From An Overwhelmed First-Time Landlord To A Pro Investor Self-Managing 18 Rentals On Less Than 10 Hours Per Month

Hey there!

Welcome to my world of tenants and toilets! (Or more like… Welcome to my world of awesome tenants with minimal headaches regarding toilets… haha!)

My name is Christine, and I started this blog, DIY Rental Manager, to document my husband and I’s journey while we manage 18 (and counting) rental units while still working full-time jobs.

Meet Adam, my husband! He and I are the property managers for our current rental portfolio. He’s the “Maintenance Guy” and I’m the “Rent Collection Lady”.

When we started out on this journey, we had absolutely no clue what we were doing (which is a scary feeling to have). We made all of the classic mistakes:

  • Driving around collecting partial rent payments in cash
  • Doing minimal screening for new tenants and having to deal with the constant problems of collecting rent on time after that
  • Being on-call 24/7 to handle all levels of maintenance (even the petty ones such as “My lightbulb’s out.”)
  • Overall, spending too much time on the rentals, feeling overworked and undervalued

Over time, and by learning through trial and error, we found some ways to cut the amount of time and headache spent on the rentals in half. This ultimately lets us buy back our time to do the things we truly want to do, and it encourages us to want to acquire more properties.

Starting Off As A House-Hacker

If you’ve ever heard of “House Hacking” then you’ll know what I’m talking about in this section. But in case you don’t know, this is what Forbes has to say about House Hacking:

“House Hacking is a strategy that involves renting out portions of your primary residence to generate income that is used to offset the cost of your mortgage and other expenses associated with owning a home.”

– Forbes

I mention this because when I was a sophomore in college in 2015, my parents and I went in on a duplex together. The deal was that if I helped fix it up, I got to live rent-free on one side, and the rent from the other side would pay the mortgage.

Crazy enough, I was house hacking before I had ever heard the term. (This strategy is something I’d HIGHLY recommend if you ever get the chance.)

The Duplex

The duplex I lived in during college. This picture was taken while we put some sweat equity into painting the concrete.

When we bought the duplex, we bought it as a HUD foreclosure. There was old, crackling plaster, hardwood flooring missing in the bathroom, and animal feces all over the basement. Most people would probably wonder what we ever saw in the house! I’ll tell ya – it was a good deal, the bones were good, and the rent potential was worth it!

I spent that entire summer working alongside my family renovating the duplex, so it could be ready before college started again. In that time, I painted walls, sanded and refinished hardwood floors, and installed new door trim and baseboard, on top of a myriad of other things.

After 3 short months, we placed our first tenants, and I got to experience collecting rent and handling maintenance requests for the first time.

I made all of the typical landlord mistakes like not screening them, allowing them to pay late without penalty, catching them with a dog that they snuck onto the property, and learning how to manage lease violations such as noise complaints and conflicts with the neighbors.

Although that didn’t stop me from learning from my mistakes (and others’ mistakes), so I could create a better system that makes being a landlord much more enjoyable.

(Honestly, for the number of mistakes we made, we got really lucky with our first tenants. They mostly paid on time, took care of their half of the property, and were easy to communicate with. There were some problems, but that whole experience could have turned out much worse with a different set of tenants who could have taken advantage of us. So I do not recommend our original way of managing haha!)

I lived there for 4 more years taking care of the property (both my side and our renter’s side) and added unique touches (like new cabinet handles and kitchen backsplash) to make the rental better when my husband and I moved out in 2019.

From Driving Around Collecting Cash To Having Rent Payments Deposited Directly Into Our Account

Throughout the time I lived at The Duplex, I invested in a few more rentals with my parents. This is when the bigger problems started to come into play.

At the Duplex, I lived next door to the tenants so I could walk next door and pick up a check, or I could use Venmo to collect money from them. That didn’t work as well with the other tenants.

Most of them didn’t have bank accounts, so Venmo wasn’t an option. Plus, most of them liked to pay small amounts each week in cash. If you’ve ever collected rent manually, then you know this is a HUGE pain. It requires multiple trips out to the property to hopefully pick up some cash or a money order.

I say “hopefully” because there were many times when we showed up and they “forgot” to get the cash. Talk about frustrating!

We learned really quickly that this was not a sustainable way to collect rent. After that, we transitioned to giving the option of mailing the rent payment to a P.O. Box or depositing the money directly into a separate bank account we gave them deposit-only access.

