How I Use Evernote to Manage My Rental Properties

Renting-property

Ah Evernote! Whatever did I do before you?!?!? Evernote is one of those tools that once you use it, trying to live without it would like going back to using Windows 3.1, or worse… my old Vic 20.

Evernote is your 2nd brain; it is a note capturing, organizational, and searching tool which provides automatic synchronization across your different computers and devices. Here is a quick overview:

Evernote Overview Video

I use Evernote for a variety of tasks in my life, and one of the tasks I found invaluable has been for helping to manage my rental properties.  As an investor with multiple investment properties, I’ve researched and used various real estate management tools, but found them either too cumbersome to use as an individual investor, or the cost didn’t justify the benefits provided.

So why did I settle on Evernote for management my  property management tasks?  Here are  my reasons:

  • It is easy to add information.  By scanning a document, taking a picture, or typing a note, it is super easy to add information to Evernote.
  • It provide powerful tools to organize your notes.  Notebooks and tags give you the ability to organize even the most organizationally complex notes.
  • It’s searching ability makes it trivial to find the information you need

Now with that said, let’s get to how I use Evernote to manage my rental properties…

Set Up Tags For Your Properties

The first thing I did was create a notebook for all of my real estate related notes, and then set up custom tags to make organizing and finding information a breeze.

Next, I created a “Properties” tag and then created sub-tags with the address for each property that I own. This allows me to tag a note to a particular property when that note refers to that property only.

I have a few houses where I rent the main floor unit, basement suite, and garage out separately. As there may be some notes that refer specifically to a unit, I create a “Suites” parent tag with “Main Floor Suite”, “Basement Suite” and “Garage” sub tags. Now I can easily specify a specific unit by tagging a note with a “Property” tag and a “Suites” tag.

For apartment buildings that have multiple units, I create a “Units” parent tag with the unit numbers as sub-tags (e.g. Unit 101, Unit 102, Unit 201, etc). Now you can specify that a note relates to a specific unit by tagging it with a “Property” tag and the “Units” tag.

Scan and Import Your Purchase and Mortgage Documents

Anyone who has purchased a property knows it is a document intensive process. My lawyer hands me a binder full of all the purchase documents for a property. This is fine for the first couple of properties, but eventually you are going to have a bunch of binders in a closet somewhere, and at some point you are going to need some piece of information in that pile. Enter Evernote… instead of storing the documents, scan them and import them into Evernote and tag it with the corresponding “Property” tag and a “Purchasing Documents” tag. Then if you need that piece of information, you can easily search for it using Evernote’s powerful search capabilities.

Usually the mortgage documents are in this pile of paper, so for added organization (As your mortgage may change over the time you own the property) you can tag this note with a “Mortgage Docs” tag.

I also love to scan the MLS sheets of the properties I purchase as they are chock full of all the information about a property, such as Square footage, Lot size, Legal Land Address, that I would never remember.

And if scanning all of these documents doesn’t appeal to you, it is easy to use a document scanning company such as Pixily which allows you send the files to them in one of the envelopes they send you, and then scan them for you and import them into your Evernote account. But I personally haven’t used them.

Scan and Import The Condo/Homeowners Association Documents

If you’ve purchased a condo or a house subject to a Homeowners Association, you are bound to get a large document outlining all of the Condo’s rules and regulations. Purchase a couple of these, and now you’ve got a serious stack of lawyer-speak to keep track of. And at some point, you will need to find some sentence in this stack of verbal diarrhea. But luckily you can easily search for key words making this task infinitely easier. Just scan the document, use the appropriate “Property” tag and add the “Condo Docs” tag.

Keep and Manage Rental Ads

Whenever a property comes vacant, I want to market the vacancy online with a website like Craigslist or Kijiji, but I certainly don’t want to write a new ad every time. So what I do is write my ad once in Evernote, and then cut and paste the ad into the website.

I also like to use multiple ads for a property to test and see which ads get the best results and adjust my advertising accordingly. To accomplish this I create a note for each ad and tag it with the “Property” tag and the “Marketing Copy” tag. Then when I select those 2 tags, I get every ad I’ve created for that property.

Of course, you are also going to want to post pictures of your property with your ads. However, I prefer to use Dropbox for pictures. I take marketing pictures for each property, put them in their own folder inside of the Dropbox folder, and they automatically sync across all of the machines I have Dropbox installed on. Now I have access to all my marketing pictures on all my computers.

Track all completed and need-to-be-done repairs and renovations

Repairs will be needed… it’s an unfortunately aspect of rental property ownership. With multiple rental properties, this can easily become overwhelming to store in memory. To mitigate this, create a note with the needed repair along with pictures, and then tag the note with the applicable “Property” tag and a “Needed Repairs” tag. Then you can send the note to the repair person, or wait until the tenant moves out to complete the repair if it is too big to complete with them in the unit.

Once the repair has been completed, I like to take “after” pictures and then change the tag to “Completed Repairs” so I have a record of the repair, and can monitor repairs to see if a particular repair is happening too often indicating a need to replace or renovate. Additionally, I can scan receipts from the repairs and attached it to the corresponding note, so I have an idea of how much a past repair cost.

Scan and Import the Move-in and Move-out inspections and take photos of all damage

Ahhh… the moving inspections. How much eye-sight changes from the move-in to the move-out! Don’t worry… I’m not blaming one group over the other as I’ve been on both sides of this process. The best way to overcome this? Pictures.

At the move-in inspection, go through your move-in inspection document, but also take pictures of all damages. This way when you put “Scratches on North wall” in the inspection report, you can have a picture of the exact damage upon move-in. This protects both tenants and landlords from potential issues in the future (ie: Move out).

