real benefits for certain types of people or certain types of properties being managed by a smaller property manager. While it is important to look at all the good things you get with a smaller manager, let me point out a few of the challenges when choosing a smaller manager.

1. You are at the mercy of one person or a few people. This means when someone gets sick, there maybe nobody managing your home. Larger managers have enough people that they shouldn’t skip a step when managing your home and someone didn’t make it into work that day.

2. Smaller managers don’t have the benefit of scale to lease your home quickly. Larger managers, with more homes to lease, have more applications per house than smaller managers due to them being a reliable source for a place to live.

3. Smaller managers don’t have specialist, more generalists in the management of your home. Large managers have team members who specialize in leasing, property management and maintenance versus the generalist who is responsible for all of these. Because, for instance, someone is only responsible for leasing homes, they should be able to lease your home faster and know better what to look for when finding a great tenant. All in all, whether you choose a small manager or a large manager, the goal is to find one who fits exactly what you are looking for. There are benefits to both and they both carry their share of negatives. Find the right property manager for you.

Three colourful reg green and yellow darts in the bullseye.

5 Reasons Renting Your Home Makes Sense

Matthew Whitaker - Thursday, August 4, 2016


For those of you who think this article is going to be extremely biased . . . you are probably right. All of our articles are biased. However, I have written on the opposite idea of why you WOULDN’T rent your home in a previous article. I think that buys me enough credit here to give you some good reasons you WOULD rent your home.

There are a lot of real reasons that renting your home makes real sense. Some of them are financial, some of them are very emotional. Either way, all of them are legitimate reasons you would rent your home versus selling it.

Let’s take a look at some we’ve seen recently . . .

1. You are moving out of town, but may need to come back. This is something we see often from people who are moving to take a job. We see this when people are moving and they aren’t really sure the job is going to work out and they aren’t ready to “burn the ships” behind them just yet. For whatever reason they are dipping their toe in the water of the other city and want the option of being able to bail and come back.

I have a really good friend of mine who recently moved to California to take his dream position. While he is dead set on making in in Cali, he also wants to make sure he has a backup plan if his startup doesn’t ever . . . well startup. So he decided against selling his home and this gives him the comfort that he can come back to it if he needs to.

The other job related reason people rent their home is when they are planning on being gone for only a certain period of time and fully expect to come back to the house once the 3, 4, 5 year project in another city is completed. If you know you are coming back and LOVE your home, why wouldn’t you keep it and spare the problems of having to find a new one when you time is done?

2. You are moving (or currently live) out of town, but you plan on retiring back in this community. We’ve seen this from Baby Boomers recently. They would like to purchase a home to retire in, in a certain community, and they want to get it at today’s prices. OK people, I hear you that the market goes up and goes down. But mostly it goes up. If you believe it is going to continue to go up for the foreseeable future, wouldn’t this strategy make sense if you plan on retiring in the next few years?

3. You are accumulating rentals as you move out of one and into another. If the last one is a Baby Boomer strategy, this one is a Millennial strategy. Some Millennials are accumulating rentals by living in a home for a few years; and, once they can afford to do so, will move and instead of selling their home, they will put it on the rental market. They do this over and over again and see it as a way to build wealth.

4. You’ve found the house of your dreams, but can’t sell the one you are living in now. All you realist would say that it isn’t financially sound to fall in love with a home. My answer to that? Live a little! If there ever is a time to get emotional about something, I think it is ok for you to be emotional about the next home you want to live in. Am I saying put yourself in a bad position financially to get there? No. What I am saying is that as someone who has purchased hundreds of homes for investment purposes, I’m more than willing to spend more money than I should on a house I love. Why live the majority of your life in a house you hate?

Renting your previous home is an awesome way for you to get into the home of your dreams and is a legitimate strategy for helping you get there.

5. You need to move because _(fill in your own reason)_, but you can’t sell the house you are living in now. Yes, it is blank for a reason. You can fill in your own reason. Some I frequently see are having a baby, getting divorced, retiring and would like to downsize. . . There are a million reasons to sell your home. Each is unique to that individual. The point is, using the home as a rental home will help you solve many issues.

I’ve been renting homes for over 10 years now and I see tons of legitimate reasons a homeowner would prefer to rent over sell. If you’d like one of us to help you walk through your current situation to see if we think renting your home is right for you, please give us a call!

3 Ways to Avoid Being Sued When Renting Your Home

Matthew Whitaker - Thursday, July 28, 2016

gkhouses in shock

I recently wrote an article entitled, the 3 adjectives for leasing your home, and dedicated to my mother who was an English teacher for 30 years. Today’s blog, regarding legal issues to avoid when leasing your home, is dedicated to my father who is currently an attorney here in Birmingham.

Getting sued stinks. As if you didn’t know that. Since it is best to avoid it, let’s look at some sure fire ways that will land you in court with a disgruntled tenant.

As always, I’m not an attorney – although as many of you know, I did tell my wife I was going to be one when we first met – so please consult competent legal counsel before you make any decisions.

So what will land you in court?

1. Inconsistent underwriting – This first one is more for those of you who own more than a few houses. Inconsistent underwriting could land you in rough waters with Fair Housing Laws – which continue to be reinterpreted today. It is pretty obvious that you can’t discriminate against certain “protected classes” of people. Everybody knows that and works hard to follow that. Heck all we want is someone who will pay the rent on time and take care of the home! But, few people know that you can unintentionally violate a fair housing law and still get into loads of trouble. You can create certain policies (again unintentionally) which discriminate against certain “protected classes” of people; and, thus be in violation of Fair Housing Laws.

2. A poor move-out system – We’ve had tenants who absolutely trashed the home attempt to sue us for their security deposit – plus pain and anguish. Great notes from the move in and the move out, along with some pictures goes a long way towards making your case for keeping the deposit. If you show up in court without those items, then it is your word against the tenant’s. And that is a situation where you will not win. To avoid this type of issue happening, make sure you do a great job of documenting everything before a tenant moves in the home. Then, once the tenant has moved out, make sure you document everything again and meticulously compare it to your pictures and notes from the move in. If you do your job here, it will save you a lot of embarrassment in front of a judge.

3. Follow landlord tenant laws – It is almost silly to say that you need to follow the law to keep yourself from being sued, but we see far too many vigilante landlords who believe when the tenant isn’t paying the rent, they can simply remove the front door. Judges don’t think this is a silly act to get someone out and someone could owe you thousands of dollars and still sue you and win. Hard to believe. It is very important for you to know and abide by your landlord tenant law. I’ve heard judges say, “Not knowing the law, is not an excuse for not following it.”

Finding yourself in court staring up at a judge who thinks you are the problem (not the tenant) is not fun. Make sure you follow these 3 items to keep from landing yourself in court as a result of your rental.

Spring Scavenger Hunt

Spencer Sutton - Friday, July 22, 2016


Culture is a big deal here at gkhouses.

We believe the success of our company is closely aligned with the health and spread of that culture. Two of the core values that make up our culture are disciplined hard work and excellence.

This means that everyone on our team not only works hard, but that we’re not satisfied with average hard work. We want it to be great.

From accounting and leasing to sales and operations…we all hold each other accountable to a very high standard and enjoy being challenged to bring our ‘A Game’ to work each day.

We also believe it’s important that we blow off steam every once in awhile. When you work hard together, it’s important that you play together as well.

This past spring we decided to have a big scavenger hunt around Birmingham based on teams picked school yard style…and three of us agreed to stay at the office to handle any owner or tenant visits/calls.

The following pictures chronicle some of the fun from Teams #1 & #2…unfortunately Team #3 lost all of their photos!


Each team was charged with meeting someone famous in Birmingham. Team #1 hunted down Coby Lake, owner of Avondale Brewing Company and the person who led the early revitalization of Avondale. We have also managed rental property for Coby and is a friend of gkhouses!


Team #2 found Ben Tamburello who was an Auburn offensive linemen and had a stint in the NFL with the Eagles. He now lives in Birmingham and is a successful RE/MAX agent.

