Have you changed the way you advertise your rentals? Or, are you still sticking to the simple, short description? Whether you advertise in print, on the bulletin board at the local Laundromat or online, you may be missing something: photos.
Your prospective tenants are a cross-section of the population at large, and as such, you can count on one thing—they’re visually focused. Think about it: everyone is filming everything they do, eat, drink, see, wear and buy. Photos of great-looking plates of food appear on Twitter and Facebook as soon as the server sets them on the table. Kids are taking pictures with mom’s and dad’s phones when they can barely speak. And every vocal or musical performance seems to be seen through the lens of a phone video camera than through the eyes of the beholders.
People like pictures. So, along with the basics: number of bedrooms and bathrooms, location, contact information and rent, you should definitely include as many photos as possible in your rental advertising.
Here are a few tips for taking photos of your rental property:
- Include outside shots: This will help prospective tenants find the property.
- Think about making rooms and closets look spacious. Stay in the corner and shoot from above.
- Keep the camera level by propping it on a box or counter whenever possible.
- Of course, the unit must be immaculate. Wait until the cleaners, painters and repair people have finished their work. You want it to look ready to move into.
- Pay attention to the light. Avoid taking photos during the brightest part of the day. Late afternoon or evening light is good.
- Be sure to take photos of any amenities, such as storage areas, swimming pools, laundry rooms or workout facilities.
- Place a large potted plant in the shot to add some interest. Make sure it’s healthy.
- If you have lovely grounds, nice landscaping, trees and flowers, be sure to include them in your photos.
- Don’t take photos of residents—especially children. You could be violating their privacy.
- Remember to avoid things that could be considered discriminatory. Don’t take photos of the nearby church or school, or you could be implying that you prefer churchgoers or families with children. However, it is perfectly okay to include a shot of the cozy coffeehouse down the street.
Even in a strong rental market, you need to be competitive in order to attract the best possible tenants. Write a strong ad and include photos, which is easy to do when you advertise online. And if you don’t know how to upload photos to a website, ask any young person in your family or neighborhood for help. Or, hire someone to handle it all for you.
Years ago, apartment residents were accustomed to receiving printed newsletters in their mailboxes or on their doorsteps. Since print is going the way of the rotary phone, many property managers now use e-newsletters to communicate with tenants. But some who started a newsletter with all good intentions have let it slide, and now find it’s been months—or years—since the last issue.
Newsletters don’t have to be difficult or terribly time-consuming. And not using them to communicate with residents is a missed opportunity. You might think residents don’t care about what’s happening around your community, the truth is that most would greatly appreciate it.
Here are some easy tips for interesting newsletters you’ll enjoy putting together and your tenants will enjoy reading:
- Add a “news” section. In it you can announce new staff, upgrades, additions to your fitness center, DVD or book library.
- Seasonal items are easy to include. Since Halloween is coming, then Thanksgiving and the winter holidays, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to write about parties, decorating ideas and safety tips. Add a calendar of events from your town or city.
- Include contests. Promote your Facebook page by encouraging residents to “like” your page. Offer a prize drawing each month for movie or play tickets, or gift certificates to local businesses.
- Promote early rent payment. Conduct a monthly drawing that includes only residents who pay their rent early. Offer a $100 prize and see how quickly you see rent payments come in early!
- Reminder tenants about policies. Include a short piece each month that features one policy. You might want to explain the reason for the policy and review guidelines.
- Partner with local schools and community groups to include their events in your newsletter. Include volunteer opportunities, too.
- Add interesting facts and figures. For example, list the number of dogs and cats in the community, local crime stats or the number of trees on the property.
- Have a monthly poll. Ask questions like, “What is your favorite thing about living here?” or “What is one thing we can do better?” Ask fun questions such as favorite pie, best cupcake in town or “most interesting thing you saw on your way to work today.”
Remember, the purpose of a newsletter is to improve communication with residents. Include the basics, like contact information for all staff, emergency after-hours numbers, email addresses, and website and Facebook urls. Use your newsletters as an opportunity to tell residents what’s new, help them get to know your staff better and learn more about living there. Make it fun and interesting, and tenants will read it!
If you’re landlord who has just closed on your first rental property, you may be wondering if this is a good time of year to find good tenants. After all, Thanksgiving is a few weeks away, and that means the winter holidays can’t be far behind. We often hear new landlords ask, “Do people move this time of year?” or, “Will my rental property be sitting vacant until after the New Year?”
