Can I get more money from a furnished rental?

Written by Laura Agadoni on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, Income Ideas, Laws & Regulations, paid, Rent & Expenses, Rental Advertising, Security Deposits

Furnished RentalsAn interview with Lucas Hall, Landlordology’s founder and head of industry relations at Cozy.

Not only can you get more money from a furnished rental, demand is growing in the furnished rental market, even with the popularity of Airbnb. Over the past decade, there have been more renters overall, and a percentage of those renters prefer to rent a furnished home for a variety of reasons.

I recently spoke with Lucas to get his opinion on what it takes to get into the furnished rental business and to get his best advice for landlords who are thinking about breaking into this niche segment of “landlording.”

First, lets talk about what exactly a furnished rental is.

There are two types of furnished rentals: long-term, meaning a few months or more, and short-term, such as vacation properties.

Most long-term rental properties typically don’t come furnished. But they can. And there are some benefits for renters. Furnished rentals usually have all the furniture and appliances someone would need, and they may or may not have day-to-day essentials such as plates, silverware, and linens.

Short-term rentals for 30 days or fewer are completely furnished with linens, a vacuum cleaner, grill—everything you can want. The idea is that all you do is bring your suitcase and move in.

What kind of furniture should you put in a furnished rental? Cheap motel furniture? High-end stuff?

The type and quality of furniture to buy should mirror the type of unit you have. So if you have a high-end unit that commands thousands of dollars a month, then you should probably have a leather couch, a nice bed frame, and art on the walls. Whereas if you have housing that attracts contract workers, for example, who make between $20,000 and $40,000 a year, you can have used furniture that’s still in great shape. Or you can get furniture from places like IKEA.

In other words, if your clientele is willing to pay $3,000 a month for a two-bedroom, that’s the clientele who would expect to have a nice sofa.

Another consideration is that if you buy the nicest furnishings, there is a chance things will get stolen. If you buy the best coffeemaker or the most expensive knives, those items might ‘disappear.’ You’re better off buying middle-of-the-road items that serve their function.

What is the market for a furnished rental? Who wants to stay in one?

I have had renters for long-term furnished rentals who are moving from across the country for a job, and it’s a big convenience to just be able to move right in. There’s no need to move furniture or to shop for furniture right away.

Short-term is a whole different game. There you have weekly or monthly vacation rentals. You also have traveling nurses who tend to stay for two to six months, and the hospital pays for it.

Related: How to market your rental to traveling nurses

How do you market a furnished rental? What, if any, are the differences in your advertisement?

It’s important to put in the title that you have a furnished rental. Someone who needs furnished housing will be looking for that first. An unfurnished rental in this case will be a deal breaker. Also describe in the listing what the furnishings are. And make sure you show pictures of all the furnishings.

An important benefit of a furnished rental is that furnished units generally look better in listing photos, particularly when you stage properly. You want your furnishings to look really good in pictures. Your furnishings should be clean, useful, and complement the space and the color scheme.

Whenever you’re advertising a property, whether it’s a long-term unfurnished rental or a short-term furnished rental, you should photograph it with furniture in it.

Related: How to shoot real estate photos like a pro

How much does it typically cost to furnish a rental property?

I have had experience furnishing a two-bedroom condo and a studio. For the studio, I spent between $2,000 and $3,000. With the two-bedroom, I spent about $10,000 to furnish it. I bought a little nicer for the two-bedroom because it was going to be a short-term rental. I needed durable furnishings.

My tip when it comes to buying furnishings, whether it’s for a short- or long-term rental, is to buy stain-resistant materials. Otherwise, you’re stuck with regular cleanings or having to replace the furniture every year.

Now for the question that helps landlords decide whether they will offer a furnished rental or not:

How much more money can you get for a furnished rental?

You can typically get 15 to 20 percent more for a furnished long-term rental. It’s a convenience. People are willing to pay for convenience.

And for a furnished short-term rental, you can get 40 to 50 percent more at a minimum. In some cases, you can even double that, getting 100 percent more, depending on the location of the property.

You can typically get 15 to 20 percent more for a furnished long-term rental. It’s a convenience. People are willing to pay for convenience.

Which locations are best for furnished rentals?

