A Landlord’s Website Checklist

Posted by Teresa on March 23, 2010 under General | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

computer-screen-300x300Having a website to highlight your rental properties is an effective tool to keep in your marketing toolbox. If you have a working knowledge of blog site platforms, like WordPress, you could set a site up yourself in minutes. Or, hire a web developer and designer to create a custom site for your business.

What are important factors to consider when setting up a rental property website?

  1. Determine what you want the site to do for you. Do you want to communicate securely with tenants? Accept online rent payments or maintenance requests? What about making standard forms available for download? Or a classifieds area for your tenants, where they can advertise items to buy or sell? Or do you just want to promote and highlight your rental properties? Knowing exactly what you want will help your developer plan the site properly.
  2. Make sure you can update the site yourself. Most sites these days are built on Content Management Systems (CMS). These database-driven platforms enable users to easily change and update content—with new text, photos, news, blog posts and articles.
  3. Invest in a decent camera. You’ll want a wide range of quality photos to display your properties in their best possible light. Don’t forget to add captions so visitors know what they’re looking at. Make the descriptions inviting; keep in mind what your target tenants are looking for and use sales language that will appeal to them.
  4. Be sensitive to discriminatory language and photos. Keep the Fair Housing Act (FHA) top of mind while putting together your website. Include a statement that your company does not discriminate against tenants based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, family status, or disability. Include an Equal Housing Logo if you’d like. And if your photos show people, include a diverse assortment to make everyone feel welcome.
  5. Do not include photos of tenants without their permission. And never feature photos of children on your website. This might seem to contradict the idea of showing a diverse range of people, but most parents do not want their children’s photos to appear on the internet where predators can find them. Stock photos are available online that feature models who have signed releases for publishing—these are a safer bet.
  6. Be ready to promote your site. Don’t expect rental home hunters to just find it. Keep posting to Craigslist.com and any other advertising outlets your currently use, and link to your new site in every ad.
  7. Finally, consider a “contact us” form. You want to make it easy for prospective tenants to find you. Be sure you’re ready to respond quickly to each inquiry. Your web developer can explain how this interface works, and how to set up an automatic reply.

Websites are powerful marketing tools for businesses of all sizes—consider developing one for your rental property business.

Pre-screen all tenants as part of your standard application process. Background and credit checks will help ensure you rent to qualified tenants. For more landlord resources, including forms and information on tenant screening, turn to E-Renter.com.

What Do Tenants Want?

Posted by Teresa on December 28, 2009 under General, Housing Trends, Landlord Tips, Marketing for Landlords | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

tenants moving inHigher rental inventories and overbuilding, plus foreclosed homes and job losses combined to create one tough rental market in 2009—and it’s predicted to continue through 2010.

So what will make your rental property stand out from the rest? With tenants in the driver’s seat, asking for lower rents and other amenities, what can landlords and property managers offer them? What do quality tenants want?

Price, price, price: Tenants want to be sure the rent is in line with the going market rate.

Location, location, location: Parents want to be close to their child’s school. Most everyone prefers to be close to their work. Students like to be close to campus and to nightlife. Families want to be close to parks, grocery stores, downtown, the library—you get the picture. Convenience is a big factor.

Cleanliness: A spotless rental unit will appeal to everyone.

Fitness facilities: Apartment complexes with a bright, clean fitness room with newer equipment that works properly will score higher with most tenants.

Garages: A garage with an automatic door opener is a big draw to most mid-to-upper income tenants.

Appliances: Dishwashers are almost a must. Everybody loves washer/dryer hookups. And if your rental has the washer and dryer as well, it will be scored higher than one without.

Closets and storage: People need space to store their stuff. Lots of closets inside, plus decent outdoor storage for their toys are most appreciated by higher-income tenants.

Accessibility: For older renters and those with physical limitations, easy access to the property shows that you care (and for certain properties, is mandated by law).
Think about the type of tenant you want to attract, and add the improvements that will attract them. If your rental unit already has everything your target tenant wants, make sure your advertising says so!

