A bad property manager can cost you thousands


We’ve kept the rent low, gifted our property managers and tenants with presents at Christmas.

But enough’s enough – it’s time to let go.

I’ve learnt the hard way that a bad property manager can cost you thousands.

And putting up with a bad egg for months, perhaps years, will cost you even more.

But today, I finally admitted enough’s enough.

It wasn’t going to get any better, so I sent them the dreaded break-up letter.

Breaking up is never easy

Whether it’s with a boyfriend, girlfriend or a property manager.

Breaking up is never easy

Then comes the awkward follow-up call where it’s already too late and you know it’s over, followed by the notice to end a lease agreement with them.

Unlike a real relationship though, you have to give 90 days’ notice in Queensland.

Talk about awkward.

So we’re stuck with the same property manager for another 90 days.

It seems like a very long time after a very awkward conversation.

Here’s what happened.

After just giving birth eight months ago there were numerous missed calls on my phone.

Between waking up every two hours, dealing with about 10,000 visitors a day and coming to terms with a new life that totally depended on me, the rental vacancy we had at one of our properties wasn’t high on the priority list.

During this time, my property manager did find someone.

They had no rental history (red flag number one) and the family was living in a room together at a friend’s place (red flag number two).

Still, I was told they seemed like very nice people and they simply didn’t have a rental history because they had just moved back overseas. ‘What the heck’, I thought, on my 20 seconds of downtime.

The problems started straight away

The rent never came in.

Then notification they had gone from being employed, on a good wage, to suddenly unemployed with no job prospects at all.

And then finally, the runner, where they left all the trash in the front garden and left us to pick up the pieces.

“She’ll be right mate” doesn’t cut it.Here’s what I’ve learnt about having the wrong property manager.

It never gets better.

Once the rent is a day late, expect it to be a week late the next time, then a month late, and then finally, no rent at all.

It never gets better

If a property manager isn’t onto it at the start, you can kiss goodbye to receiving any in the long-term.

They make excuses. We were told that because the house is in a lower socio-economic area, we should almost always expect to have troublesome tenants.

“There are always problems in this area,” we were told. “You can’t expect anyone decent here.”

A property manager will make excuses about their lame tenant choice.

Just because you don’t earn a lot of money doesn’t mean you’re a bad tenant.

It’s up to a good property manager to only allow the right tenants in, i.e. ones who actually have a rental history and employment. I would never, ever allow someone in again without a rental history.

Big mistake

They’re not on the ball.

We were supposed to get a rental increase with our current tenants once the new lease came in.

Thanks to our old tenants doing a runner, we were in a break-lease situation.

It’s amazing how the laws always favour the tenant, not the landlord.

It meant we had to wait until the original lease was finished to be able to increase the rent.

I noticed it didn’t happen when it was supposed to, so I checked with the manager.

Unlike an email, which said a specific date and time of a rental increase, we were told the advertisement was different and so the rental increase would have to wait.

It’s so frustrating when you have to almost stalk your property manager to get answers and updates.

Isn’t the whole point of paying a property manager so you don’t have to worry about the smaller bits and pieces?

I felt like I constantly had to check up on all the details.

They don’t do what they say they will.

I don’t expect my property manager to spend their life watching over my property, but I do expect them to actually do what they say they’re going to.

When the rent never came in, my property manager mentioned she would go to the house and knock on the door to ask them what the problem was.

Today in a heated conversation with the principal of the agency, the owner of the business told me a property manager should never go to a house alone and this never would have been promised to us.

I totally agree a property manager should never go to a house alone, or feel like they have to check up on a property every second day.

But why promise to do something when you have no intention of doing it in the first place?

Here’s the problem – the property manager told us she’d gone to the house to put the hard word on the tenants. We believed her.

But then one day my husband drove past the house on his way home from work, to check the house hadn’t been trashed.

He noticed a massive blow-up pool in the backyard.

We’re not talking about a little one for the kiddies, but one big enough to swim in.

If our property manager had been doing what they promised, they would have noticed the new piece of furniture in the backyard. The water bill was exciting to receive and to pay for too!

They make you feel guilty

We always gave our property manager and tenants small presents at Christmas.

We’ve always kept the rent low on our properties and paid for repair jobs and maintenance straight away.

In fact, all of our tenants had air conditioning in their property before we did in our own principal place of residence!

Crazy isn’t it?

My husband and I often joke about how they’re all living a life of luxury with low rent, air conditioning, instant repairs and new anything-they-ask-for while we lie under a fan in summer.

They make you feel guilty

So why is it then, as a hard working property owner, you’re sometimes made to feel like a ‘greedy owner’?

This was never really said to us, it was just the impression I got when I chased up a rental statement with zero income.

It became almost embarrassing to ring the office.

I felt like the money-hungry landlord, screaming, “where is my money?”

No turning back. So today, I sent the email.

And after that, you know there’s no going back.

But hopefully it’s just one small hiccup and on a positive note, at least the tax return for that property will be good this year.


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Lauren Day is the former deputy editor of Australian Property Investor Magazine and an avid property investor.