Of course, every situation is different, but the short answers to the above questions are “yes” and “not necessarily.” Tenants move at all times of the year, and depending on their circumstances, plenty of people move just before or after Thanksgiving, or the week of Christmas, or even on New Year’s Eve.
If you have a rental property ready for your first tenant, you should create a plan for marketing the property right away. Here are a few tips for filling a vacant rental property fast, no matter what time of year it is:
Remember you may not screen out any tenants on the basis of race, color, religion, marital or family status, gender, or disability. New landlords should become very familiar with the Fair Housing Act and all state and local rental ordinances.
Define your best-fit tenant: Who do you want living in your rental unit (staying within the FHA, of course)? Is it a high-end property with a higher rent, or is it middle- or low-income? Will you seek out Section 8 tenants? Is it perfect for students? What is the income requirement to rent your property? Who can afford it?
Post plenty of signs: Place “Now Leasing” or “For Rent” signs in the windows and on the lawn. If possible, put “For Rent” directional signs at intersections, pointing the way to your rental property. Your signs should include the number of bedrooms and bathrooms and your phone number, along with a website where prospective tenants can view photos.
Put up a few fliers: Post fliers where your best-fit tenant will see them. This could be a coffee shop in the neighborhood, a Laundromat, a grocery store, or a community center bulletin board. Include a thorough, well-written description of the unit, and provide tear-off tabs with your contact info. Highlight any features that will sell the tenant on living there. Is it bright and sunny? Are there details like a fireplace or hardwood floors? A patio? A view? Close to trails, the grocery store or library?
Advertise: CraigsList.org is probably the most popular rental advertising site, although you can also post on Rentals.com, ForRent.com and ApartmentFinder.com. The more you advertise, the more exposure you’ll get and the faster you can fill the unit. Write a good ad that appeals to your best-fit tenant.
Incentivize: When you get closer to the holidays, you may find it tougher to get prospective tenants to agree to move. You can always offer an incentive, such as half off the first month’s rent, waiving the application fee, or offering an appliance upgrade if they sign a one-year lease before Thanksgiving.
Pre-screen tenants: Don’t get so antsy about filling the rental unit that you skip the tenant screening process. Background checks and tenant credit checks are vital to starting the landlord-tenant relationship off well. Protect yourself, your property and any other tenants you may have by properly screening each prospective tenant.
Even though the rental market is strong, you still want to do all you can to fill a vacant rental unit—while attracting the best possible tenant. Here are six tips to help you write a more effective rental listing that can accomplish both of these goals:
- Write a Great Headline. Instead of the boring basics, like “3BR 2 BA Home for Rent” try getting more creative: “Dream House. Great Neighborhood.” “3 BR Home, Walk to Trader Joe’s.” “2 BR New Upgrades, Pets Welcome.” “3 BR 2 BA, Fireplace and Big Sunny Rooms.” Get noticed!
- Target Women. That’s right—if you know how to catch a woman’s attention, you’ll have a better chance of closing the deal on a new lease. Studies show that women are signing home sales and rental contracts in larger numbers than ever. What do women want to hear that you can include in your rental listing? Walk-in closets. Security system. New appliances. Stainless steel appliances. Quiet appliances. Extra-large tub. Sunny patio. Close to trails. Plenty of storage. Light-filled rooms. Hardwood floors.
- Include the Walkability Rating. Have you ever heard of WalkScore.com? It’s a site that scores a property’s walkability, including how close it is to shops, grocery stores, libraries and other amenities renters want. Just enter the rental property’s address and you’ll have a score that will appeal to potential tenants who want to avoid the traffic, congestion and parking problems that come with driving a car.
- Describe the Neighborhood. include the area’s best qualities, like cozy coffee shops, parks, bus stops, Laundromats and bakeries. More and more tenants will be choosing their next home based on the proximity of all the places they want to be. Just be careful about pointing out churches to avoid the appearance of limiting tenants to a certain religion, which violates the Fair Housing Act.
- If You Allow Pets, Say So. Don’t wait for a potential tenant to call and inquire. Many pet lovers will skip your ad if it doesn’t state that pets are welcome.
- Use Over-the-Top Terminology. For example, why say, “clean” when you can say immaculate? Why not tell folks your place is ready to move in and a must see? And if it’s quiet, lovely and charming why not say so? Sell it.
How a landlord advertises rental property is the first step in signing a lease with the best possible tenant. If you want a tenant who pays rent on time, takes care of your property and doesn’t cause any trouble, you can start that process when you place your ads.