We recommend you also automatically screen all tenants as part of your application process. For more landlord resources, including forms and information on tenant screening, turn to E-Renter.com. .

7 Important Promises Landlords Can Make for 2010

Posted by Teresa on December 18, 2009 under General | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

to do listCall them goals, call them promises–call them whatever you want! But jot these ideas down and refer to them often. Here are a few ways landlords and property managers can make 2010 a more successful year.

1. Don’t hesitate to start eviction proceedings when necessary. We’ve covered those situations before. It’s unpleasant and can be expensive, but in nearly every case, the behavior that necessitates eviction is not going to change.

2. Keep up with your local market to know whether you’re undercharging or overcharging rent. Do the former, and you’re losing money. With the latter, you’ll lose tenants.

3. Properly prescreen tenants—every tenant, every time. Nothing will do more to keep your business secure—and lead to more peace of mind for you. Don’t fall into the “desperate for a tenant” trap. Keep your standards high and you’ll have high-quality tenants.

4. Enforce the rules strictly. Don’t be afraid to let tenants know what you expect, and the consequences for breaking your rules. You’ll have fewer problems and headaches if you are clearly in charge in the landlord/tenant relationship.

5. Treat your income property business like a business. Keep excellent records, regular business hours, and a separate telephone line with voice mail. Avoid getting too personal with your tenants/clients.

6. Establish goals, make a plan and hold yourself accountable for reaching them. Whether it’s a higher cash flow, keeping expenses in line, or purchasing an additional income property, knowing what you’d like to achieve in your business is the first step in getting there.

7. Watch your cash closely. If necessary, establish an emergency fund that you do not touch. Be prepared for major repairs—you never know when you’ll need to replace a roof or fix a flooded basement.

What are your ideas for doing things differently in the new year?

Rental Advertising that Stands Out

Posted by Teresa on November 30, 2009 under General | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

for rent ad on tenant screening blogThere is a lot of competition out there right now for rental property owners. Newly constructed apartment buildings, homeowners who recently became landlords, and unsold condo units are all competing for tenants—with you. Writing an effective advertisement is the first step to standing out from the competition and attracting tenants.

But how do you write a good, effective rental ad? Beyond the number of bedrooms and bathrooms and the rent figure, here are the best items to include in your ad to attract more potential tenants.

1. Include the neighborhood. This will help you screen potential tenants quickly. If your rental is in a high-end neighborhood, most folks who cannot afford to live there won’t bother to call.
2. List nearby amenities. If there is a cozy coffee shop down the block, say so! Same with grocery stores, bus stops, laundromats and parks. Include all the great things about the neighborhood so potential tenants are excited to call you.
3. Are pets ok? Don’t make people ask. You can screen out all the pet owners by stating it clearly: NO PETS. Or welcome pet lovers with PETS OK. Be sure to state any size limitations, whether you accept dogs and cats or just dogs, and establish expectations by stating that “well-behaved dogs” or “pets with great references” are okay.
4. Make them want to live in your rental: if there is a working fireplace that you allow tenants to use, your ad should say so. Higher-end kitchen appliances will be noticed by higher-end tenants. A fenced-in play area will be appreciated by moms and dads, and a security system is a top choice for everybody. The idea is to make the reader’s eyes pop so they call you instead of the next listing!
5. Sell it. Be enthusiastic about your rental unit, and you’ll build enthusiasm in your potential renters. Don’t be afraid to use positive terms to make it sound appealing. “A must-see!” “Immaculate!” “The best!” “A real charmer!” “Ready to move in!”
6. Set expectations. It’s perfectly okay to let potential applicants know that you require an application fee, a credit check, a background check, or thorough tenant screening. In fact, those who will pass all of your requirements will appreciate the care you show for your property and for the neighborhood. It’s another way to screen out undesirable applicants, too.

Landlord Confidentiality

Posted by Teresa on November 20, 2009 under General | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

tenant confidentiality on tenant screening blogAs a landlord, you need to know a lot about your tenants, as well as those who have applied and been turned down to be tenants. Credit background checks, criminal background checks, and rental history—all part of thorough tenant screening—make you privy to personal information that could potentially harm these individuals, if ever used against them.