I’ve had the most success with furnished rentals in high-density or highly desirable areas. I’ve had a successful furnished studio, for example, right in the heart of Washington, D.C., right near Capitol Hill and a metro station. People wanted to live there and were willing to pay for the convenience of a furnished rental. Places like that appeal to people whose time is more important than money and who would rather spend more than deal with furnishing a rental property.

Can you charge a larger security deposit for a furnished rental? After all, there are now theft of furnishings and furniture damage to consider.

Absolutely. But you can charge only what your state allows. This is often between one and two months’ rent as a maximum. So most of the time, landlords charge one month’s rent as a security deposit for an unfurnished rental. But for a furnished rental, I think it’s smart to double that, or charge two months’ rent. And just like any security deposit, it’s fully refundable as long as there are no damages.

Do you have any further tips or advice for our readers?

A good opportunity for people who want to do long-term furnished rentals is to get into corporate housing or provide housing for traveling nurses. You figure out if there’s a company or hospital that’s willing to make a corporate agreement with you. They pay the rent and are responsible for finding tenants.

Are you interested in getting into the furnished rental business? Or are you in it now? Let us know in the comments!

Standard questions to ask on a rental application

Written by Kathy Adams on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, paid, rental application, Screening, Step 6 - Applications & Screening

Questions to ask in a rental applicationIf you’re new to the rental business, setting up something even as basic as a rental application may seem a bit daunting.

Cozy makes the process easy, offering a secure online application link for each applicant and co-applicant. Whether you choose to use Cozy for your applications or opt for your own homemade version, these standard questions help you make informed decisions about potential new renters.

1. Personal information

Getting personal information is an absolute must on every rental application; after all, you need a way to contact the applicant and verify a few basic details. In this section, the applicant fills out their name, contact information, and date of birth. A Social Security number is not required.

Related: Do Landlords Need to Collect Social Security Numbers?

2. Employment and income history

This section asks for the applicant’s employment status and several years of work history. Ask for the current (and recent) employer’s name, the applicant’s start date, title, and monthly pre-tax income. Also ask for a work contact to verify employment. Include space for additional income information. This comes in handy for the self-employed or for those with other income sources or side jobs.

3. Residence history

Ask the applicant to include residence history for at least the past two years, including the current home. For each location, the applicant should list the approximate move-in and move-out dates. Also ask for the landlord’s name and contact information.

4. References

A reference section helps you verify that what the applicant claims is true. Ask for at least two references, such as coworkers, former landlords, college professors, or former bosses.

5. Emergency contact

This information isn’t necessary to rent an apartment, but it could be vital in the event of an emergency later on. Here, the applicant lists the contact information for a nearby family member or close friend.

5. Pets

The pet section lets the applicant list any pets they plan to bring into the rental. If your rental allows only small dogs, for instance, include extra space to list a dog’s breed or size. Use this section to inform applicants of pet-specific rules at your rental, too.

6. Bankruptcy

Though not a requirement, you may wish to ask whether the applicant has filed for bankruptcy in the past seven years. Include space for an explanation below the question in the event the applicant indicates a bankruptcy. Note that bankruptcies show up on a credit report for up to 10 years.

6. Evictions and refusal to pay rent

These questions are optional. Asking the applicant whether they’ve ever been evicted or refused to pay rent can help screen potential problem tenants. If they indicate “yes” to the eviction question, ask why it happened. Refusing to pay rent or refusing to pay on time is also worth an explanation. Typically, rent refusal happens during a landlord/tenant dispute, so it’s good to know the tenant’s history in this area. Several rent refusals could indicate a potential for future disputes.

7. Crimes

In this section, the applicant indicates convictions for felonies or misdemeanors, including drug-related convictions. Parking and traffic violation information isn’t necessary here. This information will show up on a background check.

8. Smoking

Ask about smoking. This is also a good place to list the smoking policy for your property or region. If your property has a designated smoking area, mention it here as well.

Related: How to Remove Cigarette Odor from Your Rental Property

Additional screening information

It’s a good idea to require applicants to undergo further screening, such as credit reports and background checks. Note that the Cozy application covers these as well. With Cozy, applicants click links to purchase either report, with an option to refuse either one. If an applicant refuses, they are offered space to explain the refusal.

The bottom line

Getting the same information on all your applicants makes the process fair and helps you compare applicants. Have requirements set up ahead of time, such as a certain credit score, income level, and debt load, and then when you review applications, you’ll be able to offer your rental to the most qualified applicant.

