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!

Apartment Advisor Recap, Part II: Looking Ahead

ID-1005998Happy Friday! Today we’ve got Part II of our December Apartment Advisor recap. Armed with data on job, migration, and interest rates; investment, supply, and demand trends, their partnership with Conway Pedersen for the economic nitty-gritty, and 30 years in the business, they’ve got predictions on how the next few years will go. Let’s see what they’ve got for us, shall we?

  1. Employment: Conway Pedersen expects the region to add 206,900 jobs over the next five years. When we look at the period between 2003-2008, when just 191,600 jobs were added, those numbers look pretty darn good!
  2. Demand: Q3 of this year showed 7.9 jobs to each occupied apartment; that means we should see about 26,200 additional rental units added over the next five years. With population growth, net migration, Gen Y renters and other factors in the mix, Dupre + Scott is expecting demand for about 29,000 total units.
  3. Supply: Over 30,500 units are expected to open in the King, Snohomish and Pierce counties over the next five years. Apartment Advisor puts that down to about 8,000 in 2013, rising to perhaps 9,100 in 2014, and then slowly tapering off in the years after, with about 3,900 in 2017.
  4. Vacancy: September’s market vacancy (that’s excluding units in construction and renovation) hit 4.8%, with gross vacancy at 5.5%. By late 2013, market vacancy should rise slightly to 4.9%, while gross will fall to 5.2%, as job growth and rental culture will keep demand strong. But after 2013, both rates are expected to start climbing–they’ll peak in Q1 2015 at about 6.4% and 7.3%. Those numbers, similar to those seen between 2002 and 2004, indicate oversupply–but not drastically so.
  5. Rent: As a rule, rents climb until vacancy hits 7% or so–then they start declining. Based on the vacancy forecast, we’re looking at a 2.8% climb in rent during 2013, before the supply of new units catches up to demand; in 2014, there will be higher vacancy and rent will rise less than 1%. We should see a 1.3% increase in 2015, as supply and demand gets back into equilibrium once more.

Those are some of the highlights of what Dupre + Scott are predicting, and there’s lots more info in the issue itself–check it out here. But for now, enjoy your weekend (and/or get your holiday shopping done). Christmas is just around the corner!

Five Ways to…Market to Millennials

Millennials, Gen Y, the kids who went off to college but then came back and are now living in your basement…whatever you call the children of the Baby Boomers, they’re well on their way to becoming the next big generation of renters. MultifamilyBiz.com released a new webcast this week focused solely on this generation–who are they, and how do we reach them? You can check out the full webcast, presented by Ernest Oriente and Kerry Kirby; in the meantime, we’ve got the key points below.

1. Know the millennials: What defines this generation?

85 million strong, millennials (born 1978-1995) witnessed the housing crisis, so as they move into adulthood, they are by no means eager to purchase a house. These children of boomers will comprise 36% of the workforce by just 2014, and the fact that many of them lived either in student housing or with their parents for some time after they turned eighteen means that pent-up demand is unleashed as the economy improves and they move into their own places. Space isn’t a priority to millennials, but high-speed wifi and good cell reception are.

2. Shift your marketing paradigm: become an advocate for your building and your neighborhood.

Excepting a few hipster luddites, millennials are all digital all the time, which means they probably won’t see an ad in print–and that wouldn’t necessarily be helpful anyway, since many of them have a bit of a distaste for overt marketing.

Instead of focusing on static advertising, in the words of Kerry Kirby, “become an advocate for your community.” Sponsor local events and create a website that acts as a hub of neighborhood information instead of a kind of internet brochure. Tune in to the neighborhood and reflect that local sensibility throughout your branding. And remember, all information you post online should be easily accessible in mobile form–at least 25% of social media use is now conducted via smartphone or tablet.

3. Leverage your online reputation–reviews are powerful things.

It is, as they say, the information age–and now that Yelp and a thousand other sites are out there allowing people to rate their experiences, people take real stock in what they read online about an apartment building or community. In fact, Yelp’s apartment ratings are some of its highest-trafficked areas.

