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Screening & Placing Tenants in Your Rental the Right Way in Birmingham, AL

Tenant Screening
Your experience as a real estate investor and a landlord will largely depend on the tenants you place in your rental property. Therefore, it’s crucial that you choose the best possible tenant for your home. You also want to minimize vacancy, which is one of the most expensive costs property investors face. So, the goal with tenant placement is to find a high-quality tenant quickly, and to do everything you can to retain those residents. (more…)

Evictions and How to Avoid Them | Birmingham, AL Property Management Advice

Avoiding Evictions
One of the things most landlords dread is an eviction. No one wants to evict a tenant; it means you lose money, face a vacancy, and stumble upon potential property damage once the tenant is finally removed. If you want to avoid an eviction, there are a few things you can do to manage a tenant who isn’t paying rent or following the terms of your lease. (more…)

How to Find Tenants for Your Rental Properties

You’ve purchased your rental property.  You’ve had it inspected and addressed any deficiencies.  It’s up to code.  You’ve painted, cleaned, spruced up the exterior and it’s finally ready for its first tenant.  Now what?


Now that the curb appeal has been addressed and any interior problems have been fixed, it’s time to make the interior’s first impression the best possible.  How do you do that?  Staging.  Whenever you stage a property, it’s always best to use neutral colors and fixtures to accommodate a wide array of styles and tastes.  Never make paint, accessory, artwork or furniture decisions based on what your personal taste is.  You aren’t going to live there.

Please understand that neutral doesn’t mean beige, white and tan.  Do a little research on the internet to discover what the “new” neutral’s are.   One year sage and other light greens were the neutrals of the year.  One year it was all manner of light blues.  This year, it’s lighter versions of grays.  If you are still unsure, paint the walls, ceilings, and trim work white.  While white can be sterile and it can put a lot of folks off, it also bounces light around which tends to make a room appear cleaner and brighter than it really is and if you are the type of landlord who allows their tenants to paint the walls, it gives them a clean surface on which to put their personal paint color choice.

If you need help or you simply don’t have the time or inclination to stage your rental yourself, there are professionals that will come in and do it for you.  Of course, they don’t do it for free, but a properly staged property will heighten the “feel”  and desirability of the space.  As a result, you will get better-qualified tenants.  It will also lessen the time your property sits vacant.

Below are a couple of pictures of lightly staged properties.  Remember, you don’t have to make the property look as if someone is currently living in the unit.  Just give the rooms a sense of what they could look like if the prospective tenant lived there along with a general idea as to where they might place the bed or sofa.  This is especially true if the room is an odd shape or has a lot of doorways to obstruct furniture placement.  If a prospective tenant can’t figure out where to put the bed, sofa, TV, dining room table….they might walk away.  At one time, people thought that empty rooms appeared larger.  This is no longer the case.  It has been proven by independent studies that empty rooms not only appear smaller than they actually are but that empty rooms can oftentimes overwhelm prospective tenants as to where they will place their furniture and if their bed or sofa will actually fit comfortably in the space as most tenants don’t measure these things prior to looking at available units.



Kitchens and bathrooms don’t need a lot of staging.  You want the countertops to appear spacious and clean so just a couple of things to give it some interest, color, and texture and you’re done.


Marketing your rental property starts with taking quality photographs of each room in the space as well as at least 4 pictures of the exterior when possible.  If your property is in an apartment complex, it may not be possible to get 4 exterior shots.  In this situation, give them a front and rear view.  If there are any amenities that come with the property such as a community pool, golf course, park, covered parking….include pictures of those as well.

Note:  Never ever use pictures that were taken before the unit is 100% ready for occupancy.  Never.  Also, never use pictures that include people (or reflections of them in mirrors, windows or glass doors), animals, trash or supplies (cleaning or construction).  See photo’s below for examples.

With today’s internet access and the plethora of websites that offer rentals, people are quick to skip any property that doesn’t grab them with the first couple of pictures and they are more prone to skip rentals with no photo’s even quicker.  It’s better to delay your advertising for a couple of days than to post photo’s that aren’t as pretty as the unit you’ve just spent time and money on.

This might sound like common sense to many, but you’d be surprised how many ads I’ve seen that fall into each and every one of the items on the above “don’t” list.

Once you’ve taken your pictures and you’re satisfied with them, you can begin writing your rental ad.  In order to do this effectively you will need to determine:

  • Your rental price and if it includes utilities (water, trash pickup, sewer, etc.)
  • The square footage of your property
  • What you are going to charge as a security deposit (usually equal to one month’s rent.)  On the topic of deposits, you need to do a little bit of research because some states will allow you to charge more than one month’s rent while others do not.  If you live in a state that allows it, you can compensate for marginal credit by increasing the deposit.  However, if you live in one of the states that don’t allow increased deposit amounts, and you do it anyway, you could be open to trouble.
  • Availability and length of the lease.  Do you want to only rent it for the summer months?  Maybe only during a school year (for those rentals that are geared mainly for students and/or faculty).  Maybe you don’t want to rent it for the next 3 or 4 months (this is usually the case when a current tenant has just given you notice that they intend to vacate or if the owner lives out of state and won’t be available to show the unit until the next time they are in town.)
  • Whether you will allow smoking or pets
  • If there are any additional incentives, such as parking or a rent special.  When you have a rental in a highly competitive area sometimes offering a rent special will bump you to the top of a potential tenant’s list.  Example:  If they sign a 13 month lease, the 13th month is free.  Maybe you could offer a free month on a 24 month lease and break the month’s rent down into 4 separate months?  For instance, if the rent is $400 a month and they sign a 24 month lease their first 4 months rent would only be $300 a month.  There are endless specials you can offer.  If you need inspiration, call the managers of large upscale apartment communities and ask them what their specials are and which ones seem to work best for them.  Then just tailor it to suit your unit.
  • Gather information about the neighborhood and surrounding areas.  Including information such as proximity to the interstate or other major thoroughfares can be extremely helpful to prospective tenants that perhaps are familiar with the area.
  • How you wish to be contacted.  Do you want prospective tenants to call your cell?  Email you?

