Seven years ago, Phil Farinacci’s girlfriend at the time, Elke, asked him a question that would change their lives. “Why are you renting?” she said. “You make enough money to buy a house.”

She had a point. Phil could afford to buy his own house. Not only that, he could afford a two-family home. That way he’d have a place to live and the income from the rental would cover a huge chunk of his mortgage.

So Phil ended his days as renter and became a landlord in Bound Brook, New Jersey, where he lived after college. The house was a single-family home from the 1900s that was eventually converted into two apartments, one on each level. He and Elke moved into the first floor, and the rent from other apartment gave them a good financial start to their marriage.

Today, Phil and Elke live in Troy, New York, where they both grew up, and they just had their first child—a baby girl. Since they bought the two-family home, they’ve become experienced property managers, as proud owners of six buildings—with a total of 46 rental units—brownstones from the 1800s, a time when Troy was a highly prosperous city known for its production of detachable shirt collars.

One of Phil and Elke’s brownstones when they purchased it (left) and after renovations.

On the side

Phil runs an online college prep course and tutoring business, and Elke works as a stylist, so they manage the properties on the side. Phil’s interest in architecture helped inspire how he renovated each building. Elke fills vacancies and communicates with their tenants, most of whom are grad students and young professionals just out of college.

For the most part, they’ve had really great tenants, Phil says. “They try their best to be responsible, and they appreciate that we try to do our best by them.”

He remembers how one time a tenant put out a small fire on a wooden fire escape by filling pots and pans with water from his kitchen. Another bought and planted a tree to help control overgrown grass. The most difficult tenants are the ones who were living in a building when Phil and Elke bought it. Sometimes, Phil says, they just don’t want to pay rent.

The rental properties help Phil and Elke feel in control of their futures. “We want to have freedom from making decisions based solely on finances,” says Phil. “I want to spend time with my kids and not stress about climbing a corporate ladder.”

Two years ago, they hired a full-time handyman who takes care of all maintenance requests and repairs, which felt like a big step toward making the property management business more sustainable.

From the start, Phil planned to spend a few years learning everything about the rental business. Then he’d find the right people to help run things, one by one. He dreams about not scheduling his vacation around work, and not having to check in on his properties while he’s away.

“I want a business that can run without me,” Phil says. “That’s the goal. We’re always trying to put systems in place.”

Cozy as a tool

A few years ago, a few of tenants started asking Phil if they could pay rent online. He considered accepting payments through Venmo or Paypal, but the apps made tracking the rent payments difficult. And they weren’t designed to manage other charges like late fees and utilities.

Every six months or so, Phil would research new ways to collect rent online, but most services seemed too expensive or complicated. When he came across Cozy, he decided to try it with two tenants for two months. Now he’s hooked.

“Cozy provides a really simplified, cost-effective way of handling a lot of our interactions with our tenants,” Phil says.

These days he collects about half of his rent payments through Cozy, and the other half comes as paper checks mailed to his PO Box. Phil says that even though he doesn’t love driving to the PO box to pick up checks, he’ll keep making the trip until all his tenants switch to Cozy.

Earlier this year, a few members of Team Cozy got in touch with Phil to see if he had any suggestions for ways we could make Cozy better.

“You didn’t know me, or whether or not I’m reliable or intelligent, but you still contacted me,” he says. “You really wanted to understand our clients’ needs. It’s such a testament to Cozy as a company.”

Some of Phil’s feedback helped shape Cozy’s most recent updates and upcoming features. For that, we’re grateful. We hope that someday, Phil will send us a postcard from wherever he’s vacationing with his family.