Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Horror comes to Texas

by jay.raman@ashokalion.com 10, October 2012 00:19

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was released in 1974, with a relatively unknown cast, and it was filmed in Texas. As a Texas property management firm serving the Houston and Dallas market, are you supposed to feel pride or sadness at that prospect. Therefore, to clarify for those of you who have never visited Houston, Dallas, or Texas; the movie actually was not based on event in Texas, but based loosely on the crimes of a man named Ed Gein who crimes were committed in Wisconsin. While watching the movie and reminiscing for our list that we are doing on our Ashoka Lion Facebook Business page  of our favorite horror movies (Author's Note: You can visit  the page, as it is where we tend to share our more humorous looks into our industry splashed with some informative education for landlords, real estate agents, and people interested in investing in real estate), a thoughts popped up about our job as property managers as well:

I doubt if that home was rented that anyone did a  property inspections ever. Something tells me that if a home was rented had rooms filled with victims that the tenant really were worred about a property manager stopping by. As a property management company, we provide our client with inspections to help the owner keep track of issue. We also leverage our history with our vendors to also gain insight into how a tenant is taking care of the property. Our A/C vendors, our in-house maintenance firm, and other vendors will give us reports to help us identify issues; and we use those visits that occur during a year to gain comfort over the resident's treatment of the landlords property. Our property managers tend to stop by on a drive by type inspection after the tenant's move in (see if the tenants are taking care of the yard, snuck a dog or pet in and not report it, introduce our property manager to a resident, or see if any issues or repairs need to be addressed) early on after they move in, and we also schedule a annual property inspection before they move out in the last 90 days.

However, after a movie like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, our Houston and Dallas property managers will be warned about visiting isolated homes in remote locations of the woods.



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Psycho: Norman Bates was evil, but Marion Crane was no saint either.

by jay.raman@ashokalion.com 7, October 2012 15:40

As a child, I had a strong appreciation for Alfred Hitchcock's brand of horror. It was chilling, but subtle. Psycho was a prime example of the brilliance of the gifted Alfred Hitchcock. However, as I was reviewing this movie for our Ashoka Lion Facebook list of horror movies for property managers; I realized that Marion Crane (played by Janet Leigh) was no angel herself. If you recall, Marion had embezzled $40,000 from her employer, and this is why she was hiding at the motel. Unfortunately for Marion, she met her untimely death in one of the most famous murder scenese in cinematic history (the bathroom scene in Psycho is a all time classic moment).

As a property manager, I am obviously scared of knife weilding lunatics; but Marion's crime is equally as scary for a property manager. As a licensed Texas real estate brokerage in both the Houston and Dallas markets, we are bound by ethical and legal obligations of fiduciary duty to our clients.  Marion's crime could devestate a firm like ours if that money stolen was the client's rent money.  Our duty as a property managers includes safekeeping of the client's rent monies collected, insuring appropriate disbursement of funds to vendors, and keeping record of income and expenses. This is a duty that our firm takes very seriously, as we want to limit mistakes and issues from ever arising. It would be nice to claim mistakes would never occur, but this would be foolish, as humans are bound to make mistakes. The key is to reduce those occurences. Our processes and procedures are sometimes unique from other property management firms. For example:


  • Rent is not to be mailed to our offices in Houston or Dallas.   Many firms do allow tenants tenants to mail in payment, but our property management policy is to disallow this. Over the years, tenants will claim that the rent is lost in the mail, and they did send it In fact, tenants will go so far as to show receipts from money orders,etc to prove this. These kinds of issues can be dealt with at a eviction hearing, but today, some judges will have sympathy for the clients who provide some kind of documentary proof. The burden is on the landlord to prove that the rent was not paid at that point.
  • Property managers do not pick up rents.   We do not pick up rents from tenants. A few years ago, one of our property managers had her purse stolen after leaving a property. Reprimanding the property manager does not solve any issues, and a landlord may have sympathy to our plight, but they expect their money to be remitted to them. Fortunately, this crime only resulted in the loss of a few hundred dollars of rent, and reimbursing the owner for that loss was not dramatic. However, that lesson taught to my property management team has stuck with us to this day. Our rent collection process does not involve picking up rents either.
  • Double entry accounting of money on two systems: We maintain our records of our bank accounts on Quickbooks for our internal records, but we also maintain our owners and tenant records on a web based system as well. By utilizing the two systems, we are able to identify issues more quickly as we use different staff to handle each system's entries.
  • Match Bills to Work Orders: To pay bills of nonutility nature, our accounting staff is required to upload invoices to an appropriate work order. If they cannot locate the work order or the work order amounts do not match, the back office staff will assign a review to clarify and approve the bill.
  • Person who organizes payments is not person entering bills: Our staff divides the role of uploading bills and paying bills to two different persons. Occassionally, our office will get a bill that we missed or some how the system was not working, and our managing director will sign off on the overriding the control. This separation of duties further insures that bills are paid as appropriate and reduces risk of a employee embezzling the funds.
  • Person who organizes and sign off on payments does not perform the reconcilation of the bank account.  Our managing director approves payments if they do not follow our process procedure and he is the only signer on the account , but another member of our back office team does the reconciliation of the various property management accounts (escrow owner reserve, accounts, escrow deposit accounts, etc). This separation of duty further reduces risk that a fraudulent act could occur.

