DGS 132: The Cashflow and Chaos of Managing Student Rental Properties with Peter Tverdov
It’s that time of year as college students start or return to school. They may think they know it all, but really know nothing. How many students does it take to change a lightbulb or turn the heat on? It’s time to grow up in the real world!
Today’s guest is Peter Tverdov of Tverdov Housing. Although student rentals are management intensive, Peter actually enjoys dealing with students. It’s prepared him to take on other types of tenants to diversify and grow his business.
[02:18] Rutgers University: Becoming a landlord in New Brunswick and loving it.
[02:53] Student Housing Side Hustle: Accumulate more and manage them for others.
[03:24] Hindsight is 20/20 in 2020: Bad timing to start business and quit day job to grow.
[04:41] Decision to deal with students and student housing led to diverse tenant groups.
[06:15] Peter’s Portfolio: 65-70% student rentals, 15-20% low-income families, 5-10% middle-class/workforce housing.
[08:10] Onboarding Students: Educate and set expectations to limit excuses later on.
[11:00] Happy Tenant, Happy Owner: Second largest lead generator is tenant referrals.
[12:57] Broken Windows Theory: Dumpy/dilapidated areas attract crime and trouble.
[13:45] Tverdov Renovation Consultants: Improve properties to attract better tenants.
[14:47] Avoid or Acquired Taste? Riches are in the niches as a student rentals landlord.
[16:33] Other Options? Rules/laws for room rentals, individual leases, boarding houses.
[20:55] Responsibility: How to be landlords and hold each other accountable.
[23:35] What’s next for Tverdov Housing? Track KPIs, achieve goals, and grow doors.
Jason: Welcome, DoorGrow Hackers, to the DoorGrow Show. If you are a property management entrepreneur that wants to add doors, make a difference, increase revenue, help others, impact lives, and you are interested in growing your business and life, and you are open to doing things a bit differently, then you are a DoorGrow Hacker.
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At DoorGrow, we are on a mission to transform property management businesses and their owners. We want to transform the industry, eliminate the BS, build awareness, change the perception, expand the market, and help the best property management entrepreneurs win. I’m your host, property management growth expert, Jason Hull, the founder and CEO of DoorGrow. Now, let’s get into the show.
All right, today’s guests, I’m hanging out with Pete. I’m going to see if I can say your last name right, Tverdov. And I’m going to unmute you so you can actually respond to that. Did I say it right?
Pete: That was awesome. Pete Tverdov of Tverdov Housing. Pete, before we get into the topic, I want to introduce you, have you introduce yourself a little bit, but we’re going to be talking about student rental properties and the title is The Cash flow and Chaos of managing student rental properties. That sounds kind of fun. Let’s get into the cash flow and chaos after we hear a little bit about your background, how did you get into this, and tell everybody who’s listening about Pete.
Pete: Sure. Happy to be on the show, thanks for having me. I got into it, my wife and I moved back to the Central Jersey area about six years ago and in the process of moving back we were looking to buy a multi-family, live in one unit, and it brought us to New Brunswick, where Rutgers University is. We both went to school there, we both played sports there, became a landlord, and really enjoyed the process of becoming a landlord.
As I wanted to try to accumulate more rentals, I had the idea to begin managing for the people as it’s something I really enjoyed doing. I enjoyed just getting your hands dirty and dealing with people. I started to do that on the side a little bit in that neighborhood, very slowly, very discreetly, and then little by little, I was just nibbling and getting more people under management because I was doing a pretty good job.
About a year ago, it grew into a large enough business where I was at a crossroads with my regular job. I said you know what? I feel pretty good about this. I’m just going to dive in and really try to grow my business. That has been a bit rocky because I did that officially in January. I say rocky because of Coronavirus. The business has been good. It’s been fun. I enjoy being an entrepreneur. I enjoy trying to grow the business each day and I’m happy to be here.
Jason: Yes. Looking back, hindsight being 20/20, pun intended, so here in 2020, would you have chosen, if knowing that this would all happen to start your business, would you still have done it?