This small change helped save a ton of time driving around, but it didn’t really help to get the rent collected on time. (Somehow tenants like to forget that rent is due on the 1st of the month haha.) It still required a ton of communication with the tenant with frequent questions from us asking, “Where’s rent?” and “When will you be able to pay the remainder?”.

Here’s one of the apartments we’d frequently drive to. All of our rentals are around 30 minutes away from our personal residence, so we were wasting a lot of time driving around manually collecting rent.

After a few years of this back and forth, we had enough. We knew we needed an automated rent collection and late fee system that would make this process more efficient. That’s when we transitioned all of our tenants (at that time, 12 rental units) to’s Rental Manager Tool.

That free management software made a WORLD of difference. Now, the tenants:

  • Get automatic reminders emailed to them when they have a balance and when a late fee is charged
  • Can see their remaining balance and make as many partial payments as they want
  • Can pay with a credit card, debit card, bank account, or prepaid card
  • Get charged a late fee automatically when they don’t pay on time

Oh, and did I mention all of that is free? This one tool alone changed the way we manage our rental properties.

Since we put our rent collection on auto-pilot, we’ve consistently collected all of our rent (plus thousands of dollars extra) each year with minimal effort (and very few sob stories). To learn the system that lets us make rent collection easy, check out this article.

Here’s a screenshot from our account. This is my favorite tool that we use. Check out this page to see the other tools and resources I recommend.

From Renting To Anyone Just To Get The Home Filled To Having A Consistent And Stringent Screening Process That Let’s Us Find The Best Tenants

During our first vacancy to fill at The Duplex and several tenant turnovers/vacancies at the other properties, we had to learn the hard way how to find good tenants.

In the beginning, we listed only on Zillow, had a few pictures with a brief description, and offered the property to the first person who felt like a good person and had a security deposit in hand. Note to self and to you: Don’t judge people based on feelings. The best con artists give you a good feeling at the first meeting.

Looking back, that sounds insane. But we didn’t know any better way to check the background or credit of the people applying for our properties. For the most part, we got decent people who mostly kept up with their payments, but we did not always get tenants who paid on time or took care of the property.

The inside of one of our rentals after we flipped it.

The worst tenant we’ve had so far seemed normal at first and had the security deposit at the time of move-in. At the showing, she asked all the normal questions about the rental that you’d expect a tenant to ask, and afterward, she said she’d take it. For the first month or two after, she was still fine and mostly paid on time.

We got the, “I’m going to be late on rent.” text each month, but she’d get it figured out by the end of the month. Then all of a sudden, something flipped. Suddenly, she was calling constantly about “maintenance problems” but then would refuse to let us schedule a maintenance person to come out and look at the property. (This was a brand new, recently flipped home with new carpeting, flooring, and appliances.)

She used these “unresolved maintenance issues” as an excuse to not pay rent… for a couple of months at a time. This song and dance went on for about 8 months before she abandoned the property. She left trash and junk in the home, let the power get turned off (because apparently, she wasn’t paying them either), and owed us 3 months of back rent.

Needless to say, it was a mess almost the entire time we worked with her. After that, we’ve always screened all applicants to get the best tenant we possibly can. We use some free-to-us background and credit reports (the applicants pay for them) now and we use consistent and stringing qualification standards to help us find great tenants.

Since we incorporated a better screening process, we’ve consistently found great tenants that pay on time (or early), are easy to communicate with, and take care of the property. To learn the system that lets us make finding great tenants easy, check out this article.

Cleaning the carpets during a turnover in one of the rentals.

From Scrambling To Handle Every Maintenance Request Ourselves To Having A Team Of Professionals We Can Call On Demand

Throughout the remaining time I lived at The Duplex, we had to handle several maintenance issues including:

  • Replacing hot water heaters
  • Relighting furnace pilot lights
  • Fixing bathtub handles that broke
  • Repairing leaks in the ceiling from a chimney not being sealed correctly
  • Fixing the main water line near the street that burst (and wouldn’t be covered by the city because it was on our side of the sidewalk)
  • Unclogging many toilets and drains
  • And more

Most of these maintenance requests (other than the ceiling leak and main water line burst) were relatively small, so we decided we’d save money and handle the repairs ourselves.

Of course, these issues never occur at a convenient time, however. Many of these happened near the end of work or on weekends, which would make us scramble to fit in the repair around the other obligations in our lives.

The other kicker is that some of these repairs we handled (such as the broken bathtub handle and clogged toilets and drains) were supposed to be tenant-billable repairs… but since we were struggling to collect rent on time, we felt adding an additional fee wasn’t going to help. (ROOKIE MISTAKE)

Needless to say, we got so burnt out handling repairs like this, it almost made us not want to get any more rentals. We were struggling to manage 12. Why would we want to pile onto the headache?

