Napa home is more than just another rental property

#506 in a series of true experiences in real estate
March 2006, Hills Newspapers

We’ve driven to Napa several times recently to attend to my rental house there. The couple who just left moved in only last summer. They’d expected to be there for several years but their relationship broke up so they moved. I was sorry to see them go, not only because I liked them and found them to be thoughtful and caring caretakers of the house but also because I’d have to find new people.

Last summer Anet and I saw to it that the house was extremely clean and fit. I had new appliances installed, added a good sized deck off the living room and even had the windows professionally washed. The house was shipshape.

It looks less so now although the tenants caused very little wear during their short time there. Still, the paint is not brand fresh and at this time of year the back garden is cold and uninviting, the trees bare and the ground muddy.

I placed an ad in the Napa paper and on craigslist, changed the utilities into my name and called a plumber to snake a drain that had clogged. I was wondering how I’d find someone to intelligently prune and clear a far corner area of the lot when just such a talent presented itself. One of the callers on my rental ad asked about the yard, saying that she is a landscaper by profession. She hadn’t seen the property yet, and from our conversation, she and I both guessed that it wasn’t large enough for her family, but she offered to look at the yard work I wanted done and to call me back.

I got a lot of calls, as many as several dozen, most from the newspaper ad (which cost $100 a week) and only a few from craigslist (free). “Do you accept pets?” “How many square feet in the house?” “How much is the deposit?”

I gave all callers the address, told many the driving directions (usually people who were relocating to Napa), and offered to meet them on the weekend so they could see the inside of the house.

Anet and I drove up on two Sundays, first to do a preliminary walk-through with the old tenants, then to meet prospective new tenants. While there I worked in the garden and Anet made some small repairs. We both talked to people who are interested in renting.

Some applicants were enthusiastic about the house and area. Their kids go to the nearby elementary school. One woman said she would really enjoy mowing and edging the wide front lawn, especially with the new power mower there. Another would love living in this house because it has central heat. She’s freezing, she says, at her current rental where there’s only a wall furnace.

Next I’ll be checking credit and references before choosing who I will rent to. Then I’ll make up a rental agreement and we’ll go to Napa to get signatures on it and on state disclosures (lead paint, smoke detectors, Megan’s law and others). I’ll hand over the keys.

I’ll return the old tenant’s deposit along with an accounting of any monies I’m deducting from the deposit and I’ll call the utilities again. There will be a gap between tenants of 2 to 3 weeks.

There are a few other maintenance items to attend to. A fence that needs work. Someday, a new counter and stove top. Owning a house involves attention and money.

So why do I hold onto this house? It belonged to my mother. She was raised in Napa but lived in Oakland for most of her adult life. Her family was still in Napa and she visited frequently. She bought the house years ago when she thought she might retire there near her sister.

When my mother died, my brother and I inherited the house. In parent to child transfers, the property taxes stay the same, a wonderful advantage. My brother, however, who lives in Ohio, wanted to sell. I took out a loan and bought his share. Half of the property taxes went up as a result. The rent does not cover my expenses.

But holding onto the house seemed like a good idea to me. I wanted to keep my options open.

Maybe my kids will want to live there. I don’t see how they could afford to buy on their own. I suppose it’s possible that I might move to Napa one day. And of course, the house is rising in value as all California real estate seems to be.

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