Expert property manager Janet Fields talks haunted houses and tenants, honeybee nests behind the walls, and most importantly, how to screen and hire great property managers when you reach that point in your portfolio.
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Deni: All right.
Brian: Hey, guys. Happy Tuesday. Deni and Brian here from Spark Rental. We’re super excited to be with us. And we have today with us a special guest, Janet Fields, who is the founder and CEO of Trust Properties. Janet, great to have you here.
Janet: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it. What a great opportunity to speak to your fans.
Brian: Yeah. So, for those of you who don’t know Janet, Janet, not only does she manage a real estate or a property management company in Charleston, South Carolina, but she actually grew up in a family of real estate investors, property managers. Her parents flipped houses and owned rentals. So, you know, she is a second-generation real estate investor. And as you guys join us, let us know where you’re tuning in from and what your questions are for Janet. And Janet, let’s jump in and just talk about what it was like growing up in a family of real estate investors and what you learned that other kids don’t learn about money and real estate and investing. So, yeah, what was that like?
Janet: It was it was interesting. I didn’t know it was different until I got older and entered into the business officially and then seeing other people come in with a different background, I was like, oh, you don’t know that. You don’t understand child labor. I was one of the biggest parts is your parents are very busy, so they have regular jobs and then the nights and weekends we also work. So, it’s a really busy lifestyle. My dad did real estate. He eventually started buying his own properties and we’d manage them and then we turn them and flip them as well. So that was a full family event. I have two older sisters and we did everything at those properties. I mean, we ripped out carpet so we could save a couple bucks there. We would do the paint, we’d rip out the kitchens, we’d rip out the bathrooms, we jack up houses, replace windows. I mean, we did it all. We’d rip out bushes.
Deni: So, when your dad had you doing all this, was it something that you got excited about or was it like, oh, gosh, we got to do this again?
Janet: I was actually excited about it. I love to get it into stuff and tear it up and see what’s happening. And I loved finding out how things work. My mom actually bought me like a big book in the eighties, was like how things work and instead of clocks and that was my jam. I was always taking apart toys. So, I loved it. I wanted to see what was inside the walls. I wanted to find out what was under the houses. Usually, it was snakes and deceased cats. I wanted to know all the things. So, it was a lot of fun to find out how the house was put together, how you took it apart, and when there was something that wasn’t quite right, how you identified that, and how you move forward with it, that was pretty interesting. So, my dad did that and eventually, he started managing his own properties, and then other real estate agents came to them and said, hey, do you mind? And he did. And then he decided that was a pretty good way to go is to have that constant flow of income.
Janet: You’re not having to chase those sales. It was a better lifestyle for what he wanted for his family. So, it grew into a company and then he did an acquisition. We had about 250 properties. We did another acquisition, about 400 properties, another acquisition. We’re about 600 properties now. So, through the years, every acquisition shows your weak spots. So, you learn to hold on to those and really just iron them out and smooth them to reduce everybody’s cost and time loss. And it just it’s a fun mess. I’ve learned a lot of tricks along the way. I went to school and had a really big interest in art and graphic design and marketing. And one of the jobs I had for about five years or so, I worked as a government contractor and worked with design, and I built communications for tanks and stuff. So, it was a very technical job. So, I learned about systems and decision matrix and stuff like that, which has been extremely useful with automations.
Deni: So right now, do you have your kids involved too?
Janet: Not yet. I am trying to just keep an open mind. I’m pushing them towards entrepreneur and business owner, not so much real estate. I would love for them to have investments, but it doesn’t have to be like a career. It can just be the passive income.
Brian: But real estate investing is inherently entrepreneurial, right? I mean. So, you know, there’s a lot of crossovers there and you can teach a lot of the same lessons through real estate. So, did you grow up learning how to renovate properties as well and how to do some of the repairs and physical maintenance on these properties?
Janet: Absolutely. That was one of my first couple of jobs was once I got a car, I was changing locks, I was cutting grass, I was painting those houses, anything to make some good cash. At one point, my mom was like, okay, you need to know what it’s like to have a cashier job where you got paid from somebody. The taxes came out and you got like eight bucks an hour. Like you need to know that pain. So, it was like, that job is not for you. Like these other jobs, like. You’re in control of your income and you have flexibility. So that was.
Deni: A smart lesson.
Janet: It was. I hated it.
Brian: Well, it was just the idea, right? Yeah. That is the lesson. But I think there’s something to be said for kids who grew up in entrepreneurial families and who work for their parents. A lot growing up. There’s more to be said for them going off out into the real world, as it were, and working for someone else, you know, developing some of their own skill sets like you did both in college and working for the government, and then coming back to the roots and working with the family business again with that benefit of having worked elsewhere, having worked for other bosses, you know, and developing some of those skills on their own, rather than just people working for their entire lives or their families, they don’t really get a sense for what else is out there and what the real world is like.
Janet: That’s a big one. You don’t learn from your family. You need to get outside resources teaching you that and how to deal with stuff.