How to ensure your property is appealing to renters from every generation

Written by Sean Miller on . Posted in For Landlords, free, Income Ideas, Maintenance & Renovations, Step 1 - Perform Research

Rentals that appeal to every generationIt’s human nature to gravitate toward things we like.

So what you think makes a rental property attractive will probably appeal to other like-minded people. But you could be limiting your market by only doing that.

When you have a rental property, it’s best to make that property appealing to the greatest number of potential renters—people that span all generations—not just millennials or baby boomers, for example.

Landlords need to appeal to renters across multiple generations.

The good news is that appealing to one type of renter doesn’t have to mean alienating other demographics. Renters across every generation will likely be attracted to the same features in a rental.

The best way to start increasing the appeal of your rental units is by finding the commonalities most of your prospective tenants share. The 2017 “Renter Preferences Report” from the National Multifamily Housing Council is generated from survey responses by more than a quarter of a million apartment renters around the country, and based on the findings, here’s how to ensure you’re casting the widest possible net:

1. Focus on the essentials

For the most part, renters want the same basics. Air conditioning and access to high-speed internet made the top of the list, with 94 percent and 93 percent interest, respectively. In fact, 92 percent of respondents said they wouldn’t lease a unit without air conditioning. Many renters are also interested in reliable cell phone reception (92 percent), secure parking (88 percent), and secure access to amenities (84 percent).

By starting with these basic features that you know renters want, you can broaden your appeal and attract as many applicants as possible.

Related: Top 10 Amenities Renters Can’t Resist

2. Adopt useful technologies

Adoption of home automation technology has exploded in recent years; approximately one-third of U.S. broadband households own at least one connected device. Home automation adoption among renters, however, has been below the national average because of the complexity of choosing, installing, and maintaining a home automation system in a rental home. Take this opportunity to install home automation solutions that increase renters’ safety, savings, and convenience.

  • Smart locks prevent the need to rekey after each renter, and they improve safety by allowing renters or landlords to issue unique access codes that show them who was in a rental unit and when.
  • Exterior video cameras, such as doorbell or driveway cameras, let residents keep an eye on their home from the comfort of their couch … or halfway around the world.
  • Smart thermostats can improve savings by lowering energy costs when a unit is unoccupied.
  • Water sensors can alert you to flooding before unwanted water has the chance to wreak havoc.
  • Smart lights increase convenience and lower bills by turning off when rooms are vacant.
  • Voice assistants are appealing to all generations because they make it easy to control other smart home features.

3. Pick a good location

Location is key for any resident when they’re choosing a new home. Suburbs no longer hold the same appeal they once did; renters of all ages want to be closer to the action, where restaurants and nightlife are convenient and walkable.

4. Provide maintenance-free living

People of all ages want to live maintenance-free. In fact, one of the biggest appeals of renting is that landlords take care of upkeep and maintenance—from unclogging toilets to repairing broken appliances. Landlords who can respond to maintenance requests quickly and efficiently will attract great tenants.

The bottom line

The rental market is growing and becoming increasingly multi-generational. Millennials may represent the majority of the rental market, but a winning strategy is one that increases the appeal of your properties for all renters, from Baby Boomers to Gen Z. Checking the essential boxes is the most important step you can take—from there, introduce the right technologies in the right locations, and you’ll have renters lining up to view your property.

Should I accept credit card payments as rent?

Written by Sarah Block on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, paid, Rent & Expenses, Step 6 - Applications & Screening, Step 9 - Manage Lease & Collect Rent

Should I allow rent with credit cardsUsing credit cards can be a tricky game, especially when using them for rent payments.

Do you earn points or miles for travel when you use them? Do you only pay the minimum each month? Or do you pay cash and focus on staying debt free? It gets even trickier when you are deciding whether to use credit cards for large recurring bills such as rent.

Using a credit card to pay rent could be a great way to streamline payments when your monthly expenses and paychecks don’t line up, or it could be a good way to get into major debt.

We’re going to review the pros and cons of using a credit card to pay rent.