Write a clear rental advertisement that describes the rental property and covers price, location, length of the lease and any incentives.  Picture your ideal renter and target them in your ad.  Your goal is to make your property stand out from the others while still communicating everything a potential tenant needs to know to inform their choice.

There are many places you can advertise either free or paid.  Some of your options include:

  • Online classified ads
  • University housing boards
  • Word of mouth through family, friends and/or co-workers
  • Social media
  • Renting bulletins or apartment listings
  • Newspaper ads
  • A rental sign on your property
  • Community bulletins, such as at a grocery store or recreation center
  • Listing the property with a real estate agent or Property Management Company.

If you use quality photos, and an engaging headline and rental description, you might start getting calls immediately from potential tenants.  How you proceed with the process can depend on the volume of people expressing interest.

Many landlords will schedule appointments and show the property to anyone who is interested. Another option is to hold an open house at a set date and time, where you allow people to come by to view the property and hand out applications to all who express an interest right there on the spot.

Screening Applicants Using a Rental Application

Before narrowing down your choice of tenant, it’s important to do your due diligence and collect information about who will be living in your rental property.  A Rental Application allows you to collect a prospective tenant’s contact information as well as:

  • Their employment history and income
  • Their rental history
  • Credit Information
  • References

Once you’ve received the completed rental application along with copies of supporting documentation (i.e. Driver’s License, paycheck stub(s), etc.) you can then review the information that has provided to determine whether they would make suitable renters.  Typically, you would assess if they have a  stable income and a good credit score to see if they are responsible and earn enough money to pay rent.

Speaking to previous landlords can offer insight into a tenant’s rental history, specifically if they made rental payments on time and if they were a respectful renter.  Researching a tenant prior to leasing is a very important step that can save you from issues down the road.

When screening tenants for your property, you are held to the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits you from discriminating against tenants based on age, sex, race, religion, etc.  The Americans with Disability Act serves a similar purpose by ensuring that landlords make reasonable accommodations for any tenants with a disability.

Note:  Both Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disability Act have other requirements and exceptions that you, as a landlord, should be familiar with.  It’s best to head to their websites and familiarize yourself with these requirements and/or exceptions.  The government hires “mystery” shoppers to randomly visit available properties in order to determine if the property and the landlord are obeying the laws.  Failure to obey can be very costly.

After checking the candidate’s background and deciding they are a good fit, you can put the wheels in motion to begin your paperwork.

Pre-Move in Checklist

You’ve prepped your property, advertised your rental, screened potential tenants, and settled on a renter.  What’s next?

The next steps involve nailing down the details of the tenancy and communicating with the tenant to arrange a move-in date and inspection.  Before moving day, you have to get a Lease Agreement in place.  Use this checklist to make sure you don’t miss anything important.

  • Clean the property and make any repairs
  • Create a Lease Agreement, go through the terms, and sign the agreement
  • Change the locks and cut an extra set of keys
  • Provide your tenant with your contact information both for emergencies/repair calls and for mailing the rent.
  • Collect the first month’s rent, security deposit, and pet deposit or fee, if required.
  • Conduct a rental inspection with the tenant and sign the report.  Provide them with a copy and make sure to put a signed/dated copy in their rental file.
  • Test lights, appliances (stove, fridge, dishwasher, disposal, all sinks, toilets and tubs/showers, etc.), fans, locks and smoke detectors with the tenant present.
  • Provide the tenant with a copy of any bylaws or condo rules if applicable.
  • Transfer any utilities to the tenant’s name, if applicable.
  • Determine the best method of communication for both parties.

Note:  It is equally important to have a Move Out Checklist.  Go through the property with the tenant once all of their belongings have been removed and they have notified you that they have cleaned the property.  Just as in the Pre-Move in inspection, check everything and notate on the Move Out Checklist anything that appears to be damaged or non-functioning.  Take loads of pictures of every room and the exterior.  Once the tenant has signed and you have given them a copy, you can decide what is normal wear and tear and what is actual damage to the property.  As long as you are very clear with the tenant that they will not get their deposit returned to them unless and until this step has been done, they usually comply with this step.  You should know that all states have a mandated length of time in which a landlord has to return a tenant’s deposit or give them a detailed letter explaining why they won’t be getting their deposit back.  Should you not comply with these laws, you might be out more money than you’d like.  If your tenant isn’t getting their entire deposit back, you must give them a breakdown as to why.

Landlord Tenant Laws

Renting a property creates a business relationship between a tenant and a landlord, which is governed by landlord-tenant laws and the Lease Agreement.  Each state has its own laws regarding rental property, so it’s important that you review the laws in the state where your property is located or contact a local attorney for advice on your specific renting situation.  By learning about tenant rights and state landlord-tenant laws, you can ensure you are following the best practices to avoid any future legal battles with your tenant(s).

Your Lease Agreement

A Residential Lease Agreement is a roadmap that will not only guide the relationship between you and your tenant but also set the rules for your residential tenancy.