Deni: It’s funny that you say business etiquette because I grew up in a family business as well, and I started working at 13, you know, in the office and whatnot. And it was not uncommon to see my father and my uncle, arguing. You know, so when I went to my first when I took a job outside of there and I was like, people don’t argue here. It was very interesting.
Brian: You were a professional and, you know, polite.
Janet: Going into a business hierarchy as well. And the government contracting that was new to me. I was like, what? I can’t just like fix stuff and come up with it.
Brian: Mouth off to your boss.
Janet: Like, I can fix anything. You don’t know what I can do.
Brian: So now you are a landlord yourself, right? You own your own property. So, tell us a little bit about going out and buying your own first investment property.
Janet: So, I was what you call an accidental landlord. So, it was actually my first property I bought when I was 22. Like right before I got married, I bought the property. It was a brand-new property. So, we had the HOA, like all the warranties, all that jazz, and then we wanted to move. We found a great home that was a HUD home, a great opportunity closer to everything we wanted. So, we jumped on that and then we put our other one up for rent. And I don’t know if you guys are familiar with what happened in 2008. That’s when we bought our property in March 2008, and April was when everything changed. So, we entered into a really interesting place where we weren’t making money on our property because it was accidental, and we did not buy it intentionally and run our numbers. So, I didn’t have a great first experience financially, but it was a great learning experience of what not to do. So, I just kind of banked that away and learn my lessons. And I know now that you have to be extremely intentional about what you do, where you put your money and make sure a cash flow is before you sign that dotted line.
Brian: That’s something that I’m really big on because I too, lost a bunch of money in the 2008 housing crash, largely because I didn’t know how to accurately forecast cash flow for rental properties. And then I lost the ability to sell the ones that have negative cash flow because no one was buying them anymore. So yeah, that’s an issue that’s near and dear to my heart as a real estate investing educator.
Janet: Yeah, definitely hurts.
Brian: So, do you still own that property to this day?
Janet: No, we sold that property. We let it go. At that time, we were expanding our family and that was very expensive to expand the family because, at that time, pregnancy was not covered on health insurance. So, we had to just get lots of cash to cover it.
Brian: Yeah. That is very expensive without health insurance. So, tell me about what Oak Trust Properties is doing today. You said that you did a couple of acquisitions and you got it up over 600 properties. So how many properties are you guys managing today and what do you guys up to these days?
Janet: Yes. So, we manage about 580 properties right now. We have a team of about ten people between our we are very departmental wise between our leasing team and our property managers. And then I have my brokers are also our CEO. So, she manages our operations. We’re working to expand. We also have a lot of cultures. We try to really be warm and welcoming to the customer service. It’s newer to property management, but now a lot of people are waking up to that. So, we’ve intentionally built a culture, we’ve intentionally built like a voice to the company and how we treat our residents and our clients together. So that’s one of the things that we bring to the table is we keep open lines of communication with our residents. So, they will talk to us when there is anything wrong instead of putting a bucket under the sink because they’re afraid to reach out to you. So, culture is really big and being proactive and just reducing as much liability by limiting the decision matrix. We close the time gap between initiating something and accomplishing something. So that’s a lot of what we love to work on. I love my systems and processes.
Brian: And what tips would you have for landlords who are considering hiring out their management to a property manager or a property management company? But they don’t know how to screen out good managers from bad managers. And you know, I can speak from personal experience that there are a lot of terrible property managers out there and they can cost you tens of thousands of dollars. They have cost me tens of thousands.
Deni: Not only money, but a lot of aggravation.
Janet: Yes. I would say the first thing you want to do is go to Google and do a search. Pick 3 to 5. I always like 3 to 5. That’s a good manageable number and start making phone calls. If they don’t answer the phone or call you back, you probably just need to knock them out. And then the next thing you want to do is get a hold of those management contracts because that management and contract, I mean, that’s basically the timeline of how they’re going to take care of the property. Any issue that will pop up will fall under one of those parts of the management agreement. And it’ll tell you exactly how it’s going to be handled. It’ll tell you what it’s going to cost you so you can start drawing out a timeline with your fees and decide, do I want to pay like a flat fee across the board? Do I want to pay the kind of company that does a leasing fee and then a proper management fee and then touchpoints along the way we charge or because there are all different business structures, so you want to find what’s right for you? So, looking at the management agreements and comparing them, is pretty difficult because there’s not a whole lot of consistency across the board of all the companies, but that is one of the best places to look. The next place is if you want to get a hold of the lease and see how they handle that, ask them questions. Do they let you approve your tenants? If they do? To me, that’s a no-no because now you’re taking on the liability, hire them to take on your liability. You want to pass that off. So how much they’re willing to sway on things to me is negative, because now they’re putting liability on you, and they don’t really know what they’re doing. If they don’t have the confidence to say, this is how we do things, we’ve done these enough times. We know this is how we can bring you success.