What to Include in a For Rent Ad
First you have to decide the basics: how much rent you’ll charge, the length of the lease, how many people your rental unit can accommodate, whether pets will be allowed and the requirements tenants must meet to qualify for a lease.
Once you’ve determined these factors, you can write your ad. Include the following:
- Number of bedrooms and bathrooms.
- Special features, like hardwood floors, washer and dryer, water view, or proximity to trails or parks.
- Size and type of pets allowed, if any.
- Website to view photos and find additional information.
- How to contact you. Include a mobile number.
- The rent, security deposit and any other requirements that will help you screen out less-than-desirable tenants. For example, let readers know up front that you will be ordering tenant credit checks and background checks on all applicants.
What not to include:
Any language that can be considered discriminatory. Don’t mention that your rental unit is best for singles, families, elderly, young people, or those of a certain religion. Even mentioning that it’s located near a church can be interpreted that you expect to rent to church-goers.
Once you’ve placed the ad, try not to allow calls to roll to voice mail. People are impatient these days and may not leave a message or call you back.
In this challenging rental market, a rental property owner needs effective marketing tools. A website can be a great way to advertise your properties and reach more potential tenants than the competition.
Your website can be free. Using a blogging platform like WordPress is the most popular way to get started with your own custom website—at no charge. Take a look around WordPress’s site. You’ll find step-by-step instructions and tutorials that make creating a website easy for everyone.
If you are not technically inclined, be prepared to invest some money in your website. Contact several local web designers for bids. Make your choice based on the deliverables you’ll get for the price. A good designer will ask the right questions and narrow down your needs, which may be just a few pages.
Be sure you can add, change, and delete content yourself. Most web designers work with Content Management Systems (CMS), where the end user has access to a database and easy-to-use tools to keep content fresh and updated. There is nothing worse than a website you cannot update yourself, so make sure your designers offer CMS sites.
What should your website include?
- Photos of your available rentals. Take several indoor shots, especially of the kitchen and bathroom. For outdoor shots, try to choose a bright, sunshiny day—grey, overcast photos are depressing.
- Addresses and Google® maps of available rentals.
- Neighborhood information, including parks, schools, transit, and walkability.
- The Equal Housing Opportunity logo (easily downloaded from the web).
- Well-written descriptions of available rentals. Since you’re not paying by the word, like in a classified ad, be creative. Describe the apartment or home thoroughly, including number of baths and bedrooms, any appliances included, square footage, proximity to schools, grocery stores, restaurants, or shopping, amenities like new carpet, hardwood floors, or lots of windows, the size and type of yard, fitness facilities, or patios, and whether pets are allowed.
- Contact information, with a link to your email address.
Screening tenants on your website: it’s fine to inform potential tenants of your prescreening policy, including that all applicants are required to undergo background and credit checks. If you charge an application fee, say so. You won’t scare off anyone except tenants who are not a good fit for you.
What not to say: Do not use language that can be interpreted as discriminatory. For example, if your property is near a church, don’t mention it in your description because you could be seen as accepting only a certain religious group. It’s also not a good idea to specify that your property is “great for” any group of people—parents, single moms, small families, or active adults—because that can be interpreted as if you’re telling everyone else (big families, the disabled, child-free, etc) that they are not welcome to apply.
Finally, keep your website updated. As soon as a vacancy is filled, remove it from your website. If you refuse an applicant because you’ve already rented your property, but it’s still showing vacant on your site, they could claim discrimination.
Websites are easier than ever to maintain, and a great way to showcase and advertise your rental properties!
Communication is a landlord’s most important skill when it comes to filling rental vacancies. Harnessing the power of all types of communication outlets can lead to greater success. Using social media networks is another tool you can consider.
Social media networks include Facebook and Twitter, which attract the most attention and seem to have hundreds of news articles written about them weekly. There is good reason for that—Facebook and Twitter have the most users out of any online communities: 65 million and 23 million respectively.
How would a landlord use these social networks to advertise rentals? Simple. Set up a page for your business on Facebook. Reach out to your tenants, vendors, friends, and associated businesses to become fans or friends. Become a fan of as many local businesses as you can. Update your Facebook page often with information on vacancies, facts about your rental business, or news about the neighborhood. Be interesting, and of course, be professional and confidential—don’t disclose any tenant information or gossip!
On Twitter, it’s easy to create a profile page and start “tweeting.” Use the search tools to find groups of Twitter users in your town or city, as well as real estate people, property management companies, handyman businesses, and contractors. All of these people are good potential folks for you to follow. They’ll follow you back, meaning they’ll receive all of your status updates. And they’ll pass them along to their followers, too.