Marion Crane may have been victim to a insane man living in a creepy house with his deceased mother, but her crimes against her employer scare property management firms like ours almost as much as Norman Bates (played by Anthony Perkins).



The Omen: Signs of the appocalypse that we see as property managers

by jay.raman@ashokalion.com 6, October 2012 00:30

The original The Omen was a 1976 movie that scared me witless. I remembered that I watched the movie on local network 20 Vision in Houston, and I was way too young to watch something that scary. The movie was just so scary to me, as it involves the story of the AntiChrist's arrival to a family by way of a secret adoption by Robert Thorn (played by Gregory Peck) due to the loss of their own baby that very same night.  The adoption was secret to protect Robert's wife, Katherine (played by Lee Remick), from the emotional trauma of losing her own child. 

This first movie was focused on this child's infancy stage to being a young five year old child.  The signs of evil surround Damien as he grows up. Among the signs that we come to bear witness to are that he had a birth mark under his with the numbers 666, a nanny who commits suicide proclaiming it is for Damien, a evil nanny who replaces the recently deceases nanny and brings with her a Rotweiller (who brings a Rotweiller to a new job?), Damien's own terror when approaching a church or sacred ground, and many other ominous signs.  The protagonist is Damien's adopted father, who is faced with the decision to try and stop his adopted son. Being a property manager in the Houston and Dallas area, we have our own version of omens that fortell of doom.  4 omens are:

1) Owners ignoring preventative methods to maintaining their property- Sometimes owners will ignore issues that should be dealt within a prompt manner for numerous reasons including financial ability to pay, desire to improve profit, belief that the problem is not severe to merit attention, and various other reasons. Like The Omen, these ominous signs rarely go away, and in fact, many times, they just get worse. For example, we always warn owners to consider preventative maintenance of their AC systems, Furnances, etc. We know that the situation may get worse and lead to a owner having a larger issues later on down the way.

2) Owners who only focus on price when comparing our bids to a untested random vendor- Another dangerous omen that we come across are owners who refuse to accept pricing from qualified vendors. Some owners will balk at the idea of spending money for various maintenance service, but in our experience as property managers; we know that the vendors that we are asking for assistance are expeirencd and qualified.  Our property management company will request fair pricing, but we do not necessarily work with vendors on the basis of price alone. Our goal is to find affordable, experienced, responsive vendors so that we can balance quality and price.   Sometimes, owner's balk at prices of services, and they will use vendors that they find on Craigslist and compare them to the prices that our property management companies vendors will charge. We warn owners that using untested vendors on the basis of price can lead to heart ache.

As property managers, we are caught in the middle, as the owner will have issues with quality, price, and responsiveness with these untested vendors; but we are also hearing from the tenants, who are demanding problems get fixed in a timely manner.  This is why we always invite owners to provide us the names of quality, respected vendors that they have experience with who will be open to joining our vendor list when they sign up for property management services from us; but we warn them that just using any random vendor could be a disastorous.

3) The owner who refuses to set the price near the recommended rent that the market indicates- Prior to listing a property for rent, our broker will send a landlord a rental maket analysis (referred to a comparative market analysis or "CMA" for short).  We do this to help set the expectations that a property hopes to achieve in terms of rent rates. Ocassionally, our property managers will come across a owner who has their own value that they feel, and they will ignore our suggestion. We have often learned that this owner will still blame us if their property is not moving off the market.