Brian: It’s a great tip. And, you know, I personally have a philosophy that. Property managers who nickel and dime you for every single thing are bad news and that you really want that there should be no more than two fees involved in property management. A percentage of rent collected and the new tenant placement fee. But any fees beyond that is just nickel and diming and like fine text, fine print kind of fees that they’re just hiding in way in the contract. So that’s a great point about reading through the property management contract very closely and looking for all those fees.
Janet: Yeah, know what you’re getting into? It’s a long-term relationship.
Brian: Absolutely. So, you know, Jane, I want to be respectful of your time here, but are there any other tips that you have for mom and pop landlords, ways that they can manage their properties better themselves, or any other tips for them about property management?
Janet: Yeah. One of the biggest things that we forget to do until it’s too late is recording your processes. That’s the same as automation, but it’s just more analog. Just record those processes. So, if you ever need to pass it off, you can just hand somebody a notebook and say, this is how we do rent collection, this is how we do evictions. It’s not it’s not a question. So, if this, then that, if this, then that. So, you don’t want to have to answer those questions over and over and over again, because as more people get involved, processes evolve and devolve. And you don’t want that because that brings you liability. It slows down your system, your machine. So as the sooner you can create a system to run your machine, the better off you are. Because there’s a pain point where people get to around 100, 140 properties where you need to hire somebody and it’s too late. You’re on like a sinking ship where you have no time. You hire somebody, but you don’t have time to train them. So just committing to that and a lot of people who do DIY investors, we’re doers so we just do do do do we just problem solve, and we keep it all upstairs in our head. So, committing to take the time to actually do that is really powerful.
Brian: I couldn’t agree more.
Deni: That’s awesome.
Brian: And that’s something that Deni and I have run into in our own business as well, trying to expand. But if you don’t have the systems all mapped out in place, then it’s a lot harder to train someone, especially when you’re at that point where you need the help. So, you train someone, but you don’t have the time to actually invest in them and train them properly.
Brian: It’s great feedback. Deni, any final thoughts or questions that you have for Janet?
Deni: I’m going to ask I was a property manager, so I’m going to ask. Everyone has their crazy stories. So, do you have a crazy story that stands out in your head of dealing with a renter or an owner?
Janet: Yes, this is so we’re in Charleston. We’re in a very historic city and it’s actually has a lot of ghosts. So that’s fun, right? So, we had a handful of ghost situations and you kind of laugh it off and you’re like, okay, whatever. But when tenant after tenant in the same property talks about weird occurrences, it’s kind of like, oh my gosh, they’re talking to each other. What’s happening? So, we’ve had instances where people would put a child in one room and the child would just not be happy in that room. And you’re like, well, kids don’t like being separated. Well, the next people would come in and somebody else, that room just was very uncomfortable. And then things would start disappearing like phones and watches. Phones and watches would disappear, and then they’d hear weird stuff up in the attic. So, they think they have an intruder. Right. So that’s all. One house. We’ve had another ghost incident where somebody was physically, like, forced out of a bathroom and pushed against a wall and they go, oh.
Deni: Oh my gosh.
Janet: Bruises from it. And you just want to disqualify that, right? Because that’s so bizarre. But when you have a property manager go there and the person is kind of afraid to tell you, like it’s weird and bizarre and then they show you the marks because it just happened like two days ago. It’s like, oh, okay. So, ghost stories and then bees are my favorite too, because bees make such a mess and it’s so bizarre. Every once in a while, I think we have two properties that have gotten honeybees. And honeybees in your wall can be quite expensive because they make a mess in there. They make like hundreds of pounds of honey and then they’re also protected. So, since they’re protected, you have to find somebody who’s certified to remove them. And once they’re removed and you cleaned out all that honey and relocated the bees, they like to come back because of the hormones. So, you might have this again. So just put that money aside because you’re going to probably deal with it again in the next two or three years. So those are like two of my favorite stories. They’re just bizarre off-the-cuff things that we’ve seen.
Deni: And that’s something good to look out for if you’re going to purchase a house.
Janet: Yeah. Have you had bees? What about locusts or any of those bugs?
Deni: Wow, that’s awesome.
Brian: Well, I can’t see I’ve ever had bees or ghosts.
Janet: We’ve probably had a couple of thousand properties passed through here, so. We get it.
Brian: All right. Well, Janet, thank you so much for joining us today. This was so much fun. And yeah, we’ll look forward to speaking with you soon.
Janet: Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.
Deni: Oh, thank you so much. And you all join us next week, next Tuesday, as usual. And again, give us your questions. Let us know whatever subjects you want to discuss. We are open and here for you to discuss whatever you need to.
Janet: If you’re interested in the Charleston market, you can give us a call. Our website is oaktrustproperties.com. You can find us on Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, all the places. And we would love to give you comps and CMAs and help you navigate the market here in Charleston.
Deni: Absolutely. Reach out to Janet.
Janet: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
Deni: Have a great day, everyone. Take care.