Finding a great tenant!

I am a landlord myself and I sometimes am asked by clients to help them find a tenant. I am constantly meeting people who are not happy with the calibre of tenants they’ve had, and who have had to do a lot of work when the tenants finally moved out. I have never had that issue: all my tenants looked after my property as if it was their own, paid their rent on time, and were a pleasure to deal with.

Here are my tips to finding a great tenant:

First of all, make the unit as nice as possible. Being able to present a fresh, clean unit that shows well is huge. As you can tell from my blog, I renovate whatever I have to. I  redo cracked tile flooring, make sure the paint is pristine, buy new appliances if needed, and install new backsplashes and lighting. I will update the electrical and plumbing, replace old baseboard heaters with new ones, and replace old hot water tanks. Not only does this let me charge top dollar, but I don’t have to worry about the unit I’m renting being unsafe. This is a huge selling point too!

Once you’ve fixed it up, set a rent that reflects its condition. I recently rented my unit in Hunt Club for hundreds more than the comparables, and I had a line up of prospective tenants. I want high calibre tenants, and a higher rent attracts more of them.

Meet your prospective tenants in person. A lot of landlords farm this out to their realtors or property managers to do. I think that’s a mistake. You can tell a lot about a person by meeting them face-to-face. Did they show up on time? Are they enthusiastic about your unit? A tenant who loves your place is eager to move in and it shows. Your ideal tenant will show up on time or early and get you all the paperwork you want ASAP. They want your rental, and they’re anxious to hear from you; they don’t let things sit. Someone who can’t be bothered to show up on time, answer emails promptly, or provide documents when you ask for them, is probably going to be equally indifferent about paying your rent on time.

Get a credit report. This is the single most important document in a tenancy. A score above 600 is good, above 700 is great. One in the 800s is extraordinary!  I recently met a prospective tenant with a credit score of 848 — that’s the highest I’ve ever seen!

A high credit score tells you that the prospective tenant pays their bills on time and always has. A credit report that shows a history of late payments, collections, or even bankruptcies means you have a person who has had problems managing their budget.

It’s not fatal: I would consider renting to someone trying to build or rebuild their credit, but it is a giant red flag. It means you and the prospective tenant need to talk about whether they can afford the unit or not, and what will happen if they over-extend themselves. It’s not good for them to be evicted for non-payment of rent, and certainly not good for you. On the other hand, someone who has sacrificed other bills during tough times so they can  pay their rent can be a very good tenant.  I want context, and I want them to tell me about it before I find out in the credit check.

Call the tenant’s references, and especially their previous landlord.Don’t rely on reference letters alone. I ran into a prospective tenant who had a pretty good reference letter. When I actually called the landlord, it turned out there had been a fire in the unit, caused by the tenant. Ask if the tenant paid on time, what condition they left the unit in, if there were any issues during the tenancy and what rent they were paying. This is a big one: if the previous rent was much lower than what you’re asking you want to make sure they can afford it.

Some people insist on seeing employment information and proof of income, and insist the tenants be professionals.  I don’t. I’ve heard plenty of horror stories about professionals who were horrible tenants.  I know of one mortgage broker who rented to a lawyer who stopped paying rent because he knew it would take months to evict him. I’ve heard of others who complained about everything. Don’t get hung up on what someone does for a living; it’s irrelevant. What’s important is what kind of tenant they are.

As for employment information, I usually do call employers for references, but the credit report pretty much tells me everything I need to know about how someone manages their money. The last employer reference I got for a tenant of mine was unequivocal: “they’re good people,” the employer said. “Simple people, but hardworking.” That was all I needed to hear.

The bottom line is that there are only three things you really need to know about any tenant:

1) that they will pay your rent on time (which is why you get the credit report to see how reliable they are when it comes to paying bills, and make sure to call their previous landlords);

2) that they won’t damage the unit (which is why you ask their previous landlords what condition they left the unit in) and

3) that they won’t disturb other tenants (which is why you ask if there were any issues).

When you start super-imposing criteria like they have to be single, or have no pets, that’s going to restrict your tenant pool unnecessarily, and may land you with a human rights complaint as well. I don’t care if my tenants have pets, as long as they are well-behaved, and I’ve never had a problem.

So, to summarize, I look for someone who is enthusiastic about my property, cooperative, reliable and has a great credit rating or a good explanation if they don’t, and a plan for moving forward.  So far every tenant I’ve ever had has been terrific, and so have the ones I’ve picked for my clients.

One more thing: I make sure I’m a great landlord too. I give my tenants  gifts when they move in, like a bottle of wine and chocolates, or most recently, for tenants who loved the kitchen, a cookbook holder. I usually pop around at Christmas with something for the tree. Many of my tenants have become good friends.

