Due diligence should always include a look at the books. Review the last 24 month’s income and expense statements, and watch for anything unusual, like expenses that are too low or income that seems higher than usual. Look at the rent roll, and investigate whether rents are over or under the market rates for the area you are in. Check the payroll records if there are employees, and watch for surprises, like accrued vacation time that you’ll have to pay as the new owner.
Always verify income. You want to see rental agreements signed by the tenants, as well as rental histories, which might show if there are any problem tenants or late payments still due. Documents for rental deposits should show amounts and where the deposits are (which bank).
Look at the service contracts and agreements. Ask if they transfer, or if you are free to change to better (possibly cheaper) services. Among others, you’re looking for property management, landscaping, snow plowing, pool cleaning service, and heating and cooling system maintenance agreements.
Do your initial exterior inspection. Walk around with pen and paper, and note anything unusual or in need of repair. Arrange for professional inspections where needed. Be sure that the electrical and plumbing systems are up to date and meet current codes. Estimate of how many years of use the roofing has left, and look at driveways, landscaping, and the condition of exterior paint.
Your due diligence should include an interior inspection. Meet some of the tenants if you can. Look for any problems you’ll have to fix in the coming years. Watch for water damage or fire damage, pest problems, and obvious “problem tenants,” or “problem apartments.” Are there empty units that are listed as occupied? Get the necessary pest inspections and safety inspections. Some Fire Marshalls will do a free inspection to verify that the building meets current codes.
Call local authorities. Ask about any zoning or encroachment issues, or permit problems. Have there been any fire code violations, and were they fixed?
It is usually best to use professional help when doing your due diligence. Your accountant can decipher the books better than you, and notice anything that doesn’t add up. A lawyer can review your offer and other documents. She can also tell you what other things you should be doing.
Take notes. Do something about serious issues (have them fixed or adjust your offer). Most problems you’ll run into when buying income properties are not entirely unforeseeable. They can be avoided or resolved if you use your due diligence checklist diligently.