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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Profile: Cralyn Property Management

(Business profile)

Jonathan Skrimshire - With 126 individual units under her management, Linda Ykema, the owner-operator of Cralyn Property Management, is a significant actor in the Pincher Creek rental market - the go-to gal for owners, tenants and prospective tenants alike. From her modest Main Street office she oversees the maintenance and tenanting of 29 houses, 12 multi-unit buildings and a 27 unit trailer park on behalf of a disparate group of 43 owners. It's a big job. And she loves it.

"I like being my own boss." says Ykema, who handles the business single-handed, save for the employment of local contractors for occasional major repairs. Handling rent collection and finances for her clients, screening prospective tenants, and keeping an active eye on the condition of her properties are ongoing tasks. And with roughly a third of the local rental market under her management, it keeps her hopping.

Between 20 and 30 people approach her each month seeking accomodation, roughly half of whom are from outside the community. "I look for where they're working, how long they've been there, I phone their previous references" Ykema says. She doesn't perform formal credit checks. "I creep them on Facebook whenever possible", she says with a laugh, explaining that she looks for pictures and general indications of lifestyle. "I find out more about them on Facebook than I do on a reference sheet."

Ykema doesn't maintain a formal wait list, but keeps tabs on 10 to 15 applicants a month based on the specific type of housing they are seeking. The majority of the multi-unit structures she manages, including Mountain Vista Apartments, her largest single property, are made up of two bedroom units. Others, such as the two large fourplexes at the foot of the hill on Hewetson Avenue, are comprised of three bedroom units. Stand-alone houses vary widely, from small two bedrooms to much more substantial structures.

Specific terms vary, depending on the owner, but rental agreements are predominantly month to month. Rents range from a low of $700 to a high of $1300 per month. A two bedroom unit in a fourplex averages $700-725; two bedroom houses average $800-850. The majority of tenants are responsible for their own utility costs.

Many of Ykema's properties are occupied by long term tenants, with a large number having been in place five years or more. Monthly turnover is modest. Occasionally up to four or five units will change hands; other months none. Vacancy rate - units actually sitting unoccupied - she puts at less than one per cent. If one of her units is vacant, "the only reason it's vacant is because I choose it to be vacant until the right person comes along", she explains.

"I have really good tenants" Ykema says. Still, on occasion a unit will become available as the result of an eviction. Having someone to capably handle such eventualities is one of the many reasons owners may choose to contract the services of a property manager. "This was a nasty year", Ykema says, indicating she initiated four evictions, two of which involved court appearances on her part. Failure to pay rent and uncleanly premises are the most common issues. 

Evictions are an unpleasant aspect of her job; worse are people who vacate leaving behind significant damage. "Things can go sideways" she says. "It happens." 

In the middle of the intensely cold winter of 2016-2017, Ykema noticed no signs of occupancy in a house under her management. The tenants had performed a midnight move - industry slang for people who vanish, providing no notice or forwarding address. With no heat on in the house, all the upstairs plumbing froze. Worse, the main water line entering from the street had burst, flooding the basement to a depth of several feet.

It was a horrendous cleanup job. The furnace was ruined. The hot water tank, which had been transformed into a giant cylindrical ice cube, required two winches to haul it up the stairs. Damages to the owner totalled over $12,000 - plus another $3,000 in lost rent while repairs were executed. "That wasn't fun" she says, with understatement.

But there are moments of quiet satisfaction as well. "I've rented to quite a few people that are in hardship. Some people are worth taking a chance on. You just get that gut feeling when they walk in. You talk to them and you try to help them out." The issues aren't always strictly monetary. "I think I've helped four people from a women's shelter thus far" she says, "and they've all been absolutely great."

Linda is no stranger to moving herself. Born the daughter of Dutch immigrants in Huntingdon, Quebec, Ykema (the Y is pronounced I, as in "you and I") moved to Alberta in 1987. "I went to Edmonton for a two week holiday and never went back", she says, with a laugh. A resident of southwestern Alberta for over 30 years, she now lives on a 13 acre rural property in Burmis with her dog, cat, and common-law husband of 30 years. A nineteen year old son works in the mining industry in Elkford.

Ykema has worked at many different jobs over the years - seamstress, secretary, personal care aid - but the property management gig comes with a different set of demands. Appliances break. Accidents happen. With 126 units and several hundred tenants to look after she is basically on call 24/7. "I try to keep weekends to myself" she shrugs. After two years working as an assistant, she took the plunge and purchased the business from the previous owner in January, 2015. It was a big step. "But it's worked out for you, financially and personally?", I ask. "I am ecstatic" she says, with a big smile. "I love what I do."

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