A Lease Agreement also:

  • Protects you from liability
  • Prevents confusion over terms, rules or situations
  • Prevents conflicts or issues that arise from misunderstandings
  • Provides a written outline of the tenancy for recordkeeping purposes.
  • Offers a demonstrated understanding and agreement to the rental terms
  • Sets out the procedures for notices and eviction
  • Keeps expectations clear
  • Protects a tenant’s rights.

Types of Lease Terms:

The lease term is the length of time that the tenant is expected to rent the property under the terms of the Lease Agreement.  There are two types of terms:

  • A fixed term tenancy is one where there is a set end date for the tenancy.  Generally, these types of tenancies last 6 months or 1 year from the time the tenant moves in.
  • An automatic renewal (or periodic) lease term is one that continues to renew each month or year until one of the parties chooses to terminate the agreement.

Permissions in a Lease Agreement:

As a landlord, you get to make decisions about what will and will not be allowed in your rental property.  These are called permissions.  They commonly address matters such as pets and home improvements.

Consider what you are comfortable allowing in your rental property and ensure you address these in your Lease Agreement.

Some of the different types of permissions include:

  • Will you allow all kinds of pets or only certain pets?  Will you charge a pet deposit or monthly fee…or both?
  • Will you allow the tenant to make improvements to the rental property, such as painting the walls or planting flowers outside?
  • Will you allow smoking in the rental property?
  • Are home businesses permitted in the rental property?  Often, home businesses are a zoning issue and depending on the size and income of the business, it may or may not be permitted.
  • Will other occupants be allowed to stay in the rental property?
  • Will the tenant be allowed to sublet or assign the Lease Agreement?

Determining Your Rental Price

To set a rent price, you will need to figure out your monthly costs to run the rental property.  Think about your mortgage payment plus any additional expenses you are covering, as well as a condo or HOA fees.  Once you have your monthly figure, look at nearby rentals of comparable value to set your price.

Once you advertise your rental property, the price will be the main factor in drawing tenants and getting a leg up on your competition.  If you wish, you can also leave room to negotiate your price. Beyond rental price, ask yourself if you will be charging a few for late rent payments.  Some states have restrictions on how much you can charge and how late the tenant must be in order to be charging a late fee at all, but in general, it shouldn’t be an unreasonable amount.

Another element of price is utilities, such as electricity, sewer, garbage pickup, and water.  Should you include them in the rent price or make them the tenant’s responsibility?  Some municipalities include trash pickup in the real estate taxes so charging the tenant for that service might appear greedy since you are, in essence, already charging them for your yearly tax bill.

Now that you’ve covered all your bases, drafted the perfect Lease Agreement, found the perfect tenant and collected all the deposits and first month’s rent….it’s time to enjoy the fruits of your labors.




Investing in Section 8 Housing: What to Know in Birmingham, AL

Many owners ask about Section 8 in Birmingham, Alabama and whether or not they should enroll their investment properties in the program. This can be a great program as long as you understand a few pros and cons to it. Section 8 refers to the housing law that basically guarantees rental assistance for tenants with their landlords. For the most part, whether or not your house is in the Section 8 program depends highly on where it is located. You will not find a Section 8 house in a “class A” neighborhood. This is a lower income program for low income tenants. (more…)

The Heaviest Corner on Earth Was Once in Birmingham, Alabama

With a nickname like the Magic City, it’s understandable Birmingham would hold unusual and interesting things within its boundaries.  One of the more interesting tidbits is the fact that at one time, Birmingham held the distinction of having the Heaviest Corner on Earth.  In the early 1900s, four of the South’s tallest buildings were constructed at 20th Street and First Avenue in downtown Birmingham. In 1911, an article was published in Jemison Magazine that was titled “Birmingham to Have the Heaviest Corner in the South.” This corner was later widely referred to as the ‘Heaviest Corner on Earth,’ which is what it’s still known as today.



A marker at the site reads: “At the turn of the 20th century, Birmingham was a small town of two and three-story buildings with a few church steeples punctuating the skyline. During the industrial boom from 1902 to 1912 which made Birmingham the largest city in the state, four large buildings were constructed at the intersection of the city’s main streets. The Woodward Building (now National Bank of Commerce), constructed in 1902 on the southwest corner, was the city’s first steel-frame skyscraper.   A good example of the Chicago school style of architecture, it brought a dramatic change to the vertical scale of the existing Victorian city. In 1906 the 16-story Brown Marx Building rose on the northeast corner; in 1908 an addition more than doubled its size.  Long the South’s largest office building, its principal tenant was United States Steel Corporation. The Empire Building (1909, northwest corner) and John A. Hand Building (1912, southeast corner),  completed the ‘Heaviest Corner.’ Sheathed in marble, limestone, and terra cotta, they exemplify the more ornamental neoclassical style. Along the cornice of the Empire Building (now Colonial Bank), ‘E’s’ stand for the Empire Improvement Company, which built the tower.   At the time, the height and mass of the buildings were so impressive that the intersection of First Avenue North and 20th Street was proclaimed the heaviest corner on earth. Today these buildings represent the most significant group of early skyscrapers in the city.”

All four office buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Woodward Building, which is now known as the National Bank of Commerce, was placed on the list in 1983. The remaining three office buildings were listed in 1985.

The Woodward Building was built in 1902 (photo circa 1904).  This building stood 10 stories and is located at the southwest corner.  It is now the National Bank of Commerce building.

The Brown Marx Building was built in 1906, stands 16 stories and is located on the northeast corner.

