Housing is a complex challenge and everyone’s story is different. In this blog series, Vital Communities Housing and Transportation team member Ellen Hender offers close-up views of how our neighbors are affected by current Upper Valley housing realities.
Kate owns a three-unit building, including two one-bedroom/one-bathroom units and a two-bedroom/two-bathroom unit, that she purchased in 2018. “Turned out to be a very good time to buy,” she adds. This is her first experience being a landlord though she recalls her parents doing the same in the ‘80s. She notes that this is something she had wanted to do for a long time.
Her initial plan was to live in one of the one-bedroom apartments, but she found that it was more challenging to rent the two-bedroom unit. There was interest in the space, but despite being priced around fair market rent, many that expressed interest couldn’t afford it or had a household that needed a larger unit. So Kate changed her plan, moving into the two-bedroom unit and renting out the one-bedroom units. She offers one unfurnished and one furnished, the latter advertised for traveling nurses.
She offers leases anywhere from six months to a year and finds that many tenants choose to extend the lease with many ultimately renting for one-and-a-half to two years. Kate appreciates having good long-term tenants, but folks end up moving on often because of life changes such as getting married, purchasing a home, or changing jobs.
When asked if she’s noticed changes from 2018 to now, Kate shares that she advertises for a lot less time and has noticed people getting more and more desperate. She had someone offer her $4,000 in cash just to be able to rent one of the units. She turned this down. Her last posting had responses within the hour and had ten applicants in two days. She takes postings down after she gets several responses, only putting them back up if needed. And she sticks with sites that are free to post on, like apartments.com, Zillow, and Craigslist. Someone suggested she post on the Dartmouth page that has a fee, but she figures people looking there are also probably looking at the other sites.
Another new experience was having a tenant last year use VERAP (Vermont Emergency Rental Assistance Program). Her experience with this was overall positive, but it was stressful for the tenant as the program came to an end. Kate also shares that she heard of landlords doubling or tripling rent since there was government funding that would cover it.
As the housing market heated up during the pandemic, her mom suggested she sell to make some money. But as Kate notes, “I’d just have to spend it all to get something else.” And she likes where she is. She and her tenants all have cars, but they are an easy walk to downtown and even an Amtrak station. She also notes that living in the same building as her tenants has worked in her favor. “I’m more available and I can be aware of what’s going on.”
Being aware of what’s going on and, in particular, what work needs to be done is good, but finding someone to do the work is another story. “Thankfully, the building is in good condition because the previous owner was a general contractor and took good care of it, but I’m struggling to find a contractor to some work on it now,” she said. She’s heard horror stories of folks paying a deposit for a contractor who leaves after a week with little to show.
We circled back to why Kate chose to purchase a small multi-unit building. She says that the rental payments help her with mortgage payments but emphasizes that this was just something she was interested in doing. She knows that property taxes won’t get any lower, but as she pays off the mortgage, she could see some profit. For now, she says, “At this point, I’m not making anything off the rentals, but I’m not losing money either.” As for the challenge of finding rentals that allow pets, a challenge highlighted by our friends from Farm & Wilderness, Kate is one of the few that says yes to pets.