Five Ways to…Prepare Properties for Springtime

Did you hear? Last week on that most important of national holidays, Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow–and that means an early spring for all of us across the nation (impending East Coast blizzard notwithstanding). Hurrah for springtime!

In reality, while Punxsutawney Phil is actually wrong more often than he is right, winter is waning, and the flowers will be blooming before you know it–bringing along with them all of those wonderful tasks landlords and property managers have to prepare for. So today on Five Ways, we’ve got tips on how to prepare for the spring season even before it arrives–putting you and your staff ahead of the curve.

Five Ways To

1. Make appointments–with gutter maintenance companies and the other businesses you’ll work with this spring–sooner rather than later.

Calendar_0As soon as warmer weather hits, the companies and contractors you work with during warmer months will get booked–and fast. Stay ahead of the competition by booking appointments for gutter cleaning, pipe inspections, HVAC maintenance and other spring  requirements before March and April are actually upon us–then sit back and relax knowing you’ll have it all taken care of in the months ahead.

2.  Inspect your pipes–every single one of them. 

The colder the winter, the harder it can be on a building’s plumbing. When the autumn hit, you took the time to protect pipes and plumbing from freezing temperatures and snow; now that the worst is over, it’s time to see how you did. While tenants would clearly point out some of the more obvious problems that have occurred over the winter, others won’t make themselves known quite so easily–so be sure to conduct a thorough inspection of all the plumbing in your buildings during the spring months. You’d hate to be paying for extra water or energy because of a problem that occurred during the winter!

3. Create a spring maintenance schedule for yourself and your staff.

ID-10056804Warmer weather and brighter, longer days mark the start of apartment-hunting season in Seattle and other nearby regions; and even though vacancies continue to be low, buildings need to look their best and brightest as summer approaches. That means landscaping that is restored after the winter and well-kept throughout the warmer months. When the rains start to let up and the sun is out more often, some of the focus for you and your staff will change to maintaining attractive landscaping on your properties. Take the time now to schedule tasks and create a rotation; that way, the spring routine can ease seamlessly in to your routine.

4. Spring cleaning applies to landlords and tenants–we’re all in this together. Community events, such as whole-building yard sales, can strengthen the landlord-tenant bond.

While we realize that community yard sales are not going to be appropriate for every building, events that tackle (or acknowledge) spring cleaning tasks while emphasizing community can be great for a building’s sense of belonging. Building-wide yard sales are fairly easy to organize and can facilitate the removal of plenty of junk that would otherwise end up in the dumpster; if a yard sale isn’t your style, consider a used-goods donation drive to benefit a charitable cause.

5. Plan the fun stuff too–now’s the perfect time to start planning those community events that showcase your building while making tenants feel more at home than ever.

7916859-brochette-kebab-chicken-beef-pork-onion-barbecue-bbqDoes your apartment community host a spring potluck or a summer picnic? Is there a Labor Day barbecue or a special week of outreach events over the summer? Whatever your plans to make your building stand out to people who don’t live here yet, while also making tenants feel good about where they do live, now is the perfect time to plan it. Spring and summer are fun-filled times in the Pacific Northwest–while the good weather’s here, there are a lot of events vying for people’s attention. That’s why it’s important to plan events ahead of time, getting them onto community calendars and making sure tenants know they’re coming up–plenty of lead time will allow for events that are both well-attended and well-planned. And hey, enjoy it! Spring is just around the corner.

Five Ways to…Be a More Effective Landlord

Five Ways To

Ahh, a fresh new year. There’s definitely something about the appeal of new beginnings that we just can’t resist come January 1st. Even before we finished singing Auld Lang Syne at midnight, we were making resolutions–and more than just a few of us were resolving to be more effective in our careers.

So if you’re a landlord or property manager, what does that look like–and how can it be achieved? We’ve put together our top five ways to be a more effective landlord, from experts across the web. Let’s make 2013 a year to remember!

2013

1. Embrace the three “F words:” Be friendly, fair, and firm.

Any tenant will tell you that an unfriendly landlord is about as fun as a leaky ceiling; at the same time, if you try too hard to be friendly and end up being over-permissive, chaos can ensue. It’s vital that a landlord develop good relationships with tenants, of course—but in the world of property management, the customer isn’t necessarily always right.