4) The owner with unrealistic expectations of money being remitted- This owner will not accept our processes and timelines as realistc. We tell these prospective owners that we often will remit rents back in the middle of the month, and they find it unacceptable. They argue that they have to pay the mortgage. However, we tell them that this is not a unrealistic expectation because the tenants could be late, bank holidays and weekends adjust when rents will clear a account, our staff has to reconcile and review the owner's  rental property activity to make sure that we have netted all appropriate expenses prior to sending it out, and a myriad of other reasons.

We explain that a owner should not bank on the fact that the owner's rental draw will to be in prior to most mortgages being due. This kind of owner tends to get mad and frustrated at the onset, so we always politely explain that our processes and services are built on reducing mistakes and insuring that we are carefully accounting for the monies provided to us. If they refuse to see rationale of our systems, we will let the owner know that our firm may not be the right fit for their services.

Though our signs are not the same as world ending signs that the threated in The Omen, but these signs do scare us as property managers.



The Shining: Horror that many people have to deal with

by jay.raman@ashokalion.com 4, October 2012 23:18

The Shining is a 1980 horror movie that was based on the Stephen King novel, that was directed by Stanley Kubrick and starred Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall. The story is about a young family that is taking care of an isolated hotel that is haunted by a demonic presence. The hotel's demonic element slowly begins to turn the father and drag him into insanity. In the end, the mother and son flee the deranged father as he tries to kill them.  Now, fortunately, in our time as a property managers in either the Houston or Dallas area, we have not faced a tragedy on that scale, but we have come across tenant's whose lives are marred by family violence. Unlike this movie,  where the family is trapped together till the very end when they escape, the Texas property code does allow tenants to terminate a lease without reprecussion when dealing with incidences of family violence.

We advise tenants to put the request in writing, so our property managers can document the incident. Additionally, our property management company policy is to request tenants provide us copies of police reports or restraining orders to help us document the incident further. As the property manager, we still have to relay information to our landlords and owners; and the written documentation will help us in explain what is going on at a property.  Additionally, in those situations with the appropriate written notice and supporting documents, our property managment company will not report the incident as a broken lease or evict a tenant for moving out.

Normally, we like to be joke and tease about movies relating to our lives a property managers. However, the Shining is a movie that too often hits home for too many families in Houston, Dallas, Texas, and everywhere. We hope that tenants will not face horrorifying situations in their family life. If they do have to deal with this horror, then please remember to document and provide proof to your landlord or property manager to not compound the personal tragedy with an eviction or broken lease.  I am sure that many property management companies or property managers will be understanding.  If you do get a broken lease or eviction due to those circumstances, then you have to sometimes deal with a hassle to remove those items from your record.

The Shining, a classic movie, whose horror hits too close to home for too many people.


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Seven: The sin of gluttony brings flashbacks to how tenants sometimes take care of their property

by jay.raman@ashokalion.com 4, October 2012 13:16

When I watched the movie "Seven", there were many graphic and difficult scenes to watch.  Seven was a thrilling movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, and Kevin Spacey.  In the movie, a unnamed killer (who in the end is simply identified as John Doe) arranges several gruesome murders to replicate the seven deadly sins.  If you watched the movie, you probably cringed at how graphic and disgusting some of the scenes were. However, over the years as a property management company in the Houston and Dallas markets, we have found homes that would have seemed to be scenes straight out of the movie. I never understood why tenants would request a home be immaculate, but then upon a inspection, we discover that they take very little care of a home after they are given the keys.  Ashoka Lion will share one tenant story (name will not be revealed) to illustrate the kinds of flashbacks to Seven that we get as a property management company on a periodic basis.

My tenant story involved a lady who on paper seemed to be a solid prospect. Solid work history, no eviction or broken leases on record, made pretty good money , and did not register any red flags criminally. However, after this tenant moved in, we had a plumbing request. She had garbage disposal problem. We sent repair guys to the home, and they were thoroughly disgusted. In the home, they found dishes were piled high with uneaten foods left around the room and trash everywhere. The repair guys are instructed to inform our property managers of these kinds of issues, so we can schedule follow up inspections or send warning letters to tenant.  The guys continued to resolve the issue, and in the garbage disposal; the repair guys found pork bones and silverware in the garbage disposal. We obviously warned the tenant regarding this matter, but like a horror movie, this was just the begining. She later complained that the toilets were blocked up, so our property managers had to send repair guys out again. She had called our property managers to tell us that the toilet was blocked at 1 pm on a weekend, and we got a guy there around 6 pm. To our horror, her toilet was blocked up, but instead of leaving it alone; her family decided to continue using the toilet and caused it to over flow (no further details needed).

