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Rental

How to Rent Out Your House and Make Bank

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house made of money with for rent sign (Alex Slobodkin)

There are many reasons you might be one of the many homeowners wondering how to rent out your house: Maybe you've tried to sell your home but the market's too sluggish, or you're moving to a new area but want to hold on to your old property and rake in some income on the side.

Whatever the reason, it's a good time to be considering this, because the rental market is hot: A recent study from the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University found that the rental market has been growing for the past 10 years straight, and the share of Americans renting is at a 20-year high of 35%.

But renting out your digs for the long term is a very different animal than the occasional stint on Airbnb. Here are some basic steps to take to get you started down rental road.

Determine how much to charge in rent

At the least, most newbie landlords want their rental income to cover their monthly mortgage, as well as taxes and insurance. Times may have changed since you bought, so you want to be clear on what the market will bear. Check rental properties on realtor.com for the going rate in your area.

"Look for comparable properties in similar areas, with corresponding bedroom and bathroom counts," says Realtor Ed Laine, partner/broker of Miller Laine Properties in the Seattle area. "That will give you a per-square-foot rental figure that you can then apply to your own property."

Screen tenants carefully

"Picking the right tenant can make all the difference and is one of the top ways to make your experience as a landlord a good one," Laine says. You'll want to check their employment history, credit history, and income (via pay stubs or tax returns), as well as references from past landlords if possible.

To add an extra layer of security, you can do statewide and federal background checks at places like the National Tenant Network, which has been screening tenants since 1980, to make sure potential renters don't have a checkered history elsewhere.

Decide whether to manage your property yourself or hire help

It may be tempting to manage your property yourself when you consider that property managers typically charge 4% to 12% of the monthly rental. But that might be a small price to pay for avoiding headaches with your rental. According to a survey from property management firm Buildium, 62% of respondents mentioned maintenance and 5% cited tenant management as the two main reasons that rental property owners choose to hire property managers.

"I often suggest that my clients manage the first one themselves, which gives them a great education on their property and on being a landlord," Laine says. "It also proves to them that management fees are nothing compared to a 3 a.m. call about a tree limb coming through a window."

Pick the right property manager

Picking a property manager isn't just about finding one with the lowest fees. Fees are important, but don't let that be the sole deciding factor. For instance, what are the property manager's hours? If they're available only during weekday business hours and a pipe bursts on the weekend, you may get stuck with coming to the aid of your tenant yourself. What happens if rent isn't paid on time -- will they pursue the matter? If not, you may get stuck chasing down your money, which rather defeats the purpose of having a property manager at all.

Also make sure that the property manager -- and you yourself -- are committed to keeping up on local laws. Laine cites a recent case when the local municipality enacted laws that hold landlords liable for bedbugs.

"We updated our leases immediately," he says. "The liabilities are too great to take a risk just to save a few bucks."

Because at the end of the day, hired help or no, the buck stops with the landlord, literally.

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Watch: Is It Smarter to Rent or Buy?