Pete: It’s such a hard question to answer because I had grown a business enough to that point where there was really no turning back. I just had a breaking point because I was working 24 hours a day. I was working in New York City. So it’s just really challenging to try and juggle both really and I couldn’t at that point. So was the timing the best? Definitely not.
Jason: Okay, so you started getting into doing this yourself. Then you started doing it for others. At what point did you start deciding it would be a good idea to deal with students? I mean, this is your college hometown, right? It’s a college town, your wife’s college town, there is a college there, and it seems probably pretty obvious that you should be dealing with student housing. Were you already dealing with students with your own rentals?
Pete: Yeah, that’s exactly right. Every rental we owned was student housing and something I had a lot of familiarity with. For a while, I didn’t want to do anything else but student rentals. About a year ago, I started to diversify that and try to pick up other tenant groups to manage, which we have, thank God, because in business it’s good to diversify.
But for me, anything with investing or my advice to anybody with investing is to go with what you know or the areas you know and then you branch out from there, which is what we did with the business. Again, student rentals are something we’re super familiar with, super comfortable with and now we’re at the point where we’re happy with how much we have in the business and we’re actively looking.
We don’t really even market too heavily to student rental landlords just because we have a sizable amount and because we know what chaos comes with managing them and how management-intensive they could be. As I said, we’re trying to diversify the business. In addition to being well-known for student rentals, we want to […] things as well.
Jason: Give listeners a little bit of idea of what your portfolio looks like right now.
Pete: Of our business, 65%–70% is student rentals. Another 15%–20% is lower-income families, and then the remainder is middle-class housing, workforce housing, yuppies. What’s funny is managing student rentals really gets you battle-tested for managing other tenants because the other tenant groups really are a breeze. Student rentals are very management-intensive because they’re 18- to 21-year-olds, so young adults. Most of them know nothing and what’s worse is they think they know something which compounds the problem sometimes.
I was the same way and maybe you were as well. You don’t really know much when you’re that age. They don’t understand that they’re responsible for changing light bulbs or if the heat’s not working in the house, maybe it’s because no one checked to see if the thermostat was even on. Stuff like that is really low hanging fruit.
Jason: Yeah. Like you’re saying, before anybody has kids or business or any of that, we’re all experts on parenting, business, and how the world should work. I love it when my teenagers tell me how to be a better parent. I love that. That’s always a really fun conversation. Everyone’s an expert until they do it and then they realize they’re like everybody else winging it and trying to figure out what’s next.
You started with the most difficult type of housing. It sounds like it was more difficult renters and tenants than anything else. It felt like it was just downhill. From there it was easier.
Pete: That’s right. As I said, it’s just a very management-intensive group. What do I mean by that? They never signed a lease before. Some of them have never paid rent before. They’ve never written a check before or they don’t know how to pay rent online. They don’t really know what a security deposit is. They don’t really know the process of getting it back.
I think our business grew because we really tried to help the tenants understand the process and how it works. With students, for example—I would recommend this to anyone managing students—we usually sit down with them for 20–30 minutes and go over the lease with them, go over all the points in the lease, and set expectations upfront. We try to really limit the excuses for a tenant, like I didn’t know that. What do you mean? We sat with you in person and went over that. That’s one of the things.
Some of the management items that I was talking about beat the properties up a little bit more so the repairs are higher and things always just mysteriously break. It was never their fault like something happens and nobody wants to admit it. I got a taste for managing other tenant groups. I realize how intense the students are and it’s not a bad business to be in because, for people who own the rentals, the cash flows are higher, but with higher cash flows comes a set of their own problems.
Jason: Aren’t these things just common in property management in general? Like the advantage of you having a business like this is that you’re almost educating these people through the process. That would work well for any new client because even if they’ve rented multiple places before, you have your way of doing things, they still may not want to follow things, have misinterpreted things, or they may claim they read the lease and understand it. All of these things sound like a really good baseline for how to onboard all of your renters.
