How We Became Accidental Landlords

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We often joke that we know a lot about the home buying process and very little about selling a home. Since that cold evening thirteen years ago, when we publicly declared ’till death do us part in front of our family and friends, we’ve shared ten addresses together (I’d like to offer my apologies now to said family and friends who constantly have to update their address books on our behalf). Of our homes over the years, the majority we have rented, one was on post, and two were homes that we own. And still own to this day. Because life sure is a lot more fun with two mortgages <insert eye-rolling emoji>

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We bought our first home in a suburb of Raleigh, North Carolina when Clay ETS’ed from the Army when we were in our mid-20s. This house is what we thought we wanted – a suburban life in a new construction house with four bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms. We lived in an apartment during our time at Fort Drum, New York and logged many House Hunters hours. We knew what we wanted. At least, we thought we did. Our Raleigh home is a lovely house but we quickly learned that we wanted something different out of life than what we were experiencing at that point in time in Raleigh.

Long story short (and boy – is it a doozy of a story!), Clay became active again soon after we bought this home. Clay deployed to Afghanistan for a year shortly after our son was born and when he returned, it was time to move again. While we didn’t purchase this home at the top of the market, the odds weren’t in our favor when it came time to sell it. We put it on the market briefly but when people began to ask if it was available for rent, we crunched some numbers, and quickly realized that it made better financial sense to put this home on the rental market.

And here we are seven years later with no plans to sell because it has become a great investment over the years. It helps that we have a fantastic property manager and the Raleigh market is booming once again. It is doubtful that we will ever call this house home again, but it will likely be a part of our lives for quite some time.

Oklahoma House

We also own a home in Lawton, Oklahoma. We didn’t love our time in Oklahoma, but we absolutely love this house. It was built in 1983 and is on a large corner lot with trees, which are a precious commodity in southwest Oklahoma. We love ranch homes and the floor plan is everything we want in a house – it isn’t large by any means but at 2000 square feet, it is more than enough room for us. We had only lived in it for 8 (!) months until we were given surprise orders to Washington, DC, so it was in our best interest to rent it out when we left. Additionally, when we were looking to buy a home in Lawton, we did so with the idea that it would eventually become a rental property so we looked for certain features. We just didn’t think it would be so soon after buying the house!

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The backyard even has the most adorable playhouse, which makes this place perfect for young family. Sigh – I really do love this house. Our experience with being landlords to this house hasn’t been as positive as our Raleigh house (older home = more things need attention) but we are not losing money on it, so we can’t really complain. We’d like to sell this house in the near future because we’d like to eventually buy another investment property elsewhere and we’re just not comfortable owning three homes at this point in our lives. Unfortunately, we’re not that baller. Like at all.

When people discover that we own multiple properties (neither of which we actually live in), we are often met with a handful of questions regarding our situation, such as…

Did you use a VA loan to purchase both houses? No. We used a conventional loan for our Raleigh house and paid points to knock the interest rate down. We had the money for a sizable down payment and we could get a better rate with a conventional loan. We did use a VA loan for our Lawton house because we purchased it when rates were extremely low and the rate the VA offered was competitive with the conventional loan market. However, we do not have near as much equity in the Lawton house and looking back, I wished we put more down initially. But alas – shoulda, woulda, coulda.

Do you plan on living in either house again? Short answer? No. Long answer? I’ve learned over the years to never say never. However, both homes are in locations that we would never choose to live again ourselves but who knows what Uncle Sam has in store for us down the line.

Why don’t you sell your Raleigh house since the market is booming again there? Our mortgage is low, we are able to charge a nice amount for rent, and years ago we refinanced to a lower-year mortgage so the house will paid off well before we hit our golden years. In the future, we may revaluate but as of right now, we’re happy keeping it as a rental.

Are you going to sell the Lawton house? Eventually. The market is more volatile there so we are considering our options. Ideally, we’d like at least a week or two to spend there between the tenant moving out and putting it on the market. There are some projects we didn’t get around to before leaving that we’d like to do before making the listing live. If you know of a great Lawton real estate agent that is willing to explore some options, let me know!

What sort of issues have you dealt with over the years? Thankfully, nothing major. We’ve had plumbing issues, fence replacements, air conditioner repairs, furnace repairs, painting that need to be done as well as re-staining of the deck, an oven door fell off and shattered, an over-the-range microwave exploded, and little small jobs that a handyman addressed. Some years are better than others and there are many months where we don’t clear a profit due to maintenance issues. But that is all part of the home ownership game.

Will you buy a home where you PCS next? No. It is very unlikely that we will buy a home (instead of renting or living on post) as long as Clay is active duty for the simple fact that we won’t live in a place for more than 1-2 years from here on out. Some military paths offer more stability in one place but that is not in our cards, which we are totally okay with…because if we weren’t, we wouldn’t be doing this whole military thing and would likely be living in one of our two homes! Ha.

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Wichita Wildlife Refuge – Lawton, Oklahoma

Who else out there consider themselves to be accidental landlords? We didn’t plan on this when beginning our home-buying journey as young twenty-somethings but like most things in life – it’s best to keep an open-mind and see where the road takes you. After all, I never would have thought I’d live among buffalo and longhorn steers in the prairie, let alone own a house there. We’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way and I’m not going to lie – sometimes it can feel a bit overwhelming to have such a large chuck of our assets tied up in real estate. But what in life is worth doing without at least a little bit of risk? Now if you excuse me, I have to answer an email that just arrived from one of our property managers (not even kidding!).

3 comments on “How We Became Accidental Landlords”

  1. Us. We somehow ended up buying three houses… all right next to each other. We live in the one we’ve renovated (the largest one), we tore down the one in the middle after we paid it off, and the one at the top of our hill has been in a state of construction/renovation since we bought it… uh, 4 years ago? I don’t even remember. Our goal this year is to get the dumb thing completed and rented out so it can start making us money instead of taking everything extra that we have. Woulda, shoulda, coulda… we get that.

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  2. My landlord is an accidental landlord, actually. She bought this house in northeastern Pennsylvania (where I currently live – oh happy day!) but was dating a guy off-and-on who ended up transferring and moving all the way out to Arizona. Then they got married, and she realized that she had to move out there (her job made it super easy for her to transfer, too). She didn’t want to sell the house in Pennsylvania, though, because they eventually want to spend their summers here, and winters in Arizona – plus she had only owned it for about two years when she realized she’d be moving out west. I’ve known this girl since high school, and I happened to be going through a rough time about a year ago when she was getting ready to move. She said that if I wanted to move back “home,” I was welcome to rent her house, and she gave me a crazy good deal!

    My rent is low enough, though, that if something here needs to be fixed, I’ll just handle it – unless it’s something huge, and then I’ll consult her and find out what she wants to do. But the dryer broke the day before I was moving in, and she offered to order me a brand new one. I declined and bought myself a used one – I didn’t feel right letting her buy me a brand new dryer, that by the time she got back here to live would be old and she’d never get a chance to actually use it. Of course, it helps that it’s someone I know, who’s understanding if an unexpected bill comes up and I have to pay rent a little late, etc. For me as a tenant, this has been a much better experience than renting from large companies or even “traditional landlords.”

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