Interview with Jane Gasek

Landlord Jane Gasek is a member of the Worcester Property Owners Association and long time Worcester resident.  She shares her background, some tenant screening tips, and some of what makes landlording hilarious and sad.

Transcript

[Start 0:00:00]

Doug Quattrochi: Hi, I’m Doug Quattrochi, and my guest today is Jane Gasek, longtime landlord and a member of the Worcester Property Owners Association. Jane, thank you for speaking with me.

Jane Gasek: No problem.

Doug Quattrochi: Well, let’s start at the beginning. Have you always been a landlord? How did you get into it?

Jane Gasek: No. I’ve had a number of careers. I was a chemist, a schoolteacher, and then I decided to get into the landlord business while I was teaching school. My daughter went to Holy Cross College, and they were selling condos nearby, and I realized the mortgage was less than the room and board of Holy Cross. Those were my first two that I purchased, and after that, I was able to buy property quite a bit less expensive and a little bit more work. I found the less expensive they were, the more work they were, but financially they were much more advantageous.

Doug Quattrochi: That’s one of the things that I’ve always been impressed by with you is because you definitely focus on the numbers.

Jane Gasek: Right.

Doug Quattrochi: You think about it as an investment.

Jane Gasek: I used to teach math.

Doug Quattrochi: Yeah.

Jane Gasek: I would tell my students, “Math is money. You want it, learn it.”

Doug Quattrochi: Yeah. That’s a very good point. So when you first started, you said the less you pay, the more work it was. What were some of the surprises you encountered?

Jane Gasek: Some of the surprises was the deleading. The deleading in those days, we could do ourselves that ended up being a little more work, but we were able to do it. We simply had to remove all the woodwork, all the doors.

Doug Quattrochi: You took all the doors out?

Jane Gasek: And put in new windows, and new doors and all new woodwork, but it was well worth it because again you got $2,500 for each unit that you deleaded off your state income tax, so it was advantageous. We did do all the work ourselves in those days.

Doug Quattrochi: In those days that was maybe some time ago. The cost of deleading is much higher.

Jane Gasek: Yeah. Late 80s, early 90s.

Doug Quattrochi: Okay. And the tax credit is the same, isn’t it? Or is it less?

Jane Gasek: It might even be less.

Doug Quattrochi: Less. I think maybe $1,500.

Jane Gasek: Yes. That was good.

Doug Quattrochi: Okay, yeah. All right, and you don’t have any encapsulation done? You just removed all wood?

Jane Gasek: We removed it. That was the fastest. We figured out that was the fastest.

Doug Quattrochi: Yeah.

Jane Gasek: And I had some good woodworking people.

Doug Quattrochi: Okay, great.

Jane Gasek: And that was the fastest.

Doug Quattrochi: Okay. Now the most important thing about being a landlord is choosing your customers.

Jane Gasek: Right.

Doug Quattrochi: Unlike any other business where we have this very personal service of providing a home for people, we have to be very careful about who our customers are.

Jane Gasek: Correct.

Doug Quattrochi: So share with us our philosophy on tenant screening.

Jane Gasek: For me, tenant screening is the most critical thing that we do, and to the degree we do it well, my tenants, most tenants are very nice, but you do have to do your homework. I, first of all, make sure the apartment that you’re showing is complete, finished, and impeccable. You really need to have an edge, a competitive edge above anybody else and know what your edge is ‑ your apartment is quiet, lovely, clean, nice tenants, big yard, close to the bus, whatever.

I then put a nice ad on the paper, and I again put something unique in the ad that catches people’s attention like impeccably clean or great tenants. Make sure that the apartment is shining. If you have hardwood floors, get them refinished. Put a coat of wax on the kitchen floor and wash the windows. I squirt window cleaner around so it smells nice. For women, it’s critical that an apartment smells nice. For men, they may not notice as much, but for women, that’s very critical.

I listen in on the phone. I just advertise in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette $49.99 for 3 days. Other people use Craigslist, take pictures, etc.

Doug Quattrochi: Have you tried Craigslist?

Jane Gasek: My son has tried it, with pictures. I guess I’m old fashion. I stick with the T&G.

Doug Quattrochi: Okay.

Jane Gasek: Three days, but I make the ad somehow unique. I always put in first ad.

Doug Quattrochi: What’s first ad?

Jane Gasek: First ad is a caption that they will put on your ad.

Doug Quattrochi: Okay.

Jane Gasek: First ad or new ad.

Doug Quattrochi: Okay, so you get noticed.