The Empire Building was constructed in 1909, stands 16 stories and is located on the northwest corner.

The John A. Hand Building (now the American Trust & Savings Building) was built in 1912, stands 21 stories and sits on the southeast corner.

At the time of the construction of these four buildings, the south had never seen such skyscrapers.  The vast majority of commercial buildings in the south were between 2 and 6 stories at best so when these buildings were built, this was understandably a huge event.  Nowadays, with the possible exception of the John A. Hand Building which stands at 21 stories, the other three buildings wouldn’t be considered skyscrapers.  But back in the early 1900’s….they were impressive indeed.


Decas Gives Back

Giving back to the community not only makes good business sense in that it gets your face and name out there, it also makes you feel good.  But even more than that, it changes the lives of others. It makes your employees feel good.  It certainly makes the people that you help feel good.  Many of the people that you help just need that helping hand.  They just need that temporary support in order to make their way in the world.   Community service is a win-win all the way around.  Decas Realty would like to use this week’s article to spotlight one charitable organization that is near and dear to their hearts.  That organization is called The First Light.

Decas Realty was first introduced to the First Light Organization by Heather Benoit who has volunteered for this organization and has helped with fundraising for approximately the last 10 years.  Once Decas decided to volunteer, there was no turning back – they were hooked – and this Thanksgiving will mark the 4th Holiday season that has seen Decas involved.

When I asked Mr. Jonathan Benoit of Decas Realty recently why he felt the First Light Organization was the charity for his company to focus their efforts on, he replied that Decas likes to serve the needy and give back to the community.  He also felt strongly about the First Light Organization because they “allow women and their children a safe place to sleep for the night when nobody else is willing to help them.  It also provides them with a hot meal, a shower, and a bed.  It gives these ladies peace of mind while in the transition from a bad life.”  It should be noted that not all shelters will allow women to bring their children with them.  First Light does.


Back in the early 1980’s area ministers had noticed a dramatic uptick in the number of homeless people who died.  A group of area ministers decided to do something about it and in 1983 they started an emergency night shelter that was located in the basement of the First Presbyterian Church located at 2100 4th Avenue North in downtown Birmingham and was staffed entirely by volunteers.  This shelter could accommodate up to 15 women and children but would sometimes provide safety and shelter to over 40 women and children.

First Light was incorporated on March 13, 1998 and a capital campaign was begun to renovate the old Granada Hotel, which was located just two blocks away from the church and had recently burned. The old hotel was renovated to accommodate more women and children, to provide space for social services and day programs, and to have living space for permanent residents who were unlikely to live independently again. Since its inception, First Light has grown considerably due to the generous support of local faith communities, corporations, individuals, foundations and civic groups.  First Light was able to move into the fully renovated Granada Hotel in May, 2000.

The old Granada Hotel was renovated to accommodate more women, to give families a private space during their stay here, to give the guests a place to stay during the day, to provide space for social services and day programs, and to have living space for permanent residents who were unlikely to move out of the shelter.  The new building holds up to 70 women and children and the First Light Organization has approximately 65 apartments throughout the Birmingham area to house the women and children who are ready to live independently.

Below are a few success stories from First Light:

Ms. Jane is a woman whose tenure is the longest of all First Light guests. She was among the first to move into the basement of First Presbyterian Church when it was still an emergency night shelter. She became a kind of mother figure to all other guests, nurturing new arrivals, keeping laundry done, and tending to most housekeeping matters. It became clear that Ms. Jane had found her place in life at the shelter. Matters outside the shelter in the community at large, however, were problematic. She preferred not to go out at all. It became apparent that there was a defined need for permanent housing for women like Ms. Jane… a place to call home, but with assistance from a professional social work staff. To this day, Ms. Jane lives on the fourth floor of First Light as a permanent resident. Things have changed… Jane is happy, stable, and makes monthly visits to Wal-Mart. She has even attended the ballet with other First Light guests- and she had a wonderful time!

Valerie came to us, not because of alcohol, drugs, or domestic violence, but because she had been laid off and subsequently lost her car, her apartment, her two sons and all sense of pride. Immediately upon entering the emergency shelter, Valerie began to seek employment and educational opportunities. Four months later, she had a full-time job, was enrolled in Virginia College and moved out into her own apartment. Several months after leaving First Light, we received an invitation to her graduation ceremony! A few months after graduation, she sent us a card with a picture of her and her two sons! She had regained custody and they were living happily together.

Due to severe mental illness and drug addiction, Susan lost her marriage, her home, and the affection of her sons. During her first stay at First Light, Susan stabilized with the assistance of psychiatric care and then left the shelter to live with her eldest son. This happened two more times. It is very difficult to stay on a healthy plane without professional assistance. It was Susan’s third arrival at First Light that made a lasting difference. Determined not to fail, Susan applied herself in every way to achieving mental health, sobriety and full independence.  Presently, Susan is living in an apartment under our Bessemer HUD program. She sees her sons regularly and has the warmest of smiles when she returns to First Light for group therapy.

I recently spoke with Ms. Ruth Crosby, Executive Director of the First Light Organization.  She has been with First Light since 1998.  Speaking with her is like speaking with a friend that you’ve known for decades.  I can certainly understand the enormous success of this amazing organization with her at the helm.  Ms. Crosby shared that the First Light is unique in that they have volunteers who bring dinners every night of the year.  She also told me that volunteers spend the night in the emergency shelter every night.

The First Light is a true hospitality center and they log over 10,000 volunteer hours a year.

The folks at Decas Realty had a great time serving food to the guests at First Light.  Here are a few pictures of them hard at work.