I make sure we establish the rules ahead of time for what they can and cannot do (for example, my units are professionally painted, so I don’t want them painting the walls, but I’m fine with them hanging pictures.)

I make sure to respond immediately to any problems. And I let them contact my other tenants for references  if they want to, so that they can ask them what I’m like as a landlord too. I get tenants who treat my property well because I vet them carefully, and treat them well, and that makes all the difference.

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Renovating an investment condo: my budget! (and great news – it’s RENTED!!!)

So, finally had a chance to sit down and figure out my costs of this renovation. I had a $10K budget. I’m still waiting for a final invoice from Alex that will include drywall repairs to the powder room, but I’ve included his quotes on powder room floor, backsplash and tile flooring in these numbers:

Electrical (all new baseboard heaters, pot lights, repairs) 1870.00

Plumbing (new shut off valves, shower head/fittings, install HWT) 900.00

HWT/pan 388.69

New shower head/fixture 305.37

Tiles/tiling (kitchen backsplash/laundry room floor) 1470.99

Kitchen/BR cabinets reface, new panels, soft-close hinges:  3167.14

Cabinet knobs and pulls 254.18

Curtains, rods  and blinds 295.66

Lighting 620.78

Paint 75.48

Powder room tile and grout 391.38

Alarm system 150.00

Mirrored doors 1011.74

Misc. 77.31

TOTAL 10,978.72 plus HST

So, I came in about 10% over budget but my original budget didn’t include doing that powder room floor or fixes to the alarm system, so I’m pretty happy. And this is some of what I got for my money, in terms of before and after: a very nice transformation!

briston 10
















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The impact of Staging: Before and After shots of my new listing

I have a new listing in Laurentianview that needed a little updating to get it ready for sale. We had a very small budget. I decided the money was best invested in a little paint and dry wall repairs (just a wall here and there) and in staging.

I rent furniture and stage properties myself so that my clients aren’t hit with the thousands of dollars it can cost to stage a house. Here, the furniture rental was under $700 and you will see the impact in a moment.  It took me about 10 hours yesterday to get it all done, but I don’t charge my clients for my time: I figure I’m going to get the commission and I enjoy doing it.

The living room had an outdated valance and sheers, but the windows were very high because of the great room/vaulted ceiling. I asked Cedric Poon, my contractor on this one, to remove the valance – we were able to match that wall paint perfectly when the old valance was removed. I bought two new curtain rods from HomeSense ($60 plus HST) for the patio doors and this big window and Cedric used his laser to make sure the height of both matches.

I was super impressed with Wayfair: I ordered 108″ long white sheers with grommets on the weekend and they arrived on Monday.  Cost, including taxes and delivery? Under $ 72. Here’s the before:

sherbourne valance

sherbourne LR before

And here’s the after (that white “buffet” comes from the bedroom set; we took off the mirror):


The dining room had an interesting but dated light fixture. Once again, there was a valance over the windows and also over the patio doors. The dining room also had one very bright blue wall: we painted that out with the same wall colour as on the other walls. I don’t know how I did it because we didn’t know the exact paint colour but it turned out I’d matched it perfectly, so Cedric didn’t have to paint the entire walls. Here are the before shots:

sherbourne light

sherbourne blue wall

sherbourne dining room valance

Here’s the “during” shot, where Dom and Ben from SmartChoice brought in the dinette set for assembly. I wanted the dinette set up so that we knew how low to hang the new light fixture): note the new curtains over the patio doors:

sherbourne DR beforeAnd here’s the after:

sherbourne DR after

The room was totally transformed by that new light. I got it at Rona for around $ 150. The rug is mine — I kept renting it from SmartChoice and finally asked Sylvie how much to buy it; I think it was around $ 150 and I use it all the time. The table and chairs were rented from SmartChoice as part of that overall $ 700 cost I mentioned. The “buffet” is the chest of drawers from one of the rented bedroom sets. The art is mine.


Finally, there were a couple of bedrooms that I wanted to stage as well. One was yellow and one was periwinkle. I think they turned out great!

In the yellow room, I removed old sheers, leaving only the blinds, otherwise, the room is unchanged. All the  soft staging items and lamps are from my store of stuff for staging (I have a storage locker at Dymon), but the beds and end tables in both rooms were rented from SmartChoice:


And in the periwinkle room, I used some great art to tie things together and replaced the old rod pocket sheer curtains with white grommet curtains from my stash of decor items for staging.


So that’s the value of staging! This lovely property will have three Open Houses this weekend (with agents from my office hosting). It’s located at 574 Sherbourne, and is listed for $ 659,900. Drop by and see it in person!