Balance is key; and that’s where the three F’s come in: If can maintain a friendly relationship with tenants, while also being firm when necessary—and as fair as you possibly can be—you’ll be well on your way to harmony, both in and out of the building. This tip came from BiggerPockets.com; read the article here.

2. Foster a sense of community in your buildings.

As the housing paradigm in the United States has shifted from owning to renting, many of us have learned to invest more fully in the rental communities we live in. Renters are no longer simply counting the days until they can buy a house; instead, they are looking for a rental community that will feel like home.

As The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Landlords puts it, “Creating a sense of belonging means more tenant referrals, better retention, and fewer complaints.”  That’s why to the best landlords, every building—even those with just a few units—is more than a building: it’s a miniature neighborhood, a coherent group with its own culture and sense of belonging. Ensuring that community spaces are clean, safe and inviting is a good first step; you may also wish to consider community bulletins and get-togethers.

3. Respect a tenant’s autonomy–and their space.

This tip comes from a rental blog across the pond—but it’s relevant here as well. There can be times, particularly in smaller buildings and when a landlord or property manager lives on site, when the lines of a tenant’s privacy can blur slightly. Don’t forget that, while you may own or manage the units they live in, tenants do have a right to privacy by law. There are instances in which a landlord may enter an occupied unit after reasonable notice—but most of these instances are when emergency situations occur. Generally, landlords should err on the side of caution, and respect that units are their tenants’ homes. Read more here.

4. Document everything–and we mean EVERYTHING.

This tip comes from tvslandlordblog.com, and we couldn’t agree more. All steps of the rental process—from applications to phone calls to notices—should be documented. As much as it can be a pain at the time, documentation will actually make your job easier in the long run; and of course, some of this documentation is required by law. Luckily, there are tools to help you with this (and other) property management tasks…which brings us to tip number five!

5. Use the tech tools that will make your life easier.

When you add up all the jobs a landlord or property manager really has to do—advertise units, screen applicants, manage staff, respond to and coordinate maintenance and repairs, keep apprised of landlord-tenant law, document interactions with tenants, and more—it’s clear that every landlord wear a lot of hats in any given day.

Luckily, these days there are plenty of tools online to help you tackle many of your tasks. Websites like Reachwerks.com (full disclosure: Reachwerks is Seattle Rental’s sister company) can help you advertise units, archive paperwork electronically, and all measure of other helpful tasks. When used right, technology can be a landlord’s best friend—use it to your advantage!

Five Ways to…Prevent Rental Application Fraud

Have you browsed the October issue of UNITS? This month, their article about preventing tenant application fraud caught our eye. There’s no doubt that rental application fraud does happen–especially when vacancies are lower, with apartments harder to find. But there are some simple things you can look out for when screening potential tenants–here are our five favorite tips for weeding out fraudsters before they become potentially less-than-perfect tenants.

1. Insist on seeing a real photo ID–not a copy or faxed version.

While there’s no question that the digital age has made our business lives infinitely easier, there’s just no excuse for accepting a photocopied, faxed, or e-mailed copy of an applicant’s photo ID. It’s simply too easy these days for someone to doctor the reproduction they send you, altering key information to line up with their story. State-issued  driver’s licenses and identification cards are now printed with an arsenal of security measured intended to make alterations and forgeries prohibitively difficult. And when you view an ID card, feel free to take your time–if it’s from your state, does it look like yours? And if it’s out of state, you may want to ask a few additional questions (or look up the state’s ID design and security measures online).

2. Charge an application fee.

While an application fee can be frustrating for a tenant applying for multiple apartments, it provides another layer of security for the landlord or property manager. Fraudulent applicants will often apply at any and all apartments they come across that do not charge an application fee–since they have nothing at all to lose if they subsequently have to walk away. Application fees also signal a small measure of commitment from a potential tenant, signaling that they’re interested enough in the apartment to pay to be considered–and the time you spend on their background and credit checks will not be wasted. If you prefer not to charge much of an application fee, consider waiving the fee upon the signing of the lease, or deducting it from the first month’s utilities–that way both landlord and tenant are happy.

3. Google the prospective tenant’s place of business.

Look familiar? Street View can verify an address in just a few seconds.

