The Risks Of Selling A Rental Property With A Tenant

selling a rental propertyAs landlords and property managers, we all love rent-paying, non-destructive tenants.  We hate the rest, but that’s another story.  No matter how much tenant love you may have, if you want to sell your house with a tenant for the highest and best price, even the best tenant can be a detriment.  Why?  It takes a lot of work and devotion to get the house show-ready and keep it that way during the entire listing period.  Most homeowners lack the motivation to keep their own house show-ready, and they have the motivation of monetary gains (hopefully) to entice them.  Tenants have nothing to gain for their inconvenience so their participation may be less than enthusiastic.  By having a tenant, you limit your market to mainly investors because you are not only selling the house, you are selling the tenant with it.  Anyone buying your rental property automatically becomes a landlord, like it or not, until the tenant’s lease expires.  So what are your options for selling a rental property with a tenant?

Ways To Sell Your Rental Property

1. Wait until your tenant’s lease expires and sell the property

This is the best option if you can afford it.  It costs more because you’re not receiving rent, but gives you the greatest chance to quicker sell at a higher sales price.  You can sell the property to investors and homeowners alike so you’re not limiting yourself.  Without the tenant, you also have the luxury of fixing up or refreshing the property to make it look its best and when unoccupied, it can always be kept show-ready and you won’t run the chance of having a tell-all tenant wanting to tell prospective buyers everything they don’t like about the house.

2. Sell Your House And Your Tenant

This option is the cheapest, but has the most difficulty.  You will need the cooperation of your tenant to sell your house with the tenant still living in it.  You can’t sell it to someone who wants to buy a house to immediately move into because they must uphold the tenant’s lease.  You have to sell it to someone who either doesn’t mind waiting for the lease to expire, or to sell it to an investor who’s looking for an income property.  If you sell it to an investor, then DO NOT UPGRADE anything.  You can get a higher price freshening up things like paint, carpet, roofing shingles, etc., but do not upgrade anything.  Don’t upgrade appliances, just make sure they look clean and are working properly.  Don’t upgrade the kitchen, bathroom or anything expensive.  Upgrades make your house cost more and investors do not want to pay that extra cost when looking for a rental property.  For example, when I’m looking for a rental property, I know the highest price I’m willing to pay before I ever set foot on the property.  When looking for a house, the first thing I do is scout around the neighborhood to determine how many rental properties are nearby then I find out how much can I expect to collect in rent for that area.  Once I know the rental amount, I take that figure and plug it into a spreadsheet to see what my income and costs will be and then calculate the maximum I should pay for a house to produce my desired return on investment.  A simple way you can determine what investors will pay for a rent house in your area, use a multiplier of 80 to 110 times monthly rent.  I usually shoot for a multiplier between 90 and 100 for houses I don’t have to finance, and use a multiplier of 80 or less for houses I have to finance.  This formula creates a high / low range where you can expect most rental investor offers to fall into.   If I can rent a property to a tenant for $1000/month I will probably want to pay somewhere between $80,000 – $110,000 for it.  Unfortunately, this is probably a higher offer than you can expect from most investors.  I tend to look for houses that rent easier, would attract a better renter and are located in areas where rental properties are not common and where there’s still appreciation and to get that, I’m willing to pay a little more.  Yes, there are areas in Dallas, Texas where properties still appreciate.  Most investors will shoot for a lower price.  But either way, all investors base their offers on the income the property produces so you can see how upgrading to Viking appliances and granite countertops would be a poor decision on your part if you were going to sell it to an investor.

3. Sell the property to the tenant

This option is a shot in the dark because most renters rent because they either can’t afford to buy or they simply don’t want to.  If you’re not in a hurry to cash in on the sale of your home, you may consider owner-financing but odds are if your tenant can’t find a bank willing to loan them money, there’s probably a good reason for it.  Be prepared to take back the house when they fail to keep up with the payments.  Selling the property to my tenant with owner-financing is not a strategy I’d do personally, especially as a second mortgage given today’s default rate.

