June 22, 2010

4 college guys + 1 year = $5000 repair bills

My wife and I were watching a program on the HGTV network.  It was about a couple trying to sell their home which was in a different city.  They had trouble selling the house so they decided to rent it out.  They chose to rent it to four male college students.   They knowingly and purposefully handed the keys of their property to four college age men.   On top of that it was rented through a property manager acting as the middleman so they had no personal knowledge of the four renters.

Let me be clear, It is not correct to discriminate based on age, race, sex, etc.  If you can personally screen tenants then I think there are situations where four male college students may be very good tenants.  However any time you are renting to four people then the potential for damage is four times as high.    And lets be honest here, on average four college age men are not most likely to be responsible tenants.   So you need to be careful when screening such tenants.   It is also perfectly fair for a landlord to not rent to groups of adults given the expected additional wear and tear and hassles dealing with 4 individuals coordinating to come up with a rent check.

Unfortunately about a year later when the renters moved out the owners found the mistake in their decision.   I hope this doesn't come as too much of a shock to you but the 4 college age men living together managed to trash the home.  Actually the damages were not really that bad in my opinion.  Most of it was just surface wear and tear or minimal repair bills.   The tenants broke the front door handle, put a small gash in one wall, somehow tore off the railing from a stairwell and the worst was lots of scuff marks or staining on the hardwood floors.   Other than the hardwood floor the damage shouldn't have taken more than a few hundred dollars to fix up.  Of course even a few hundred in repair bills isn't good, but as a former male college student and a landlord I can image much worse damage.

However the owners then made their second mistake by apparently repairing everything to 'good as new' condition.   All together they spent $5,000 to fix the damages.  They had the hardwoods sanded and refinished which is a pretty large expense.   I'm guessing they probably went all out to spend the money to have everything else fixed as well.   I'm not sure if there were other expenses or damages not shown on the program but $5,000 is a lot of money to spend for what we did see.   It could be that repairing the floors was most of that cost since it can be pretty pricey to refinish hardwoods.   Personally I would have just fixed the things that absolutely needed fixing and left the hardwoods as they were.   The next renter could live with slightly scuffed and blemished floors.   Chances are that the next renter or the renter after that will do some more damage to the floors so if you refinish the floors every time they are less then perfect you'll be spending a lot of money very quickly as a landlord.

You need to be careful when screening tenants and screening for good tenants is one of the best ways to improve your success as a landlord.   Don't over spend to repair your rentals.   Expensive to fix cosmetic damage in particular is something you should consider leaving as is if at all possible.


  1. Quick note: The last sentence in your fourth paragraph uses the word "the" back-to-back.

    I don't know how I'd approach the situation but I too have a rental home -- not with four college kids though. I tell myself that the worse that can happen (with the exception of burning the place down) is structural damage which should be easy enough to repair. Perhaps HGTV put their own dramatic twist on the price of repairs because the damage that you described didn't seem to add to $5000. Nice post.

  2. Romeo, Thanks for the heads up on the double 'the's. I've fixed it.

  3. I'm guessing they spent a bundle on stripping and resealing the floors with extra coats of sealant. My brother is having that done right now (he's in Galveston and the floors were damaged by Hurricane Ike back in 2008), and he's spending extra to have a really thick finish put on the floors to protect them.

    I totally agree with you about the need to keep expenses down. After all, it's just a rental property and it's going to get banged up again.


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