Another one of our rentals.

Luckily I read a few amazing books that, combined with my real-life experiences, helped me finally create a better system. That system is what I talk about throughout this entire blog.

The books I read: Landlording On Auto-Pilot by Mike Butler and The Book On Managing Rental Properties by Brandon Turner

Now, we have handymen and certified contractors we can call for any maintenance request we get. For most maintenance issues, the handyman will go out to the property and diagnose the repair needed. Then, if he can, he will fix it and bill us. If he cannot, he charges a small service fee and I call the contractor that needs to handle it.

If I know it’s a plumbing issue, then I’ll just call the plumber directly and have him fix the problem. Now, it takes us a few minutes to handle a maintenance request, and usually by the next day, the problem is resolved and the tenant is happy again.

That amount of time is dramatically different from the hours it used to take us to handle a maintenance request. After we figured out a better system to manage tenant requests, we got the drive to acquire more rentals again. That’s where we are at today at 18 units fully self-managed by us spending less than 10 hours a month.

We use Thumbtack to try out different contractors and handymen then continue to use the ones we like off the app.

Today We Self-Manage 18 Rental Units (& Counting) On 5-10 Hours Per Month

After our first duplex investment with my parents, we invested in 7 more buildings with them and my brother and sister-in-law for a total of 18 units (7 duplexes and 1 quad total) acquired from 2015-2023.

I say all this not to brag, but to share the fact that managing 18 different tenants takes only 5-10 hours a month on a typical month without a turnover (and closer to 20 hours a month when there is turnover).

Outside of that, we both work full-time jobs and have hobbies like sand volleyball that keep us busy.

If we can do it, then you can too!

I’ve definitely made my fair share of mistakes, but I’ll never trade those mistakes because every mistake has made me better and stronger. Lucky for you, you can learn from my mistakes and avoid making them yourself!

Gmail, Google Voice, and Google Drive are some of our most used tools to manage our properties from anywhere.

How I Started Blogging About Property Management

Towards the end of our latest acquisition at the beginning of 2023, I started to think about how much I had learned over the past several years and how much time/money that knowledge had saved me.

I realized that it’s easy to find information and motivation on how to acquire more rental properties, but there is not that much useful, specific information on how to manage those properties once you own them.

The only “solution” is to hire a property manager who takes 10% of your gross revenue and doesn’t guarantee much more success. That “solution” didn’t seem good enough to me, so I want to help create a better solution.

There’s no reason to fork over tens of thousands of dollars when you can easily manage your own small portfolio better AND with less time. And almost all of it can be done with your phone. I just think that is so cool, and I want to help more landlords feel the same empowerment I felt on this journey.

As I’ve said before, DIYing your property management is one of the fastest ways to learn new skills, get a major feeling of accomplishment and empowerment, and save some major money.

We have much more free time now and our tenants are happier because we can provide them with a better level of service.

We want to show other landlords that you CAN manage your rentals better than the professional managers for less than 10 hours a month AND you can keep the extra profits along the way.

If you’ve ever wanted to:

  • Make rent collection a breeze, so you collect all of your rent (plus some) each month without stress
  • Fill a vacant unit quickly with a quality tenant, so you know they will pay on time and take care of the home
  • Handle maintenance requests like a pro, so you can keep your tenants happy and protect your property, or
  • Spend less time managing your rental properties in general (5-10 hours a month or less), so you can spend your time doing the other things you really want to do

Then this blog will be your go-to resource to help you do that without feeling overwhelmed!

My goal is to help you learn some fool-proof systems I’ve learned along the way that you can implement into your rentals TODAY that will significantly reduce the amount of time and headache it takes to manage a rental portfolio of any size.

I LOVE empowering landlords with tools that make their life easier and let them keep more of their profits. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a win-win to me!

I hope I’ve inspired you to try and DIY your rental property management as well!

Painting trim to modernize one of the rentals.

About DIY Rental Manager Blog

DIY Rental Manager’s main focus is helping you self-manage your rental properties better than the pros.

This blog also covers topics about DIY projects, rent collection and lease signings, applications and screening, maintenance requests, and all things related to income property management.

Disclaimer: Please note that this is a personal blog where I share my personal experience, tips, and tricks about property management. All opinions are mine. You should not take anything from this blog as professional advice. You can read more about the privacy policy here.

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