In certain states and localities, laws have been passed to protect tenants from landlords who would share their personal financial information, unless the tenant has given prior written consent. This means a landlord would not be allowed to share a tenant’s previous credit problems with a new landlord, or to disclose to a neighbor that the tenant had bounced a check.

Typical exceptions to these laws concern providing information that is already a matter of public record (although doing so might mean a landlord crossed an ethics line or two), providing information to police (which usually requires a warrant), and providing information about the tenant’s rent payment record.

In all other cases, a landlord must protect his or her tenant’s privacy and confidentiality of their personal information.

Landlords are often questioned by police investigating crimes on their property; it might seem reasonable that you would be covered if personal information is disclosed in the course of answering police questions, but that may not be true. Sharing information you have because the tenant provided it to you or allowed you to conduct a background check is not okay just because it is the police doing the inquiring. Ask for a warrant, or ask your legal counsel before you disclose personal information about a tenant—otherwise you are in danger of being sued yourself!

Consider Offering Month-to-Month or 6-Month Leases

Posted by Teresa on November 13, 2009 under General | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

rental agreement on tenant screening blogAre you a landlord who routinely offers year-long leases?  Are troubling times and less-than-stellar tenant credit checks making you uneasy about continuing to do so?

A flexible approach helps in an uncertain rental climate. Now is the perfect time to rethink your procedures, especially if they aren’t working for you as they once did.

Take leases, for instance. While a one-year lease might be ideal in a perfect rental world—where tenants have stellar credit, rents are where they should be, and competition is low—they may not work to your advantage now. While it’s reassuring to know a tenant is obligated to rent from you for a year, it can make you nervous to think of a sketchy client on your property for that long. Things could get complicated.

In tough economic times, incomes are lower due to job losses; evictions are more common; and credit reports are poorer. These factors, plus a one-year commitment, equal one risky situation. But you can mitigate your risk. As landlord, you get to decide how long the lease term is. If, after you’ve conducted proper tenant screening, a one year lease seems risky, consider offering a six month or month-to-month lease.

Only you can decide if it’s better to face empty rental units or offer a short-term lease to an applicant you might have passed on before. But you’re in control and you do have options, which can make it easier to weather a downturn in the rental market.

Pet Policy Basics for Landlords

Posted by Teresa on October 2, 2009 under General, Landlord Tips, Rents and Deposits | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

Dog on tenant screening blog

Allowing pets or not: that is the question. For many landlords, the answer is not quite as simple as it once was. For one thing, it seems that more tenants than ever have or want pets. They expect more rental units to accept pets. And it’s a renter’s market, with a flood of rental properties coming on the market and vacancies at all-time highs in some areas.

If you are a landlord who continues to hold a “no pets” policy, then you are limiting your pool of available tenants—perhaps by half, according to the Humane Society of the United States. If all of your rental properties are leased, then you probably don’t need to revisit your policy—but if you have empty units, a “no pets” policy could be hurting you. If you are considering allowing pets, here are some tips that can help make it a win-win situation for you and your pet-loving tenants.

In a perfect world, all pet owners are responsible and can afford to take care of their four-legged “children.” They happily pay extra pet deposits and will take care of any damages that their dog or cat inflicts on your property. They make it easy to be a landlord in a pet-friendly world!  On the other side of the spectrum are the neglectful pet owners, who don’t take proper care of their pets, don’t care where they relive themselves or if they tear up the carpet, yard, or woodwork. Keep these folks in mind when you write your tenant pet policy.

First, determine the type and size of pets you will allow in your rentals. You can decide if you want to limit tenants to keeping just dogs, or dogs and cats, or everything from iguanas, to snakes, to birds. Next, decide if you will block certain breeds of dogs, such as so-called “dangerous” breeds, or limit dogs to a maximum weight.

