Be Your Own Property Manager. Be Your Own Buffer.

Owning a second home and renting it out to others to help recoup your costs takes time, expertise, and patience. 

If you want to market and manage your own place, this tip may make it a little easier: Act like the property manager, not the owner.

One of the major advantages of adopting the mindset of a property manager for your investment property is you get a buffer between you and the tenants. If you treat your second home as the investment that it is, and try not to take things personally, you’ll be more relaxed, and probably more successful.

Being the Manager vs. Being the Owner

Scenario: Your tenant calls in the middle of the night. His toilet is clogged, and there’s water all over the floor.

You as Owner: You get woken up in the middle of the night by a whiny baby who can’t figure out how to make use of some towels, a mop, and a plunger. You’re short with your tenant, who ends the conversation thinking you’re a jerk and vowing to find a new place as soon as the lease is up, leaving you to start over and find another tenant. Also? Now you can’t go back to sleep.

You as Property Manager: The tenant has the same problem but leaves a message on a different phone, one you only use for your investment property, and turn off at bedtime. You’ve recorded a voicemail message thanking them for calling and assuring them they will get a call during business hours and the problem will be fixed as soon as possible. The tenant, somewhat reluctantly, gets the aforementioned towels, mop, and plunger and deals with it. When you call in the morning, all is well.

Scenario: A potential renter calls with a few questions. He wants to know why your beach place rents for so much more than others in the area. And he’s kind of a pill about it.

You as Owner: It’s easy to get defensive. You know your place rents for more because it’s nicer, and this guy sounds like a jerk. You don’t actually want to rent the place to him, because he would probably have all kinds of complaints and end up demanding a partial refund. Besides, you can’t just make a decision. You need to talk it over with your spouse. You both get mad, and he hangs up. Or you do. Then he leaves a negative review of your place on Yelp.

You as Property Manager: You get an email, at an address dedicated to your investment property, with the same questions. Or a phone call. Same guy, same request for a discount. As the property manager, you can respond in a neutral way, because you may not be seen as the decision maker. “Thanks for your feedback. Unfortunately, we can’t offer a lower rate at this time. Please let us know if you have any more questions.” Done.

Scenario: Your tenant’s lease is up, and she’s decided to move. When you take a look at the place after she leaves, you realize you’ll need to keep her security deposit to repair a couple of cracked windows, a cracked toilet seat (how does that even happen?), and some damage to the floors from a dog she wasn’t supposed to have in the apartment, per your original contract.

You as Owner: When you call to tell her about the damage, and that you’ll be keeping the security deposit, you can’t keep the edge out of your voice. After all, her deposit may pay for the damages, but you’ll lose money waiting for them to be fixed because you won’t be able to show it to new tenants. She tells everyone she knows that you’re selfish and dishonest because she’s embarrassed. And she accuses you of animal cruelty since the dog was a rescue.

You as Property Manager: You have a move-in inspection, with photographs, in her file, and she signed it. During the official move-out inspection, you note the damages. You send her a polite but firm letter or email informing her that, per her contract, her security deposit will not be returned. She may stomp around and rant, but you won’t be there to hear it. She may even call you -- on the aforementioned dedicated phone -- but you’ll let it go to voicemail and decide after hearing the message whether or not to call her back.

Thinking of yourself as the property manager instead of the owner helps take the emotion out of your interactions with tenants, and that’s a good thing. It allows you to set limits and enforce rules without seeming like a real heavy. (This is the business version of, “I’m not sure. Ask your mother.”) Acting as the property manager may make it a lot easier for you and your tenants to take things less personally, and you’ll be a happier landlord.