Pete: What I realized early on with the way I conduct business is we’re not for everybody and that’s because we believe in holding people accountable. One of the gentlemen who help me out hits me on the head. We’re fair but firm. We’re very fair. We don’t try to nickel and dime people, but we’re firm. The lease is the lease or the code is the code and this is what we have to do in order to ensure that the property is running smoothly, to ensure you’re happy as a tenant, and to ensure the owner’s happy as a client.
As a property manager, you’re getting hit from both sides a lot of the time, but that’s what I try to do to tenants. Honestly, we try to give as good of an effort as we can to make sure that they have a good experience because what’s pretty cool about our business is the second-largest lead generator for us is tenant referrals which is awesome. That’s free. That costs nothing. For that to be number two, it tells me we’re doing something right, even though it feels like we’re not sometimes and I want to continue that.
Jason: So tenant referrals, meaning the tenants are referring the owners to your company?
Pete: They’re referring other tenants to our company. It makes the amount of advertising we have to spend on finding tenants less.
Jason: Right. Do you feel like that’s a challenge and student housing is finding people to rent the place?
Pete: I must say it depends on the demographic. What’s unique about Rutgers is it’s split between two towns in New Jersey, New Brunswick, which has a population of 55,000 and Piscataway, which (I couldn’t tell you) maybe it’s 30,000 or 50,000. It’s not a small town either, but it’s very old homes, especially in New Brunswick.
What a lot of landlords in that area are realizing is people don’t want to live in a dump anymore. They’re willing to pay a little bit more. The house needs to be nicer. That’s what we’ve done with stuff that we own. Most of the clients we have take a little bit of convincing, but after a while, they trust us to spend some money on their property because it makes it easier to rent.
I went out to Rutgers, I majored in Criminal Justice. There’s this thing called Broken Windows Theory and for people who don’t know that it is, it’s what it sounds like. When you have a dilapidated area with a bunch of broken windows, it attracts crime and attracts people looking to get into trouble. When you have that same place and it’s all cleaned up, all the windows are fixed, the outsides painted, and the sidewalks are redone, the crime statistically usually has gone away.
We took that same theory with housing. So if you have a dump, you’re likely going to attract tenants who don’t care about the place. They’re just going to beat it up even more. If you have a nice place, you usually attract nice tenants, and even with the students being as management-intensive as they are, we’ve found that to be true.
What’s interesting is within the property management business—I did this right in the middle of the pandemic—I said screw it. I’m going to start another business. So we created what’s called Tverdov Renovation Consultants. We basically do project management for our clients. We tell them, listen, we could help you rehab, bathrooms, kitchens, additions, roof siding, blah-blah-blah. We have a whole portfolio of the work we’ve done on Instagram.
That’s been good for the owners because it makes their property easier to rent. They get more rent and make our property worth more. We’re happy because we’ve found a better tenant. The town’s happy because we’ve improved the property and it’s really a win and win across the board.
It’s just a matter of convincing other owners who are stuck in having lipstick on a pig or they don’t want to spend a lot of money on properties and now we’re at the point where I don’t really want clients like that. I want clients who want to have a well-run property.
Jason: Got it. Do you feel like tenants are an acquired taste in property management? My perception as other property managers avoid dealing with student housing, with those types of tenants. They feel like they’re more difficult to manage unless they feel like in their market they need to. Do you feel like you would maybe in general convince these property managers in some way that there is a benefit or an upside to focusing on a tenant or better student housing?
Pete: I think if you know it and you know the area, you could do very well and we have done very well. If you don’t know it, it’s pretty obvious to people who don’t know it. You get beat up because you don’t know what you’re doing. The challenging part is every school is different across the country. When tenants begin to look when the lease is run and there are a plethora of questions to answer. If I was going to invest in another state, it’s a whole different set of rules if you’re going to try to be a student rental landlord in that state.
For me, the riches are in the niches. Again, that’s what I knew and I grew it. Now we’re looking at expanding into more residential options. Still single family, two to four families, small apartment buildings. That’s our bread and butter. That’s all we want to do. We don’t do commercial. We don’t do HOAs or anything like that. That’s what we focus on and that’s what we’re trying to grow.