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Renovating an investment property – Day 30 – 298 Briston Private is now for rent!

Well, the work is done – I did a little light staging at Briston Private today and popped it up on Kijiji for rent. We’ll see what kind of response I get! I’m asking $1800/month which includes water and there is no HWT rental because the tank is owned. One parking spot right out front and tons of visitors parking. If you know anyone, feel free to pass that info along!

But I know you’re here to see all those “after” pictures, so here you go!


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Renovating an investment condo: Day 27 – new powder room tiles!

Well, things at the condo had to take a back seat for a week, given my pup’s ruptured disc and the ankle I sprained carrying him in from outside. Damn, this has been a tough winter — five months of brutal! But luckily, Alex, my contractor, has carried on and things are almost finished.

We changed out the lighting in the powder room as the old ballast was on its last legs and the room was very, very dark.


I replaced it with pot lights, one over the sink and one over the toilet. This was more complicated than I thought as we had to completely rebuild the bulk head. But the room was much brighter, and I took the opportunity to swap out the blue paint for the same colour that we used in the laundry room (Sherwin Williams, Rhinestone).

And then, and just when I thought we were ready to wrap things up, the new brighter lighting revealed that toilet had been leaking and that the tiles had some cracks. If you know me at all, you’ll know that kind of thing drives me bonkers, so I went out and bought tiles at Lowes ($1.29/tile) and asked Alex to quote me on a new floor.

When Alex removed the toilet,  he discovered the seal was held in place with plastic bolts, which really isn’t a good idea because those can break so we added  that to the list of fixes.

I didn’t want to remove the pedestal sink, so we tossed around how to proceed, and Alex suggested I tile over the existing tiles.

I’ve only done that a few times: normally, we prefer to remove the tiles down to the plywood, install new plywood and start over. But here, it turned out the existing tiles had been laid over linoleum. To tear all of that up and lay new plywood was going to mean the floor was higher than the bottom of the pedestal for the sink, and cause transition issues. We agreed the simplest solution was to glue down new tiles.

This required Alex to put down a primer first so the glue has something to grip. And of course, I had to find time to get over there to paint the spot behind the toilet (which I did, after these pictures were taken: note the new colour):

Briston flooring 7

Briston flooring 5

While I dealt with my dog, and a crazy week work-wise, Alex started work on the tiles.

briston flooring 4

And here’s where things are at now:


Briston flooring 1

I just spoke to Alex and apparently he just finished grouting (I picked a white grout that matches the white in the tiles) and will do the baseboard quarter round tomorrow. I’ll meet him there at noon to make sure we’re all done, start clearing out the various stuff I have left there, and get some pictures so I can get this listing ready to rent!

Of course, no renovation is ever completely done!  There are a few small kitchen details to address and Chris from R & C Cabinetry will be back on Monday to finish those up.

And I discovered after all our electrical work was done that the front door bell doesn’t work: Mark Dods will swing by when he’s in the area to fix that. And then (I hope!) it will be ready for someone to move in and love!

I’ll post the before and after pics this weekend along with details of my budget and how I made out.


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Renovating an investment condo – Day 17 – new cabinet doors!

My new Shaker doors arrived last Friday but Chris and Rebecca from R & C Cabinetry were booked so today was the day for the install. We had a little confusion because I thought Chris was picking up the trim paint and he thought Swedish Door Co., who supplied the doors for the cabinets, would be including it. Anyway, I managed to track down a quart of paint in the same finish from Bond’s on Bank Street and got to them so they could finish their work.

Here’s the before:

briston alex 1


And here’s the after:

Briston cabinet doors 3

Here’s another before:

briston 6

And after:

briston cabinet doors 1

And yet another:

briston 10

And after:

Briston cabinet doors 2

Don’t they look great? All new soft close hinges as well. Chris and Rebecca did a great job and are highly recommended!

I was painting the powder room on Sunday and realized the tile floor was cracked in places (we put in better lighting in the form of pot lights to replace an old fluorescent bulb and that’s when I could see the cracks.)  I’ve asked Alex to retile it — I’m using these black and white encaustic tiles from Lowes so it will be a little gem when we’re done. He’ll start tomorrow. Which means I’ll be over budget a little, but once I get started, I want to do it right!

And for those of you have asked, little Scout is recovering very well! He is still confined, but is wagging his tail and standing up on his own. Surgeon says it will take him 6-8 weeks to fully heal, but he’s very happy with the progress he’s making so far!


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Renovating an investment condo – Day #14 – an unexpected and stressful delay!