Getting Your Rental Property Show-Ready

First of all, keeping the house show ready and having strangers entering the house at various hours each day is a lot of trouble to ask of your tenant.  The yard has to be kept pristine and the house should always be neat and clutter free.  Lots of homeowners fail to live up to show-ready standards with their own home so imagine how hard it will be to motivate your tenant when he knows that his tenant days may be coming to an end when the house sells, not to mention the tremendous invasion of privacy your tenant can expect for the months that follow.  Be sure to communicate everything with your tenant and introduce them to your real estate agent so everyone knows what to expect.  If the tenant is naturally sloppy, you can expect the house to not show well and you may want to just wait until the lease expires.

Make Your Tenant Your Partner

If your tenant has something to gain from the sale, he may be more inclined to promote the sale rather than detract from it.  Either way, it’s a lot to ask of a tenant and the tenant should receive some form of compensation for helping to sell your house.  Maybe offer a discount of rent while the house is on the market and if they do a really good job, you may consider giving them some money to hire a mover.  Make sure they pick and hire the mover so you’re not liable for anything.  If they’re on board with the sale, then you may also be able to do some cosmetic work on the inside of the house with their participation and agreement to maintain it.  Either way, I’d do external repairs to enhance curb appeal because renters don’t usually tear up external repairs.

Are You Really Losing Money Leaving The House Unrented During The Sale?

The answer is probably not.  Having a renter makes the house primarily appeal to landlords and they’ll only look at it if it’s priced according to a ROI based on rents.  Anyone wanting to live in the house will not be interested in dealing with a renter, even if it’s on a month-to-month lease.  By doing this, you basically reduce the pool of potential buyers significantly.  A reduction in potential buyers also reduces the potential for a higher sales price.  The amount of rent you’ll receive while the house is on the market could be much less than the overall drop in the sales price.  At the end of the day, you’ll either breakeven in rent-vs-price drop or lose money depending on the market, condition of the house and cooperation of the tenant.

Will Having A Tenant Make It More Valuable To An Investor?

It wouldn’t make your property more valuable for me unless you could demonstrate that they were a great tenant and your reasons for selling were external to the property at hand.  When I look at a home with a tenant, I usually assume that the tenant is probably the reason the landlord is wanting to sell.  I don’t know how well the landlord screened their tenant and I don’t know how faithful that tenant is at paying rent.  Also, I don’t know if there is any baggage I may be inheriting depending on the seller’s property management style versus mine.  Was the owner a softie and his tenant habitually walked all over him and expects to do the same with me?  He’s in for a shock, but I’m also in for a few problems as we set boundaries.  It’s in your best interest to show your tenant’s lease, rental application and a copy of every rent check to the prospective landlord. The more paperwork you can show the better your chances of getting a better price.  It’s important to show the landlord buyer that you are a capable landlord who picked a good tenant and that you’re not over your head wanting to get bailed out of a horrible situation that they will be inheriting.  Being bailed out comes at a price and that price is usually a lowball offer.

Where To Go For Advice

The best source for landlords looking for advice is  Their landlord Q&A message board is a great source of information.  I’ve been a faithful contributor and viewer of that board for a few years and it’s filled with advice from other landlords willing to share their successes and failures with other landlords.



Copyright Digital Fingerprint: AH19149149502840208240924AH-AgentHarvest

This is copyrighted material. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bill Petrey and AgentHarvest with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All in-text links must point to their original destination as linked on the original site.

Related posts:

Share and Enjoy

6 comments to The Risks Of Selling A Rental Property With A Tenant

  • Lex

    The best thing to do about this matter is that you need to be wiser than your tenant. For me it’s about being wise enough in choosing the right tenants to live in your house. In the end it’s your loss if the tenants destroys your property.

