By: Brent Voepel

Investing in real estate can be a very exciting, challenging time. It’s a business that has huge highs and lows. It can be thrilling, but it can also be difficult to navigate. This emotional roller coaster often takes you down paths that you could have never anticipated. Riding out the highs and lows is part of the investment game. However, being an educated and engaged investor can start you on the right path towards ownership.  First, let’s talk about an uneducated mistake I’ve made: purchasing an occupied investment property. 

The Risks of Purchasing an Occupied Investment Property

One area that puts you at risk of losing money quickly is purchasing an occupied investment property. The general concept of purchasing this type of property is that if the numbers work on paper then the deal will work in real life.  Unfortunately, my experience has shown me otherwise. This way of thinking can be detrimental to the long-term success of your investment. Not all properties contain angel residents, organized property managers, and trustworthy real estate agents. If they did, then maybe, the numbers on paper would reflect in real life. 

Now, I’m not saying occupied properties are always bad investments, because the truth is, they’re not. Don’t make the same mistake as me. Educate yourself and you’ll be fine. Following these five key rules decreases a lot of mishaps and increases your chances of success.

1. Read the Lease!

Reading the existing lease prior to closing is a step that is often overlooked.  You as the owner you’re responsible for upholding the current lease. So it only makes sense that if you are going to be responsible for it, you understand it.  This may seem like common sense, but it is truly surprising the number of owners I work with who don’t know what they are responsible for. Who pays utilities, takes care of lawn care/snow removal, any existing maintenance requests, and when does the current lease end?  These are all important questions you need to know when purchasing an occupied property. If there is not a current lease in place, it is best to check with an attorney prior to closing to find out how long would it potentially take to gain possession of the home if needed.  Several months of fighting an eviction are costly and can immediately set the property up to take a large loss.

2. Tenant Contact Information 

Communication with the current tenants is critical for a seamless transition between new and old ownership. If the residents are currently in a lease it is best to communicate with them throughout the entire purchase process. Residents want to know the sale of the home is not going to disrupt their entire lives.  In order for this communication to take place, it is important to gather the contact information for all residents on the lease. It is ideal in these situations for communication to be in writing, this ensures you have documentation of all conversations. Residents may not welcome this change and their viewpoint can quickly turn sour due to lack of communication.

3. Security Deposit Information 

When purchasing an occupied property it is easy to overlook the importance of not only reading the lease but making sure everything stated in the lease is transferred.  That is where it is necessary for you to be engaged and educated. Not clarifying any lease questions could potentially lead to a loss of cash flow. The lease should clearly state if the tenant has paid a security deposit.  If the deposit is listed in the lease, whoever owns the property when the residents move out is responsible for refunding it. If a deposit is not accounted for at closing you will be responsible for refunding the full amount, out of pocket.

4. Keys

Having working keys to all exterior doors is one of the main rules the majority of owners break. Again, it seems so simple, but many out-of-state investors rely on their realtor to provide working keys to the property.  The keys are normally the last item to get transferred, so it is easy to assume the keys work and move on. Making this assumption without checking can lead to thousands of dollars in potential damage due to not having access to the property in case of an emergency.  It is always better to complete all due diligence upfront than to just assume it was taken care of by someone else.

5. Move-In Paperwork

Collecting all move-in condition paperwork for the existing tenants can make a crucial impact when they decide to vacate.  The move-in paperwork should include an original application for occupancy and documentation of the move-in conditions.

Application for Occupancy

Prior to being approved, residents should have submitted an application containing their birthdate and social security number.  Without this information, it’s impossible to file a collection on a tenant for loss of rent or damages.  The courts also need this information in order to file a judgment. If you do not have these items at the time of closing, it is highly encouraged for you to reach out to the current tenants in order to collect them immediately.

Move-in Condition

When a tenant takes possession of a home it is standard practice to document the move-in condition. This is done in order to charge for any damages that occur while the tenants were living in the home.  A move-in condition report can be done in many different ways. The most effective way is to take time/date stamped photos or videos. In order for this documentation to be used in court, it is beneficial to have the tenant and landlord/owner sign off on the condition report.  If for any reason the move-in condition of the home was not documented, it becomes nearly impossible to deduct charges for damages from the deposit. We have experienced many situations where a life-changing event happens to a resident who was once reliable then turns into an eviction case quickly.  In these instances, residents tend to not maintain the property and cause additional damage. Without a signed move-in condition report the owner could be left with thousands of dollars worth of damage and no recourse to recoup those losses.

Overall, following these five rules does not guarantee a successful investment, but it will ensure a higher rate of success!