Is it becoming harder to be a casual fraudster in this digital age? When an employee turns in paystubs or lists their place of business, go ahead and Google the name, address and telephone number. Ensure that the phone number is actually linked to the business name (as it will be for all but the smallest operations), and consider viewing the business address on Google Street View for an added measure of security, ensuring that it’s not a vacant lot or an unrelated gas station. Also, note that many businesses register with the Secretary of State–when in doubt, you can check their website to be double-certain of legitimacy.

4. Double-check their tax forms.

First of all, you may want to require that prospective tenants turn in either a W2 or Form 1099–just about anyone who works for a paycheck will receive at least one of these each year; if a prospective tenant is unable to provide one of these, it may send up a red flag. Secondly, when looking over an applicant’s tax returns, ensure that they are signed by the tenant, and check to see if the address listed on the return matches the tenant’s current address–if not, find out why. If you’re unsure, you may want to request an income verification faxed directly from their employer–and look out for faxes that don’t look like they came directly from the business in question.

5. Beware of blank credit reports.

Did you know that not all people who have a blank credit history truly have no credit? From the UNITS article: “There is a technique called freezing or locking one’s credit report that can make it appear there is no credit history for the applicant to some screening-report providers.” While the occasional college kid won’t yet have a credit history, most older adults will–but if they have successfully frozen their credit history, many credit report agencies will report that they have no credit history at all. A blank credit report? Automatic red flag.

Scary, huh? OK, so maybe we won’t be dressing as rental application fraudsters for Halloween…but it’s definitely something to avoid! For a full list of UNITS’ original 27 tips, click here; in the meantime, do you have a surefire tip for recognizing application fraud? Post it in the comments!

Ten Days of Buzz, July 21-31: Value-Based Rent Increases, an Olympic Vacation Rental Hoodwink, and the Condo Test-Drive

Have you been watching Americans make history at the Olympics? It’s pretty mesmerizing. But life went on as normal this week as well–and here’s the buzz from the world of rental real estate. (Of course, there are a couple of Olympic stories in there…)

“We believe we provide the customer service our residents expect and they’ll see value in their increases. When you live up to what you’re selling in the very beginning, people are open to rental increases.”

Gail Ruggles, Vice President of Operation at Gables Residential. Green for All: How to sell a rent increase without alienating your residents, HousingFinance.com, 7-24-2012.

“We wanted to rent a flat in London for three days, so we researched and chose a very nice-looking apartment in Stratford, next to the Olympic park. The pictures of the apartment were beautiful: very modern, bright and pristine…but it was a far cry from what was represented in the flat description and pictures.

Frank Leibsly, Olympic tourist. A vacation rental too good to be true, the Washington Post, 7-25-2012.

“The landlord is not providing any alternative accommodation. If she doesn’t leave for that time, apparently he would look to increase her rent to make up for the income he thinks he could get during the Olympics.”

Campbell Robb, Chief Executive at homeless charity Shelter. The East End tenants facing eviction during the Olympics, The Guardian, 7-26-2012.

The share of empty U.S. homes for rent fell to its lowest level in a decade during the second quarter…The residential rental vacancy rate declined to 8.6 percent from 8.8 percent in the January-March period.” 

Jason Lange, Reuters correspondant. U.S. vacancy rate falls to lowest in decade, Reuters.com, 7-27-2012.

It appears that the future apartment market is bright, given two key traits characterizing the rising echo boom generation—not only are they considered to be one of the most educated in the nation…they are also likely to be saddled with high levels of debt upon entry into the workforce.

Erica Champion, Washington Post business writer. Younger generation’s debt keeps them renting, WashingtonPost.com, 7-28-2012.

“We already had a relationship going with the management so they made the transition to buying easier for us. We knew exactly what to expect with the apartment, plus we knew the staff and the property manager.”

Sanjay Gupta, homeowner. Test Driving Condos Before Buying, the Wall Street Journal, 7-29-12.

“We will soon know if this is just a one-month blip or if it looks like there will be further softening in the second half of the year, though by historical standards we are still in a strong effective rent growth market,” said Jay Denton, vice president of research for Axiometrics.

Jay Denton, Vice President of Research, Axiometrics. June Apartment Market Results Soften Slightly, Marketwatch, 7-30-2012.