    • Bill Petrey, Realtor

      Couldn’t agree more. Don’t be in such a hurry to rent out your place. Run the credit checks, criminal background checks and if possible, do a drive-by of their current resident to see how clean it is.

      You have to be clever to spot the liars and potentially bad tenants. Rather than asking if they’re a non-smoker, no one admits to being one nowadays, pull a cigarette out of your pocket and ask to borrow a lighter. If they reach for their pocket, you know they’re used to carrying a lighter, and that means smoker. Also, when they claim to have no pets, visit their house and look for pets or pet damage. Peek over the fence and look for a dog bowl or signs of rutting in the grass along the fence. I’m not saying never trust a tenant, I’m just saying to do what Ronald Reagan would do, “trust but verify.”

  • It works both ways, there are just as many bad landlords as bad tenants. Every single landlord we have had in the past 14 years we have ultimately had to go to the Ontario Housing Tribunal about and every single landlord we have taken there has lost against us. We have won every single time, now that should tell you something. Our last landlord refused to help or pay for (or even compensate us) for a backed up sewage pipe that happened 40 feet up the property and backed up in our basement. Roto-Rooter was called in and they confirmed it was most probably a collapsed pipe as this was a common neighbourhood problem. We had to clean everything up ourselves and our house smelled of sewage for almost a month and not once were we even offered a rent abatement. We’ve had other landlords refuse to turn on the heat even though the temperature in the unit dropped well below the legal limit. We had yet another landlord go ahead and put the gas bill in our name even though the rental agreement stated we were to only pay for electricity while he would be responsible for gas. I could go on and on about the actions of our past landlords who, in my opinion, are just as bad if not WORSE than many problem tenants.

    • Bill Petrey, Realtor

      Of course, not every tenant or landlord is desirable. However, this article doesn’t touch on that. This article is about selling a house with a tenant. The desire to sell a house isn’t always due to an annoying tenant. Sometimes landlords just want to retire, upgrade, downgrade, or they just need the money.

  • “In the end it’s your loss if your tenants destroy the place.” I just sold my condo in San Diego, California. For 3 years I thought I had great tenants. She’s a reporter for the SD Union Tribune and Del Mar Patch. They were always very nice on the phone and in emails. But CA law doesn’t allow landlords to enter the premises unless it is to make repairs – no periodic inspections are allowed. When I met tenants to advise I was selling, I was shocked at the damage and filth. I accepted a very low offer from an investor taking poor condition into consideration but when he saw the condo he backed out due to damage and filth. I then accepted a low offer from an individual buyer and had to give a credit to compensate for damage and filth. Can I cover any of the diminution in value from my former tenants? It goes far beyond normal wear and tear. Wood floors have to be replaced and, after tenants gave notice to move out, they destroyed kitchen cabinets by trying to strip and refinish them. All of that was part of the reduction in price and credits I had to give to proceed with the sale. The $1,000 security deposit doesn’t come close to covering the loss. Contractor estimated $20,000 to fix kitchen and floors.

    • Bill Petrey, Realtor

      I’m so sorry for your situation. Unfortunately it’s pretty common. If you can’t enter a property except to make repairs, you could have a quarterly maintenance routine of replacing the air-conditioning filters. This should qualify as repairs and give you access four times a year. You can also test smoke detectors during that time too.

      There’s definitely a price point for a rental property. You don’t want expensive fixtures, finishes, or appliances for them to tear up. I definitely don’t want to buy a rental property that has anything nice in it. Most renters don’t mind the cheaper improvements, and they’re less painful to replace if destroyed. Linoleum or tile instead of hardwoods, laminated countertops instead of anything stone, and if you buy carpet, use the cheapest carpet and padding you can find. If you want to go a little nicer, spend the money to upgrade to thicker padding, but keep the cheap carpet. Don’t add ceiling fans or any additional fixtures that the tenant could tear up or steal.

Leave a Reply