Pro No. 1: Evens out the cash flow ebb and flow

Bill due dates often don’t fall in line with paycheck dates so cash flow can become an issue. You may be flush with cash during week three of the month but going in the red week one. Paying rent with a credit card could be a way to avoid that issue. If you set up your bills to be automatically paid with a credit card and automate paying the credit card on pay dates, this method could smooth out cash flow issues throughout the month.

Related: 6 warning signs when screening a tenant

Pro No. 2: Points and miles

According to Million Mile Secrets, paying rent with a credit card to earn miles and points is a method to earn extra points. Many credit cards provide perks such as early release concert tickets or a special airport lounge if you spend an annual minimum. Paying rent with a credit card is an option to meet that minimum if you have great perks to offset fees.

Pro No. 3: Builds credit

Someone with little to no credit could build their credit score by paying rent with a credit card. Each time you put the rent on the card and pay it off, you improve your credit score and prove your creditworthiness.

Con No. 1: Can lower your credit score

If you are not paying off your card every month, not only will your debt add up quickly, but your credit score can suffer. For those with a low credit limit, it won’t take long for your debt percentage to rise. When you are using a high percentage of your available credit, your credit score can go down, which hurts you anytime your credit is checked. When you are looking for a new car, lease, or credit card, a poor debt-to-credit ratio could raise your interest rate or result in a rejection.

Con No. 2: Credit card fees

When rent is paid with a credit card, there will always be a fee. Cozy has a standard 2.75% credit card processing fee. Look at your bills, points, and credit card perks to determine if the 2.75% fee is worth it. Rent that is $1,500 a month would result in a $41 fee each month. Are your points worth it? On the other hand, if you couldn’t pay rent on time without a credit card, would the $41 be less than a late fee?

Related:  My tenant won’t pay late fees, now what?

Con No. 3: You’re playing with fire

Do you have a history of high debt? If so, it might be a bad idea to use a credit card to pay rent. It’s easy to pay the rent with a credit card, but it might be difficult to pay the card. This could cause your debt to increase exponentially. Without the ability to pay the credit card off each month, not only will you be paying the processing fee, but also the interest rate. Your debt can get out of control, depending on your interest rate.

The landlord’s perspective

As a landlord, I would accept credit cards. Before accepting a tenant, landlords complete a credit check, reference checks, pay stub verification, and background checks. We are fully aware of the financial lives of our incoming tenants.

If you are comfortable entering a lease with a new tenant, then trust that they can decide whether paying rent with a credit card makes sense for them.

13 creative marketing strategies for independent landlords

Written by Joe Fairless on . Posted in For Landlords, free, Rental Advertising, Step 5 - List, Advertise & Show

Marketing your rentalsAs an independent landlord who self-manages a portfolio of rental properties, you probably don’t outsource the job of filling vacancies to a property management company.

Unlike a property management company, you are the manager AND the owner. This means you control the marketing strategies and are directly impacted by their success or failure.

The best marketing strategies are designed to find the highest quality tenants—people who pay rent on time, treat the unit and property as if it were their own home, and are courteous to the neighbors—in the fastest possible time.

Finding high-quality tenants makes your life easier as a landlord and puts more money in your pocket. You’ll have more qualified leads, less turnover (and lower turnover costs), fewer evictions, and less late rental payments. Finding these tenants faster reduces your vacancy loss. By filling vacancies yourself, you eliminate the lease-up fees, new lease fees, and ongoing fees charged by a property management company.

How can you find the highest-quality tenant in the shortest period of time?

Now the question is how to find the highest-quality tenant in the shortest period of time without spending all your time marketing your vacant units?

As a result of building a portfolio of over $400 million in apartment communities, I have identified 13 creative marketing strategies to attract high-quality tenants:

1. Advertise on the internet 

Eighty-seven percent of renters search for their homes on the internet, so an online presence for your rental properties is a must. Start by creating a website (or at least a Facebook page). Then post your listing, and market the listing on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Next, all of your “for rent” units should be listed on popular online rental listing services like Cozy, Apartments.com, Craigslist, Realtor.com, Trulia, and ApartmentFinder.com. Make sure your listings include a clear and accurate description of the unit and property and highlight major selling points. It’s also a good idea to invest a few hundred dollars into having professional pictures taken.

