Business Name: Osterhoudt Rentals
Address: 6030 State Hwy 23, Oneonta, NY
Phone/Website: 432-0810 www.rentoneonta.com
Owner: Jerry Osterhoudt
Shop Talk is a weekly column featuring locally owned and operated businesses. This week, we talk to Jerry Osterhoudt, owner of Osterhoudt Rentals.
How long have you lived in the area?
I was born in Oneonta and aside from my college years, I have lived here all my life.
Tell me about your business:
I breathe new life into tired, old buildings. I buy primarily distressed properties and renovate them into productive rental properties I can be proud of. I rent apartments, houses, commercial spaces and guest houses to working people, college students, businesses and baseball families. Summer weekly rentals have also worked well for area returnees visiting family and friends.
Describe a typical day in your business:
There is no typical day. Ideally, I first respond to email and communicate with contractors and employees to make sure everyone is on track for the day. I usually have appointments for viewings and lease signings. I need to sign at least one rental agreement every three days to meet my expenses. But the phone can ring and the schedule needs to be juggled to accommodate. Like if someone is locked out, a pipe bursts, a toilet overflows or the furnace quits. Then there are appliance breakdowns, leaky valves, broken hardware, and general maintenance that needs to be addressed before they become bigger problems. Just think of the number of times items need repair, painting or redecorating in your home and multiply that by the number of rental units you own, and next thing you know, you're very busy.
How did you get started in this line of work?
The unemployment rate was quite high as baby boomers flooded the job market, just like it is now with baby boomer's babies. I remembered my economics professor repeating "food, clothing, and shelter", there will always be work there, so I got a job in a supermarket while attending classes. I got tired of studying to be a doctor about the same time I got tired of paying rent. So I did a bunch of math and a lot of soul searching. The year I turned 21, which was the age of majority required to own real estate back then, I bought a two-family house where I could live in half and rent the other half. The house already had a tenant so I thought I was all set. Turns out he liked paying rent even less than I did, so he never did. But he did like living there, so I knew the house was a winner…. After taking real estate courses through the Continuing Ed. Program at SUNY Delhi, I had a much better understanding of what I had gotten myself into. I discovered I liked working on houses more than I did studying, so I bought more. After a few years, I was doing it full time.
Where do you see this business in five years?
I expect to expand toward Cooperstown and into at least one other state.
Describe a memorable moment in your workplace?
I was working late in Cortland, when my wife called to say that I had won two Properties of Merit Awards. I knew I had been nominated, but never expected to win one, let alone two. It was an honor to be recognized and it sure made the long drive home easier that night.
What have you learned from your work?
People are people. Respect goes a long way. Don't ever think you've heard or seen it all.
Never stop learning. Live by the golden rule.
What is the most challenging part of what you do?
Keeping everything pristine and working properly all of the time, and finding renters who appreciate a nice place to live and are willing to take care of it. No owner wants their property trashed. One bad tenant can affect your rental for years. The unit doesn't show well while they are there and if you do show and rent it, you will probably get more of the same. It's hard to break that cycle. The bank doesn't want to hear that the property is vacant while you make repairs, and the bills still need to be paid. Insurance companies will cancel your insurance if it is vacant beyond their guidelines. I recall a Real Estate Leadership Seminar I attended in Orlando Fla. in 1992, where I was surprised to hear that taxes and governmental expenses consume an average of 38% of all collected rents. I'm sure it is higher now, especially in N.Y. Maintenance and repairs average 10%, and managerial costs, another 10 percent. That doesn't leave a lot leftover for a mortgage payment.
The most enjoyable?
Definitely the people. I've worked with really great people over the years. I've been able to meet highly motivated, successful, people from all over the world. I also rented to a Russian international student who joined our military and ended up guarding our President! I can think of at least 6 individual former tenants who are now 3 local married couples. I enjoy providing people with a comfortable place to live.
How do you define success for your business?
100 percent occupancy with all rent payments current. It's more of a goal than a reality. If my tenants are happy with their home, I've done my job. It also helps me sleep at night.
What are some advantages as well as drawbacks of doing business in this area?
It's a matter of perspective. An advantage is that Oneonta has a relatively stable real estate market. The disadvantage is that you can't capitalize on wild market swings in real estate. But you can't have it both ways. The biggest drawback is the weather. In 2006 I had six houses with water in the basement. Fortunately, no living quarters were ever flooded. In the early 1980s, the temperature dropped to 30 below zero and hovered around that mark for a few days, long enough to freeze pipes in multiple locations. An advantage is that natural gas is available and NYSEG does a good job of minimizing electrical outages.
What sets you apart from your competitors?
I used to live in every unit before I rented it. I felt it gave me a chance to troubleshoot potential problems. After moving 6 times in two years, that got old, but to this day, 39 years later, I would not rent you a place I wouldn't live in.
What advice would you give to someone trying to enter your field of work?
Educate yourself, and I don't mean read "get rich quick with no money down" books. Be sure you have the mindset and temperament to deal with problems. Do your homework before you buy. If you don't do a thorough home inspection or a complete income analysis, you may not be able to afford repairs or necessary capital improvements. Also, check codes and use regulations. Be prepared to be on call 24/7 as long as you own rental property.
Shop Talk interviews are conducted by Cassandra Miller. For information, call The Daily Star at 432-1000, ext. 255, or email email@example.com.