Back when times were a tad rough with the 2008 recession, I had 3 mortgages on rental houses, a bad property manager, and I was almost ready to let stuff go.
Fast forward 11 years and I love my tenants I have now. I fired that sorry property manager long ago, and took over myself.
The big thing that has helped me is I have a great friend that has became a licensed real estate broker, and he is a better judge of character than me, and able to dig deep with background checks. When I have a vacant house he does all the work to find a awesome tenant, and he gets paid the first month in return. (and I take him out to eat).
Back when I started I did not want to manage my properties myself, mainly because I did not want to lose my freedom to travel. But now I just tell any new tenant: I have a job, and I check my phone at lunch, and when I get off work, so leave me a message. And now that I have been doing this a while I have people I can trust to go handle whatever repair needed and I do not have to be there.
And actually now my tenants have the #'s of the people I use, so I just get a call here and there from my repair friends anyway.
And no, I was not lucky enough to be able to jump on houses when they were dirt cheap, but I did buy bank owned properties that they had fixed up really well and was ready to just sell for whatever they could get.
As far as horror stories, that property manager cost me 15k on one house, and 17k on another, stupid stuff she did not pay attention to.
Anyway, tenants at 2 houses have been awesome for a long time now, and if they keep it up I may do a new will, and will them the house when I die.
And I have never once went up on anyone's rent. Now if they struggle to take care of the lawn, I will say for another x amount a month, I can have this done for you, and when that has happened they have loved the agreement we made.
The only time I ever raise rent is when the house is vacant I adjust up to the new market level.
Some of my friends started doing rental stuff after I did and we talk about tenants and problems and stuff. And the biggest thing is to use a real estate pro that you trust to find a great tenant to start with.
If you are already doing this and paying cash and all that hell yeah!
Me, I just do the 20% down 15 year mortgage and try to pay off in 7-8 years.
If the roof is bad at all, first thing I do is a nice looking metal roof that I will never have to replace again.
I know other property owners that first thing they do is replace all the plumbing.
When I was young I was making 10% interest on my savings, and I saved all I could to get that free money. Then interest rates went to nothing, and I never trusted stocks(I do have a uncle that bought Home Depot stocks right when they came out and he is well off now), but I always figured with stocks I would end up with a Enron or something.
Big thing for me, when I buy a house, I look at it close, and the area, and think: if I had to live in this house myself, would I be happy or not.
Long ago the first rental house I purchased had deer in the yard, small house, but I liked the woods and wildlife around there.
Even now when I go there I see deer, and just 5 minutes from me and I never see deer here.
And that is another big thing, I keep everything I invest in within a 5 minute drive. Makes my life super easy. Some friends started doing this and for some stupid reason because it was a deal have to drive sometimes almost a hour when there is a issue.
Anyway, if you can find the right house to buy, and the right people to help you with everything that comes up, and land a awesome tenant, rental houses are awesome. And 10 years ago I would have said rental houses suck and I want out, but only because I had a very bad property manager running things at the time when I did not want to.