The First Light Organization has a sign that pretty much sums up their attitude.

For more information on The First Light Organization and how you can help, please view their website:


How to Say Goodbye to Your Full Time job and Make Real Estate Investing Your One and Only Job

Have you ever run across a help wanted post that asked for a real estate investor?  Me either.  Truth is, no one is advertising to hire “a real estate investor”  but there are plenty of people who would like to trade their full-time job for real estate investing.

So how does that happen?  How can you say goodbye to your 9 to 5 job and work full-time for yourself as a real estate investor?

First, you should know that it takes time to build up your real estate investment business so it can sustain you without the need to have a traditional job. How quickly you get there depends on a lot of factors. An investor looking to replace a monthly income of $10K through single-family rentals will have a longer road than say the wholesaler who’s trying to replace a $40K per year income and is fine with the income clock resetting to zero at the end of every month.

How do you know when to quit your 9 to 5?
While there are no magic, universal formulas to know when to quit your job, there are a couple of tested and true formulas that while generalized, can be extremely helpful when making your decisions.  In other words, knowing when comes down to numbers and risk tolerance.  Everyone’s situation is different.  Everyone’s ambitions are different.  What works for one simply will not work for another.  With this in mind, it’s best to sit down early in your real estate investment career and figure out exactly what you need per month, or per year in order to sustain not only your personal livelihood but the livelihood of your real estate investment career as well.  Add those numbers together and you will find the magic number.  Oh yeah, don’t forget to add a little padding for unexpected expenses on both sides.

Let’s look at a couple of scenarios.

  • The first scenario is the Buy and Hold Investor.

The accepted formula for this scenario is as follows:  Target Monthly Income ÷ Average Monthly Cash Flow per Rental = # of Investment Properties

In this scenario, we’ll say you’re looking to earn $6K per month passively and your typical cash flow is $300 per property AFTER expenses.   In this case, you will need a portfolio of 20 cash-flowing units to walk away from your 9 to 5. How much you leverage your properties plays a major role in the number of properties needed, so know your numbers and leverage well.
  • The second scenario is the Wholesaler  (aka the quick flipper)
The accepted formula for this scenario is as follows:  Target Annual Income ÷ Average Profit per Wholesale or Flip = # of Yearly Transactions
For the wholesaler a.k.a. quick flipper, you’ll need to figure out what you need to earn per year and divide it by your average profit per deal. If you average a wholesale fee of $5K and want to earn $50K this year, you’ll need to close 10 deals. Working backward from there, consider the number of leads you need to generate in order to close 10 deals.  That should become your primary focus as well as the “wash, rinse, repeat” system of marketing for leads to get you off the boss’s time clock.
If you look a little closer, you’ll notice that for the buy and hold investor, the target income is broken down per month, whereas for the wholesaler and flipper, it’s based on a yearly basis. The reason for this is because rentals are typically consistent.  Other than some vacancy between tenants, your monthly income is fairly stable.

Before considering going the route of becoming a Wholesaler you should fully realize that the income can be inconsistent. You may go for three months without a good deal. Then suddenly two fall into your lap from marketing you did six months ago. For the fix and flipper or wholesaler, it’s a little harder to close deals each and every month, especially if you’re just starting out. So breaking up your income goal on an annual basis is a great way to stave off a panic when you have a few dry months.

Getting yourself ready to walk away from your job starts from the very first day you decide to take that leap.

You have to build your business into one that has replicable and repeatable systems that will allow you to scale up as your experience and capital allows.  This is a process of failures and wins.  The difference between a successful investor and an unsuccessful investor usually is the fact that a successful investor sees their failures as a learning experience and their wins as proof that they were able to learn from their mistakes and modify their system accordingly.

If you’re able to create one closed deal by marketing and speaking with a few distressed sellers, you should be able to repeat that success. Documenting the steps you took to close the deal and repeating those steps is how you grow.
In addition, the professional investor has quality resources in place to help close more deals than the competition, including:
  • Motivated Seller Leads
  • Title Companies
  • Standardized Contracts
  • Referral Partners
  • General Contractors
  • Access to Capital
  • Insurance Agents
  • Appraisers
  • Buyers Lists
  • Mentors

All of the resources listed above are essential tools to the professional investor. You simply can’t do it all by yourself and understanding this from day one is crucial to your success.  To be successful, you must invest in the relationships and resources that propel you toward success.  At the same time, you must make note of the missteps, relationships, and resources that didn’t help you and strive not to repeat those mistakes.

Making the transition from being a 9 to 5 employee to being a full-time real estate investor is the dream of most people who get into this business. Getting to that point takes planning, dedication, and hard work. Taking the time to understand both your financial needs and what it will take achieve them within your chosen niche is crucial.

If chasing deals monthly isn’t your idea of the perfect real estate investment job, you should know that in today’s real estate climate, no matter what your chosen niche is, at some point, you will have to start building your investment portfolio and that may involve chasing a deal or two.

A wholesaler or flipper can still do deals while adding a few rental properties to their portfolio. Doing this over time builds consistent passive monthly income for living expenses while reinvesting proceeds from your flips. There’s nothing tying you to one niche or strategy as an investor; this is your business and you can expand and tap into opportunities across the real estate investing spectrum as you see fit.

