Five Ways to…Optimize Curb Appeal

Have you picked up July’s edition of UNITS, from the NAA? This month’s issue is all about the curb appeal, from their annual Curb Appeal Awards to the accompanying Curb Appeal Checklist. In honor of the issue, and the fact that we’re only halfway through summer apartment hunting season, here are our top five tips for optimizing the curb appeal on your units. Enjoy!

Five Ways To Optimize Curb Appeal1. Give your sign some TLC.

Spruce up your apartment signIf your building or complex utilizes a sign, it is essential that your sign be well taken care of. A sign and its surroundings are the most immediate and constant way of showcasing the identity of an apartment community; as such, the sign should be clean and look freshly painted, with well-maintained foliage (including colorful flowers that differ from nearby competition) surrounding it. In Seattle and surrounding areas, mildew can build up during the winter–make sure to pressure wash or clean the sign in the spring or summer.

2. Don’t skimp on the re-painting and landscaping, especially during summer months.

Paint and landscape to keep apartment curb appeal at an all-time highSometimes there’s just no substitute for a fresh coat of paint on a building, especially if it’s been awhile since the building was last painted. Fresh, beautiful paint lets tenants and passers-by alike know that management is invested in the upkeep of the building–it’s unmistakable. Another essential factor during the summer months is landscaping. Don’t let plants die or overgrow in common areas; well-groomed foliage that compliments the apartment’s identity is essential to keeping up the curb appeal. And if you’re going eco-friendly, consider native plants that won’t require extra watering.

3. Light your outdoor spaces well.

 Light your outdoor spaces well to increase curb appealWhat good is a gorgeous building and impeccable grounds if no one can see them (and they look unsafe) after dark? As a landlord or apartment manager, it is essential that you keep outdoor walkways and spaces well-lit. Bright and cheery signs, foliage, and walkways are an instant advertisement for your rental community–it shows potential tenants that the grounds are regularly maintained, and that their safety is important to apartment management. Of course, there’s no need to light up the night like Disneyland; low-wattage lights (solar-powered or with CFL bulbs) will do just fine.

4. In smaller complexes, consider oversized or quirky unit numbers.

Image from BHG.com

BHG.com

This tip is from an Apartments.com blog post–and we love it. If you’re still working to create an identity for your smaller building, unit numbers that are extra-big, placed directly on the unit door, or are slightly unique in some other way, can add just the right amount of quirk to an otherwise ordinary-looking building. Of course, even as you spice things up, remember to keep apartment numbers legible and easy to find–we don’t want new tenants and visitors wandering around in circles.

5. If you have a leasing office, make sure it’s clean, welcoming, and easy to find.

Leasing-Office-Welcome-Sign-K-4974_GrnRevSpeaking of getting lost, have you ever tried to find your way to a leasing office that was a little hard to find–perhaps it wasn’t so well-marked? It happens more often than you’d think–and if your complex has a leasing office, you mustn’t let it happen to you. Leasing offices should be well-marked by way of shiny, well-lit directional signs, painted paths, anything that leads prospective tenants directly to your door–and once they get there, the entrance to the office should be welcoming, with a clean entrance and a cheerful welcome mat. The little touches do matter–and if you do it right, tenants and prospects will feel good about the upkeep and competence of your office before they even walk through your door. 

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Five Ways to…Set a Rental Price

Five Ways ToFor newcomers to the rental business, particularly for landlords with just a few units, setting an appropriate rent amount can be a daunting task. There are plenty of factors to consider when deciding on the amount to rent a house or apartment for–you want to be competitive, while also covering costs (and ideally making a profit). Here are five main factors to consider when making your decision.

1. Check out the competition. 

Unfurnished Apt for Rent

Once you’ve acquired a home or apartment that you’re planning on renting out, it’s time to do some research. Using Craigslist, SeattleRentals.com, or another site that posts rental real estate listings, check out the asking rents on comparable units in your neighborhood. You may even wish to take some walks around the neighborhood, checking out the units that are located nearby–that can give you context for the rentals that have particularly low or high asking rent amounts. Chances are, the rent you’ll ask for will end up being comparable to other units in the area.

2. Adjust for desirability.

New Apartment

We all like for things to be neat and easy; but there can be no blanket decisions when it comes to setting rent amounts. It’s important to take the factors that differ from unit to unit into consideration when making your decision. Say you have two identical units on the first and second floors of a building, with the upper unit enjoying a pretty good view of Lake Union, while the first floor unit’s view is obstructed. It may be tempting to price the units identically; but if you do so, people are likely to pass on the ground-floor unit, considering it overpriced, while the second-floor renters are enjoying a great deal. Differing amenities, closet space, square footage, and other differences must be taken into consideration when pricing multiple units.

3. Keep your costs in mind.

Budget

Hopefully it goes without saying…but it’s so important, we’ll say it anyway. It is imperative that you have your costs well in mind when your price your rental unit. If you have a mortgage on the property, that payment must be covered; then there are maintenance and operating expenses to consider. Note that while landlords won’t necessarily make a profit their first couple of years out, if this is the case, the property should be working for them in other ways–paying down the mortgage, conferring tax benefits, etc. If the unit’s not working for you, you may have over-invested.

