Unemployment claims in the U.S. continue to climb due to the coronavirus pandemic, surpassing 26 million last week. Laid-off workers are struggling to make rent payments, and small landlords are already starting to feel the effect.
Here's how they've been impacted by the crisis, what they're doing to support their tenants and how they've shifted their strategy when it comes to investing in real estate.
Seattle-based Todd Baldwin, 27, and his wife, Angela, 28, own six rental properties.
They both make six-figures from their 9-to-5 jobs, which haven't been affected by the pandemic. But their real estate revenue still represents a big chunk of their income: They bring in about $38,000 per month in rent. After expenses, including mortgage payments, taxes, insurance and utilities, they keep about $12,500 of that.
Rather than renting out each house to a single tenant, they rent out each bedroom. In total, they have 34 tenants.
"I know that some of them have been laid off or furloughed or lost hours," Baldwin tells CNBC Make It. In April, the couple still received full payments from all of their tenants, but the Baldwins are preparing to work with them if they can't make ends meet in the future. To keep spirits high, the couple made quarantine baskets for each tenant, filled with wine, snacks and a roll of toilet paper.
They're also giving tenants the option to pay rent with a credit card — and waiving the 3% transaction fee.
Baldwin doesn't want any of his tenants to take on credit card debt, but if they don't have enough cash, he's encouraging them to consider opening a 0% APR card, which allows you to finance debt or new purchases interest-free for up to 21 months.
So far, none of their tenants have used a card to pay, but if they do, the Baldwins don't mind paying the fee. "It helps them, and it helps me. I'd rather have 97% of rent than nothing," he says.
Garrett Ramela, 24, owns three properties — one in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, one in Alexandria, Virginia and one in National Harbor, Maryland, where he currently lives — and has four tenants. Plus, he earns additional income from renting two parking spaces.
His total real estate income comes to nearly $40,000 a year, but he nets closer to $3,600 per year, or $300 a month, after all the expenses are covered.
Ramela, who earns $120,000 a year working full-time as a defense contractor, is less concerned with turning a huge profit right now. Instead, he's focused on keeping his cash flow positive and building equity. Down the line, he wants to use the equity to invest in more units.
The pandemic hasn't changed any of his real estate goals. "I've been pretty motivated to buy," he tells CNBC Make It. In fact, he's looking at another property in Pennsylvania, which he found amid the coronavirus crisis. The purchasing process is delayed, he says, but as soon as the stay-at-home order lifts, he'll be able to close on his fourth property.
At the moment, all of his tenants are still working and have been able to pay rent — one even paid three months in advance, for April, May and June.
"I plan to be flexible if things change in the future," he says, whether that means accepting partial payments or working out payment plans with tenants. For now, he's not worried. "I try to communicate with everyone, really figure out what's going on in their lives and try to get ahead of the curve if there is an issue — that way, we can address the issue before it becomes a big problem."
As a landlord, there's always going to be risk involved, he adds: Even before this current crisis, "that question is always on my mind: What happens if a tenant stops paying?"
While he trusts they'll pay, "in the event that they don't, all of the mortgage payments are paid in advance — some of the payments are three months in advance, others are two months in advance. So even if Covid-19 lasts for more than three months, I wouldn't really be in a bad predicament from a mortgage standpoint."
Gabriela Ariza, 27, bought her two-bedroom house in Brookfield, Illinois in 2018. She rents out one of the bedrooms and a parking spot in her garage.
Both her tenant and the person renting out her parking space are still able to pay in full — and having that rental income is "a big help, especially during scary times like this, when you don't know if you might lose your job," says Ariza, who's been laid off before. "I'm really happy that I have extra sources of income."
While she eventually wants to buy a second rental property, she's not focusing on real estate investing right now. "The interest rates are pretty good," she says. "But I want to take advantage of the stock market."
Ariza has been wanting to invest in the stock market and now seems like the right time to do so, since she's young and has a long-term time horizon. She also has an emergency fund in place, plus more than one revenue stream to fall back on if she ever needs to: In addition to her full-time job as a cybersecurity specialist that pays $85,000 per year, she works part-time in the IT department at a local library (staff is still being paid even though the branch is closed) and works as a micro influencer for CompTIA, which entails posting on her social media accounts and writing blog posts. She's also an investor in the international branding company Collabo and earns a portion of their revenue.
"The reason why I have so many sources of income is because if something does go bad, I have another option," she says.
Alex Sanchez owns five rental properties around Chicago, Illinois and rents them out to five families.
The 25-year-old, who earns over $200,000 between his full-time job as an overhead lineman and his side hustles, wants to become a millionaire by 30 — and he sees real estate as his path to wealth. Before the pandemic, his plan was to acquire four new properties each year for the next five years, for a total of 20 units.
Recently, "I've turned my attention to the stock market," he tells CNBC Make It. While his current tenants have been able to pay rent so far, he's aware that a lot of people are struggling to make ends meet: "I feel like right now is not a good time to go look for a tenant. … If people aren't paying rent, why would I try to go get a property and get a tenant who might not even be able to pay?"
He's hopeful that he'll continue receiving full rent payments, but "it's still a little bit too early because we've only done one month of lockdown. I was very lucky that I received my rent in April. Now, we're taking it month-by-month, but so far, May looks promising as well."
In general, he's not worried, partly because he's prepared: He has a year's worth of mortgage payments set aside for his properties. That "puts me at ease," he says. "It helps me sleep."
In the meantime, he's delivering two of his favorite personal finance books to each of his tenants: "Rich Dad Poor Dad" by Robert Kiyosaki and "The Total Money Makeover" by Dave Ramsey. He's hoping the books will "get them in the right mindset, especially during times like these."