As you get some experience under your belt, every property should be considered for it’s highest and best use.  As an example of the term “highest and best use”, how to get the most return of every property using a variety of strategies. Of course, this is dependent on where you are in your investment career at the time. But when you take the time to give each property careful consideration about how you can maximize your return, you’ll find yourself seeking creative deal structuring, new partnerships, and funding possibilities.
Being tired of the 9 to 5 grind is a problem many have or have had at some point until making a permanent change. You have everything you need in front of you to turn your side business into your main one if you’re willing to dedicate the time and effort to make it happen.

Alabama Ghost story published in Philadelphia in 1892

A true ghost story from Marion Junction in Dallas County, Alabama that made it all the way to Philadelphia in 1892


Have you ever heard of the ghost who pulled his coffin in Marion Junction, Alabama? This story involved many respectable, local citizens of the town and made the newspaper all the way to Philadelphia in 1892. He is the transcribed version from the Philadephia Times of 1892.

Alabama Ghost story published in Philadelphia

September 18, 1892

From the Philadelphia Times

Marion Junction, Ala., August 29. –

That there are such things as ghosts, even the more intelligent portion of the community about here is beginning to believe, while the excitement among the negroes and the more ignorant of the people is something incredible. This belief comes from the singular occurrences that are taking place on what is known as the old creek road, leading from this town to Uniontown, and which is well-nigh abandoned roadway, having been superseded in use by the country people by a new turnpike. It is said that the old creek road is haunted by the ghost of a man, who is to be seen nightly, pulling after him his coffin.

Tramp who killed Nancy Pratt?

This phantom is thought to be that of a tramp who was lynched near here in 1889, and who was thought to have committed a murder, the victim being an old lady living on the creek road. This woman, one Nancy Pratt, was found in the creek with various marks and wounds on her head, and it was thought that she had been killed before she was thrown into the stream, and the tramp, who behaved in a suspicious manner, was captured and hung for the crime. This much is certain, that he was found in possession of some jewelry that was identified as having belonged to Mrs. Pratt, though in defending himself he declared that he saw the old lady run out of her house and throw herself into the creek, with her head all bleeding from wounds that were self-inflicted, and that, satisfied that she was drowned, he entered the house and robbed it.

Map of Marion Junction, Alabama

This story, however, won no credence, and and he was hanged to a tree not far from the spot where the body of his victim was removed from the water, but it subsequently developed that the old woman had threatened time and again to take her life, and doubts began to assail the lynchers as to the justice of the deed, though no measures of reparation were possible. A story was soon in circulation that the ghost of the tramp had been seen on the road, though little faith was put in it by the intelligent country people, and the road, soon becoming deserted for the new turnpike, the whole affair was forgotten.

Dr. Hardeman was the first to encounter the ghost

But recently the story of the ghost has been revived by the experiences of a number of responsible citizens and farmers of the vicinity, who are ready to vouch for the strange sights they have witnessed on the old road, which has of late been traveled owing to work being begun on the other. The first to renew the old tale was Dr. Hardeman, of this place, who, returning from the bedside of a patient late one night, was amazed to see issue from a clump of trees just ahead of him the figure of a man. The night was a very dark one, and the doctor wondered at his being able to see the man so plainly, for he was able to make out the figure’s dress and features. It was clad in a dark suit and wore a wide-brimmed straw hat, but no coat and vest, while about his neck was coiled a rope, which trailed behind it several feet and which was so tightly drawn about the throat as to swell it to three times the natural size and to give the face a horribly bloated appearance.

This struck the doctor as most remarkable, though as he was a newcomer in the neighborhood, and had never heard of the tramp’s death, he did not take a super-natural view of the figure, but hailed it several times. The figure looked back at him with a sort of unearthly light in its puffed out eyes but made no reply. The doctor whipped up his horse in an endeavor to overtake the phantom, but the horse began to rear and snort as if in mortal terror and refused to go forward, and upon being whipped and spurred by his rider finally threw him into the middle of the road and galloped off in the opposite direction, leaving the doctor to walk home.

He was resolved to discover the mystery

The phantom vanished from view in the timber that bordered the road, and unnerved by the terrible appearance it had presented the physician decided not to follow it, but proceeded to go home, though resolved to find out the mystery the next night. So, arming himself well with both shotgun and revolvers, together with a bull dog and a young man named Looseman, he took up his stand close to the spot where the ghost had issued the night before, and waited until the hour for it to make its appearance. But this it did not do, though the watchers heard a loud moaning or lamentation coming from a large tree growing close to the road and from which the figure had come the previous night. The dog evinced the same terror the horse had, and at last made a frantic dart at some invisible body, which sent it flying back over heels, but the animal, returning to the attack with every appearance of uncontrollable rage finally was thrown at the feet of the watchers, who on looking closely at the animal saw that it was dead with a broken neck.

Nothing was to be seen, however, and at daylight the doctor and his companion returned home, resolved, though, to keep watch again that night. This they did, and were rewarded on this occasion by seeing the ghost glide from the clump of trees before referred to, this time dragging after it its coffin. The doctor called on it to halt, but there was no response. whatever, though the phantom turned and looked at him with a grin, which increased the horror of its appearance. Young Looseman gave it one glance and broke and ran toward the town, leaving the doctor alone with the ghost. Lacking the courage to accost it at a nearer distance, he also turned about and made for home, arriving there breathless and full of his story, which was received with ridicule. But on the persisting in it a party of townspeople was made up to go and watch the spot for the ghost.

A large group from town turned out

These, comprising Col. Nugent, John Young, George Fuller and several other well-known citizens, repaired to the haunted locality the next evening armed with guns and pistols, as from the doctor a earnestness in relating his narrative it had come to be thought that a hoax, at any rate, had been attempted on the young men, and it was resolved to ferret out the jokers. As the night advanced the watchers dispensed themselves along the road so as to command its length, and, weapons in hand, waited for the coming of the hoaxers. It was a little after midnight when the moaning sound was heard from the tree.