4. Follow the market.

English: 60 Richmond Street East, an affordabl...

Rental real estate is in essence a local business; as such, landlords should follow both local and national industry news and trends as they are reported. Understanding your market is key to ensuring the rents you set are both reasonable for prospective tenants and profitable for your business. Luckily, the rental real estate industry is easier to follow than ever now; constant news articles, national resources like the NAA, and local consultants such as Dupre + Scott provide us with all the rental info we could ever need, tracking trends and reporting on different market factors. The information age is good for all of us one- or two-unit landlords out there!

5. Continue to reevaluate.

for rent

The truth is, the housing market changes–and it changes quite often. A rent you set on a unit in January 2013 may simply not be appropriate for the same unit just a year or two later. If you follow the market, when you sit down to reassess asking rents on a unit that is about to go up for rent again, you’ll have done your homework, and it will be fairly easy to determine whether the rent needs to change, or if it can remain similar to what it was before. Ideally, your asking rent will go up, based on vacancy, demand, and neighborhood popularity; that’s what we’ve seen quite a bit in the past few years. But you must also be prepared to lower the asking rent if the rental market has taken a dip. Reevaluating asking rents as the market changes will keep you–and your apartments–in the game.

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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…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!

 

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!

Five Ways to…Keep Bedbugs OUT of Your Units

Bedbugs: shudder. No one likes to think about them too much–we’re getting the creepy-crawlies just writing about them–but if you’re a landlord or property manager and you don’t yet have a bedbug plan of action, it’s something you need to think about. The good news is that there are plenty of resources out there, and we’ve pulled together the information you need to keep bedbugs at bay for years to come–and to know just what you, your staff, and your tenants will need to do if bedbugs do show up in a rental unit.

1. Know your foe.

There, now isn’t that better than imagining the real thing?

We hear it ever since we are children: “don’t let the bedbugs bite!” But very few kids–and very few adults, outside of the hotel industry–tend to know exactly what bedbugs are. What do they look like? Do they really bite? Do they really live in beds? And, crucially: how do we get rid of them?

To find out, we started with the King County Bed Bug Fact Sheet. It turns out bedbugs are quite small, “about the size of an apple seed,” and feed on our blood as ticks do. They have reddish bodies and do not fly, and they can live for up to a year without feeding (!). It turns out they “can hide anywhere but usually close to where people sleep,” and can be found primarily in bedding, around the edge of mattresses and box springs, and under buttons and tags attached to the mattress. Only the experts can confirm and effectively stem the tide of an infestation, but vacuuming, steaming, and cleansing with soap and water can help (DIY bug bombs, as it happens, aren’t effective).

If you really want to get up close and personal with bedbugs, check out this Youtube video sent to us by Orca Information–but don’t blame us if giant bedbugs show up in your nightmares!

2. Educate your tenants.

There are many ways to inform your tenants that bedbugs are a possibility to watch for, including this fun infographic from Bedbugs.org (click on the partial image for the full, very informative, version). If you’d like to be more proactive about it, the NARPM suggests holding town-hall style meetings to inform tenants of the dangers of bedbugs, since “bed bugs are one of those pests that ALWAYS require professional treatment,” and “tenant awareness and immediately reporting this pest – as any other pest – can significantly reduce the expense.” And expenses–that brings us to number 3.

3. Create a clear-cut Bed Bug Policy. 

This one is another of the NARPM’s suggestions, and we couldn’t agree more. Before an infestation occurs, the following points need to be clear to both the landlord and the tenant: who pays for inspection? Who pays for treatment? And if there are recurring infestations, who pays for those? Since the cost of professional treatment & removal can hit $500 per room, it’s vital that these questions be decided beforehand.

This article from the American Apartment Owners Association caught our eye; it points out that while landlords must provide a “habitable” environment for tenants, it may not always be the landlord’s responsibility to pay for all bedbug inspections and treatments. Whatever you decide, it is important that the policy is clear-cut and specific, to avoid conflict during an infestation. This should include a policy on discarded furniture and mattresses–used, upholstered furniture is one of the big ways bedbugs can hitch a ride into units.

4. Train staff to find evidence of infestations.

If given the right information, a property manager or staff person may be able to detect the presence of bedbugs before a tenant can–or after a tenant has moved out. While only a professional can verify whether or not you have bedbugs, early detection is key to keeping removal costs down–so don’t be afraid to train your staff to look.

5. If you do find evidence of bedbugs, call in the professionals.

As we mentioned above, while certain cleaning methods–as well as encasing mattresses in bedbug-proof cases–can help with bedbug infestations, only qualified pest-control companies can verify bedbug infestations and completely & safely remove them from a unit. When you do hire a company, don’t forget to look for these qualifications before you call (from the infographic, again):

Finally, remember you’re not alone: there are a ton of great resources for bedbug prevention floating around the internet! If you’d like to do some further reading, check out this report from the National Center for Healthy Housing, entitled What’s Working for Bed Bug Control in Multifamily Housing: it’ll tell you what you need to know. In the meantime, happy Fall–and may your units always be bedbug-free!