Good reviews can be very powerful, and people who have good experiences will leave good reviews–especially if you plant the seed in their minds. Consider exit questionnaires or other ways to ask tenants if they would give your building a good review, and when bad reviews are left online, be visibly accountable to the reviewer. Amazon.com has found that quite often, once they follow up with consumers who have left bad reviews, the review is amended to reflect the consumer’s now positive experience–and that is powerful as well.

4. Keep the SEO going: multiple online platforms now allow great internet search visibility for even the smallest buildings.

It used to be that a content-heavy website and/or a large online advertising budget was the only way to stay visible online, especially with so many apartment communities clamoring for space–but these days, that’s simply not the case. Once your building or community has a distinct name and identity, posting regularly on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, WordPress and elsewhere can ensure that you show up on a regular basis–and with plenty of positive results–when a user searches.

Millennials are, as Kerry puts it, “the information generation;” they search for a new apartment just 30 to 60 days before they plan to move, and for many potential tenants, if you don’t have a robust presence online, you may as well not exist. It’s easy to feed social media into the pages of your website, adding to its image as information hub (in the words of the older generation, think online community center) instead of static brochure.

5. Move your leasing center online.

Is a particular floorplan available? What are the current lease rates? Which forms does a potential tenant need to fill out? If millennials need to know this information, they are less likely to call or enter a leasing office and ask someone than they are to look for it online. In an ideal world, any information, forms, etc. that a tenant can get from a real leasing center, they should be able to access online. This accessibility is also conducive to the tenant sharing it via Facebook or other social media platforms. In Kerry’s words, “your online leasing center should be the center of your universe when it comes to generating leads.” A millennial is much more likely to apply for a unit if they can do so from their phone or laptop, instead of sitting down in a leasing center and filling things out manually. Viva la digital revoluciòn!

 

Landlord Toolkit: Emergency Preparedness Plans

What a week! What with Hurricane Sandy wreaking havoc on the East Coast, it’s sometimes been hard to think of anything else–and our thoughts are with the people of New York, New Jersey, and elsewhere as businesses reopen and people begin to rebuild affected areas.

While Seattle isn’t exactly prone to hurricanes, events like those of this week remind us that emergencies can occur–and there is plenty that can be done beforehand.

Drawing up an Emergency Preparedness Plan

We thought we’d take today’s post to put together a landlord toolkit for emergency preparedness, focusing on the ever-important Emergency Plan. Emergency plans are just about essential for every building, and we found several easy guides for putting one together. Here are the essentials–follow the links for even more information.

Emergency Phone Numbers

Of course, the plan should include a contact number for you or your property manager, as well as a list of emergency numbers (the fire department, gas company, poison control hotline, etc.). These numbers should be listed in a location that is easily accessible for every tenant, as well as being included in the plan.

Also, don’t forget to keep a list of your own emergency numbers: who do you call with a plumbing emergency? What about if you need an electrician? Locating these numbers before an emergency occurs can save time and prevent damage if an apartment is flooding from a burst pipe, or wires are sparking, and time is of the essence.

What is an Emergency? …And Do Tenants Need Renter’s Insurance?

About.com noted that you may also wish to include a short section on what constitutes an emergency in your plan–for instance, a gas leak requires immediate attention…while a dripping faucet can wait until tomorrow. You may also wish to advise your tenants to purchase renter’s insurance, as your own insurance coverage will not cover a tenant’s furniture or belongings if a fire or storm damage them–and renter’s insurance can often be found for as little as $10 per month.