Truthfully, dealing with a tenant like this will make property management firms and their landlords think of the sin of wrath (not discussing further to avoid revealing too much about the movie).



The Fly: Another reason to not bring your work home with you

by jay.raman@ashokalion.com 3, October 2012 14:37

The Fly is a movie about a scientist who uses a warehouse like space to live and conduct experiments. Unfortunately, his experiment involves teleportation of items, and during one of his experiments a fly is trapped in the teleportation pod. THe unfortunate scientist begins to mutate to a savage cross of insect and man. Now, I know that most people are carry out teleportation or time travel experiments in their homes, but as property managers,we do come across people who try to use their home as a place of business. Our property management company's policy in our Houston and Dallas leases is that a home, duplex , condo, or apartment is used as a residence.

Allowing tenants to run a business out of their home is not a good idea on so many levels. First, the business is probably prohibited by community or homeowner association. Second, the business customer traffic to your home increases the risk that a incident can occur at the home. Third, many homeowner policies do require notice if the home is being used as place of business.  Our stance against home based business is not to be confused with a stance against people who bring their work home or who telecommute into their work.

Therefore, when our property management firm was approached by real estate investors or others who seek to use our homes as group homes, day care business, etc; we politely explain that most of our properties would not be qualified to be used in such a manner. However, in parts of Houston (namely the Heights and Museum District areas), where homes and properties can be used in a mixed use manner. In these scenarios, it is possible to lease to a person in this manner, but it would be important to use a commercial lease and know up front that the tenant's intent is to run a business.

Next time, your tenant backs up a truck filled with large nuclear powered pods, just remember that we warned you.



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CUJO: Pets are a big deal for landlords

by jay.raman@ashokalion.com 1, October 2012 23:55

Cujo is the story of a family's dog (a mastiff), who becomes dangerous after becoming rabid (or some disease).  The dog attacks a family coming to visit another family, and they cannot escape. It maybe unlikely tenant's will ever have a dog turn into a crazed animal, but unfortunately; this story can happen. Every year, people in Houston, Dallas, and around the United State come across sad, tragic stories of animals attacking people.

There are many owners and landlords who are not comfortable with pets for the risk of damage to the home, but another factor to consider is a pet bites can be held potentially liable to the landlord. As a default, our property management firm will usually accept pets on a case by case basis. We request applicants turn in a picture of the animal, fill out the pet addendum which details size, age, breed, and has a few questions that the applicant should answer about animal ever biting someone, etc. We also request pet owners who apply to turn in any proof of vet shots, registrations, and/or training to help our landlords for our properties in Houston and Dallas get a comfort that the animal is being cared for by responsible pet owners.  If the owner accepts pets, then we usually request a refundable pet deposit and adjust the rent to compensate for the additional risk that a pet. As a general rule of thumb, we also request carpets be professionally cleaned and tenant's are required to carry renter's insurance with appropriate liabillity (300k).


Amityville Horror: Know before you buy!

by jay.raman@ashokalion.com 1, October 2012 14:34

To commemorate Halloween, Ashoka Lion will be providing a fun look at our favorte horror movies. Amityville Horror (1979) was the story of a family who got a great home for a incredibly low price. Unfortunately, this home has a few issues including leaky pipes, bad phone connections, pest problems, and of course a demon possessed home. Now, I doubt most investors or landlords in Houston or Dallas ever face the need to have a home excorcised while adding a new paint job and floors, but it does remind owners to understand that unexpected things can pop on any real estate investment.  It is very difficult to learn every aspect of a home before buying, so the unexpected can arise. For our firm, we do request owner's to tell us about their rental properties to help us have a idea of what we could be facing.

The disclosure forms help us to know if there were any major repairs, types of ammenities, and features. Also, it helps our owners to remember things that may have been issues in the past (foundation, termites,etc). This kind of information helps us better understand potential issues that may arise and cost as a landlord. Owners must realize that those cost must be reserved for potential replacement for things like water heaters, garbage disposal, carpets,etc.  Being a landlord can be very lucrative, but it means trying to understand the risk. Our job as property managers are to help our Houston and Dallas owners understand and prepare for the worst and minimize the risk.  However, even with the experience of our property management team, you can encounter weird situations.

Now whether you are home buyer or investor, you have to accept the risk of the unknown, but I am not sure whether there is enough of a deal for a investor to buy a home that scream "GET OUT" to you!  

Check out our list being revealed at our Facebook page.