Let's say you own a house or a condo that you want to rent. Or need to rent. How hard can it be, right?
Well, consider this: First you'll need to aggressively market the property after figuring out how much rent you think you can get. You'll need to understand the contract, making decisions on conditions (dogs less than 20 pounds okay) and exclusions (no smokers). And you want to find a good, problem-free tenant. And then there's that little matter of who's going to show up at 11 o'clock on a Sunday night to fix a broken air conditioner.
Sure, you could tackle all this yourself. Or you could hire a human firewall. A property manager.
Property managers typically advertise the property for rent, show the houses to prospective tenants and deal with criminal background checks, rental histories and employment verifications. They also negotiate and confirm the first and last month's rents, and security deposits.
They'll conduct inspections and handle negotiations, coordinate repairs and work with homeowner or condo associations.
"It's so the owner doesn't have to deal with the day-to-day problems,'' said Mary Rinaldi, past president of the Florida West Coast Chapter of the National Association of Residential Property Managers and incoming president of the West Pasco Board of Realtors.
Although statistics aren't kept concerning the number of rentals available, Rinaldi and other property managers are certain the supply is greater now than in recent memory. That's due in large part, they said, to a sluggish economy and the staggering number of foreclosures.
"People just can't afford to not have some kind of offsetting income,'' she said, "even if it doesn't cover the mortgage, taxes and insurance on the home."
Property manager fees vary, but the most common is a percentage of the monthly rent, about 10 percent. Rents for a single-family home or condo can range from about $500 a month to more than $1,800. "The higher end, over $1,000 a month, is renting really quickly,'' Rinaldi said. "I just rented a home in Wyndtree in New Port Richey that went for $1,300 a month. A three-bedroom, two-bath with a pool. I had four applications within a week. Those kind of homes rent within a few weeks. But the lower end sit for a couple of months."
Most of the higher-end renters are people who are coming out of a home they can't afford anymore, are building a credit record, or are saving for a down payment.
Because Florida does not regulate property managers, the responsibility of finding a good one falls to the home-owner. Most property managers are reliable, and many are also licensed Realtors. But two people in South Florida were arrested earlier this year, accused of posing as property managers, changing the locks of dozens of homes in foreclosure, renting the property and pocketing the cash.
So you also need to do some checking.
"Check their experience, their education background, references, if they belong to all the associations,'' Rinaldi said.
And because most property managers offer a wide menu of services, it also helps to know what you want a property manager to do.
"Sometimes, like for an absentee owner, a property manager is the end-all, be-all point person, handling all background checks, accepting payment, being the person called when a toilet backs up in the middle of the night,'' said St. Petersburg Realtor Tami Simms. "You also have some owners who will get a home warranty plan, so the tenant makes the work calls and gets the work done."
Or the renters may be sending checks directly to the owner; the property manager has only been hired to market the property and the tenant deals specifically with the owner, Simms said.
Then there are owners who may have multiple properties and just want a third party between them and their tenants. The property manager does all of the rent collections, the screenings, even keeps the home furnished if needed.
"So it's really important for the property owner," Simms said, "to decide how much they want to be involved with the tenants."
For some owners, the idea of strangers living in their home isn't comforting. The economy may have forced them to rent, but they want to remain actively involved in who lives there. It is, after all, still their home.
"They know how the sprinkler system works, how the washer-dryer works," Simms said. "They want to know and have a relationship with the people living in their home."
St. Petersburg freelance writer Tom Zucco is a former longtime reporter for the Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.