McHenry Co. light on available rental units

Frank Stritzel of Chicago tapes down a "for rent" sign Monday inside one of the rental homes that he owns in Harvard.
Frank Stritzel of Chicago tapes down a "for rent" sign Monday inside one of the rental homes that he owns in Harvard.

Frank Stritzel tries not to raise tenants’ rent if he can help it.

“I’d rather keep them lower,” Stritzel said. “The relationship with the tenant and the landlord is very important.”

Stritzel, of Chicago, owns four investment rental homes in the Harvard area, one of which recently became available. He was asking for $1,200 a month plus utilities for the three-bedroom farmhouse with a garage and barn, and has had some potential takers.

The last tenant had been there for seven years, Stritzel said, and moved out of the house and in with a relative because he couldn’t afford to stay.

“I miss him, even though he left it messy, but what can I do?” Stritzel said. “It’s part of the game, I guess.”

In a five-year plan for housing and community development that runs through 2014, the McHenry County Department of Planning and Development noted a shortage of rental housing. The report cited 106,751 occupied housing units in the county, of which 17,006, or about 16 percent, were rental units.

Of the relatively few rental units, even fewer have three or more bedrooms, according to the report.

“The thriving housing market conditions witnessed between 1995 and 2007 meant that little new rental housing was built and some existing rental housing was converted to owner-occupied condominiums,” the report said. “What little rental housing that was actually constructed during that time period was targeted toward seniors.”

The report also found that McHenry County rents are among the highest of neighboring counties, with 40 percent of rental units costing more than $1,000 a month.

Jim Haisler, chief executive officer of Heartland Realtor Organization, said there has been an increase in the demand for rental properties, and particularly for rents under $1,200 a month, as a result of foreclosures and short sales.

The demand provides additional challenges for organizations such as the McHenry County Housing Authority, which helps lower-income people find housing.

“The way that our programs work is they have to pay 30 percent of their income toward housing costs and we pick up the rest,” Executive Director Julie Biel Claussen said. “So when their income went down, there’s more need for us to pick up the rest.”

More-affordable places tend to be toward the Harvard area, while the southeastern portion of the county is more expensive, Claussen said. “The places where there are more jobs and transportation and good schools, they tend to have higher prices,” she said.

Many of those who can afford to pay a higher monthly rate and have good credit can buy a home for the same monthly outlay.

“They always say, ‘Buy low, sell high,’ ” Haisler said. “This is low. Unless there’s some reason you can’t buy, you should really be seriously looking at buying.”

The number of people interested in renting starts to taper off around the $1,200 a month figure, he said. “People need to realize that if you’re renting a home for $1,200 a month, you can easily afford a single-family home.”

Houses are coming off the market because people are seizing the opportunity to own, and also because they, as Stritzel did decades ago, are looking into getting into the business of buying investment properties.

“We’re seeing not just the typical investors, but mom-and-pop investors,” Haisler said.

They are finding good deals, but being a landlord can be more than they bargained for if they’re not prepared.

“It’s difficult for people who aren’t ready to handle those emergency phone calls – my water heater is leaking, we’re having a backup,” Haisler said. “It’s not that it’s a bad idea, they just need to be prepared for it.”

Stritzel, the Harvard property owner, said he had been taking care of maintenance for real estate agents when he decided to get into the business, and that was about 30 years ago.

“I worked hard, and I got established, little by little,” he said.

Back then, it was a bit easier because the tenants tended to take better care of the property, he said.

“They’re all really nice when they move in, but they’re all kind of disturbing when they leave,” Stritzel said. “They leave a bunch of garbage behind and never leave the house in as good of shape as they found it.”

But he said he probably still would recommend investment properties for those who are able to do the work.

“All I know is I’m working hard on my investments and my properties,” Stritzel said. “If somebody else does the same, I think they can manage.”

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