You can reserve the right to screen your tenants’ pets just as you screen tenants. Meet the animal to see if they are friendly or badly behaved. Does the tenant have control over the pet—or vice versa? Consider how long the tenant has had the pet—if it is brand new to the tenant, the unknown factor could be more than you want to take on.

Consider charging a pet security deposit on top of your standard deposit. Most pet owners are comfortable with paying extra for their pets. Check your state and local security deposit guidelines for legalities.

Outline your tenants’ responsibilities clearly in the pet policy. Indicate where the dog is allowed, that it must be kept on a leash outside if that’s what you desire; spell out that the tenant must properly dispose of waste; and that excessive barking or other noise will not be tolerated.

Make sure your liability insurance covers tenant pets; consider requiring your tenants with pets to carry their own renter’s insurance as well. Check with your insurance agent for specifics.

Check the pet’s references, too! If the tenant has had his or her cat, for example, in previous rentals, the landlord or property manager will usually tell you exactly what they faced when the tenant vacated the property. Some cats can inflict a great deal of damage—especially when they are not altered—so ask for references—and check them!

According to the Humane Society of the United States, millions of animals are abandoned to shelters every year because their owners are moving or because a new rental does not allow animals. Writing a strict tenant pet policy and communicating your expectations to your tenants can allow some of those pets to remain with their families—and keep your rental units filled.

Evicting Tenants: Be Prepared!

Posted by Teresa on August 27, 2009 under General | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

law-and-gavel on tenant screening blogThe most common cause for evicting a tenant is probably nonpayment of rent. Experienced landlords do not hesitate to begin eviction procedures when tenants are in arrears on rent. So if you plan toever evict a tenant, then think like a Boy Scout—and be prepared.

Be prepared for excuses: You might hear about your tenant’s difficulties, whether from the economy, job loss, health, or even the weather. You could hear that there is damage or mold in the unit that renders it uninhabitable. You might hear any number of reasons why your tenant has not paid the rent—which is the only thing that matters. As landlord, you are entitled to decide whether or not to evict based on the tenant’s situation. Just be prepared for nonpayment of rent to occur again.

Be prepared with all the eviction paperwork required by your local court. Some want a copy of your deed, the lease, the exact names of everyone living in the rental unit (whether or not they are on the lease) and copies of all notices to pay rent or quit (evict). Your jurisdiction may want more information, so be sure to ask the clerk of court or magistrate’s office. You’ll also need proof of non-payment, so gather up all check copies for the tenant for at least the previous year.

Be prepared to hire a lawyer. If you have never evicted a tenant before, many experienced landlords would strongly recommend you hire a Landlord/Tenant attorney before proceeding with eviction. They can keep you from making crucial mistakes and losing your case.

Be prepared to spend money. There will be fees associated with preparing your case. And if you decide to hire an attorney, you will be responsible for his or her fee, as well.

Be prepared to follow the court’s procedures. The court will require you to fill out paperwork correctly and follow every procedure to the letter. If you don’t, you could have your eviction case thrown out and have to start again. Consider observing a day in court when they hear eviction cases—seeing other landlord’s eviction errors could help you avoid them.

Be prepared for a fight. Your tenant may not even show up for court. If so, you will likely win your case. But if they do appear, remember that tenants have rights, too, and are entitled to plead their case before the judge. Be prepared to defend yourself. You may hear things that will surprise you, but stick to the facts and avoid arguing or confrontation.

Eviction is never easy, but it is a part of being a landlord. Just remember to be well prepared for whatever surprises may come up!

Apartment Occupancy Rates Decline in Q1 2009

Posted by Teresa on April 16, 2009 under General, Housing Trends | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

housing graph USA

The apartment vacancy rate for the top 79 US markets reached an average 7.2% in the first quarter of 2009, according to Reis Inc., a New York research firm. This is a full percentage point increase from the previous two quarters. Reis predicts rents down as much as 2% for the year, and apartment vacancy rates above 8%.