Another challenge in the scavenger hunt was to find and get your picture taken with a local entrepreneur that you admire. Team #2 chose Stephanie Whitaker who owns Engaged in Homewood. What’s interesting about Stephanie is that she’s happens to be the wife of gkhouses owner, Matthew Whitaker. Not sure if we penalized them enough for kissing up to the boss….


Of course teams had to get their picture taken by a Birmingham icon…and Team #2 chose one of the best – Vulcan.

Not really sure what Mat is trying to do here with Vulcan…while Morgan and Frankie aren’t sure why they’re jumping in the air!


Team #1 found a famous Birmingham invention for some good points…did you know that Mary Anderson invented windshield wipers and that she was from Birmingham? We didn’t either!


And as the scavenger hunt winded down, each team was asked to visit one of Birmingham’s great local breweries and have a beer if they wanted. Team #1 made their way to Good People Brewing Company down near Regions Park.


All in all, the first annual gk Scavenger Hunt was a huge success. All three teams did fantastic and we had a picture party when they all came back to the office. The stories were priceless and it was a great way to have fun before the busy summer season started.

If you want to join a team that knows how to work hard and have fun…then we may be a good fit!

The 3 Adjectives Of Leasing Your Home

Matthew Whitaker - Thursday, July 21, 2016

Paper cut of family with house and car on green grass

The 3 Objectives of Leasing Your Home

My mom was an english teacher for almost 30 years. If I had a dollar for every time she corrected the way I spoke or the way I wrote, I could feed a small 3rd world country. That is why it is so funny that the idea for this article hit me recently. So Mom, this one’s for you . . .

Leasing your home is by far the most important responsibility you have as a manager or a homeowner. Much like getting a business to make money, getting the right tenant on the bus makes the experience so much more enjoyable.

That is why, I was wondering, what does it take to lease to a great tenant? I came up with three adjectives that should help you.

1. The first adjective is availability. If you are leasing a home, tenant prospects have very little patience for not being able to get someone on the phone and see the house. I always say, if I’m selling a house and you called me to potentially buy it, and I didn’t get back with you by the end of the day, chances are you haven’t purchased a home yet. Not that way with leasing homes. There is a great chance if you don’t get someone to see the home THAT day, then they will find another one that suites their needs. Why?

For a tenant to lease a home, they are typically looking for a few important boxes to check. Things like neighborhood, proximity to work, number of bedrooms or bathrooms and perhaps a school district. Once they check all these boxes, typically they go ahead and rent. The number of boxes to buy a home is a much more lengthy list. Thus, tenants will lease before buyers will buy.

2. The second adjective is patience. If you are in the business of leasing houses, you better be a patient person. You are going to get a million phone calls and emails and every single one of them is going to be asking the same questions! How many bedrooms is it? What are your qualifications? What school does it go to? Same questions . . . every time.

In fact, we got so tired of answering the same 5 or 6 questions, we decided to have voice recording tell the prospects the answers PRIOR to talking to a live voice. You know what was funny? They STILL asked the questions. Bottom line is you better be willing to answer the same questions over and over again to find the right tenant. The last thing you want is for the right tenant to call and you to be so tired of answering those questions you don’t answer or you don’t sound very nice on the phone.

3. The last adjective is disciplined. Why do I say that? If you’ve taken a million phone calls, talked to a million people, shown the home a million times and taken a million bad applications, you need to stay disciplined to you underwriting criteria to find the right person.

One house we leased a number of years back, we showed over 100 times and received over 30 applications! It’s hard to keep showing up at the same house that many times to find the right tenant.

Discipline is also very special to me because it is one of our core values that we believe so strongly in. The ability to stay disciplined when finding the right tenant will pay off, but you have to keep reminding yourself through the process. Finding the right tenant for your rental home is the most important accomplishment you will have as a manager or homeowner. Make sure you remember my English teacher mom and stay true to these adjectives.

Mom, if you’re reading this, it is already posted and making changes now wouldn’t help.

How Much Does a Property Manager Charge?

Matthew Whitaker - Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Much money. One packet of money in focus.

How much does a property manager charge?

In this post we’re going to discuss the 5 most common fees property managers charge.

One of the three biggest questions we get from a potential client is, “How much are you going to charge me for your property management services?” This article will attempt to help you better understand what the possibilities are and so it will help you make a more informed decision about which property manager is right for you.

There are as many fee structures as there are property managers. Most property managers will not charge ALL of these fees. Let’s take a look at the most commonly charged fees from property managers . . .

1. Monthly management fee – This is pretty much the fee EVERY property manager charges. It can be based on a percentage of the monthly rent (i.e. 10%) or a flat fee regardless of the amount of rent. Most managers charge this fee when the home is occupied and you are receiving rent. Some managers will charge this fee when the property is vacant as well. This fee goes to cover the costs the manager incurs when the property is being marketed. This will typically be in lieu of the next fee.

2. Leasing fee – Depending on the demand of the market, some managers charge a leasing fee. We’ve seen markets with high renter demand, where the leasing fee is less or non-existent, but in a normal market to low renter demand market, a leasing fee is very typical. How much can depend on the manager. Some range from $250 to one month’s rent.

3. Lease renewal fee – Property managers spend quite a bit of time attempting to renew the leases of current tenants. In exchange for this increased time and effort, some managers charge a lease renewal fee. This fee can range from a percentage of the rent through a flat fee.

4. Maintenance up-charge – When something breaks, a property manager goes into action. The maintenance up-charge is typically for taking on the liability of having the work performed correctly. Some states, including Alabama and Tennessee, the property manager also takes on the liability of paying worker’s compensation if the vendor does not have any. This may also go to reimburse the property manager for that added liability.

5. Property evaluation fees – Many property management companies include this in their management fee, but some break it out. Typically those that break it out are providing a more valuable service – probably a report with pictures.

If property management feels like you are being “nickeled and dimed”, you’re right! Unlike the traditional real estate transaction of a sale (which has a huge windfall for the agent at the end), the property management business makes money little bits and pieces at a time.

So why should you hire a manager? I’m glad you asked . . .

1. Hire a manager for expert opinions about tenants. A professional manager has screened thousands of tenants and has heard twice that many excuses for bad credit or why they didn’t pay their last landlord. Homeowners without this experience can get suckered into sob stories and allow people to move into their home that shouldn’t be there.

2. Hire a manager for their expert opinion on Landlord Tenant Law. The last 15 years have seen a marked increase in the law that governs how the relationship between landlord and tenant is handled. If you aren’t up to date on these laws, then you could make decisions that could have a negative impact if you and your tenant get sideways on an issue – like paying rent.

3. Hire a manager to insulate you from emotion. One of the most underrated benefits a professional manager offers is insulation from the emotion of situations. Anytime you are dealing with someone’s house and money, they tend to get emotional – on both sides. A property manager will help you objectively look at the situation and make an informed decision without the decision killer of emotion involved. This could save you thousands.

As a property manager myself, I can tell you that the managers in our industry earn our fees. I highly suggest hiring one, whether it is us or someone else. If you are wondering about how to hire a manager, take a look at this blog post on questions to ask a manager before you hire them.

If you have any questions for us about what fees we charge, then please feel free to reach out to us.

Calling All Future Leaders

Matthew Whitaker - Friday, May 20, 2016

Little child girl plays superhero. Child on the background of sunset sky. Girl power concept

Calling All Future Leaders

We’re looking for individuals who want to be a part of something significant over the next 10 years.

Could that you?

Keep reading if it could be…

gkhouses opened its Property Management doors in March of 2008 at the beginning of one of the worst real estate downturns in recent history. We only had 30 houses to manage…and those were our own houses.

We fought hard and worked harder to become an ‘insanely great property management company’.

Slowly we gained the trust of homeowners and investors from around the country.

Today, we manage over 1,100 houses in Birmingham.

But we didn’t stop there. We opened our Nashville, TN office in April and acquired another Property Management company in May increasing our total houses managed to over 1,300…and our eyes are already on our next market.