'A bad property manager can cost you thousands' have 11 comments

    Avatar for Lauren Day

    May 8, 2017 Linda

    The beginning .
    I recently purchased a property in a regional area ( Deniliquin )and later told a bad street !
    However it is a great home just needed a little TLC – which was done full paint in and out cleaned carpets new block out curtains , new fly screens ect. Repaired broken windows ect .The house was presented perfect –
    So the dear tenants move out over night of course after a short 12 mth lease. Or that’s what our property manager told us !
    We asked for a property report ASAP about 8 or nine times ! I’m yet to see it –
    Our house remained vacant for 3 mths thinking it was a bad time in the area decided to drop the rent a little to get someone in ASAP.
    We thought it was time to travel the 7.5 hrs away to see what’s going on !
    Wow – firstly the smell when you entered the house, then the broken windows, then the missing kitchen drawer and the hundreds of nail holes on the walls – the ripped fly screens and doors, the filthy oven , the ripped off doors off their hinges – two boot holes in the wall – and the list goes on.
    The Problem
    Simply the agent there is no other reason but the agent ! Now we know why the agent would never answer our calls – or send the long awaited inspection report or why we couldn’t get a new tenant !
    The Answer
    Sack the agent , contact Department of Fair Trading and go thru the process and start again.
    Most of all never trust TLC


    Avatar for Lauren Day

    August 15, 2016 Hellen Hilson

    Good discussion , Incidentally , if your business requires a Residential Real Estate Lease , my family edited a template form here http://goo.gl/7GLyVV


      August 15, 2016 Michael Yardney

      Thanks for your comment, but I would STRONGLY suggest noone tries DIY property management.
      A bad property manager can cost you lots and so can DIY management.

      A good property manager can maximise the returns on your assets


    August 11, 2014 Lauren Day

    Great comments Em.. do you ever find though that managing a property yourself is hard work? Or you feel obliged to keep the rent low because you build a good relationship with a tenant? Glad it seems to be going well for you so far! 😀


      Avatar for Lauren Day

      April 19, 2015 em

      9 months later and only just seen your comment Lauren, apologies…
      Certainly there are times when the way I feel makes it hard to concentrate but that’s common to all work. Because I’m handling just a dozen properties I’m way ahead of a PM handling 100.
      Tenants pay into specific account/s (depending on the structure of the investment) with their own reference code (specified on the lease agreement). Two tenants receive a reminder by text 2 days before it’s due, the others have proven their reliability. The three accounts are all accessible on line so it’s really simple to check whether the deposit has been made at any time of day. If the deposit isn’t there on the day it’s due I immediately issue a “I notice no rent deposit received…is there a problem?” text, which elicits a quick response.

      Why would I keep the rent below market value? Experiences (mine & others) suggest that if the rent is kept below market a tenant may start taking me for granted, the mortgagor may suspect the property is not being maintained (and want a valuation inspection on equity re-financing), and the tax office may question whether it’s a commercial transaction and top-up tax to what they consider is a commercial rate. I learned the hard way over a decade ago that it’s almost impossible to “catch up” to market rent without changing the tenant – which was done. Since then, there’s a clause in each lease agreement specifying the likely percentage increase eg. “maximum of 10% in any 12 month period” that the tenant is made aware of. In only one instance has rent ever deceased and that after the mining hike here in WA. It’s negotiation – people seem to enjoy negotiating so 10% gives us something to play with each year 4-6 weeks before the lease expires.

      The best tool I have is my calendar/diary which ensures timely action. Technology is a huge help.


    Avatar for Lauren Day

    August 4, 2014 Em

    Most of the time it’s the bad tenant not the bad agent. Given how little time a property manager (PM) has to spend on an individual property it’s scarcely surprising things are overlooked. Hence, if you have more than an hour a week to attend to your investment property you’re probably doing better than most PMs!
    I prefer to manage my own rentals but employ an agency to check out applicant references, and yes, pay a letting-only fee around 3 weeks rent. Sometimes it’s easy enough to find an excellent tenant myself… but the rental market has to be in shorter supply. Having a standard application form which asks pertinent questions such as “do you have any outstanding utility bills from a previous property”, or even a statement saying that references will be checked, it sometimes a put-off for the less than upright tenant. The best tenants I have are well looked after, and transferring them to a bigger place when they started their family and installing a man shed. The way they keep the home, the way they have always paid on time, and the mutual respect we have (landlady/tenant not friends) is marvellous.
    However, it’s an investment, isn’t it? Even term deposits need turning over and checking against the latest rates, trading in shares means monitoring the market. So why the expectation that agencies do everything? Realistically, and mostly, there’s neither the time nor resources. Before signing up an agency, make sure you know what the agency procedure is for overdue rent (if that’s your concern)…ask how many PMs there are, how many properties they each handle, how long they’ve been with the agency. For sure, if the workload is excessively high there’ll be high turnover too, and someone new being inducted into your property every 6-12 months is not a great situation.
    Cavendo tutus !!


    Avatar for Lauren Day

    July 31, 2014 Dan

    I never feel greedy or in the slightest bit bad when i call my agent to say “where’s the money?”
    The way i see – the tenant agreed to pay it. I shouldn’t have to call, they shouldn’t have to be asked.


      August 11, 2014 Lauren Day

      Agreed Dan – but unfortunately most people view landlords as ‘greedy’.. even though they’re often the people working harder than ever and sacrificing more than ever for later in life!


    Avatar for Lauren Day

    July 31, 2014 robert

    Yep. Been there too. I have managers and self manage myself. One agency when tenants left didn’t really care about state of property. They sent in cleaners and when I inspected the property found used needles and other trash. Glass and windows were smeared. The spa had not been cleaned and I had to re- do all the cleaning myself. So that agency was dumped and I made it known to many others not to use them. Yes problems self managing can also be a nightmare when you are either related or good friends with. Or you take over a property with tenants in place that don’t really take care . The property manager I engaged said they couldn’t enforce anything because of the condition of the property when I employed them. So they got dumped after a year. Nothing had changed so I accept it as it is and the money I save I can now spend on the property. Also it is in a regional town that no agency will go to now. Hopefully I can sell it off soon!


      August 11, 2014 Lauren Day

      Hi Robert,
      My parents have had huge issues in regional towns as well – where there is only one property manager and has a monopoly on the system! I am not sure what the answer is, only perhaps to find another property manager as soon as the trouble STARTS rather than giving them more time, every time!


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