Jason: Now, the financial upside that I’ve heard from some people that get into this is some have convinced owners to take a property and to rent it out the room instead of renting out the entire property to a family. They’re renting it out by the room in these sorts of situations and they’re able to get a lot more rent at the property by doing such. That seems to be that there would be a potential financial upside, especially if your fee structure is based on percentages or each renter rather than being just connected to a flat fee per unit, for example.
Pete: Maybe it’s a little off-topic. We charge a percentage base and we’ll always do that. I really don’t know how property managers make money doing a flat fee. I think it’s tough so we’ll always be a percentage-based company. Renting by the room is, you’re correct, that is the way to make more money. Again, I keep saying this phrase, but management-intensive, renting by the room is even tougher for students where we put groups together. We put a bunch together last year.
We had a kid from Singapore, a kid from India, a kid from New Jersey, a kid from Pennsylvania and they don’t know each other. When you’re renting by the room, it’s even worse because now you almost have four tenants, not one tenant, or six tenants, or however many people you’re putting in a house. That creates its own set of problems.
Again, this is based on jurisdiction. You cannot do individual leases because that would be considered a boarding house unless it’s a licensed boarding house, you really shouldn’t be doing that. We don’t do that, so we had to rent by the room. We put them all on one lease. We say, listen, you’re all legally responsible for damage in the common areas, and so on and so forth. It’s challenging.
What’s funny, though, is I actually want to try to add a boarding house to manage because we get a lot of people just looking for a room. Just looking for a place to live, not just an apartment or a studio. We get a lot of inquiries like, hey, do you have a room?
Jason: Is this boarding house law something that is common in just your state? I haven’t heard from this, but it makes sense. Is this in other states as well?
Pete: I’m just speaking about New Jersey.
Jason: Interesting. It’s something to those listening if they haven’t dabbled in student housing or they’re thinking of renting by the room or something like that, they probably should check with their local laws to make sure whether or not there’s any sort of rules against doing such.
In New Jersey, what does it take to become a boarding house then or to set one of those up? Is it on an individual property basis or is it a licensing sort of deal as a property manager?
Pete: You need to have (they call it) a rooming house or a boarding house, but you need to have a license displayed in the property. I’ve been in enough of them. It’s pretty obvious if it’s a boarding house or rooming house because there’ll be a kitchen with a bunch of labels on each cabinet. Like, this is John’s cabinet, this is Max’s cabinet, this is Pete’s cabinet, and there’s a common bathroom or two. Then all the other doors are just shut with locks on it.
If you can imagine, that’s what they look like and then they’ll have a big license in the hallway or stairwell that’ll say this is a New Jersey-licensed rooming house or boarding house. That’s how they work. But again, those are challenging.
Jason: Do you find in those situations you end up sort of having to play parent between roommates?
Pete: Yes and no. We had to do it last year with a group of girls we put together. It was a little aggravating and a lot of girl drama. I stepped in and I spoke with them and tried to give them some words of wisdom. Most of the time, what we do with student rentals, I don’t care how many kids are living in the house. It’s one tenant and I explain to them you’re all jointly responsible for rent and all the lease obligations. So it doesn’t matter how many people are in the house. At the end of the day, you guys are all responsible.
The other thing is we manage nearly 400 students. Some of these are very nice people, but we can’t talk to 400 people. It’s just not possible. What we do is we make a house manager or captain, or house mom, dad, whatever you want to call it and that’s the person we speak with now regarding any tenant issues. We usually recommend somebody else in the house be responsible for submitting rent. So rent is submitted in one payment. Someone else is responsible for utilities. What it teaches these guys is responsibility, how to be accountable, and hold their roommates accountable.
In theory, what’s cool is we are actually teaching them how to be landlords because they have to make sure rent is collected. Something’s broken, they have to find out who did this. Now, I have to tell Pete or for repairs to be made, coordinate with them to schedule it.
That’s why I said earlier, we’re not for everybody because somebody who needs their hands held or mommy and daddy to wipe their mouth, we’re not for you and that’s okay. Our system usually winds up attracting tenants who are a bit more mature, a bit more independent and if they’re not, they get there by the time that they’re done with us.