We have incredibly gifted people on our team. They’re passionate about the vision of gkhouses and they work hard to make sure we reach our goals.

We are a tight-knit group of like-minded individuals who collectively contribute to gkhouses’ increasing influence in the single family rental space. It is an environment where we challenge one another on a daily basis to perform at the highest level…even when it is not comfortable. The positive atmosphere and core values are held in high regard by all team members and we know that this ‘culture’ is critical to our future success.

Job Description

The Team Leader will be intentionally developed and equipped to run a new market for us in the near future. They will have mastered the marketing and operational systems and processes it take to run a new market. This requires constant attention to detail through the management of numerous recurring processes and unwavering commitment to our culture.

Position Key Responsibilities:

  • Run/manage all 5 facets of the gkhouses system without oversight.
  • Lead and participate in effective meetings
  • Work effectively with teammates through collaboration and delegation, providing feedback and development for employees and other teammates.
  • Consistently display the company’s core values: Team, Integrity, Disciplined Hard Work, Excellence, and Entrepreneurial Spirit.
  • Consistently manage workload by completing most important tasks daily and completing 60/90 day project goals.
  • Steadily increase personal awareness and improve.

Qualifications Understanding and fitting the culture is the number one priority…it’s a major part of our hiring process. A real estate license will be needed, but we’ll help you obtain that during the first 30 to 60 days of training. Our candidate would need to have a personable demeanor and be energized by operational responsibilities.

If you believe you may be up for the challenge, reach out to Fireseeds and fill out their application.

We’d love to meet you.

Calling a Specific Bean Counter – We Want YOU!

Spencer Sutton - Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Businessman Spotlight Human Resource Recruitment Candidate, Business People Hire Concept Flat Vector Illustration

Calling A Specific Bean Counter – We Want YOU!

Are you tired of simply counting the money and reporting the information to the decision makers?

Do you want to be a decision maker at a company and help it scale?

Are you an entrepreneur that happens to be a CPA or have a Finance degree?, Birmingham’s largest and fastest growing property management company, is looking for a future Team Leader who will be an integral piece to pouring gas on our current growth in Birmingham and Nashville and will help us open operations in different cities.

We need someone that thinks both analytically and strategically, is confident (but not arrogant) and has a deep understanding of the creation of accounting and reporting systems and processes.

If this describes you, then we need you on our team.

None of our accounting systems are rocket science, so I won’t go into explaining them. We just need the right team member with an accounting background.


We’ve found that our accounting department is a great way to train the future leaders of to go run other markets. Who else understands the KPI’s, ROI’s, P&L’s and the PDQ’s?

To apply, please send your resume to support[at] We’ll review all the awesome things you’ve done and set up a phone interview with you.

The 3 Questions You Need To Ask A Property Manager Before You Hire Them

Matthew Whitaker - Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The 3 Questions You Need To Ask A Property Manager….BEFORE You Hire Them!

Before you hire a property manager, you should know that trust and communication are the foundation for a healthy relationship. In order to understand the right fit for your needs, be sure and ask your potential landlord these three questions.

How Much Notice Do You Have To Give Your Landlord?

Matthew Whitaker - Friday, April 29, 2016

We Are Moving written on the wipe board

How Much Notice Do You Have To Give Your Landlord?

Serving your landlord notice is the first step in your move out process. Knowing how to properly serve notice to your landlord will ensure you follow the appropriate steps towards getting back your full security deposit.

A quick story first.

Jenny was a great tenant. She paid her rent on time and kept an immaculate home. Any landlord would have killed to have her as a tenant in their home. Her lease end date was the end of June. When the end of June approached, she began packing and preparing to move. She had a new place lined up and due to start paying rent on July 1st.

Finally June 30th rolled around and her moving truck, along with a few friend came and packed her home and moved her to her new place. She was so excited. Her last business with her old landlord was to drop off the keys. Her landlord’s office was closed because it was the weekend so she dropped the keys in the box. She sighed because she had so much unpacking to do.

Monday afternoon she was back at work feeling accomplished given she had moved all her belongings into her new place over the weekend. When she sat down at her desk after lunch she noticed she had an email from her previous landlord. “That was quick,” she thought as she opened it up.

When she read her email her heart sunk, it appears the landlord was going to charge her for one MORE month’s rent because she had not served a 30 day notice.

How do you keep this from happening to you?

Let’s look at two simple steps to help you avoid this type of situation . . .

1. What does your lease say? Your lease is the most important document in your relationship with your landlord. It defines, or should define, the entire relationship and the move out notice is typically addressed in it. Most leases require a minimum of a 30 day notice before moving. However, I have seen some as high as 45 days or 60 days. Verify what your lease says about a move out notice and abide by it. Keep in mind it is the agreement that you already made.

Sometimes I get the question, “Even though it is a 30-day notice, may I submit my notice earlier than 30 days?” The answer to this is “yes.” You need to make sure that you keep a copy of the notice you submitted in case the landlord doesn’t keep good records.

2. What does Landlord Tenant Law say? There are certain cases where the Landlord and Tenant law of a State defines proper move out notice and regardless of what your lease says, both sides (landlord and tenant) have to abide by this law. This is in very rare cases, but if you think your notice provision in your lease looks a little fishy, then it maybe worth looking into.

So the two questions you need to be asking yourself when you consider submitting your move out notice are, “What does my lease say?” And “What does the Landlord Tenant Law say?”

Good luck with your move!

4 Things That Change When You Rent Your House

Matthew Whitaker - Tuesday, April 26, 2016

4 Things That Are Going To Change When You Rent Your House

4 Things That Are Going To Change When You Rent Your Home


Renting has become a popular option for some people not necessarily interested in selling their house. For the homeowner who’s considering renting your house, here are four things that will change whe…

Hey, I’m Matthew Whitaker with gkhouses, and today I want to talk to you about the four things that are going to change when you rent your house.

So maybe you’ve decided to move to another city and you need to rent your home, or you’ve even bought another house in the same city, but you’ve decided to rent your home instead of selling it. You need to know these four things that are going to change.

So let’s take a look at them.

1. Taxes – The first thing that’s going to change are taxes. You need to be mindful of the way the government treats a rental home versus a home that you live in. This has to do with your homestead exemption. Sometimes taxes as much as double. In areas where we manage, taxes as much as double when you rent your house versus living in it. So once that homestead exemption’s removed, you’re going to pay a whole lot more in taxes. You can check with your local county to find out exactly how that’s going to affect you.

2. Insurance – The second thing to be mindful of is how insurance companies will treat a rental house versus a home you live in. Insurance companies see homes that you live in as much less risky than homes a renter lives in. Now, this doesn’t mean that insurance is going to double, like some taxes do, but it will increase. I would expect to spend an extra 15 to 20% on insurance when you move from a house that you live in to turning it into a rental house.

3. Repairs – The third thing you need to be mindful of is you’ll have a heightened sense of repairs. I always think of this as you’re willing to step over the dead bodies in your house much more than a tenant’s willing to. So, I always take a kitchen cabinet drawer. Think of a kitchen cabinet drawer that wouldn’t close. Maybe you were willing to live with that repair, but a tenant is not necessarily willing to live with that repair not being made.

So you’ll also be more cognitive of the money that gets spent. Let’s say your air goes out. You’re living in the house and your air goes out on July fourth. You will pay whatever it costs to get your air conditioner fixed. Well, if a tenant’s air goes out on July fourth, you’re not directly affected by that. So you’re much more mindful of the fact that you’re spending money, whereas in one case you had an emotional attachment to it. In the other case, you’re just very mindful of the actual dollars that get spent. So that’s the third thing you need to be mindful of, is just a heightened sense of repairs.

4. Access – The fourth thing you need to be mindful of is your access to the home is going to change. Now, it may be weird that you’ve lived in a home for years, and now, all the sudden, you can’t necessarily just walk through the home and open the door and walk in the house because of landlord/tenant laws. Landlord/tenant laws require that, for you to walk through the home, you serve some sort of notice.