Jane Gasek: When the people call, that’s my first line of screening. If I like the way they sound, I answer. I have a telephone ID and their number, so that was both of those things come up. If I like the way they sound, I pick up the phone and I just run in. I tell them completely about the apartments, so neither of us wastes our time. If I have any criteria like no dogs or whatever, certainly no smoking, tell them everything ahead of time.

[0:05:10]

I usually speak very quickly, and while they’re trying to get all of that information straight, then I quickly say this is for yourself because they were thinking of all the things that I have just said. They would tend to say, “Me and my husband and three children, a dog, and a cat,” because they haven’t had time to think.

But again, complete information, and I tell them you have to tell them ahead of time I’m going to be taking an application, and I’ll be doing a background check, credit check, rental history, and employment history. Are you comfortable with that because I need their permission to do that, and I do that, and I do do that.

If they have lived some place less than a year, you have to meet a former landlord. I have even gone often where they live with the application. “Oh, was this a three or an eight?  I can’t really see this here.”  When you do that, you’re in their apartment of where they lived and that’s often very telling.

Doug Quattrochi: Have you ever found something that made you decide not to rent?

Jane Gasek: Yes. If you speak to the people around them, speak to the neighbor next door. If they’ve not been positive tenants, they’re usually only too glad to give that information to you, but once you’re in someone’s apartment, that’s pretty telling. If it’s nice, then you can compliment them, “You keep a very nice apartment.”

I do call where they work. Most places will tell you that they work there. They will tell you how long they’ve been there. They usually will not divulge their salary.

Doug Quattrochi: Yeah.

Jane Gasek: But that’s written clearly. If they work there less than a year, call a former employer. When I do my background check, I belong to Nation’s SafeRent. With Nation’s SafeRent, I need their full name, social security number, birthday, then address. Then I get sexual predator, illegal alien, court records‑

Doug Quattrochi: Okay.

Jane Gasek: Eviction records, and a complete credit report. If they’re late, how many months they’re late and how much money they owe.

Doug Quattrochi: Do you consider owing money or having collections an absolute disqualifier?

Jane Gasek: It depends on what it’s for. If it’s medical, most people don’t count that. If it’s student loans, that’s something else.

Doug Quattrochi: Yeah.

Jane Gasek: Unless they’re astronomical.

Doug Quattrochi: It sounds like you keep your apartments nice and you show them very impeccably clean as you described.

Jane Gasek: Yes, yes especially clean.

Doug Quattrochi: Would you say you tend to get the top candidates?

Jane Gasek: I will keep interviewing until I do get a good candidate. That’s critical, too. Sometimes it is a real temptation when someone comes especially with cash in hand.

Doug Quattrochi: Right.

Jane Gasek: And there’s a clue right there with cash in hand. Also when faced a really good or terrific or I like them, you can say to them, “I think you’re someone I would like to rent to. If you have a deposit, I’ll make a commitment to you.” If they give you a deposit, that really commits them, but it doesn’t commit you. If after the application process, you find something that’s not quite correct, you can’t share it with them. You can’t share anything that you find out‑

Doug Quattrochi: You can’t give credit information.

Jane Gasek: No.

Doug Quattrochi: That’s right.

Jane Gasek: Nothing at all, but what I would say to them is, “Perhaps you should check your credit. There may be mistakes there.” There often are, but I have to go by whatever is there, and then give them back, give them back a check, give them back their deposit.

Doug Quattrochi: Yeah.

Jane Gasek: But if they’re really good, it is good to get a commitment from them if you can because that does commit them, and then they’re not like they will take the next apartment they see.

Doug Quattrochi: You have in your experience made mistakes in screening would you say because you told me earlier?

Jane Gasek: Right, recently.

Doug Quattrochi: Yeah.

Jane Gasek: Recently I did not screen a person carefully enough. He lived across the street, “said he know my tenants.” I didn’t screen him carefully enough and I didn’t live to regret it. Certainly, we did have to go through the eviction process with him, and again if you belong to Worcester Property Owners, you clearly are taught the correct eviction process, and everyone can be evicted.

Doug Quattrochi: You’re sort of a local expert on eviction. How long does it take the worst case?

Jane Gasek: It depends. The worst, 3 months; it can be 4 months.

Doug Quattrochi: Yeah.

Jane Gasek: Unfortunately, it depends. If you go through all of the process, and they do discovery, you can lose 3 or 4 months’ rent plus the actual cost of the eviction itself and you have a lawyer. That’s an additional cost. That even makes tenant screening more crucial.

[0:10:04]

Doug Quattrochi: Yeah, definitely. What would you say the worst case cost for an eviction?