The sound increased into a sort of bellowing or tremendous crying that resounded through the woods, striking terror to all that heard it. But, resolved to stick it out to the last, the crowd hung about for nearly an hour longer, and at last saw the ghost come walking past them carrying its coffin on its shoulders this time. The rope was twined about its neck and trailed on the ground.

Seeing this Col. Nugent stepped forward and placed his foot on the length only to be violently thrown to the ground the next moment insensible. It was some hours before he recovered sufficiently to describe the sensation he had experienced on stepping on the phantom rope. He said that he was thrilled through and through with a shock something like an electric current, and which was severe enough to deprive him of consciousness. He declined to meddle any further with the phantom which he is persuaded is a ghost. On the colonel falling insensible, the others of the crowd fired upon the figure, which vanished in the smoke with a loud laugh of derision, and was seen no more that night.

Judge Blackmore accepted a wager

These stories are confirmed by the experience of Judge Blackmore, of this neighborhood, who is a noted skeptic on spiritualism and who accepted a wager that was made that he could not face the phantom of the creek road without fear. The judge, who is perfectly fearless, armed himself well and took up his station even a few nights ago to watch for the spectre, which he defied to frighten him. He soon found that his horse was very restive, and kept starting at every sound, so as to compel him to keep a tight rein on the animal. Had it not been for this the horse, he would most certainly have thrown him by the sudden start gave when the judge saw almost under his forefeet a man looking up at him. The man’s face was swollen fearfully by the rope it had about its neck and was grinning up into the judge’s with a hideous sort of mirth. The judge, started in spite of himself, reined his frightened horse back and struck at the figure with his riding whip, but his arm fell to his side well-nigh paralyzed by the stroke.

The figure then walked alongside of the judge’s horse, continuing to grin and snicker to itself as if mightily amused at the judge’s attempt to solve the mystery of its being. At length the judge made another cut at the phantom, which he refused to believe to be such, when the spectre threw its long arms about the gentleman, dragging him from his horse, which broke away down the road whinnying terror. The judge fell to the earth with the ghost, which clasped its fingers around his throat in an endeavor to choke him, but the judge, being a very powerful man, grappled with the fiend or whatever the thing may be called, kept its talons from his throat and finally threw it off.

Judge Blackmore paid the wager

It returned to the charge, however, and laid hold of him once more, but stumbling over the coffin that it dragged after it, fell to the ground, when the judge, who had had enough of the affray, ran down the road in the direction of the town. Pursued by the phantom, he ran all the faster until he came to the first house, against of the door of which he fell panting and half fainted. The inmates opened the door and received him into the house, though the spectre said to have hung about all night peer into the windows and knocking loudly at the doors. It vanished at daylight, however, and has not been seen since. The judge will not talk about his adventure though he has paid his wager and no longer holds in open derision the belief of the country people in their ghost.

Note: If you enjoyed this article, head over to Ms. Causey’s site because there you will find so many more amazing stories about Alabama and its history.

Quick Money or Steady Money?

Before the first dollar changes hands, an investor and/or potential landlord should ask themselves “Do I want steady money or do I just want quick money”?

I can only speak for myself, but if I was asked, my answer would be steady money.  I think this is the one area that will  (and does) quickly break a lot of investors and/or landlords.

You can double the market rate on a house and eventually you will rent it to someone.  True. How many months will that house sit vacant before that happens and how long will the tenant stay there once you get it rented and what kind of condition will they leave it in once they move (or get evicted)?

Personally, I would prefer to have a tenant in place for 2 years paying $800 a month ($19,200) than a tenant in place for 6 months paying $1,200 ($7,200).

If you’re willing to take someone with less than stellar credit, you will be able to get a higher than market value on that property….for a month or two anyway.  People with bad credit expect to have to pay more for everything than those with good credit.  Sadly it’s a fact of life these days that those who don’t have the means to pay high prices are forced to do so because of their credit histories.

Let’s say you find what you believe is a perfectly lovely person to rent your house at the inflated price.  One of three things is going to happen.

(1)  Renters are just as price savvy as buyers.  Good renters know about what to expect to pay for rent in any given neighborhood.  A good renter will know right off the bat if the property in question is overpriced and will move on down the road.

If they don’t – you may have just rented your property to a meth cooker or some other sort of criminal who has nefarious plans for the use of your property.  Plans that down the road could land you in some very hot legal water and might even end up costing you your property.  Believe me, renters who set up meth labs or grow houses are more common than you would like to think.

(2) If someone pays a higher rent on your property than they could go down the street and get, there’s the chance that you’ve just rented your property to someone who is on the verge of getting evicted from their current property and they just need somewhere to put their stuff for a month or two while they look for a more affordable property to get into.  I know, sounds ridiculous doesn’t it that a person would pay the deposit and first month’s rent just for a temporary solution.  Trust me when I tell you that this too is a much more common occurrence that you might think.  I have witnessed it on more than one occasion.

But how can they do this if they are about to be evicted?  Won’t that show up on their background check or when references are called?

If the eviction hasn’t been filed yet, nothing will show up on a Court search or on their credit history.  As for the reference checks, when you call the landlords number shown on the application how do you really truly know you are talking to a landlord and not the applicant’s sister, brother or best friend?  You don’t.