We even had owners that thought they could keep the storage building in the back and keep their stuff in it. Well, the tenant, when they rent that home, is going to want full access to the house. That includes storage units, basement. The whole house is theirs. So you need to be very mindful of the fact that your access to the home is going to change.

I hope this video has been very helpful to you in knowing the four things that are going to change. If you have any questions, I hope you’ll give us a call, and we’d love to answer them.

3 Reasons Baby Boomers Will Rent vs Buy

Matthew Whitaker - Monday, April 18, 2016

3 Reason Baby Boomers Will Rent vs Buy

Renting is becoming a lot more popular these days. But not just among millennials…even the baby boomers are getting in on the action. Watch this video as Matthew gives you 3 reasons baby boomers will rent vs. buy.

3 Reasons Baby Boomers Will Rent vs. Buy In The Future


This video is about 3 Reasons Baby Boomers Will Rent vs. Buy In the Future

Hey, everybody. I’m Matthew Whitaker with GK Houses, and today I want to talk to you about the three reasons I believe that baby boomers are going to choose renting over buying a house.

I know this sounds like crazy because baby boomers have always been known as people that have owned assets, bought houses, created wealth by owning a house for a long time. But I think some of their…The way they see the world is changing as they get older, and I think that’s going to affect the fact that they’re going to start choosing renting over buying.

So let’s take a look at the first thing.

1. The first thing is simply repairs and maintenance. Baby Boomers, as they get older, don’t want to be doing repairs and maintenance. In the past, when the garage door is broken, or the kitchen cabinet’s broken, they’ve gone out and fixed it themselves. Now, they maybe can’t physically do it anymore, or they’ve decided they just don’t want to do it anymore. With a rental house, they simply just call up a number and someone comes out and fixes it for them. And this is starting to fit in a little more with their lifestyle.

2. The second thing is preventative maintenance, things like landscaping, cleaning the gutters. There are items that they’re no longer willing to do, again, or no longer capable of doing. And so, I really believe that property management companies, like us, are going to start actually doing those types of services and offering those types of services to the Baby Boomer generation. And they’ll start literally paying one fee, rent, and have the whole house taken care of for them.

3. The third thing is flexibility. As Baby Boomers get older, they want to go out and see their grandkids. They want to be able to leave on the weekends, see their grandkids. Or they don’t want to leave their house as a burden for their family to sell. So they’re going to choose renting the house, where they’ll have the flexibility to move, to follow their grandkids. They’ll have the flexibility to move into some sort of senior living facility without having the burden of the house to sell.

So that’s it. I know that was quick, but those are the three reasons I see Baby Boomers renting versus owning a home in the future.

Insider Rental Tips Every Landlord Needs To Know

Matthew Whitaker - Friday, April 15, 2016

Insider Rental Tips Every Landlord Needs To Know

In the landlord world, there are a few tips that can help you stay sane and improve your rental house ROI. In this short video, Matthew Whitaker walks you through the four insider rental tips every landlord needs to know.

You can also read the transcript of 4 Insider Rental Tips Every Landlord Needs To Know below:

4 Insider Rental Tips Every Landlord Needs To Know


This video is about 4 Insider Rental Tips Every Landlord Needs To Know

3 Questions to ask a property manager…before you hire them


Before you hire a property manager, you should know that trust and communication are the foundation for a healthy relationship. In order to understand the right fit for your needs, be sure and ask you…

Hey, I’m Matthew Whitaker with gkhouses, and I want to talk to you today about the four insider rental tips every landlord needs to know.

When we first started our company, we tried to take the habits of property management down to as few habits as possible. What were the things that we needed to do to make sure that managing our properties were successful?

So, we were able to get those down to four tips or strategies, and those are the four tips for landlords that I’m going to share with you today.

1. Find the right tenant.

I think if you had any of the four that you had to get right, this is absolutely the one you need to get right. Finding the right tenant is the most important thing you can do for your rental house.

The right tenant will take care of the home, the right tenant will pay the rent on time, and the right tenant will obey all the rules. Now, how do you find the right tenant? That’s the most important question you ought to be asking. We look at five things when we’re looking at underwriting a tenant.

  • We look at their credit score
  • Their criminal background check
  • We do an ability-to-pay, which means how much money do they make relative to the amount of monthly rent
  • We do a landlord verification
  • We also verify that they still have a job

So these are the five things that we look at to make sure that we get the right tenant in the house. This first rental tip for landlords will save you an enormous amount of time and pain.

2. Once you find the right tenant, don’t let them leave.

We have a saying here at gkhouses called, “celebrate the tenant” and we want to make sure that we’re celebrating the tenants that are doing the right things.

So once you find that great tenant, you need to do everything within your power to make sure they don’t leave. That means making sure maintenance requests are taken care of in a timely fashion. It also means rewarding them in certain situations when they’re doing things right. This might mean a 10% discount on rent once they’ve paid rent on time for 12 months.

When you screw something up, it’s about being transparent with them and making them whole in that situation. That’s called “celebrating the tenant!” Making sure that a tenant doesn’t leave is number two on our list of rental tips every landlord needs to know.

3. Prepare for repairs and maintenance.

I have never seen a rental home that did not have some sort of repairs and maintenance.

So, how can you budget for the right type of repairs and maintenance? I have a little bit of an insider tip for you one this one. One of the things we found is that the age of the home and how hard the tenant is on it are the two things that affect the number of repairs. So you can imagine a house that was built in the 1930s or a house that was built in the 1940s is going to be a whole lot more repairs than a house that was built in the early 2000s.

Also, the tenant has a lot to do with that. So certain tenants can actually be harder on a house. Now, that’s not something you can necessarily see. I’ve heard of a lot of landlords actually doing a drive-by of the former house that a tenant lives in. That may be something you might look at doing, to see how hard they’ve lived in their previous home. But you absolutely need to plan on repairs and maintenance to be a factor in rental housing.

4. The last of our rental tips every landlord needs to know is to manage by systems and processes, and not by the urgent.

One of the biggest things I see where rental house landlords go wrong is when they manage by the urgent. In other words, they only fix a problem when the tenant’s calling and screaming. Or they only go after the rent when the rent’s two or three months behind. This is the cause of burnout because you’re letting your rental property dictate your actions instead of your actions dictating your rental property.

That’s why we’ve set up systems and processes to make sure that we’re constantly collecting the rent. We’re constantly staying on top of maintenance and repairs. That’s the goal, is that you are building the correct habits around repairs and maintenance, the correct habits around collections, managing by systems and processes instead of managing by the urgent.

So that’s it. I hope you’ve enjoyed these four insider rental tips for landlords. If you have any questions, I hope you’ll give us a shout. We’d love to help you get started in landlord renting.

My Tenant Is Not Paying Rent…and 5 Other Top Reasons You Should Evict

Matthew Whitaker - Thursday, April 14, 2016

My Tenant is not Paying Rent . . . and the 5 Other Top Reasons to Evict a Tenant.

It is very stressful when you’ve done all you can do to live up to an agreement you made and the other person seems bent on not living up to the agreement and making your life miserable. If you are a landlord long enough, this is something that is bound to happen with regard to a tenant not complying with your lease.

This blogpost will look into the top ways tenants don’t comply with the lease and give you a few ideas about what to do prior to and eviction and when to pull the trigger on evicting.

The biggest reason for eviction . . .

The number one reason we evict tenants at gkhouses is when they don’t pay the rent. I would say at least 80% of the evictions fall into this category. The reasons tenants don’t pay rent range from circumstantial reasons, all the way down to malicious reasons. When you are in the middle of someone not paying, it all feels malicious.

The most common circumstantial reason is if a tenant loses a job or has an unforeseen expense. Some examples of an unforeseen expenses we’ve experienced are a death in the family, car breaking down and health expenses. There is also a category of “should have foreseen expenses”, because some tenants don’t plan very well for certain seasons of the year where they spend more money. . . mainly Christmas and when kids go back to school. Either way, whether they plan on it or not, they don’t have the money to pay you on time and that becomes your problem.

