Early Days of Auben Realty
Improving Augusta one home at a time…
In the fall of 2009, Auben Realty was officially in business. A handful of homes I owned (which I couldn’t sell) and some early-mover, non-local investor-acquired homes rounded out our inventory. We were decidedly in the affordable price range with our rental property offerings in Augusta.
And we would learn and experience hard lessons about property management in affordable income homes. On a home on Lofwood Lane in south Augusta, I never stopped to question why the prospective renter showed up to view the rental in a U-Haul with her family in tow. Six months of non-payment later, I realized she was just seeking a sucker landlord with a slack application process. In those days, I was an easy mark.
After getting burned a couple times by professional, experienced renters who quickly recognized our management inexperience, we began to pivot to increasing our knowledge of subsidy programs, mainly Section 8, which had inherent resident accountability measures modeled into their programs. At the time in Richmond County, Georgia, there seemingly were way more homes and properties than vouchers. So we knew early on that ours had to be the best to stand out from the rest.
Most landlords who invested in affordable and lower income rentals had the mentality that the tenant “was going to trash the property, so why would I invest beyond the bare minimum?” We disagreed. Even with limited capital at our disposal, we adopted the mentality that Section 8 resident pools were like any other applicant pools: There would be excellent renters and renters who would be problematic. Having the best properties would increase our probability of success by letting us pick the best applicants and not having to simply accept the only residents to apply.
In our quest to be appealing, we tried to find aesthetic improvements which would also provide better long-term durability. Beneath decades of bad flooring choices: if there was hardwood; we refinished it. Or, if the condition was good, we buffed and coated the hardwood. Instead of sheet vinyl, we installed ceramic tile–later laying the tile in a brick or diagonal pattern for improved aesthetics. We darkened the grout lines in the tile and sealed them because we found they collected less dirt and grime and showed better after we “turned” the property in preparation for the next tenant.
Most of our good decisions were born out of bad ones. Brand new carpet looked like a Jackson Pollock canvas after six months of residency by an evicted tenant. Sheet vinyl was no match for washer/dryer delivery day and the ensuing gashes. Flat paint didn’t hold up to children aspiring to be Basquiat as well as paint with a sheen.
We learned what we shouldn’t do by looking at what we had to do again when our residents vacated. We had limited resources in those days, and, for every good decision in terms of longevity, there were horrible decisions made in an attempt at frugality. Used appliances tracked down all over the city died within months of installation with no recourse.
One of the things we began to realize was the incredible variability of product and process with scatter site single family rentals. I wanted to create order and something that could be replicated but was realizing the lack of uniformity was incredible. Neighboring houses on the same street had completely different layouts, different mechanical systems, and differing degrees of functional obsolescence.
Through all of our improvements, we began to collect, accumulate, and articulate what would become our Auben standard and what would become our mantra of Improving Augusta One Home at a Time. As committed as I was to the vision, there were many days and nights where it felt like a vision of one, but I would have many people who would come along for the ride.
Check back next week for more stories from the streets of SFR.
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