What to Plan For

So you’ve laid out some basic info. But what else do you need…and what exactly does your plan need to, well, plan for? Any feasible event, according to MultifamilyInsider.com: “You will need to have a plan on hand in the event of fires, floods, earthquakes, and other unforeseen emergencies that may potentially apply to your region. Tenants need to know not only how to evacuate the building, but also what to do in cases where they must remain inthe building as a disastrous event occurs.” You’ll need to plan both your own and your tenants’ roles during the emergency–for instance, who calls 911 if the fire alarm is not triggered?

The Multifamily Insider article includes a pretty exhaustive (but not too long) list of what you’ll need to include on your emergency plan–check it out here. Once the plan is complete, be sure to distribute it to all tenants, either when they sign the lease, or when new information is added.

Hopefully, your emergency preparedness plan is something you’ll never have to use. But you may sleep better at night knowing the info is all laid out–and if an emergency does occur, you’ll know what to do.

For more on emergency preparedness, go to http://www.redcross.org.

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!

As Dupre + Scott Sees It: Five Major Apartment Market Trends

Did you make it to WMFHA’s Washington Apartment Outlook conference last Friday? Mike Dupre of Dupre + Scott fame gave a 30-minute talk on the multifamily trends that are currently hitting the market. These will be delved into with plenty of background and forecasts for the future in the October issue of Apartment Advisor (which we’ll happily recap) when it’s released; but for now, here are some highlights from his presentation: five major apartment market trends that we’re seeing this year.

1. Vacancies are low, while rents and cap rates are climbing.

First we’ve got vacancies–these bave bounced around recently between a high 4% and a low 5%. Right now, market vacancy (excluding new units) is at 4.8%, while gross vacancy, including units in initial lease-up, is 5.5%. Combine that with rents, which have risen 4% in the past 12 months (largely since March), and we’re looking at a pretty rosy picture–especially when we factor in Cap rates, which are at 5.1% in Seattle and may fall even more, as indicated by currently low interest rates. With all of these rates in better shape than we’ve seen in years, it’s no wonder that #2 is true.

2. Multifamily sales–and construction starts–are up as well.

Did you know that this has been the sixth best year ever for our region in multifamily (five or more unit) sales, even with the year far from over? It’s also been the fifth highest volume year. Meanwhile, prices have climbed “twice as quickly” as rents, averaging $132,000/unit this year, up from their 2010 bottom at just $110,000/unit. Then we’ve got new developments, which have shot up drastically from last year: while just 1,500 units were opened in 2011, this year will see 6,000 units opened–that’s the biggest number we’ve seen in twenty years.

3. Apartments are trending smaller after hitting a millennial peak.

When we look at the past 120 years, it’s clear that America just can’t make up its mind on apartment size. There was the rapid increase in apartment sizes in the late 1930s, with the advent of the Garden Court–an outlier–and a rapid decrease in the 1950s with the invention of the motel-style apartment–another outlier. Generally, apartments averaged between 500 and 600 square feet until 1960, when they began to rise rapidly with the birth of the Boomers. After a peak in 1999, the average is now falling; this year, it’s 750 square feet, with plenty of buzz about the micro-housing of the future.

4. Gen Y-ers have come of age–and they’d rather rent.

Is Britney Spears the quintessential Gen Y-er? Gen Y began, we’re told, in January of 1982; that means the first Gen Y-ers, like Britney, turned 20 in 2002. Generation Y is now a generation of housing consumers, and they’ve been conditioned to rent by the housing crisis that hit just before they might have been ready to buy for the first time. In the next four years, over 80,000 young adults will be added to the region–and as long as they can find jobs, they’ll probably live in rental housing.

5.  As Boomers retire, the workforce will fill increasingly with (younger) renters.

Finally, we have the Boomers and what Dupre + Scott call “the Geezer effect.” Over the past twenty years, an average of 18,000 people have turned 65 each year in our region. But that’s all about to change–during the next five years, the average will jump to 34,000/year, and by 2020, it will be even higher. What do retiring boomers mean for the rental market? Boomers tend to own their houses; but as they age out of the workforce, younger workers will take their place–and those younger workers will probably want to rent.