I won’t lie: I love to travel. I just bought points in the Bluegreen timeshare system so as to be able to vacation all over. I don’t regard timeshare points as an investment (they are consumption, pure and simple) but I do regard them as a very useful reminder to set time aside and just chill. I find I tend to forget to do that sometimes. I get caught up with, and overwhelmed by, the everyday things. So to reward myself for surviving one of the most challenging years of my life and for having accomplished something I thought was beyond my limits, I’ve treated myself. I look forward to many years of resort vacationing and perhaps when I retire I will indulge even more. I won’t like: I enjoy relaxing on a beach or taking in a new museum or art gallery. Zip-lining over a pool of live alligators? Oddly enough, I’ve done that too. I don’t have much of a bucket list left and should probably expand it.
One thing about traveling as a live-in landlord is that unless my tenant is on the road too I never have to worry about the house not looking “lived in”. If I’m going to be away more than a day or two I have to either leave the mailbox key or issue one to a tenant. That’s not the end of the world, but as those who follow my blog will know, I also have pets. My Venomous Spaz Beast (who, incidentally, has completely recovered from the Ibuprofen-and-peroxide incident and who is now the star of her obedience class) needs and deserves quality care in my absence. Even a cat needs to be checked on occasionally, and they do benefit from having people around.
Consider, for example, these specimens of feline excellence to the right. Both have since passed over the Rainbow Bridge. The brown and white one in the foreground, a rescue cat named Hannibal who got his name because he was found foraging in the garbage bin behind a mortuary, was preternaturally intelligent. He understood instructions in French, English, and Cat. He also acted like my little furry bodyguard. Yet he had his vulnerabilities: he didn’t like to be alone, and he wasn’t a fan of dogs. I initially set him up with a pet cat of his own, but when little Tancrède died suddenly at age 7 due to previously undiagnosed kidney problems we took in Slash, the black and white cat in the middle of the picture. It’s hard to tell because of the perspective, but Slash was the larger cat of the two. Younger and stronger than Hannibal, he became the alpha cat between the two of them. The problem was that he was dumber than a bag of hammers. Slash couldn’t understand instructions in either English or French, and once when I was out of town he got his toe caught in the string for the window blinds. Exactly how he managed that wasn’t clear. But he was caterwauling for the better part of an hour before one of my tenants let him loose.
Had my tenants not been there, the cat could have been hung up for hours or even days. Worst of all, since it was Slash, he wouldn’t have even learned anything from the experience. I’ve never had an animal die from sheer stupidity before, but that cat came close a few times. The point to all of this is that he needed supervision while I was gone.
Now, I’ve blogged elsewhere about how your tenant isn’t your babysitter or your built-in pet sitter. If you want work from him that isn’t part of the deal, you’d better expect to pay for it. At the time I had Hannibal and Slash, I also had a tenant who bartered part of his rent for labor. That was an excellent business relationship that lasted for a good three years before it ended due to factors unrelated to the cats. All I had to do was to ensure that he planned to be onsite while I was out of town, and to make sure he knew how to feed and care for the animals while I was gone. It worked extremely well. But for a conventional tenant who had no barter component, I’d have had to make a separate deal.
Generally speaking, if you want pet-sitting or house-sitting you’re going to have to pay for it. If your tenant is willing, able, and interested you can offer at least a day’s worth of rent in exchange for caring for your iguana, your boa constrictor, or whatever else is prowling around your living room. Depending on how high rents are in your area relative to the cost of a pet sitter who’d have to visit your house, you may be getting an extremely good deal.
Another thing you need to worry about, when you travel, is the utilities. Pay them up in advance. I never, ever delegate utility payments to my tenants and handle them all myself. This helps to maintain my leadership role in the landlord-tenant dyad. It also helps give my tenants the low-stress environment they expect. The last thing you need when traveling is for the lights to go out.
If you have a plumber, an electrician, and a locksmith in your phone’s memory, you can probably coordinate the repair logistics over the phone provided you have a credit card. This is one of the reasons I have such respect for the skilled trades: although I can do a substantial amount of the work myself I do not have the ability to teleport myself instantly across three states to fix an emergency while I’m out of town. The cost of the service is tax deductible if it’s related to something that’s not the tenant’s fault. If the tenant has done something stupid to cause the emergency, the repair or maintenance costs can be taken out of his damage deposit.
One thing my tenants generally prefer that I not do is hire a house sitter besides themselves. If I’m going to spend money on a house sitter, I generally offer my tenants the right of first refusal. After that I choose a family member or teammate. Very seldom do I hire a stranger.
How do I avoid having my home used as a party site? It’s because I prepare my tenants in advance. I often tell them that some of my friends– who happen to be professional fight sport athletes, active duty or retired military, or police officers– know that I’m out of town and may cruise by from time to time to check on the place. I give them the phone numbers of some of my teammates to call “in case something goes wrong and they need a bit of extra muscle.” (I say: “this one’s a police officer… that one teaches martial arts for a living… this other one is former Special Forces but only call him in a real emergency because he’s got a galloping case of PTSD; if he solves the problem his way you might have a mess to clean up… and this last one will probably bring the Schutshund she trains for kicks.”)
My friends love me and I love them. But I suppose they’re a bit trigger happy. Like likes like, after all. The fact they exist and are circulating just out of sight is enough to ensure no parties break out while I’m gone. Although, in fairness, the fact I rent to the mobility impaired demographic (which tends to include more retirees and veterans than the general population) cuts down on the partying. It’s not that people with mobility issues don’t know how to party. They can and they do. It’s just that the logistics involved are hairy enough for them to think it over. The fact my kind of establishment isn’t common means that, if they alienate me by having an orgy in my living room while I’m out of town, they won’t easily be able to replace me with another landlord that provides similar quality amenities, location, and lodging for a comparable price.
One of the most important things about being a landlord is making sure your tenants know how to contact you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Cellular phones make this easier than it used to be. I’ve never been called at work or while I’m on travel. However, the information I leave (attached to the fridge) includes the following:
- My flight dates and times, including airline information
- My road travel route if I’m going by car
- My license plate number and car make and model
- My destination city
- The name, address, and phone number of the hotel where I’m staying (if there is one)
- Whom to call if they see on the news that my plane went down, my hotel caught fire, or I missed a checkpoint call or am overdue by more than a specific number of hours
Obviously camping trips dont have that kind of wired-in connection that hotels do, and if I’m backpacking out of cellular phone range my tenants do know where I’m going, what trail I’m using, and when I’m going to be back. I also carry my tenants’ contact information on me when I’m out of the area, in case something untoward happens and they need to be notified.