Things were coming along great with my investment condo and then on Sunday, I let my little spaniel buddy out in the back yard and he came back in with his legs looking a little stiff. I thought maybe it was because he kept sinking into the snow which was piled in the back yard — I could seem him sinking through the crust.  I went off to paint the laundry room at the condo and when I came back in the afternoon, his back legs were almost crossed and he was quivering with pain.

The next morning his condition was worse and I rushed him to my vet who said it looked neurological and he thought Scout  might have slipped a disc. So off we went to see Dr. Philip Jull,  the only animal neurologist in town. Dr. Jull  said he’d have to do an MRI to see the extent of the damage but he thought Scout had twisted his back and ruptured a disc and would need immediate surgery.

He said that Scout could still feel pain in his feet which meant he had a 95% chance of recovery if he was operated on  quickly but the old guy was already getting worse. When I left the clinic, he could no longer stand and was dragging himself in a sitting position on the floor with his front paws, one leg pointing straight out, and panting heavily. If we waited and he lost sensation in his feet, his odds would have dropped to 50%, so I opted to go with the surgery and Dr. Jull and his team stayed several hours after the clinic closed doing the surgery. Great team; super impressed with the care Scout received and I owe a big debt of thanks to Dr. Jull for his quick action and commitment to Scout’s health.

Anyway – the good news is that the surgery was successful. Dr. Jull found a ruptured disc and one that had degenerated and operated on both. When I saw Scout on Tuesday he could stand again with a little help but was clearly in pain. Nonetheless, he gave me the stink eye for not taking him home right away. (He’s wearing a harness that allowed him to be assisted walking with handles on the front and back.)

Scout 1

But he could stand on his own, although he was wobbly. (That’s a Fentanyl patch between his shoulder blades.)

Scout 3

He came home yesterday and is walking (which is amazing) but had to be carried out to the car. I’m lucky to have such great friends: Eric Ritterath, from work, came to help me lift him into the car and carry him up the stairs at  home to bring him in. As you can see, he was standing with almost no support from Eric at all.

Scout today 1

Here’s my poor little guy at home with his surgical scar revealed. He was in a lot of pain, as you can imagine, and is on a regimen of different medications to ease his pain and help him urinate while he recovers.

Scout scar

He was anxious and distressed until I took the Fentanyl patch off last night; we think he may have had an adverse reaction to it because almost instantly, he was able to sleep and he’s been pretty much tail-wagging and his usually patient self since that patch came off. Here he is all tuckered out in the area I had to set aside for him: he has to be confined in a limited space for the next couple of weeks.

scout today 2

Dr. Jull says that Scout’s recovery is going well and that in 3-4 weeks he should be almost back to normal. Pretty amazing to see a dog that can’t stand to one that is standing and wagging his tail again in such a short period of time! Here is a shot of him today; he managed to break out of his confinement area twice and really wants to be able to roam. Dr. Jull says that’s good that he wants to do more than he should.

Scout standing

My good friend Jake Morgan built me a ramp today so that I don’t have to carry Scout outside to do his business, which spares me lifting him up and down the stairs — I was starting to feel my own back giving out! (The upper ramp from the back door was just cobbled together from an old cupboard door and a coir welcome mat.)

scout ramp 2

The vet bills on this were prohibitive ($ 7500 so far) so I’ll be doing some serious fundraising — my daughter, Jade, who is a talented artist,  offered to draw people’s pets for $ 75 a sketch and we’ve been overwhelmed by the response – she’s had to create a waiting list. Here are some samples of her work:

I’ve received a  donation of a beautiful piece of art from Frank Van Boxtel and a signed copy of Andrew King’s recent book, OAK ISLAND REVEALED, which I will raffle off when I have time to get tickets organized.

Here’s the lovely abstract painting of a peony that Frank donated (unasked for, I might add: he just contacted me and offered it — so generous!). Same thing with Andrew: he said as an owner of a senior dog himself, he wanted to help.

Tickets will be $ 5 a pop and all proceeds will go to Scout’s recovery. The painting is a 12″ by 12″ acrylic (isn’t it lovely?) . If you are interested, let me know, and thanks! Frank Peony

So with all that happening, I had to put my involvement in the condo on the back burner but my trades were terrific: they kept on working. Alex Martinez got the drywall repairs finished; Mark Dods finished up the electrical, which included installing new pot lights in the powder room, and installing some new lights, and Brian Barnes got the alarm system working again (the owner hadn’t installed it and didn’t know the code).

And some really great friends showed up on Monday to help Alex remove the old HWT and move in a new one (thanks Marc and Victor!). New cabinet doors have arrived and will be installed on Monday; I’ll paint the powder room this weekend and post all the pics then, this property should be up for rent next Tuesday or Wed!

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