There are also some malicious tenants that spend their life going around taking advantage of people. They typically prey on the new landlord and are well versed in how to live in a home for long periods of time rent free through lies and an incredible knowledge of the landlord tenant laws. But, they are usually in the small minority. This article will not cover how to handle them and will look more into how to handle the circumstantial issues.

The next 5 . . .

So what are some other reasons you would evict your tenant? Let’s take a look at those before we begin to address how to handle them . . .

1. They are destroying your property – While a distant 2nd place, this one is solidly in 2nd place for the most common reason to evict a tenant….and sometimes happens in conjunction with your tenant not paying rent.

This type of tenant comes in an within a month has already wreaked havoc on your home. After you have spent so much money on the home getting it ready, to walk in and see what these tenants have done to your home is sickening and (unless you are a saint) makes you want to physically hurt them – which we don’t condone.

2. Drugs – Tenants selling or using drugs are also a reason to evict. One of the cool facts about the Uniform Alabama Landlord Tenant Act is that this “breach” of the lease is not curable. Meaning, unlike rent or tearing up your house, these tenants can’t “fix” the problem and stay in the house. You are immediately allowed to evict them . . . period.

3. People not on the lease are living in the home – A violation of the occupants of the home is also a lease violation where it may make sense to evict a tenant. We’ve had this happen before where a person on the Sex Offender Registry rented a house through his girlfriend. When the notice went out to the neighbors about his new address we heard about it and immediately moved to evict.

4. Their wild parties are disrupting the neighbors (also see photo above!) – As annoying as some neighbors can be, the last thing you want is for your tenant to be the annoying neighbor. Late night parties that consistently keep the neighborhood awake will make them and you the most hated people in the city.
Green Grass On colorful background, close up

5. They aren’t cutting the yard – Usually you find out about this from the city or the HOA. The tenant refuses to get off their rear end and cut the yard on a Saturday or Sunday. This type of laziness usually also works its way into the interior of the home. What the yard looks like on the outside is what your home looks like on the inside. And we think it’s worth noting here that if you (the landlord) aren’t taking care of the house, prospective tenants perceive that you won’t take care of it when they’re living there either.

What to do about it . . .

So you find yourself in the unenviable position of one of the above categories. Here is what we suggest doing about it . . .

1. Communicate – Your first step is to communicate to the tenant that they are in violation of the agreement. If you want to work fast, you can put a 7 day notice on the door. We always like to assume they are trying to do the best they can do and that the violation may be an oversight. We like to communicate to them in writing first. For instance, if we receive a notice from an HOA about the yard, we may send a copy of the violation to the tenant via email and nicely remind them in the email that they need to do the whole neighborhood a favor and keep the yard looking good. I highly suggest that the communication come in writing. If you decide you want to give them a call, make sure the call is professional (remove the emotion) and follow up with an email or letter that outlines what you discussed and the resolution.

2. Expect Communication Back – The first sign that things aren’t going to go well is that the Tenant is not communicating back to you. If you email, mail or call and you aren’t getting any response this is a huge red flag. When the tenant communicates with you, they should provide you the following:

  • It ought to be obvious that they understand the severity of the situation.
  • They need to communicate how they are going to solve it.
  • They need to communicate a date it will be solved by.

3. Expect them to do what they say they are going to do – This is typically where I see the most breakdown by the Landlord/Owner. Out of human nature, you give 2nd and 3rd chances. No 2nd chances. You have already allowed them a 2nd chance. They broke the lease, you gave them a way out. Now the way out has changed and you can’t give them another try.

4. Get them to leave amicably – Now you know you want them out and you need to do the best you can to avoid losing tons of money in the process – which an eviction is a long and costly process. The best way we’ve found to do this is to give them a date they need to be out by and promise them something in return for being out by that date. This is typically hard to do after they’ve basically drug you through the mud, but promise me it is in your best interest for them to leave amicably. I’ve seen people promise to forgive all the back rent if they are gone, promise not to pursue them in collections and even give them “cash for keys”. Whatever you decide, it will be cheaper than a 90 day eviction, plus attorney’s fees and courts costs.

5. If steps 1-4 fail, evict fast – Pulling the trigger on an eviction is really a sad day. Recognizing that this is the only way of getting the tenant out is a realization that you will have to come to if you are in this business long enough and rent enough houses. A few quick suggestions about evictions:

  • Follow the eviction process perfectly – There is a process to evicting tenants, and I highly suggest you follow it. Getting to the end and having a judge throw it out on a technicality would be a bad thing. This would require you to start over again.
  • Drive by the house regularly – The majority of tenants that start the eviction process leave during the middle of it. Frequent drive bys will make certain you can get in the house as quickly as possible and get it back on the rental market and making you money.

For more on evictions , I highly suggest this recent article written to walk you through the process.

This is the worst part of being a landlord and owning rental property. We do everything we can do on the front end to make certain this type of thing isn’t going to happen, but it does.

My last bit of advice is to remember that whether you own one house or 100 you are in business and you have to treat it like business. The best thing to do is to remove the emotion from the situation (some tenants are great at inserting emotion) and doing what is in the best interest for you financially. If you have a hard time doing that, you either need to hire a professional or aren’t’ cut out for owning rental property.

5 Things You Didn’t Know About the Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Law

Matthew Whitaker - Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Scales of Justice background - legal law concept

5 Things You Didn’t Know About the Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Law

I love it when I get a call from someone’s attorney.

Most people are scared when they call. I actually appreciate it when they call, because they typically are non-emotional (unlike an angry tenant), they are reasonable and they know VERY little about the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act of Alabama (URLTA).

This brings to mind a letter I received from an attorney representing a tenant who had just moved out.

We had just sent him his accounting of his security deposit and the tenant was NOT happy about it. The guy had lived there for over 4 years, but had been very hard on the home. So we hit his security deposit for everything he was responsible for paying.

Instead of arguing the items, which I went ahead and provided pictures of for the attorney’s reviewing pleasure, the brilliant attorney attempted to hang us up on the fact that we had exceeded the 35 days required by the URLTA to return his client’s security deposit. He even quoted the section of the URLTA to me in an effort to make his case and demanded the URLTA allowed 3 times his the original security deposit for his client . . . or he would sue us.

Little did the attorney’s Google search reveal, but the URLTA was updated in 2011 and allowed for 60 days to return the tenant’s deposit. LOL. I love these types of situations.

I sent him the UPDATED sections and at least the attorney was nice enough to call and apologize for wasting my time. Which I appreciated. But for wasting my time, he gets to be a story I can use over and over as an example of knowing the law and not being afraid to use it.

Even though I’m knowledgeable about the law (I even told my to-be wife I was going to be an attorney…talk about bait and switch), I’m not one and suggest you seek legal advice regarding this subject from a competent one.

Let me warn you though, there are only a few competent ones (on this subject) in Birmingham, so seek wisely.

Most people were not aware that you have 60 days now to return a deposit, which you now know. So that one was a freebie.

Let’s look at the five things I bet you didn’t know about the URLTA:

1. If a tenant submits a work order, they are giving you permission to enter the home. That’s right! You don’t have to let them know and you can use your keys to just walk right in and fix it. We attempt to do our best to coordinate this with the tenant. They would prefer that. But, there are many times when we can’t coordinate with the tenant (perhaps they are being difficult) and we complete the work order.

2. If a tenant doesn’t cash their security deposit refund for 180 days, you get to keep it. This is one of the craziest ones I found in the law. How often does this happen? Not usually. But it does happen.

3. If a tenant leaves property in your house for 14 days after the termination of the lease, you have no duty to store it and can throw it away. Most people worry about this one because they don’t want to pay for a bunch of random crap. I’m mad it takes 14 days before you can set it at the street. Bottom line, if it goes 14 days, put anything you don’t want out and let the trashman have it.