Once the inspection is complete, scan the inspection report into a picture and attach the pictures taken at the inspection and email it to the tenant. Tag the note with the corresponding property tags and a “Moving Inspections” tag.

Have your receipts scanned and imported into Evernote

Got a shoebox full of receipts for your rental properties? Use Shoeboxed instead. Mail in your receipts and have them scan them and import them into your Evernote account where you can easily search for a specific receipt.

Alternatively, you can use the JotNot app for your smartphone. Using your smartphones camera, you can “scan” receipts by taking pictures of them and then importing them into Evernote. However I found this process to be too time consuming, especially with a large stack of receipts.

There are also scanners out there like the Doxie One or the ScanSnap. I don’t have any experience with either of these 2 scanners, but I would hope they would speed up the process of getting scans of receipts into Evernote.

You can then tag each receipt with the address of the property which allows you to follow if 1 property is costing more in repairs over others.

Scan and import all of your leases and application forms

I’m not sure if there is a universal law behind this, but it also seems that the one lease you need always goes missing. Or, more commonly, the tenants copy of the lease goes missing. This is easily rectified by scanning the signed lease into Evernote and affixing the appropriate Property tags and a “Current Leases” tag. I also like to differentiate between current leases, and older leases and it’s sometimes necessary to have older ones around for those fun legal moments you get to have as a landlord. So once a lease expires, I change the tag to “Old Leases” to be able to easily search between the two.

Store economic reports and data

The information age has brought all of the information to your fingertips. The downside is that the information age has brought ALL of the information to your fingertips. Thus, I really like to use the Evernote clipper to select data from reliable sources’ websites (Apartment Associations, Realtor data, etc) and store it in Evernote allowing me to analyze vacancy rates, in-migration, job creation and other important economic data related to areas I have invested in.

Store Property Information

A property comes with a massive amount of data; much of it indecipherable (I’m looking at you Legal Land Address). Square footage, lot size, floor plans and more are all pieces of information you never need except for one-off events which send you through the glorious task of searching through piles of paper while trying to keep your cursing to a minimum. Scanning this data and storing eliminates this.

Store Appliance Information, Warranties, and Manuals

I often wonder if there is a black market for manuals and warranties for appliances because they often disappear with no trace of evidence. Now I take pictures of the various appliances in a property along with pictures of the serial numbers and related cryptic data businesses like to brand onto their work, and store it in Evernote with the appropriate property tag. Warranties are scanned making repairs an easier task without the game of “Hide and Seek”.  I prefer to download manuals from the manufacturers website whenever possible.

Store questions to ask prospective tenants

Through my experiences as a property manager, you start to know what questions to ask a prospective tenant to determine if they are the quiet, responsible, Librarian type or the Red Bull IV drip Know-It-All. I keep a list of these questions in Evernote so I can copy and paste them into emails, or ask them when talking with them in person.

Store questionnaires for current tenants

Call me crazy, but I actually like to get information from my tenants on how we can improve. Much of the information is typical (Lower rent) but every once in a while you get a good idea that you can implement. I like to keep these questionnaires in Evernote and update them whenever I get an idea for a good question. I then create a form in Google Docs and email it out.

I also make an exit questionnaire mandatory whenever a tenant leaves us. It gives us the opportunity to see if there was something we could have done to keep the tenant, or if there is a reoccurring issue.

Store Appraisals

Appraisals average cost is about $100 per page, but that page is full of useful information about your property. Scanning it and tagging it with an “Appraisals” tag and the associated “Property” tag keeps this information at your fingertips.

Various Tenant Information

The tenants tag is for various documents associated with a tenant, such as complaints, non-payment, and other tenant related notes or email correspondence.

What is Evernote missing as a property management tool?

Ability to post an ad to a site automatically with pictures

I would love the ability to post directly from an Evernote note to an ad site like Craigslist or Kijiji. However this is entirely unlikely due to the likely behavior of some individuals to delete their ads and then re-post them every mintue so they make sure their ads are at the top of the list, which is something classified ads companies would prefer you pay for.

Spreadsheets

Evernote just doesn’t do a great job with Spreadsheets. Partially, it is understandable. They don’t want to recreate an application that already does that, and does it exceeding well. However, I want to be able to store well-formatted tables and graphs in notes, as well as update them directly in my notes.  This is something that Microsoft OneNote 2013 is doing very well.

Summary

In all, Evernote makes a great tool for property management for the price (Freemium model). Especially with some higher priced property management focus tools out there, Evernote can get the job done for a next to no cost for most managers. It’s ability to customize itself to your particular organizational techniques is a powerful tool for most property managers who handle a smaller number of units. While a more expensive, property management tailored software package may be what you need, Evernote will work extremely well for the rest of us.

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4 responses to “How I Use Evernote to Manage My Rental Properties

  1. Hi there, just became aware of your blog through Google, and found that it’s truly informative.
    I am going to watch out for brussels. I will
    appreciate if you continue this in future. Numerous people will be benefited from your writing.
    Cheers!

  2. Pingback: Fix Evernote Error Loading Errors - Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8·

  3. Hi Shane, I’m an avid Evernote fan and have done quite a bit of custom configuration to work with managing properties. You mentioned making an exit interview mandatory for your residents. Just curious how you managed to accomplish that. Most people don’t want to leave feedback unless they are upset. Getting balanced feedback would be highly useful. Thanks for taking the time to document how you use Evernote. It gave me some helpful ideas to add to my own system.

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