I’ve written once or twice or one hundred times before that Luke and I own a rental property. Without this resource, I would have ended up a hobo within one year into my writing journey. Just me, though. I won’t allow Luke to be a hobo.
Since we bought it ten years ago, this rental property tripled in value which means it not only helped keep me afloat, but it also served as my retirement plan. Currently I only put $25 a month in my Roth IRA (whatever that is) and thus, be rolling in dough at age 70 I will not.
Around the same time we started our venture into landlordism, a friend was getting ready to sell his rental property. He was sick of it. He didn’t want to deal with it anymore. I thought he was nuts. Didn’t he see the value in having other people pay into his investment while simultaneously making a monthly profit?! So many people don’t get to have the good fortune of something like this. It’s worth it for a little heartache.
Then, at the beginning of this year, our renters told us they were moving out and my heartache turned into a heart attack (not literally though). I couldn’t do this again. And by “again,” I meant a second time. We only had renters move out on us one previous time.
But that one time was more than enough. Those previous renters had trashed the place and we sunk nearly five-grand back into it. Needless to say, they didn’t get any of their $500 deposit back.
Luke gently reminded me that our current renters weren’t like those previous asstwats. In all fairness, he was right. I started to write about why they were asstwats, but realized their asstwatiness had been so overly-asstwatted that a story like that should warrant its own essay. Sidenote: Luke does not say words like “asstwat.” That one is my classy tongue all the way.
These current tenants, on the other hand, had been awesome. They were a gay couple who had good hygiene, acted kind, and paid rent on time. A landlord couldn’t ask for more. But when one of their dad’s got sick with cancer, they decided the time had come to move to Phoenix for his treatments.
First I thought, Oh, that’s so sad his father has cancer. Next I thought, But what about meeee?! Fortunately, I did not think that exact thing. I just began ruminating about all the problems we could face again after two short years with these guys.
“Let’s sell it,” I blurted all over Luke. “I can’t do this again. It’s too much trouble.”
I sounded like our friend who I once dubbed as “crazy” from before. Luke tried to talk some sense into me, but I don’t accept sense when I am pissy.
“It’s worth three times what we paid for it,” I continued to rant. “If we sell it, we can use the interest.”
As it turned out, interest doesn’t quite work like I thought. Even if we did this, it wouldn’t have matched our profits and it’d ruin the long term investment. Therefore we made the decision to go ahead and seek new renters. The good news was that we would at least not have to do much work on it with our great gay renters.
The bad news was that I was wrong about this good news. As it turned out, “kindness and good hygiene” doesn’t translate into “renters who won’t trash a house.” These guys said it would be cleaned to a professional level per the agreement in the lease. They left it a disgusting mess.
The new carpet we put in the basement had a large black stain on it - as if they had been working on cars down there. The carpet in the master bedroom had a big pink stain - as if they were [can’t think of anything that spews pink] up there. There was a giant crack in the master bedroom door and the entire house smelled of cigarettes (smoking wasn’t allowed). Oh, and they lost the garage door opener.
Once again, the five-hundred dollar deposit didn’t quite cover the near two-thousand dollars we had to sink back into the place. On top of that, the place would go unrented for the whole month which meant more money out of our own pockets.
But now came the part I REALLY dreaded: seeking new renters. The first time we searched for tenants, a group of three potentials handed me the five-hundred dollar cash deposit on the spot. It caught me so off guard that I just instantly took it. When their background checks came back a little sketchy, I had to sheepishly give it back. Actually, I had our friend (a former cop) give it to them because I was too chicken-shit.
The second time we searched for tenants, a group of three guys, who worked in the marijuana industry, wanted to move in immediately and also whipped out a wad of cash. Why couldn’t this be like the movies where they’d whip out something else? Thankfully, I was smart enough to turn down the cash this time.
When their background checks came back “meh,” and the great gay couple swooped in for the kill, I had to go with the gay couple instead. When I told the marijuana guys that we would not be renting to them, one of them went off - proceeding to say things like “grow some balls motherfucker” and “you lied to us fuckboy.”
But you can’t rent a home without renters. So, I typed up the craigslist ad (which was somehow longer than most of the essays on this blog) and the inquiries began to roll in.
The first folks we met with were a young group of three - one gay guy, his bestie, and her boyfriend. Their weird haircuts and piercings didn’t bother us at all. It was the fact that none of them had lived together before and that, in total, they would have five cats in the house.
We got especially concerned when they were filling out their applications and the girl leaned over her boyfriend’s shoulder to look and said, “Oh, I didn’t know that’s what you did for work!” He responded with the same thing to her. They’re moving in together and they don’t even know what each other does for work?!
