The Accidental Amateur Landlord

by Bryce Baschuk

When Shelly Parker bought a townhouse in DC over a decade ago, she did not envision that the home purchase would indirectly mark the beginning of her side job as an amateur landlord.

Parker’s current DC home

“I didn’t wake up one morning and say ‘I want to be a landlord,’” Parker told UrbanTurf. “It all just kind of happened.”

Over the past fifteen years, Parker has owned five homes in the District, three of which she has rented out or is currently renting.

In 1995, Parker bought a townhouse on Capitol Hill for a fraction of what a buyer would pay now. Four years later, she sold and moved into a bigger home on the Hill with a basement unit. Realizing that she could reap some supplementary income by renting out the lower level unit as an apartment, she started talking with a home builder she knew and then pulled all the information she needed from the appropriate DC government websites.

“At the time I didn’t even know what a Certificate of Occupancy was,” Parker remembers.

After submitting all the proper paperwork to the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), Parker heard that someone at her job was looking for a place to rent. That began the stream of tenants that Parker has found through word-of-mouth recommendations and work bulletin boards, methods more to her liking than the now-common Craigslist route.

“So far, I have been very fortunate,” said Parker. “I have had really great tenants.”

Parker’s rental property on Taylor Street

A software engineer by trade, Parker took a job in Texas with IBM in 2000, and sold her home to move to Austin for two years. When she moved back to DC, she bought her third home on Capitol Hill. As the DC real estate market reached its peak in 2005, she sold again and bought a two-unit townhouse on the 1300 block of Taylor Street NW. Now a seasoned landlord, Parker quickly converted the extra unit into an apartment, submitted the proper paperwork and began screening tenants. In 2009, she purchased another two-unit investment property in Bloomingdale which she is also currently leasing.

Parker’s industriousness and good timing have resulted in a monthly income from her renters that is not too shabby. At the Taylor Street address, her tenants pay $3,200 per month for a three-bedroom, 2.5-bath apartment. At the Bloomingdale home, her tenants in the upstairs unit pay $2,950 per month for a three-bedroom unit and the downstairs tenants pay $1,650 per month for their two-bedroom.

Parker says that the key to her success has been implementing a rigid and regimental tenant screening process. She makes sure that her applicants are employed, can afford to pay the rent on time and have a stellar credit score.

“A friend of mine once said, ‘Make sure that every tenant you have has a 700 credit score or above and you won’t have a problem,’” she said. “I’ve adhered to that and so far I haven’t been burned.”

Parker admits that she still worries about all the things that could go wrong at her properties, noting that the violent storms that occasionally blow through the region always set her on edge. “As a landlord you never know when you are going to get that call that a tree has fallen on your house.” In preparation for the worst, Parker has developed and maintained relationships with local contractors who can fix just about anything that can go wrong.

The biggest piece of advice she can offer to other amateur landlords is to focus more energy on finding the right tenants and less on charging as much as possible in rent.

“People always talk about the bottom line, and yes, it is important. But it is more important to screen and work with people that will keep your place in order,” Parker told UrbanTurf. “Good landlords take the time to properly screen tenants and find people that they feel comfortable renting to. If tenants feel like you are a slumlord and don’t care about the property, they will treat the property poorly.”

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/the_accidental_amateur_landlord/2471


  1. Aeiko Mitchell said at 11:48 am on Wednesday September 15, 2010:

    Shelly it right.  Taking a little bit of time and around $18 you can get a credit report and a background check on a prospective tenant.  $18 is a lot less than the costs of having a tenant that can’t pay or one that will cause trouble in the future.  Many people think that tenant screening is more expensive than it really is or they go by first impressions of their tenants. I’d say go by your first impression AND order those tenant screening reports smile

  1. tyler said at 9:16 pm on Tuesday October 26, 2010:

    Screening is key to surviving the world of rentals.  This is not an option.  Consider reading online q&a landlord boards like ‘askthelandlord’ or ‘mrlandlord’.  Join a local landlord association.

  1. uk dress said at 10:31 pm on Sunday December 5, 2010:

    Consider reading online q&a landlord boards like ‘askthelandlord’ or ‘mrlandlord’.  Join a local landlord association.

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