“I have trouble thinking of any other market that is as prone to booms and busts as the real estate market. What makes this one a little bit different is that it’s almost the echo of a very large bust, meaning that what is causing the rental boom is the mirror of the housing bust.”

Stan Humphries, Chief Economist at Zillow. Multifamily/commercial mortgage originations swell 25% in 2Q, Housingwire, 7-31-2012.

Dupre + Scott: The Investment Report is out!

First off, happy Fourth of July! Where’d you watch the fireworks from? Have you seen the epic fireworks fail clip from down in San Diego yet? Honestly, we’ve always wanted to know what it would look like when all the fireworks went off at once.

Normally functioning fireworks

But that’s not what we’re here to talk about. It’s back to business now, because Dupre + Scott’s latest issue of Apartment Advisor is out, and it’s all about investing in multifamily properties. Get ready–here come the cap rates!

According to Dupre + Scott, the investment market “continues to strengthen” as rents rise and capitalization rates (cap rates) fall. This combination is pushing prices higher–but let’s back up for a moment, and look at what’s actually selling this year.

Year-to-date, $900 million in five-unit and larger buildings have sold this year in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties. Compare that to June of last year at just $380 million, and we see that sales are rising considerably. Moving forward, Dupre + Scott project that 2012 sales will reach a total of $1.9 billion, up from $1.4 billion in 2011, and the Apartment Advisors are excited about that number: “that would make 2012 the fourth highest volume year on record. Ever.” 

A moment ago we mentioned that prices are rising; but just what is the average price of a multifamily building with five or more units? As of June this year, the price averages $126,525–that’s up from $119,099 at this point last year. Another factor that contributes to these rising prices is the Gross Income Multiplier–it’s been rising since the beginning of 2011, meaning investors are willing to pay increasing costs per dollar they earn.

According to Dupre + Scott, as long as cap rates and multipliers hold steady, prices will continue to rise–and if cap rates fall at all, or multipliers rise, prices will rise even more quickly. Currently, the average actual cap rate is at 5.8%, with the average actual multiplier at 10.3%. Due to all of these factors, Dupre + Scott are prepared to forecast “significant improvement in the market for investors this year and next.” Sounds like good news to us!

For more information, including a full breakdown on the cap rates and multipliers for 5-19 unit, 20-99, and 100+ unit apartment sales in each county, check out the latest issue of Apartment Advisor here. In the meantime, happy Friday–we’ve got a gorgeous weekend ahead! See you next week.

Five Ways to Take Stellar Listing Photos

We’ve all seen them–those blurry, dimly-lit, often totally inaccurate photos a landlord or property manager has deemed sufficient for an ad. When listing photos are truly bad, the resulting slideshows certainly make for good entertainment…as long as they don’t end up including one of our own units.

While it’s probably a safe bet that you won’t be taking any photos like this one when you advertise your rentals, the fact is, it’s not always clear exactly how to take professional-looking photographs that really showcase the apartment you’re offering. That’s why for today’s edition of Five Ways, we’re bringing you five tips for professional, appealing rental market photography.

1. Invest in the equipment.

Consider a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera if you’ve got the cash–according to photography blogger Darren Rowse, they provide superior speed, image quality, adaptability, depth of field, and optical quality over compact cameras. If you would prefer to stick with the more affordable point-and-shoot option, aim for a mid-range camera–don’t go with the cheapest available option. Be sure to pick up a tripod and wide-angle lens as well; these lenses mimic our peripheral vision to include more of a room in each shot.

2. Choose key rooms to photograph.

Listing photography is about the big picture–it’s about presenting the idea of an apartment or house for rent, a gateway that allows a prospective tenant to picture themselves inside.

When you photograph the unit, choose major rooms, such as the living room, bedroom, and kitchen, and views that show how the floor-plan works. Avoid small interior details, even if they’re gorgeous–these can be mentioned in text and pointed out at the showing.

3. Good listing photos are not impromptu. Light and stage the shot!

Too many photos in the aforementioned slideshows commit the grave sins of (gasp) poor lighting or (horror) nonexistent staging, both of which are absolutely essential to taking successful listing photos.

Whoops! Too bright.

