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Front & Center: Roger Trainor, director of LandLord Association

Roger Trainor is executive director of the LandLord Association of the Inland Northwest. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Roger Trainor is executive director of the LandLord Association of the Inland Northwest. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
By Michael Guilfoil Correspondent

Roger Trainor is what you might call an accidental landlord.

After attending several get-rich-quick seminars in the early ’80s, he started buying houses, intending to fix them up and then flip them for a quick profit.

“But interest rates were like 15 or 16 percent,” Trainor recounted, “and no matter what I did, the houses weren’t appreciating in value.

“So instead of selling them, I did the next best thing – I rented them.”

And Trainor has been a landlord ever since.

Last year he became executive director of LLA – the nonprofit LandLord Association of the Inland Northwest.

During a recent interview, Trainor discussed how the rental industry has evolved, and offered advice for landlords and tenants.

S-R: Where did you grow up?

Trainor: In a part of Hillyard called Dogtown. I have no idea why it was called that. When I was 5, we moved about six blocks from Rogers High School.

S-R: What interested you when you were young?

Trainor: Mechanics. I worked on a lot of cars with my grandpa. He had an old Oldsmobile and a ’59 Pontiac.

S-R: What was the first car you owned?

Trainor: I bought a ’68 Camaro SS when I was 16 years old. It was ash gold with black stripes, and I paid $1,500.

S-R: Wow! What would that be worth today?

Trainor: (laughs) I don’t know, but I wish I still had it. I sold it when I was 22.

S-R: Where did you get the money to buy it?

Trainor: I saved. I had my first newspaper route when I was 7, and began working at an A&W restaurant when I was 14. I started out as janitor, then cook, and became night manager when I was 16. You couldn’t do that now.

S-R: Did you have a favorite class in high school?

Trainor: Automotive.

S-R: How about sports?

Trainor: I didn’t play any sports. I was too busy working.

S-R: Then what?

Trainor: After high school, I enrolled in Spokane Community College’s automotive program, and was an auto mechanic for 20 years. But I started looking into ways to invest right out of high school, and everything pointed to real estate.

S-R: When did you buy your first house?

Trainor: When I was 22. I paid $29,000 for a home over by the veterans hospital. I intended to flip it, but once I realized there was no way I was going to make any money selling it, I started renting it. I still have it, and it’s been a good rental. It’s a tough neighborhood to get people to move into, but once they live there they love it.

S-R: How did you learn about being a landlord?

Trainor:: I joined the Inland Empire Rental Association, which is now the LLA. They had forms, legal assistance, and monthly meetings that were great for networking. I always tried to sit by people who were either bald or gray-haired, because I figured they had the most experience. And now I’m that way. (laughs)

S-R: And you continued buying houses?

Trainor: Yes. I have 10, including some duplexes.

S-R: What lessons did you learn from the association that have proved most useful over the years?

Trainor: Screen, screen and rescreen potential tenants.

S-R: What surprises turn up?

Trainor: The main ones are evictions and criminal records. Even after I explain my criteria – no previous evictions or felony convictions – and they sign off on the form, evictions or convictions show up on their background check.

S-R: What do they say when confronted?

Trainor: Some say, “I didn’t think you would check.”

S-R: Is this a good time to be a landlord?

Trainor: Yes. Vacancy rates are very low, so you can be picky and raise rents.

S-R: How much impact did the recession have on rentals?

Trainor: I didn’t have much trouble, but some landlords did. People were moving in with other people, or moving back in with mom and dad.

S-R: What’s the longest that one of your properties has ever sat empty?

Trainor: Probably four months. But that was my choice. It goes back to screen, screen and rescreen. It’s not worth it to relax your criteria to fill a vacancy.

S-R: Having said that, do you sometimes give potential tenants the benefit of the doubt?

Trainor: Absolutely. And some turn out to be totally gold.

S-R: What’s the strangest thing tenants have left behind?

Trainor: One time I had tenants who left everything – their bed, clothes in the closets, food in the refrigerator. They just vanished. I sent a letter to their last known address, but never heard from them again.

S-R: What was it like to work full time as an auto mechanic while also buying, fixing and managing your rental properties?

Trainor: The minute I’d get off work, I’d head to some property and not get home until midnight. When I was 47, I took some classes and became a real-estate appraiser, and did that for 10 years. I quit that last year when I took this job.

S-R: As your rental inventory grew, did you ever feel you were in over your head?

Trainor: No. I always figured I could get another job to support the real estate, because that’s what I love.

S-R: What do you like most about it?

Trainor: Dealing with people. I’ve loved that all my life.

S-R: What do you like least?

Trainor: I wish there were more hours in the day, so I could accomplish more.

S-R: What are you most proud of?

Trainor: Helping tenants succeed – trying to understand what’s going on and getting help for people.

S-R: Does that occasionally lead to headaches?

Trainor: Sometimes. But I’ve only had two outright evictions.

S-R: How has the industry evolved since the early ’80s?

Trainor: A lot of laws have changed. A few – such as requiring carbon-monoxide detectors – are good. But others – like licensing and mandatory inspections – were aimed at the Seattle market, and we’re not Seattle. Far from it. Some landlords – and even some tenants – think the laws have gone too far.

S-R: What sort of person is best suited to be a landlord?

Trainor: Someone who doesn’t get upset easily, and who keeps lines of communication open with tenants. But the biggest thing is you’ve got to stay on top of your business – drive by your properties, go inside every so often, and not wait two or three months if the rent isn’t paid.

S-R: Anything else?

Trainor: You have to keep up with the times. Social media is becoming increasingly important, yet we have landlords who still don’t have computers and emails.

S-R: What advice would you offer someone considering investing in a potential rental property?

Trainor: I prefer houses in neighborhoods without a lot of rentals, because you can charge more for them. I steer clear of streets that are just duplex after duplex.

S-R: What advice would you offer tenants?

Trainor: Make sure you read and understand your rental agreement – when the rent is due and where to send the check. And be aware that your landlord’s insurance does not cover your personal property. You need renters’ insurance.

S-R: When you’re ready to retire, will you sell your rentals or rely on them for income?

Trainor: I’ll keep them. Rentals are a great retirement plan.

S-R: Is there anything you wish you’d done differently?

Trainor: I wish I’d bought my rentals closer together, so I didn’t have to run all over town.

This interview has been condensed. If you’d like to suggest a business or community leader to be profiled, contact Michael Guilfoil at mguilfoil@comcast.net.

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