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Real Estate Today

Rental Expert and U-T Columnist Writes a `Dummies' Book

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You might call San Diego property manager Robert Griswold a multimedia type of guy.

A co-author of a newspaper column on rental issues carried in The San Diego Union-Tribune and other California newspapers, Griswold is also the featured real estate adviser on KNSD/Channel 39 and is the host of a Saturday radio program carried by KSDO. And he has the Internet covered through a rental-advice column carried by a Web news service.

Now, he's an author as well, of a book for landlords.

Griswold's book, "Property Management for Dummies" ($21.99, Hungry Minds Inc.), came out in May and has quickly jumped to the top of the few competing books in the narrow-interest field of running apartments.

Beyond his media role, Griswold operates a San Diego company managing 2,000 rental units in Southern California and Nevada. A frequent expert witness in tenant-landlord cases, he holds an MBA in real estate and a master's in real estate development from the University of Southern California and is past president of the San Diego chapter of the Institute of Real Estate Management.

Griswold, 42, said he knew he had a winner with the "Dummies" book when he was told it had knocked over the previous top title sold at the National Apartment Association's annual convention.

And it proved to him that while sex may sell, there's room for a good book on rentals.

The previous top title was Dr. Ruth Westheimer's "Sex for Dummies," which had been hawked at an earlier convention of the apartment group in conjunction with a talk by the popular sex adviser.

Within the industry, real estate writer Robert Bruss said Griswold's book "should be required reading for every residential rental property owner."

That's a surprisingly large market.

"We estimate there are 20 million small-property owners renting from one to 20 units," Griswold said.

Just about anyone can be thrust into the role of a landlord. For example, a job transfer can force homeowners to move and rent their house pending a sale. A death in the family can suddenly make an heir a rental owner. Or, someone in need of extra money may find themselves renting out a room in their home.

Being a landlord can be a rewarding experience, Griswold said.

But it also can be a nightmare of regulations, midnight phone calls and potentially cash-draining problems.

"It's getting more and more complicated every time the Legislature meets," said Scott Blech, executive director of the San Diego County Apartment Association.

With laws on rentals varying from state to state, the book takes a broad look at managing apartments nationwide.

Stripped to its basics, Griswold said, the book stresses that the best landlords are "fair, firm and friendly. Treat people right and in the long run, you'll do just fine," he said.

One of the most important tips for landlords, Griswold says, is to have consistent, written policies for interviewing prospective tenants so that property owners don't face fair-housing complaints. "If you make an exception for one applicant and not another, you could find yourself accused of discrimination in your tenant selection process," he writes.

Finding the right tenants is the ultimate goal.

"The key concept should be for you as a landlord to find the best tenants," he said. "If you want to fill units with bodies, you can always lower rents and security deposits."

Like all "Dummies" books, there are firsthand experiences, involving real-life dummies.

Case in point: The tenant who was shocked to find that another tenant had a key to his rental unit. Confronted with the issue, the landlord of the small complex said he always used the same lock on each unit so he didn't have to carry around extra keys if he needed access to a unit in an emergency.

That's felony dumb, Griswold said, explaining the liability the landlord faces in the event of a theft or tragedy stemming from the same-key policy.

Or the case of the "six-pack movers -- friends who assisted with a move in exchange for a six-pack of their favorite beverage."

The trouble here started when one of the movers placed a box full of paper goods on top of a stove with a pilot light.

"Luckily, no one was seriously injured, but 12 of 16 rental units were completely destroyed. None of the tenants had renter's insurance, and even the innocent neighbors lost everything they owned."

That leads Griswold to advise landlords to insert a clause in rental agreements requiring tenants to have their own renter's insurance policy to cover personal belongings.

One area where Griswold may disagree with his colleagues is in his views that long-term leases don't work for either tenants or landlords. Month-to-month rentals are best, he believes.

"A lease isn't watertight. It won't keep people there when they want or have to move," Griswold said.

With the book now out, Griswold has been on the local book- signing circuit. He acknowledged that the book's primary focus is for the small operator of rental units. But Blech, the apartment association director, said it is also being circulated to rental agents by large apartment owners.

"I want this to be the bible of property management," Griswold said.

Copyright Union-Tribune Publishing Co.

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Robert Griswold and the Real Estate Today! radio show strongly support the intent and the letter of all federal and state fair housing laws.  As a reminder to all owners and managers of real estate, note that all real estate advertised is subject to the Federal Fair Housing Act, which makes it illegal to advertise "any preference, limitation, discrimination because of race, color, national origin or ancestry, religion, sex, physical disability, or familial status, or  intention to make any such preference, limitation or discrimination." Additional state and/or local fair housing laws may also apply.  Be sure to inform all persons that all dwellings offered or advertised are on an equal opportunity basis.


Revised and Updated - Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Robert S. Griswold, CRE, CPM, CCIM, PCAM, GRI, ARM
Griswold Corporate Center
Griswold Real Estate Management, Inc.
5703 Oberlin Drive, Suite 300
San Diego, CA 92121-1743
Phone: (858) 597-6100
Fax: (858) 597-6161


2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1997, 1996 Robert S. Griswold.  All Rights Reserved.