Besides letting the world know about your vacancies, social networks can help improve landlord/tenant communications. If your tenants see that you’re listening to them, they’re more likely to let you know when they’re having a problem. And contrary to what a lot of people think about social networks, your tenants are not likely to say only negative things about you!
But if your tenants do have an issue, chances are they’re talking about it anyway—wouldn’t you rather know what tenants are saying so you have a chance to address complaints and make things right?
Keeping up with a Twitter and Facebook account can take very little of your time—and the payoff can be great. You’ll expand awareness of your rental business and maybe even find ways to turn problems into opportunities!
Higher 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. .
If you’re a landlord with a vacancy or two, fall can be a difficult time or year to fill them. Coupled with the renter’s market we’re in, you could need to think more creatively to turn those vacancies into occupied rentals. Here are some great ideas to try if you want to attract great tenants:
Lower the rent: lowering your rent might be the last thing you want to do, but sometimes it’s necessary. Do you know what the market rents are for similar properties in your area? If you haven’t checked them out lately, you may find that they’ve dropped—while you’re still asking a previum for your property. HUD publishes the Fair Market Rents for every metropolitan area in the United States, which is accessible on their website: http://www.huduser.org.
Landlords can also check out rentometer.com, which uses a proprietary algorithm to tell you if the rent you are charging for a property is too low, way too high, or reasonable. Just enter the address, number of bedrooms, and rent you are considering, and you’ll get an idea of what other units in the neighborhood are renting for. Smart tenants know. You should, too.
Waive one month’s rent: If your rent is where it should be, or you don’t want to set the precedent of lowering it, offer a free month’s rent to a qualified tenant. Mathematically, it could work out the same for your bank account, but psychologically, “free” is a major enticement to the tenant. It’s up to you to give the free month up front, in the middle, or at the end of the lease.
Upgrade or pray the utilities: If your rental property has basic cable, offer to pay for an upgrade to premium. Or give the tenant high-speed wireless Internet access for six months or a year. You could even pay the water bill, with a monthly dollar limit to discourage waste.
Replace the carpet, blinds, or an old appliance: If you have a great prospective tenant that you’re afraid will walk away, offer new carpeting if your unit needs it, or upgraded mini-blinds, or install a new stove or refrigerator. Most of these upgrades can be amortized over several years’ worth of tenants—but might be just the thing to entice one to move in now!
Staying on top of the landlord game can be tough. Sometimes it helps to know just where to get a question answered, or to check out a contractor, or even find good used appliances! Here is a wrap up of some websites you may find helpful:
Zilpy is a address-based rental facts site. Zilpy for Landlords helps landlords determine how much a property can rent for simply by plugging in its address. Zilpy generates comparable rents, as well as demographic information about the neighborhood and city. Figures include population, median household income, education and ethnicity, and crime rate.
RealEstateMarketingBlog.org is targeted more toward real estate agents, but many of its insights are applicable to landlords, too. Especially if you manage several properties, REMB’s advertising and social media tips can be translated for renting, rather than selling, homes. From Search Engine Optimization to email marketing, you’re sure to find useful information to help you stay competitive in today’s rental market.
Craigslist.org is arguably the web’s largest classified ads site. There is a lot to like about craigslist! All classified ads are free, photos can be uploaded at no charge, and it’s extremely popular! Craigslist is organized by city; just check out the main website to see if your town has a local craigslist site. Then follow the instructions to post your “For Lease” ads. And if you need to replace appliances in your rental unit, craigslist is a great resource!
Angie’s List is a popular review site for contractors, handymen, plumbers, and other service providers. Angie’s list is a paid, members-only site. For a monthly fee, you can check out unbiased reviews by other members. Contractors are not allowed to pay to be featured in any way. If there are no reviews for your city, you can join free for a year and help build the list of reviews in your area.
Bankrate.com is chock full of mortgage, CD, credit card, and loan rates, along with articles covering current happenings in the financial world. There are even advice columns covering small business, retirement planning, financial literacy, and debt management. It’s always good to know what’s happening in the credit and mortgage industry—and bankrate.com is a good place to keep up!
BiggerPockets is an online community for real estate investors and professionals. It offers groups, networking, and information, and membership is free. You can post questions in the forums and search by keywords to see if your question has already been answered. Handy tips, advice, and a place for landlords to talk to other landlords make BiggerPockets a lively online community.
For more landlord resources
, including forms and information on tenant screening,
turn to E-Renter.com.
You’ll know that you have the best possible tenants when you prescreen tenants