As far as lighting goes, if you’re working on a sunny day, avoid the hours when the sun is highest in the sky and aim for the Golden Hour, when the sun is low on the horizon, instead. If you’re working on a dim day, turn on all of the interior lights, and keep your camera steady to avoid low-light blurring.

Then there’s the staging: when photographing presently-occupied units, reducing clutter is key. While furniture and decorations can lend appeal, personal traces of the current or past tenant should be avoided at all costs–even hide their fridge magnets!

4. Position your camera in doorways; keep it straight and level.

Remember that tripod we suggested you pick up? You’re definitely going to need it. Most of us simply don’t have the precision required to hold our cameras as steady, straight, and level as it needs to be for a professional-looking shot. Even minor movement will lead to blurred photos when working in low light, and a tilted camera will make walls appear slanted; meanwhile, tripods allow a steady, level shot in any location. The tripod is your friend!

And as for the doorways? Positioning your camera in a doorway allows for the most spacious view of any room. Shooting towards a corner will work to create depth, which can be difficult to portray in photography, but is so vital when photographing real estate.

5. Edit your photos–but not too much.

Let’s face it: perfect photos are few and far between, and you’ll need to edit at least some of the photos you take. While some of you probably love your Photoshop, expensive software isn’t necessary for the kind of photo editing you’ll need to do–especially since changing the photos until they’re no longer representative of the unit is just bad practice. You’ll want to ensure the color levels are optimal and that the horizon is straight; you may want to lighten a room or crop out a flaw–all of which can be done with inexpensive software (or even smartphone apps).

The Buzz: Going Green, Capitol Hill Development, Industrial Vacancy, and more

Welcome to The Buzz, where we break down this month’s rental real estate news into delicious bite-sized morsels. Enjoy!

1. Going green in the units you own isn’t as hard as you might think.

The Seattle Times has released a new list of ways to go green, and the good news is, they’re easy to do! Among the advice is keeping air filters clean, changing lightbulbs (compact fluorescent is still the green standard, but check out the new LED bulbs as well), emphasizing natural sunlight in the units you show (which also makes them very appealing), and replacing old ceiling fans with newer, more efficient ones. For even more tips, check out the full article here.

2. Two new apartment buildings are about to join the mix on Capitol Hill–and more are on the way.

The new Citizen apartments were developed by Wallace Properties and hold 107 units in the converted, mixed-use building. Meanwhile, Lawrence Lofts has just started leasing its 131 units; management is cultivating a community feel with a local art show. Could all of these openings lead to a glut? Perhaps…at some point. For now, Seattle apartment construction actually has to make up for lost time–according to Dupre+Scott, “Developers opened fewer than 1,800 units last year.” Check out the new buildings here.

3. Industrial vacancy is dropping in Seattle–and that’s good news for the apartment market, too.

While the national industrial vacancy rate is ringing in at 9.3%, the Seattle rate dropped to 6.6% in 2012’s first quarter. That’s according to the CoStar Group, which specializes in commercial real estate. With Amazon’s proposed office towers and plenty of other commercial projects in the works, Seattle’s strong tech, startup, and industry culture is self-sustaining nicely these days–and that makes Seattle a destination for job seekers and their families. Check out CoStar’s numbers here.

4. There’s about to be a little bit of Seattle in Washington D.C.

Ever been to the National Mall in Washington, D.C.? The iconic area is about to be redesigned, and Seattle-based landscape architecture firm Gustafson Guthrie Nichol are 1/2 of the team that’s been hired to do the redeveloping (the other half of the team, Davis Brody Bond, are from New York). The Seattle firm won out over a myriad of others with an original design that “dramatically rethinks the use of water— operating with just 10 percent of the water of the current fountain.” Conservation and smart thinking? Yup, that sounds Seattle-like. Check out the full article here.

5. Are foodie-friendly apartments the new must-have among renters?

New York City: it’s like a test kitchen for must-have apartments. And the most recent  amenity-of-the-moment coming out of NY? Foodie Friendly apartments. That’s right–the Mantena building has the only 3-Michelin-Star restaurant oustide of Manhattan (it’s in Brooklyn), and it’s leasing faster than anything else around. Know any Michelin-calibre chefs you could hire to set up shop on your ground floor? Check out the full article here.