Jason: Right, I like it. You’re part of their educational process of the real world. That might be a good selling point for getting tenants. We’ll make your kid actually grow up. I hope you’re excited about that. I’m serious. I’d be like, I’m going to send my kids into one of those properties, right?
Pete: I might try that.
Jason: It’s worth a shot. Pete, I think this is really interesting. I’d be interested in those that are doing student housing when you see this posted or see this inside the DoorGrow Club Facebook group at doorgrowclub.com. I’d be interested to see other people’s comments on what you’re doing, what’s working, and what’s not working in student housing.
This started as a side hustle. It’s evolved into a business doing it for other people. It’s now growing. What do you feel like is next for you and your business moving forward?
Pete: What I start to do from watching podcasts like this is to track our KPIs, which is really cool. I love that side of the business. It’s like a quarterly visit if people think of it. It helps me to understand where we should be spending money, what’s working, what’s not, and tweaking things. Because we’re in the growth stage right now, 100 doors is cool, but there are people who are 500, 800. Those are huge, huge companies.
We won’t get there overnight, I understand that. The goal of my business is we want to cover three counties in New Jersey. So we’re based in Central New Jersey. If anybody from New Jersey is listening to this, Central New Jersey really doesn’t exist. That’s the inside joke. But the three counties we cover probably have about 2.6–3 million people in them. Those are within a 30-minute radius of our office, so we’re very comfortable being within a 30-minute radius of home base.
The goal is just to continue to add doors under management. Single-family, 2–4 families, small apartment buildings in those areas. There are certain towns that are rental towns and certain towns that are not. What we’ve been doing on the marketing side, we’ve been working on SEO, we have our own website, we blog, we’re very active on Instagram, then we do mailers, which maybe not a lot of people do. We do some cold calling, too, and just constantly trying to tweak and figure out what’s working, what’s not, and how we could generate more leads.
On top of the property management, because in New Jersey you have to have your real estate license. So right now, me and a few people, my team are realtors. Eventually, I would like to have my own brokerage. Really rural housing is three companies, so it’s realty services—we can help you buy and sell investment properties; that’s all we do—we could help you manage the property, or we could help you rehab the property.
We have some clients where we help them buy the property, we help them rehab the property, and then we manage the property. Then, one day when they want to sell it, we’ll sell the property. That’s about creating multiple income streams for our business within the same business, which I think is pretty cool.
Jason: Makes sense. Cool. Pete, it’s been great having you on the show. I wish you success at Tverdov Housing and for those that are listening, if you have questions about student housing or getting this, or if people listening are interested in getting a place from you or whatever your goal is, how can they get a hold of you?
Pete: My website is tvdhousing.com and also my Instagram, Tverdov Housing. You could look at the last name on the DoorGrow Show. It’s Tverdov Housing. We’re constantly posting what we’re doing on Instagram, so it’s usually properties we’re rehabbing, or some crazy management story, about just some crazy stuff that’s happened and probably will happen in the future, stuff that we’re selling, so we’re very active on there.
Jason: Cool. All right. Pete, thanks for coming on the show.
Pete: Pleasure being on.
Jason: All right. Those of you that are interested in getting into student housing or that have been dealing with student housing, I’d be really curious, like I mentioned, to see your feedback inside the DoorGrow Club Facebook group so inside the DoorGrow Club. Let us know what you find is working or not working. It sounds like a challenging thing. I think any of us that have gone to college and remember some of the crazy stuff that either we did or that we saw other people doing, recognize that could be a really challenging thing, but it’s necessary. Like their student housing is a need. It’ll be interesting to see how things go moving forward with COVID-19 and Coronavirus, and things shifting to online. It will be interesting.
Check out the Facebook group, doorgrowclub.com. If you are interested in growing your business and your property management company, making some changes there, if you are feeling stuck, struggling, whatever, reach out to DoorGrow. Check us out at doorgrow.com We’d love to help you out. Until next time. To our mutual growth, Bye everyone.
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