4. If a tenant stays in a home without your permission when the lease is over, it is considered a “holdover”. In these cases, you are entitled to actual damages or up to 3 times the monthly rent, whichever is GREATER. This is something else that happens very rarely. But, if it does, you need to make sure you understand exactly what you are due. Even if it is just one day.

5. If you accept money from a tenant who is being evicted, it nullifies everything you’ve done and you must start over. There are some good and some bad things. I think this is a bad law. My opinion is that the money is owed, why can’t you just take it? That’s not what the law says, so we must comply. Don’t make a “mistake” and cash it. Judges don’t look fondly on this one.

In conclusion:

I always suggest before you get into this business, particularly if you are planning on self managing, that you read the whole law. It is not that long and would be great if you can’t sleep one night.

It is best to know exactly what your rights and responsibilities are under the Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act of Alabama. Doing so, will make sure you don’t end up on the wrong side of an attorney’s letter.

How To Stay Safe While Showing Rental Houses

Spencer Sutton - Monday, April 11, 2016

A suspicious faceless mature male in dark urban environment and light in front of a concrete empty wall background

If you own rental property and interact with prospective tenants, you need to know how to stay safe while showing your rental houses.

Safety is important.

It’s important in all aspects of life. We grow up hearing it from our parents and we teach it to our children…especially when it comes to strangers.

Think about all the great advice our parents gave us about strangers:

  • Don’t talk to strangers
  • Don’t get in a car with strangers
  • Don’t take candy from strangers

The list could go on…

And if your parents knew you were meeting a stranger at an empty rental house…well, they may be pretty upset!

It’s impossible to predict situations you might encounter but with a little time preparation and awareness, you can help make your mom happy by staying SAFE!

Most of the tips I’ll share with you today are common sense but it’s interesting how much common sense can leave us in stressful situations. That’s why it’s important to review your “plan of escape/defense” and always be prepared.

Key Safety Tips

1. Be prepared – Before you step out of the office or house to show a property, you need to be prepared. Let someone reliable know your schedule…especially when you should be back from showing property.

2. Dress for rental success – As much as we want to look nice and professional when we’re meeting new people, it is best to dress down when showing properties to potential tenants. Wear modest clothing, shoes for escape, if needed, and avoid flashy jewelry. Understated is always the best route to go.

3.Develop a Code – Another way to prepare is to develop a code with a trusted contact to call when police or help needs to come but you aren’t in a position to call. An example call might be to call your contact and say “Hey, this is (CODE NAME) I’m at (address of your rental property) and I’m supposed to meet Mr. /Mrs. (Use the sex of the individual with you) Brown, White, Green (with corresponding race that you have predetermined with your contact) in 15 minutes and it looks like I’m going to be late. Will you call them and let them know?”

This gives your contact the information they need to call authorities to get help to you with your location and a general description of who you are uncomfortable with. Many times this can diffuse a potential situation because then the suspicious person knows others are aware of your location.


3. Secret Weapons – Another option that has recently been introduced to the Real Estate market are pieces of jewelry, necklaces and bracelets that are programmed by you to contact certain chosen people of your location, some of these will also call 911. These pieces of jewelry can be activated very discreetly…kind of like James Bond.

Building a good working relationship with local police is also a good idea. In some less than desirable neighborhoods police will patrol more often if they know you and know when you’re normally in their neighborhood.

4. Get to know the neighbors – Most times agents don’t live in the neighborhood so meeting and greeting neighbors can make residents less nervous when you go to show the properties. Assure them that you are working hard to get them the best neighbors possible. Gain their trust and they will watch out for you and your properties.

5. Be aware – When arriving at properties BE AWARE. Learn to be a good judge of your surroundings and always trust your gut. Have an escape plan in mind each and every time you enter a neighborhood, street or house. Never block your way out both in the house and the driveway. Before getting out of your car go ahead and put in the address of your next destination. Always be ready to leave.

6. Have your getaway vehicle ready at all times – Keep plenty of fuel in your car, battery maintained, tires correctly inflated, water and general vehicle maintenance performed regularly. This one it is always reliable and you lessen the chance of being stranded.


7. You might want to pack some heat – Some agents carry guns with them to ensure their safety. In my personal experience the self-knowledge that I have that protection available has given me peace that I can protect myself in most situations.

If carrying a gun is not something you want to do, other options would be mace, taser guns, or off the wall weapons. Off the wall weapons can be as simple as putting your keys between your knuckles, wasp spray, and a broom to “sweep” can become a club. Off the wall weapons are only limited to your imagination!

8. A simple safety kit – Having a good preparedness kit is a must. Items to include are: flashlight, batteries, water, paper towels, broom, umbrella, work shoes, rain gear, hand sanitizer, a change of clothes, duct tape, hammer, and the list can be what you think you might need.

In conclusion it boils down to a few key points – Be Prepared, Always be Aware, Be Confident

And if you see something unusual or illegal say something, the life you save might be your own.

Top 5 Reasons NOT to Rent Your Home

Matthew Whitaker - Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Stop traffic sign on the barrier. Retro style filtred image

Seems weird that a guy who spends all his day trying to talk you into renting your home would write about the top 5 reasons NOT to rent your home.

You’re probably as skeptical as I would be reading this article and think I’ll come up with some fluffy reasons that really lead you back to renting your house. I hope you skeptics will read on, because I’m not going to hold any punches.

My mom recently sold her rental home. She’s owned it for years. I’ve even written about some problem tenants she had who I had to help her evict.

As you know when your mom asks a question you have to give some objective advice that is in her best interest and not always mine. So even though our company would stand to make money on her renting her home (yes, I charged my Mom), I told her it was best she sold the home.

Let’s take a quick look at 5 reasons you would want to follow in her footsteps and sell. . .

Businessman with cardboard box on his head showing a crying sad expression concept for headache, depression, sadness, heartache or frustration

1. The rental return doesn’t justify the headache. This was my mom’s reason I told her to sell the house. After doing the math, I figured she was making about a 2-3% return on the home based on TODAY’s market value.

It is important to judge the investment on today’s value and not what you have invested in the home (or your basis). For a 3% return, she can invest her money somewhere that has very little headache and requires her to answer very few questions.

2. You have an emotional attachment (that can’t be broken) to the home. Everyone who lives in a home has some emotional attachment to it. It is the place you had Thanksgiving dinners, July 4th celebrations, and brought your first baby home.

However, when you lease your home, you are getting into a business deal. The new tenants, even if they are great ones, are going to have ordinary wear and tear on the home. The home will not look EXACTLY like it did when you left.

What people in this situation fail to see is that the home today, since they’ve been living in it, doesn’t look exactly like it did one year ago. It kind of like when someone says “your kids are getting so big” and, because you see them every day, you never noticed. The same principal holds true here. I’ve even seen people complain about the “tenant caused damage” only to realize later that it was like that when they moved from the home!

3. You may need to move into the home within the next year. We get calls like this all the time. When someone is moving away for 6 months and wants to rent the house for a brief period of time. Moving is just too much of a hassle to ask a tenant to move in and move out in 6 months and there are very few tenants who are willing to rent the home.

On the other hand, it may make perfect sense to rent your home if you plan on moving away for over a year and want to move back into your house at some point.

4. You can’t afford to pay your mortgage if the house has some repairs. I’m not saying that the money isn’t important to receive. I’m simply saying that if the water heater goes out and you can’t afford to fix it because your mortgage is due, you are in the wrong business (remember, it’s a business!).

You should have an adequate cushion of available funds in reserve to lease your home. Even if we lease it in the first 30 days, you probably won’t get a deposit for almost 60 days. You just need to be prepared for this and understand how the cash flow works. If you are cutting it tight, we suggest not doing it.


5. You have a family member or friend who is going to rent it. As I mentioned twice before, this is becomes a business deal when you decide to rent it. I’ve heard of some horrible family feuds because of how members treated each other’s homes.

We have had home owners come to us with their house because they just couldn’t evict their relatives…but they were OK with us walking through the process with their family member.

You’ve always heard not to do business with a family member and the same principal applies here.