People like this know how to work the system and they associate with others who know as much about the topic as they do.  I can pretend to be anyone’s landlord.  All I have to do is tell the caller that I own the home privately and the tenant has been a wonderful tenant that I hate to lose but I’ve decided to let my son move into the house so the tenant needs to find alternate housing.  See how believable that sounds?


(3) You have just been suckered by a career non-rent payer who is going to give you the deposit and first month’s rent, move in and never pay another penny.  They are going to string you along with all manner of sob stories and bad luck and get you to wait until the 15th, then the 1st, then next week…..but next week never comes and one day you awake to discover that you’ve allowed them to live in your house for months…..for free.

These folks are cagey.  They will throw you a bone from time to time.  $100 here, maybe $200 there but never anywhere near the whole rent.  Just enough to make you think that they are at least making an effort.  But the thing is, those bones are very few and very far in between.

But never fear.  They will move.  After you’ve spent time and money paying someone to evict them and after you have waited the required period of time before you are allowed to go into your property to put their things on the curb.

Putting their things on the curb….now we’re getting into the part that lets you know where all that “extra” money you got for the deposit and first month’s rent is going to go towards.  You thought it was going to go towards your retirement or your child’s college education or maybe paying off your own personal debt didn’t you?  Sadly, it won’t.  It will all be spent (and then some) on paying to get the tenant evicted, loss income while the tenant is living in the property for free and getting the rental ready for the next tenant – which could take a couple of months realistically.

Why a couple of months?  Because when you run across this type of tenant, you might as well cash out your 401K because by the time you clean up the yard, the house, repair the damage they caused and get it ready to rent again….you’re looking at some serious time and money.

I managed a house a few years back.  The landlord accepted a tenant against my recommendation.  “She’s awesome” I was told.  She had marginal credit but a steady job and loved the house!  Within a month after moving in the house, this “awesome” tenant had been fired from her job (for stealing), her car had been repoed (goodbye marginal credit and hello bad credit) and then came the sob stories and bad luck songs.

The landlord kept thinking it would be cheaper in the long run to take the $100 here and there that this tenant dished out sporadically than to go through the eviction proceedings and miss a month or two on rent altogether.  After all “she was trying”.  It turned out to be more like 6 months.

By the time I finally talked the landlord into allowing me to evict the tenant, the damage had been done.  The tenant fought the eviction pushing the process from 1 month to 3 months. When I was finally able to go inside the house, I almost fainted.

Fleas EVERYWHERE.  Feces in every room.  Newly refinished hardwoods destroyed. Doors clawed and chewed by the 4 large dogs that she kept in the house (which were not included in the lease).  4 broken windows. 2 busted doors. Massive holes in the walls and even in some of the ceilings. Roaches everywhere.  Grass was literally as tall as the house. Weeds had choked the life out of the numerous flowers in the flower beds.  Concrete retaining wall looked like someone had repeatedly run a truck into it.  Mountains of garbage in every room and all over the back patio. As if all of that wasn’t bad enough, they had their water cut off for nonpayment several weeks before and had decided to go ahead and use the toilets anyway and once the toilet was full – they used the bathtub.  Now add to all of this the fact that needing money to move, she and her boyfriend (who wasn’t on the lease) stole the central heating and air unit and sold it.  Only they didn’t disconnect the unit.  They ripped it out.  Electrician bill to go along with the cost of replacing the units.

I tell the specifics of this story to illustrate my point that while the landlord did initially make about $600 more on this property than it was worth on the market, the cost of evicting this tenant and getting the house ready for the next tenant was a grand total of $13,000 (and change) and that total doesn’t account for the lost rent.  On top of that, she only received the deposit and a grand total of 2 months rent from this tenant.

You may be thinking, “I’ll sue them for the damages and also have them arrested!”.  Good luck with that.  Many states don’t allow landlords to actually have a tenant arrested for damage to their property.  They consider it to be a civil matter rather than a criminal matter.  As for suing the tenant for money damages, you can do that in all states.  But what are you going to get in return?  Nothing.  For one thing, in order for this to really impact the tenant’s ability to rent (especially from a private landlord) you will need the judgement to show up on their credit report.  Unless you are willing to pay for a membership to all 3 of the reporting agencies (which is not cheap), then it isn’t going to show up on any credit report.  Secondly, you may indeed have a judgment against the tenant.  How are you going to collect that money?  These people are what lawyers call “judgment proof”.  Meaning they don’t have anything for you to take – or at least nothing in their name.  They typically either don’t work at all or only work for a short time and only sporadically at that.  Remember the old saying “you can’t get blood out of a turnip”??

Everyone deserves a place to live.  Rich, poor, good credit or bad credit.  Everyone should be able to have a roof over their heads.  However, do you really want to trust your property to someone who is going to do this to you?

My rule of thumb is to set the rent at a reasonable price and rent it to someone who checks out. Maybe they have bad credit but their rental history is stellar.  At the end of the day if a person pays their rent on time who really cares if they don’t pay their VISA card on time?

The key phrase in the above paragraph is “checks out”.  Pictured ID so you know if the person applying is using their info and not their infant child’s info.  Get the last 6 paycheck stubs from them and don’t accept copies or printed versions.  Those are far too easy to forge.  If necessary, get the employer’s address and mail the verification form to them.  If the applicant gives you their landlords info and it appears to be a private individual – go to the tax collector’s website.  There you will be able to search by address and that site will tell you exactly who owns that property.  If the name or contact info doesn’t match – chances are you’ve been given bogus information.

At the end of the day, you won’t get rich quick by accepting reasonable rent.  But chances are, you won’t wind up in bankruptcy court either.

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