The next potential didn’t seem hopeful either. It was a single mom with three kids. I have absolutely no judgments about single mothers as divorce has become such the norm these days. More so, I put children on the same level as five cats and couples who don’t fully know the person they’re dating.
I don’t hate children. I just don’t understand them. They make me feel awkward. Perhaps I don’t have any paternal instincts. Or maybe it’s a result of my sisters not having kids until later in life, or even the fact that I was the baby of the family (which would also explain my unfortunate tendency to first and foremost think about myself - like a child).
I absolutely love my three nieces along with my bestie’s two kids. And if you are someone else I personally know with a child, then I love your kid too. But if someone tries to hand me a baby, I immediately break a small sweat. If left alone with a child, the only small talk I can think of is to ask them how they like school. Don’t even get me started on teenagers.
Me trying to connect with a child is like a blind person trying to do a Rubik’s cube (which I also cannot do). And when it comes to dealing with the rental property, I didn’t have the energy for anymore Rubik’s cubes. Besides, the one thing I did know about children is that they destroy things. This could mean having to dump thousands of dollars back into the property when THESE people move out.
As the single mom walked up, I was surprised to see that she had brought the kids with her. Was that normal? She had two sons, ages six and eight, and one daughter, age… umm… something else. Actually, the eight year-old son might have been eleven and the daughter might have been thirteen. I don’t know. Either way, when they all walked in, I got discombobulated.
Rachel, the mother, introduced them all. How are you supposed to greet kids? Did this mean I was supposed to shake their hands? They were all very polite.
A microsecond after meeting the thirteen year-old daughter, she pulled up her sleeve and enthusiastically said, “LOOK!”
She revealed one of those homemade bracelet things that said the word “GAY” in rainbow colors. Both Luke and I laughed and possibly even gasped. We didn’t understand if this meant she was gay or if she supported the gays. It didn’t matter. I immediately wanted to hug her. But I didn’t. Because she was a child. Is it okay to hug children you’ve just met?
As we gave the tour, the six year-old son (who I now realized was eight years-old) started to get lively. Each room we entered, he’d scream, “THIS IS MY ROOM!” Then he’d run in the closets and scream “No! THIS is my room!” It sounds annoying but it was very adorable. Oddly enough, the one room that would be his room, he didn’t scream that in.
The middle son (officially eleven years-old… I checked) was quiet and didn’t act dynamic like the other two. But he was well-behaved and kept saying all the wonderful things he loved about the house. By the end of the tour, we absolutely fell in love with these kids. We weren’t even thinking of Rachel anymore. We were just like, Let’s rent this house to the children!
Of course, Rachel was great too. Her father showed up to take a look and he got almost choked up at how perfect the place was for his daughter and grandchildren. They seemed like a loving and stable family. Not to mention that, after she left and I looked at her application, she made a hell of a lot more than we did with her child support.
Luke and I talked about this idea. The kids seemed old enough to not hurt themselves on the modern banisters. And even though the young boys would for sure trash their rooms in the basement, adults didn’t have great track record for this anyway. Plus, with the house being so close to their new school, the chances of them renting for many, many years would be high.
After running her background check, I texted Rachel and asked her if she and her family would like to rent the home. Her text back was a video of the kids popping up from behind the couch and singing a little thank you song. She said it was their idea. We couldn’t believe how lucky we were to find these people. And I couldn’t believe how much I started to appreciate children.
And then I immediately felt like an asstwat myself (or at least somewhere on the “asstwat spectrum”). I had written off Rachel and her kids before we even met them and they ended up being our dream tenants. Reflecting on this also had me thinking about the high expectations for the gay tenants who left the house a gross, stinky mess. I underestimated one set of people while overestimating the other.
I wish we lived in a world where we never assume anything about anyone ever. But, to a degree, being able to make assumptions is somewhat necessary for being human. We collect data on the encounters we have so that we could have a better prediction of what to expect for similar encounters in the future.
I’m thinking that it’s not whether assumptions are good or bad, it's how we can unintentionally let our bias skew them that matters. Just because I am a nice gay guy who likes to be clean doesn’t mean all nice gay guys will keep things pristine. And just because I find kids to be awkward doesn’t mean kids will be terrible tenants.
I collected the data wrong. Instead of approaching things based on truly objective experiences, I led with my own personal biases. And doing this up made me feel like a fool/jerk. It also made me aware of how volatile assumptions are and that, when it comes to assuming, it’s best to head the warning “proceed with caution.”
In this most recent journey of landlords seeking renters, our experience with Rachel and the kids has been our most seamless one yet. For that, I am incredibly grateful. It made me glad that we didn’t sell the property and it gave me the reminder to fine-tune my assumptional tools. Now, I can only hope that it continues this way for years to come - hope, not assume.