Keep these thoughts in mind when you are deciding whether to rent your home. Sometimes the best client for us is the one who decides not to rent. Make sure you understand what you are getting into when you decide to rent your home and carefully consider various scenarios you may find yourself in down the road.

How To Evict The Guest That Doesn’t Belong In Your Rental

Matthew Whitaker - Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Full length portrait of handsome businessman kicking over gray background

Have you ever needed to evict the guest that doesn’t belong?

There is nothing better than a tenant who pays rent on time and takes care of your home. Sometimes, you move that person in (or who you expect to be that person) and someone moves in with them . . . how do you get that guest who is not on the lease out of your house?
About two years into our management business we received a call from an irate homeowner. According to her, we moved a “convicted sex offender” into the house next door.

Obviously, this made my heart sink and after listening to the homeowner’s valid concerns, I promised to look into it and asked her to forward me the notice she had received. Once off the phone I raced to the filing cabinet (remember those?) where we kept the applications and found the application for the new move in. It appeared, from the application at least, that the tenant was NOT a sex offender. We’d checked.

This caused me to do some investigative work. The neighbor mentioned that it was a male who was the sex offender and the only occupant according to our records was a female. Next move, pick up the phone and call the tenant to find out what was going on.

The tenant answered the phone, thankfully. I quizzed her about what I had just heard and was about to receive proof of. She denied knowing what I was talking about.

However, after awhile of speaking with her, she finally relented and admitted that it was her boyfriend and they couldn’t find a place because no one would take him. She then attempted to explain the story of “how it happened” when I stopped her.

Bottom line she had lied on the application and that was grounds for eviction. In Alabama Landlord Tenant Law, this couldn’t even be cured . . . meaning there was no way for her to make it right and stay unless I allowed it . . . which I didn’t.

Getting an unwanted person who is not on the lease out can be a little tricky.

Let’s look at a few things you should consider prior to diving into how to get them out.

1. What does your lease say about it? Most leases have a provision in them that states that guests who stay longer than a certain period of time will be required to be added to the lease. Typically I’ve seen this in the 7 – 14 day time period.

2. You will need to prove they are actually staying there. Which, can be harder than expected. If they are receiving mail there, then they are living there . . . but you can’t check their mail without committing a crime. What are some ways to prove they live there?

  • Date stamped pictures of their car there overnight for a contiguous time that exceeds what your lease says.
  • Proof from maintenance tech’s that the person is always at the house when they come over for work orders.
  • If there is only one adult on the lease and the person living there with them is of the opposite sex, you can take pictures of the person’s clothing, deodorant, etc. that identifies them as living there and could not reasonably be the other person’s stuff.

3. You need to decide whether the person living there not on the lease is really a problem. This, in most circumstances, becomes a business decision. You will need to decide if you are really willing to go through the trouble to have them out and risk losing an otherwise good tenant.

For the rest of this article, we will assume that you decided that you can prove they are living there and are in violation of your lease by living there.

The first step is to put them on notice that they are in violation of the lease by posting a 7 day notice on the door for a “material non-compliance” breach of the lease. If you need more information on this, please see our “How to evict” blog posts where we go through them in detail.

My guess is that all things being equal, the tenant is going to make a phone call and swear their Aunt Mable is only in town for a short time and this is where you should share with them the evidence of her being there for much longer than that.

It has been our experience that most tenants will acknowledge, at least internally, that they need to get Auntie out and will do it and prove to you it is done. Proving can get a little tricky. Also, proving they haven’t moved for you will get tricky. But, let’s pretend you are able to do it.

After the 7 day notice expires, you will have to evict the Tenant. That’s right, you will be forced to evict your tenant for non-compliance of the lease. There is no way to get a guest of your tenant out of the house for trespassing . . . unless, of course, the tenant agrees the person is trespassing. If you need help with the eviction process, please click here.


Getting someone out of your rental home who doesn’t belong is such a sticky and challenging situation. You will need to make sure you have plenty of evidence, especially if the tenant is willing to take the matter all the way to a judge.

If you are willing to spend the time and effort, evicting a guest that doesn’t belong in your home, can really be a boost for the neighborhood and potentially your bottom line.

What Does My Landlord Deposit Return Letter Need To Say?

Matthew Whitaker - Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Concentrated young brunet female is sitting on couch and attentively reading letter in loft apartment

What Does My Landlord Deposit Return Letter Need To Say?

There is a lot of stress around the move out process with a tenant – particularly around the landlord deposit return letter. So, what does it need to say and when does it need to be sent?

Before we get started, let me ask you a questions.

Do you have any idea what can happen if the letter says the wrong thing and isn’t sent on time?

You can actually be fined!

That’s right, if the letter is incorrect or money not returned on time, you can actually end up paying money. Sometimes it is as much as three times the original deposit. This is regardless of whether they would have gotten the deposit back.

Said another way, the tenant can destroy the house and if you screw this step up, you can end up owing them money!

Let that sink in…doesn’t make sense, does it?

Let’s take a look at the appropriate time and what it needs to say . . .

1. In Alabama, the letter and security deposit (if any) must be mailed to the tenant within 60 days of the tenant surrendering the property. This is MUCH more than other states. Typically state Landlord Tenant law requires 30 days. Not in Alabama, they just recently changed this from 35 days.

2. It must be mailed to the last known address or the forwarding address (if it was provided). Typically when a tenant submits notice, they will know where you should forward the move out accounting and security deposit. If it isn’t on the notice, they will usually provide it to you when they turn in keys. However, if they don’t (and sometimes they won’t), you will be required to send it to the last known address . . . which is typically the property.

3. The letter must include a complete accounting of the tenant’s security deposit, if you aren’t returning a portion of it. Meaning if you have kept any of the deposit for damages to the property or unpaid rent, then you need to show what you spent (or plan on spending) to cover the damages or rent. We will typically itemize the charges and then show the application of the security deposit to those outstanding charges.

4. Can you charge for something you are not going to fix? This is a question I get a lot and the answer is yes. If the tenant put a scratch on your hardwood floor, you aren’t’ required to actually have it fixed to charge the tenant for the damage. You need to make sure that what you charge the tenant is reasonable to fix the problem, but it can certainly be charged.

5. The letter can be and should be simple. Don’t try to over do the letter. Simply keep it basic and focus on clearly communicating what happened to the tenant’s security deposit.

6. You don’t need to include a letter if you are sending them the whole deposit. What’s the point?

For your help, I’ve included a copy of our move out letter. You are welcome to use our format and use it as a tools when making your own.

Good luck with your tenant’s move out process and good luck sending them the landlord deposit return letter.

Here’s a copy of a letter we might send to a tenant:

Tenant Name 123 Main Street Anytown, TN 37000

Re: Security Deposit Statement

Dear {Tenant Name}:

Enclosed please find an itemized list of charges. Based on these charges, you have a balance due of $347.98.

Credits: Security Deposit $750.00

Total Credits $750.00

Charges: Trash and Debris Removal $500.00 Replace Torn Carpet Strips – Living Room $88.50 Replace Missing Grease Pans on Stove $59.00 Replace Globe on Fixture – Bedroom 3 $15.00 Outstanding Amount $435.48

Total Charges $1,097.98

Amount Due $347.98

Please remit the balance due immediately. If you have any questions or concerns regarding the charges or balance due, please contact us at [email protected]


What You Need To Know About Repairs And Maintenance

Matthew Whitaker - Monday, March 21, 2016

Plumber man with tools in the kitchen. Plumbing and renovation.

What you need to know about repair and maintenance

Repair and maintenance.

This is probably one of the most overlooked expenses when I speak with an investor about a rental portfolio they want to buy.

And no matter what shape your property is in when you rent it, there will be the eventual maintenance call that you will need to address.

We’ve met with investors who pull out their spreadsheets boasting 15% CAP rate projections with absolutely no (or very little) allowance for maintenance and repair. We politely explain that these projections are simply not realistic. Our hope is that they listen and begin to think through the ramifications of basing investment returns on wishful thinking and not on years of experience.

