For newcomers, hello! We’re Norm and Marge. We’re thirty-somethings who are using frugality to fast track our way to early retirement. Our rental property is just one part of the plan. If you’re interested, read elsewhere on the blog about how we max out our retirement accounts and keep our expenses low by analyzing every purchase, making our meals at home, commuting smartly, using cheap cell phones, and traveling as cheaply as possible.
Before Marge & I even bought a rental property, I was looking into easy ways to collect rent. For me, the dream of owning a rental property is all about watching the monthly payments roll in. Instead of imagining all of the work that would go into running a property, instead I started investigating ways for tenants to pay rent online. Possibly, this is what all early retirement types fantasize about in their spare time. Passive income just showing up in the bank account.
There are some leaders in this online rent collection space who I won’t name, but overall, I was surprised that there wasn’t really one agreed upon website for processing tenant payments. After reading some positive reviews and seeing how they kept expanding their box of tools available to landlords, I decided to start an account with Cozy.co, a startup based in Portland, Oregon.
I initially wanted to join Cozy for the rental payment system. There’s no charge for collecting rent electronically, which is more than can be said about some of their competitors. But I also really liked the additional services they have set up before you even have tenants.
Firstly, and this is very recent, you can make a listing for your property online. Similar to other listing services, you can upload photos, write a description, put your contact information and check off the applicable amenities. That’s great. I don’t know how many people are finding listings on Cozy.co, so it’s definitely not a replacement for Craigslist or your favorite real estate listing website, but it’s nice that it’s there.
Then from the listing, prospective tenants can click through to go to an online application. You can also just straight up link to the application on Craigslist, which is where we’ve found all of our tenants. Cozy’s website is the only way I accept applications. I want to use as little paper as possible as a landlord. I am bound to just lose paper, forget to make copies of things I need, etc.
When people apply through Cozy’s rental application, I get an email alert, and their application appears on the website. This was also nice because I didn’t want to have to search for an example of a rental application to use. Their application includes spaces for a references, work history, contact information, and even a little bio which some of our tenants have filled out in rather adorable ways.
Also you’ll notice, one nice detail is that Cozy will calculate what percentage of the applicants’ income will be spent on your rent. This is an important metric to vet your tenants’ by. And as soon as you visit the site to see a new application, there is a nice percentage in the corner.
The number one best thing about the application process, though, is that you can require a credit and criminal background check before the application is submitted. I love this. I require both checks with any application, and applicants do it right through the Cozy website. Once someone applies and fills out the background and credit check, the application and credit check come in almost immediately. The background check sometimes takes an hour or two to come back. But I get everything and it’s all linked together with their application on the website.
What I don’t like is that Cozy kind of markets their credit and background check as free. Well, it’s free to you, because the tenant has to pay for it. It’s $34.95 to complete both. I don’t know how common it is to have your tenants pay to have these checks done. So I tell my applicants up front, if I accept you, I will refund you the $34.95. It’s definitely been worth it. I can even adjust the first month’s rent bill on the website so their bill is lower by $34.95.
Basically the only thing I do outside of Cozy is verify employment. I require two weeks’ paystubs (this is too difficult for some people). Now wouldn’t that be great if an applicant could upload a photo of their paystub directly through Cozy’s mobile site? Then I’d be all set. I wouldn’t have to ask for anything. The website would be doing all the work! Uh, Cozy, is anyone listening?
Machines can do the work, so people can think. Which reminds me of one of my favorite videos…
Once you’ve approved someone, you can set up their lease on the website, and link your bank account to it. The tenant can then link up their bank account and either pay manually each month or set it to draw automatically. There are other options like not allowing partial payments, which is important because if you are thinking of evicting someone, if you accept even a partial payment, that can constitute your acceptance of it as a month’s rent in court.
The website keeps a ledger of payments. As you can see here, these tenants paid their security deposit and first month’s rent as money orders, so I created an Offline Payment to credit their balance on the website. Otherwise, this all happens automatically. Both of our apartments’ tenants pay through Cozy, and that has worked flawlessly, although the payments take 5 days to show up.
I am fairly lenient on payment dates. I have it in my lease that if they were sending a check, it would have to be postmarked by the 5th business day of the month. Similarly on Cozy, I want the payment made on their side by the 5th business day. The fact that it doesn’t actually hit my bank account for a week doesn’t bother me. So if immediate payment is an issue for you, you should know that your rent will not show up for a week. You can blame America’s antiquated ACH system for this more than you can blame Cozy.
So in short, so far my experience with Cozy has been great. It’s taken out a lot of the paperwork, footwork, and just plain work, from vetting tenants and accepting payments.
What about other rent collection services?
Cozy is far from the only landlording website. There’s Rentulations, TenantCloud, TurboTenant… I haven’t tried them, but lucky for you, Domenick at Accidental Rental has, and he’s done a bang-up comparison of all of these services so you can make an informed decision!