Letting out a property - here’s what you need to know

Irrespective of whether it is an investor who has found an excellent income-generating rental property or a homeowner who is renting out a cottage on their property, there is more to being a landlord than simply collecting a rental cheque each month. 

This is according to Adrian Goslett, Regional Director and CEO of RE/MAX of Southern Africa, who says that owning and letting out a rental property can often be an involved process that can demand a reasonable amount of time, depending on the circumstances. 

“Although the idea of becoming a landlord and earning some extra money can be an alluring endeavour, it is vital that the owner of the property be fully prepared for what being a landlord entails. Doing some research and understanding what is required as a landlord, will put the owner of the rental property in the best position to handle whatever may come their way and make for a successful venture,” says Goslett.

He provides first-time and potential landlords with five key elements to consider when entering the property rental business:

1.    Property is a long-term investment

The reality is that while a rental property may pay for itself over the long term, initially the landlord will probably have to put in money to cover all the costs of owning the property. “While it does happen, it is rare that the rent amount will cover all of the costs involved in owning the property from day one. Whether it is a section of the bond repayment that is not covered by the rent amount or maintenance costs, a landlord will more than likely have to put money into the property each month,” says Goslett.

He notes that owning a rental property is not a get-rich-quick business venture, but over time as the rental amount increases and the asset appreciates in value, it can be used as a cornerstone on which to build wealth. “When it comes to seeing a profit from a rental property, it is best to view it as a marathon and not a sprint,” Goslett advises.

2.    Know the numbers

When it comes to owning a property - the bond repayment is not the only expense. Potential landlords need to consider aspects such as general maintenance, insurance, rates and taxes and possibly the services of an attorney or a professional rental agent. An attorney is a valuable asset to a landlord when it comes to drawing up lease agreements, giving sound advice regarding the landlord’s legal rights and responsibilities, and dealing with defaulting tenants. A rental agent will take care of screening and vetting tenants, collecting the monthly rental and general management of the property.

“It is advisable for landlords to set aside a contingency fund in order to deal with the upkeep of the property, along with any other unforeseen circumstances or repairs that require attention. By knowing the numbers and budgeting for expenditure, the landlord will be able to allocate money in the correct manner,” says Goslett.

3.    Have a checklist

The checklist will be used when a tenant moves in and when they move out. It will include all items that the landlord will need to go over carefully with the tenant when handing over the keys.  A checklist will ensure that nothing is overlooked and that all important aspects that need to be addressed are seen to. It is also far easier to check the property for any potential hazards or things that need to be fixed before the tenant moves in, rather than when they are already there and settled.

Goslett says that items to add to the list could include the following:

·         Check that the stove is in working order.

·         Check all lights and electrical points.

·         Ensure the geyser is working correctly.

·         Check for any leaks or damp that needs waterproofing.

·         Check that the gutters are unclogged and clear of debris.

Having a checklist will ensure that the landlord is well-organised for years to come.

4.    Ensure all contracts are detailed

To avoid any future complications or misunderstandings, all stipulations should be clearly stated upfront in a detailed contract. The more detailed the contract and the more issues that it deals with, the smoother the rental will be. According to Goslett, if all the important elements are included in the document there will be no areas that are left open for interpretation. Aspects such as acceptable tenant behaviour, breakage costs, preferred method of payment and date that the rental is payable by should be all included.

5.    Selecting the right tenants

Tenant selection will have a massive impact on the financial success of the property rental. For this reason, each tenant should be carefully vetted before they rent out the property. The landlord should enquire about details of the tenant’s previous rental history, reasons they are moving, their place of employment and income. Landlords should contact the given references in order to verify as much of the information as possible. “The tenant selection process is where the services of a rental agent will come in handy, as they will be able to professionally vet all possible tenants. While it is not legal to discriminate against any tenant, it is also not wise to simply accept tenants on a first-come-first-serve basis,” advises Goslett. 

He concludes by saying that while owning a rental property and becoming a landlord can be hard work, it is also an opportunity for the landlord to create wealth over the long term. Goslett notes that the key element to success is to always view property investment with the future in mind.

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