Jane Gasek: The worst case would be probably 4 months’ rent plus another $900 for the move and store, so you’re talking you can be easily up to $4,000.

Doug Quattrochi: With the fees?

Jane Gasek: Four thousand five hundred.

Doug Quattrochi: Court fees and attorney.

Jane Gasek: Yes, plus the aggravation. Many new landlords will get an attorney and that’s certainly another $500 or $1,000.

Doug Quattrochi: Yeah. This last eviction was your first move and store.

Jane Gasek: My first move and store, hopefully my last.

Doug Quattrochi: How did you avoid them before?

Jane Gasek: I avoided them by better tenant selection.

Doug Quattrochi: Okay.

Jane Gasek: By not listening to someone who needed to move in quickly, etc.

Doug Quattrochi: Okay, so that’s the tenant side of things, but then we also have to take care of buildings. Are you handy? Do you do your own repairs?

Jane Gasek: I have good plumbers, good electricians, good carpenters. I can do cleaning and painting.

Doug Quattrochi: Cleaning.

Jane Gasek: And simple things and hauling trash.

Doug Quattrochi: Yeah.

Jane Gasek: But you need in Worcester Property Owners, we have a plethora of excellent plumbers, electricians. Those who need experts plumbing to be licensed in most cases.

Doug Quattrochi: Yeah, you do. Absolutely. Actually just to share with folks, I was talking with an attorney and reminded that if you have a handyman do electrical or plumbing, you can’t withhold from a security deposit for that, which I did not realize.

Jane Gasek: I didn’t know that.

Doug Quattrochi: Because if it gets in court, then you will be not allowed those expenses because the law is you must hire a licensed electrician or plumber.

Jane Gasek: Yeah. Electrician is crucial.

Doug Quattrochi: Yeah, definitely. So as a member of the Worcester Property Owners, you get to interact with a lot of other landlords.

Jane Gasek: Yes.

Doug Quattrochi: Are there mistakes you see? Are there good things you see?

Jane Gasek: They are often mistakes with new landlords because there simply is quite a bit to learn, and I’ve always found the best way to learn is from somebody else’s mistakes and I had excellent mentoring from the time I began. With Worcester Property Owners’ every meeting, I learned something from someone and pick up additional information, and you can’t learn it all at once.

Doug Quattrochi: Yeah.

Jane Gasek: But with enough time and there are lots of advantages. I mean once your property is paid off, mine would be at my age, certainly it’s a nice income stream and it’s one of the few that’s really reliable‑

Doug Quattrochi: Reliable.

Jane Gasek: These days.

Doug Quattrochi: And you can control it because it’s something you manage directly.

Jane Gasek: Right. It’s real. That’s why it’s called real estate. It doesn’t disappear or go away hopefully.

Doug Quattrochi: Yeah. All right. How do you feel about being a landlord in Massachusetts? In particular, are the laws the way they should be? Do you have exposure to landlords from other states?

Jane Gasek: The laws in our state are the most pro-tenant of the entire United States. We had a research bureau check that out. They’re very, very pro-tenant and because it behooves you to be very knowledgeable and because many tenants have organizations to help them out. Landlords need to have the same. If you do everything correctly, pretty much it works out, but the laws especially move and store are particularly onerous and not having an escrow account with the court. Many people go to court simply to get another month or two of free rent.

Doug Quattrochi: Can we talk about each of those? Tell us first move and store because you just went through that. How does it work?

Jane Gasek: With move and store, you need to hire a constable. That’s $300 anyway at the final stage, and he has to open the door. If the tenant has left, they’ve left. If not, he walks the tenant out the door and then the movers will box up everything in the apartment – junk, food, clothes, trash.

Doug Quattrochi: And do you have to be there or do you have to send a representative?

Jane Gasek: You have to be there, and the constable is there all that time. That is a cost depending on how many hours he’s there. Then it has to be stored for 3 months at your expense, so $900 to $1,000‑

Doug Quattrochi: Special work hours.

Jane Gasek: Would be a minimum for that, and of course it’s never claimed and it’s never taken back.

Doug Quattrochi: Yeah. Because if they want it, then they would find a way to take it.

Jane Gasek: That’s a particularly onerous law. I don’t think there’s another state in the United States that has that law.

Doug Quattrochi: With rent escrow you mentioned?

Jane Gasek: With rent escrow, the tenant owed rent and the landlord was evicting them. When you went to court, the tenant would have to have the rent put in escrow and held by the court.

Doug Quattrochi: If we had a rent escrow law.

[0:15:00]

Jane Gasek: If we had the rent escrow law, so it would not give them an advantage in going into court. They would still have to pay the rent. They wouldn’t be getting away with 1, 2, or 3 months free rent.