After buying, selling and renting well over a thousand houses since 2003, we understand a thing or two about maintenance and repair. As a matter of fact we started a maintenance company so that we could manage our own work and make sure the quality was up to standards.

Based on our experience, we believe most homeowners underestimate maintenance and repairs. The general rule is approximately 1% of the home value per year. So if your rental house is valued at $200,000, you should expect around $2,000 a year in repairs and maintenance.

But in the Birmingham investment market, that’s simply not the case. Most of the time you will be buying older homes that require more maintenance than a newer home in a growing part of the city.

But this article isn’t about how much you should budget, but it’s about making sure you choose the right person/company to help you complete those maintenance calls and repair requests.

Your Contractor…Your Partner

architecture and home renovation concept - builder with blueprint shaking partner hand

It’s important to think of your contractor – or your maintenance and repair person/people – like a partner.

They’ll be a great person to bounce ideas off of and can help you keep your tenant safe and happy….and hopefully in your home for 20 years!

If your house isn’t ‘rent ready’ then you’ll need to a contractor to help you get it up to par. If it’s already ‘rent ready’ then you’ll need someone to make sure your tenant’s taken care of when they do call.

It’s one of the most important partnerships you’ll make.

Nothing can slow you down (or get you in trouble) more than a bad contractor. Faulty work, slow work, or no work have the potential to bring your rehab or maintenance work to a screeching halt. It also makes you look unprofessional in the eyes of your tenant or prospective tenant.

It’s tempting to find and use a contractor whose prices are the cheapest. And we understand the need to handle your investment dollars wisely…but be careful; you often get what you pay for.

That isn’t to say that low-priced contractors always do a poor job; we’ve met some solid contractors who were at the lower end of the cost spectrum. Still, you need to be careful. Poorly done work can come back and cost you double to fix. We have plenty of stories about that if you want to hear them.

So what do you look for?

It’s extremely important to know if the contractor you partner with is licensed and insured. Why is this so vital? There are several reasons you shouldn’t let someone who is not licensed and insured work on your property:

1. They can get hurt on the job and sue you – What happens if an uninsured contractor falls off your roof and injures him or herself? They can sue and possibly take you to the cleaners. What would that do to your future returns on that property?

2. They can install your equipment incorrectly – If you’re dealing with someone who is not licensed or insured then most likely you are dealing with someone who is not the best at their craft.

Here’s an example from my past – it was around 2007 and I was trying to get HVAC installed on one of my rentals for cheap. I found a guy I really liked and he installed a unit that saved me at least a thousand dollars. It wasn’t until later that summer when my tenant got their enormous power bill ($900) that I realized he had wired the unit wrong. I had to install a new system to replace that one. It came out of my pocket because this part-time HVAC ‘specialist’ didn’t have a warranty. Lesson learned.

3. They can do your work and then disappear overnight – These types of scammy contractors typically aren’t in business long. This will cause problems if you need warranty work down the road and you can’t find them. Or, if they take their initial draw and never show up again. Back in the early days, we learned that the hard way.

Keep in mind that finding a good contractor is a necessity no matter what type of property you purchase. Even if you buy a new house, you’ll eventually have repairs to be made. It’s best to start developing a relationship early so your work will be carried out faithfully and on time when it’s time for a project.

We actually have a maintenance department here at and our Director of Maintenance monitors everyone’s work and makes sure all of our employees have the proper insurance and designations for their craft.

So how do you know if the person you’re considering in Birmingham is licensed and insured?

Here are some helpful tips:

  • Ask the contractor you’re considering to show you their card proving they are state certified. These cards typically have a hologram on them that cannot easily be fraudulently reproduced.
  • For Liability Insurance and Workman’s Comp it’s best to have the insurance provider fax or email you the full Acord Form directly. This will eliminate the opportunity for an uninsured contractor to provide you with fraudulent documents.

In conclusion

There are plenty of warning signs that you may be dealing with a less than reputable contractor. In the beginning of our real estate career we used these fly-by-night contractors because they were cheap and we thought they were saving us money.

In the short term, maybe…but over time we ended up spending more money repairing their repairs and we lost several good tenants because of shoddy work. The extra repair work and the additional months our houses were vacant put us behind on our investment goals.

Learn from our early mistakes and find a contractor you can trust to be your long term partner. Doing this on the front end will give you a massive advantage in achieving rental house success!

My Tenant Is Harassing Me

Matthew Whitaker - Friday, March 18, 2016

Angry woman shouting and fearful man

My Tenant is harassing me!

It’s one thing to have an annoying tenant…and it’s something completely different to have a tenant who is harassing you.

It is probably the worst situation to be in, short of your tenant being late on rent or trashing your property. And unfortunately, it’s not discussed half as much as landlord harassment of a tenant.

Different people have different reactions to this type of harassment. What makes it especially difficult is the fact that this tenant is living in YOUR house and owes YOU money each month.

So…what do you do when your tenant begins harassing you and won’t stop?

I’ve rented thousands of homes, so you can imagine I’ve had my fair share of tenants who harassed me . . . some had legitimate reasons, but some had very little reason to harass.

I’ve been harassed to clean a tenant’s front porch from all the pollen on it . . . harassed and had a Better Business Bureau claim filed against us because a tenant paid rent TWICE and blamed us for taking it . . . harassed because the “heat wasn’t working” and their kids were freezing in December and when I showed up at the house, they were all wearing shorts and “wife-beater” t-shirts and mad the heat wouldn’t get it to 80 degrees.

If you are going to be in this business for any time, you will have some funny stories (along with some depressing ones!), which at the time will require mounds of patience.

Let’s take a quick look at steps you should take if your tenant is harassing you . . .

1. Is the claim legitimate? Sometimes it is hard to disconnect yourself from the emotion that a tenant is bringing when making claims against you as a landlord.

Sometimes, we take it personally and immediately want to defend ourselves or justify our actions. But, much like any business decision, some of the best business people are able to disconnect themselves from the emotion and handle the situation. That is an important and valuable skill for any landlord.

If their air conditioning is out on July 4th, they may be mad about it. It is not worth playing “tit for tat” with the tenant. Whether they are made about it or not, you need to get it fixed. Try not to be a landlord that wants to prove your point or “show them” and ignore the issue because of the way they’ve treated you.

If it is a situation where you are in the wrong or you should fix something, do it despite the way they act towards you. The best customer service companies in the world do the same…and as a landlord, you’re in the customer service business.

2. Are they calling you about appropriate things at inappropriate times? This is a frequent thing tenant’s will do. They expect you to be like a vacation home rental company and answer at all hours of the night.

We have a 24/7 answering service that handles these types of calls, but you may not have that luxury. The first step will be to have a candid conversation about the tenant’s expectations. Sometimes a proverbial “line in the sand” will be enough to make the tenant aware of his or her unreasonable expectations.

If that conversation doesn’t work, simply don’t reward them by answering the phone or responding to emails at that time.

They will get the hint and won’t expect responses from you until the appropriate hours that you shared with them during your conversation. However, if you start by answering their calls/emails/texts at inappropriate times, you will have likely started a practice that will take much longer to stop than had you discussed your policy during the leasing process.

3. Are they calling you about inappropriate things at inappropriate times? One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned about this business is that you can’t please everyone.

If you are like me and like for things to work perfectly every time, it will bother you when you can’t please someone. If this is the case and you can’t make them happy, you can either live with the misery, ask them if they would like to “mutually terminate” the lease and go your separate ways, or hire a property manager to insulate you from the tenant.

A good property manager has had the tough conversations you may be avoiding. And the important thing to remember is that certain tenants understand how far they can push an individual landlord…it’s likely much further than the professional property management company can be pushed!

A tenant harassing you can be a very frustrating thing. They will always be on your mind and you feel like you can never get away from them. Hopefully this article will help you deal with a tenant who is harassing you or prepare you to deal with difficult situations should you find yourself renting to a difficult tenant in the future.