Increased perks, like lower or free rents, have not helped the situation. In the past, these concessions by property managers led to lower vacancies—but not now. Part of the problem is an oversupply, as unsold condominiums are converted to rental properties. Plus, continued rising unemployment, coupled with the downturn in housing markets, are not bringing former homeowners back as renters. Many are renting their homes, and are now property managers themselves.

Where are all these foreclosed homeowners living? Good question. It’s possible there are more folks living with family or friends. In addition, cash-strapped homeowners are renting rooms to boarders. Packing existing housing with more bodies seems to be the nationwide trend.

In LA County, 41,000 people moved out of an apartment in 2008, while only 29,000 moved in during the last five years. But not all areas are being affected equally. Well-run properties in real estate markets where people want to live are holding steady, while areas of overbuilding are hurting.

Other areas with big increases in vacancy rates in Q1 2009 include Austin, TX, from 7.5% to 9.2%; Fairfield County, CT, from 4.3% to 6%, and Knoxville, TN, from 5.3% to 7%. [Source: the Wall Street Journal.]

It looks like for the remainder of 2009, renters will find more choices within their budgets, while many landlords will be forced to continue cutting rents in an effort to attract new tenants or keep the ones they have. Well-positioned rental property investors could take advantage of unprecedented buying opportunities in certain markets.

For more landlord resources, including everything you need to know about tenant screening, turn to E-Renter.com. You’ll know that you have the best possible tenants when you prescreen.

Verifying Tenant Employment and Income

Posted by Teresa on March 1, 2009 under General | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

Verify Before You Hand Over the Keys to a New Tenant

Verify Before You Hand Over the Keys to a New Tenant

As Landlord, You’re in Control
As a landlord, you know only too well that you cannot control your tenants’ behavior, or that of their guests.  You can’t control the occasional damaging wind storm or unexpected tree limb on the roof. But in the beginning, at least, of the landlord/tenant relationship, you are in complete control: as long as you comply with all applicable housing laws, you alone decide who is approved to rent your property. There are a number of factors you may use to decide whether to reject an applicant. Today we’ll look at employment and income.
 
Smart Landlords Verify

The rental application should contain the following information that you must confirm prior to approving the applicant: current and previous addresses, current and previous employment, income, Social Security and driver’s license numbers, plus personal and rental references. You can do this yourself or with a professional tenant screening service.

Verifying Employment and Income
You can simply call the employers listed on the rental application; however, many employers are hesitant or have policies against releasing information over the phone. You may need to request verification in writing. It’s not a bad idea to have this information in writing as a matter of procedure. You want to be sure your prospective tenant is currently employed, and has a reliable work history.

You can also ask the applicant to provide proof of employment and income, such as pay stubs.  Don’t neglect to verify these with the source of the income to be certain they have not been falsified—or even fabricated completely. For sales or commission-based income, review at least six months worth of paystubs, or have the applicant supply you a copy of their previous year’s tax return.  Ask for verification of any other sources of income to be used toward rent payments, such as child support or alimony.  If any stated income cannot be verified, you do not have to include it when determining minimum income requirements.

When to Be Suspicious
Be wary
of business phone numbers supplied by the applicant if they don’t sound like legitimate businesses when you call. Likewise, be suspicious if the applicant insists you speak only to a certain person—they could be a real HR clerk, or they could be a friend who will supply false information. Certainly, legitimate businesses don’t always answer the phone properly, but let your intuition be your guide—it will tell you whether you need to dig a little further.

You should also be on guard if your prospective tenant has plenty of cash for security deposits and first month’s rent, but no verifiable sources of income.  If income is inconsistent with obvious spending patterns, be cautious. Cash without proof of income, or extreme spending on a low income could indicate illegal activity.  You don’t want to have problems down the road with either a tenant who can’t pay rent regularly or with criminal activity on your property.

Prescreen Tenants for Complete Peace of Mind
The best way to be sure you’re renting to a qualified tenant is to prescreen rental applicants. It’s easier than you think to do this online —plus, you’ll reduce your risk and your stress level!

Next Post: Checking Tenant Credit and Criminal History