Doug Quattrochi: So the scenario is a tenant will claim violation of the sanitary code.

Jane Gasek: They’ll claim code violations or they’ll claim almost anything and there is another law, which also didn’t get passed that anything they claimed like code violations, mice, or whatever, they would have to be proved.

Doug Quattrochi: Yeah.

Jane Gasek: The court or people would have to come and prove it, take pictures.

Doug Quattrochi: That was the last legislative session you wanted the bill to pass.

Jane Gasek: Yes. That was the last legislative session.

Doug Quattrochi: Yeah.

Jane Gasek: Now they can claim anything, and there isn’t any proof or doesn’t have to be any proof. You have to prove somehow that it’s not true.

Doug Quattrochi: In housing court here in Worcester, you would have to show evidence to the judge that‑

Jane Gasek: That they would have to show evidence if there are mice, or rodents, or bedbugs, or whatever. They would have to have some evidence.

Doug Quattrochi: Well, that’s what you want?

Jane Gasek: That’s what I would want. Presently, they need no absolutely‑

Doug Quattrochi: It’s just their word against yours.

Jane Gasek: Yes. It’s just an accusation or hearsay.

Doug Quattrochi: And the landlord is responsible for coming up with the evidence to the contrary?

Jane Gasek: Right. It’s called discovery, and discovery puts off the trial another 2 weeks, which is something to the tenant’s advantage.

Doug Quattrochi: How many times have you been in court?

Jane Gasek: I’ve been in court about three or four times.

Doug Quattrochi: That’s actually not bad.

Jane Gasek: Yeah. That’s not terrible for the number of years I’ve been in business.

Doug Quattrochi: Yeah. Some of our Worcester Property Owners members are in court on a regular basis.

Jane Gasek: Right. They manage large numbers of property. They are likely to be.

Doug Quattrochi: Yeah.

Jane Gasek: But once you know the process, it’s not as scary.

Doug Quattrochi: Is there anything in particular that you’d like to give by way of advice to people who are landlords now or considering getting into it.

Jane Gasek: It’s a very good way. My son, I encourage my son, to get my son into property management on having property. To me it’s a single way in such a tumultuous jobs situation we have now. It’s a single way to have some steady, constant money coming in that you can rely on, and you always have work to do, never without work.

Doug Quattrochi: Never bored.

Jane Gasek: Right. Right. You’re never bored.

Doug Quattrochi: Yeah.

Jane Gasek: You meet great people. We’ve got wonderful people in Worcester Property Owners. They have wonderful stories to tell. There was a group of us years ago that were going to write a book called So You Want to be a Landlord and everybody’s funniest stories were going to be in it, and we had some funny ones.

Doug Quattrochi: Is there anything that you remember that you care to share?

Jane Gasek: Quite a few. I had one years ago, the ones I rented to college students. It’s not something I do anymore other than Clark graduate students because I went to Clark. But these were Holy Cross students and it was a condominium, so I think that the other tenants could keep an eye on them. They called one night and said, “Oh, Mrs. Gasek, there appears to be a fire out by the dumpster.”

“A fire?” So I called my boys. “Boys, I understand there’s a fire out by the dumpster.”

They said, “Well, remember that iguana you said we could have? Well, he died and we didn’t want to throw him in the dumpster, so we’re having a cremation ceremony.”

Doug Quattrochi: No.

Jane Gasek: They were having a cremation ceremony.

Doug Quattrochi: No. Wow.

Jane Gasek: There was once we were looking for a tenant because I know that he was there and a tenant that was illegal. He wasn’t supposed to be there, and I opened the closet and there he was in the closet.

Doug Quattrochi: Right there, hiding.

Jane Gasek: Trying to look like an article of clothing. That was ‑

Doug Quattrochi: Wow. That must have been –

Jane Gasek: That was a little bit scary.

Doug Quattrochi: A little bit scary, yeah.

Jane Gasek: My husband was with me. He thought he would be in the shower, but no. He was in the closet.

Doug Quattrochi: Okay. Wow, wow. Crazy. Well, it’s a crazy business.

Jane Gasek: Yeah. As they say, it would have been a good book I think. My other friends had some good stories to tell.

Doug Quattrochi: Maybe we can get one together.

Jane Gasek: Yeah, really.

Doug Quattrochi: Yeah. Well, thanks so much, Jane.

Jane Gasek: Okay. It was fun.

Doug Quattrochi: I really appreciate you taking the time.

Jane Gasek: Thank you.

Doug Quattrochi: Yeah, thank you.

[End 0:19:39]

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