Related: How to write attractive property listings in 8 steps

2. Hire locators

A locator is a rental agency that specializes in helping prospective tenants find their ideal home based on their needs. These are great sources for finding high-quality residents. The fastest way to find the locators in your market is on Google. The standard commission is 50 percent of a month’s rent, which is less costly than a property manager’s fees. If you decide to hire a locator, make sure you provide them with weekly updates on your current availabilities.

3. Partner with a real estate agent

You can partner with your real estate agent agent to advertise your rentals on the MLS. Realtors usually charge 50 percent of a month’s rent as a commission. This is a great way to build rapport with your real estate agent and ideally become their go-to investor for their pocket listings and off-market opportunities.

4. Use corporate outreach

Most major corporations have someone whose sole responsibility is to place employees who are relocating to the area into new rentals. Contact the human resources department of the major employers in your market. Ask for the contact information of their relocation specialist.

5. Target local businesses

Create a list of local businesses, employers, schools, bus stops, train stations, etc. to target your marketing efforts based on your renter demographic. Then, to generate leads, print out and drop off fliers, business cards, price sheets, floor plans, and site maps to these targets. Always ask for permission first.

6. Negotiate discounts with target businesses

Another approach is to negotiate discounts at local eateries, salons, fitness centers, etc. for your tenants, and then leverage those discounts when marketing your rental listing. The local business gets more customers, and your tenants get access to local businesses at discounted prices, so it is a win-win.

7. Build a referral program

Fifty-seven percent of renters search for a home through referrals from family and friends. To capitalize on this, incentivize your tenants to provide referrals. One approach is to offer cash to any tenant who provides a referral. A fee of $300 paid 30 days after the execution of the new lease is standard. To advertise the referral program, deliver notes to your tenants’ doors, and send out friendly emails with the details of the referral program on a monthly or bimonthly basis.

8. Provide a free gift to target business employees

Similar to the referral program, send a small gift such as a gift card, gift basket, bottle of wine, toolkit, etc. to the current tenants who are employed at the businesses on your target list. Thank them for their residency, and ask them to refer your rental properties to their colleagues at work.

9. Hold tenant appreciation parties

To promote resident satisfaction and retention, host tenant appreciation parties a few times throughout the year. Examples are to provide a small to-go breakfast; host a wine night; host a timely or holiday-themed event, like a Valentine’s Day card-making party; holiday gift wrapping session; back-to-school barbecue; or a Halloween costume contest. Be creative!

10. Encourage online reviews

The online rating of your properties will likely be the first thing a prospective tenant looks at during their rental search. Organic reviews are great, but you should also be proactive to increase your number of reviews. One strategy is to ask a resident for a review after fulfilling a minor maintenance request (probably not a good idea if it was a large maintenance issue) in a timely fashion. Or have a laptop station set up at your tenant appreciation parties and ask them to write a review before they leave.

11. Contact exiting tenants

Call all tenants who have previously notified you that they plan on leaving at the end of their lease to figure out why they are leaving. See what you can do to convince them to stay (assuming they are a high-quality tenant). Maybe they want to move to a different unit or want a minor upgrade, like an accent wall or new curtains. Also, explain to them the costs associated with moving out (new security deposit, hiring a moving company or U-Haul, cleaning costs, new furniture, etc.). This conversation should take place at least 60 to 90 days prior to the end of their lease.

12. Follow-up with old leads

Reach out to leads you received that are older than 90 days to see if they or someone they know is still searching for a rental.

13. Offer good customer service

Provide stellar, good old-fashioned customer service to prospective tenants. Be responsive and timely with requests and questions. It doesn’t matter if you’re a marketing wizard and get hundreds of leads if you don’t pick up the phone or respond to emails quickly, politely answering questions, and getting possible tenants one step closer to viewing the property and signing the lease.

Summary

All 13 of these strategies have been proven to attract the highest quality residents in the shortest amount of time without the help (and costs) of a property management company.

Some of these strategies are free and just require some sweat equity on your part. Others require an upfront investment and/or result in a short-term reduction in income. So it’s important that you create a marketing strategy and set a marketing budget before closing on a deal. That way, you can account for the costs in your underwriting.

A biyearly maintenance schedule for busy landlords

Written by Chris Deziel on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, landlord, Maintenance & Renovations, maintenance schedule, paid, rental maintenance, Step 10 - Repair & Maintain

If you own rental properties, you know that each one needs a maintenance schedule. You have a couple of alternatives if you don’t want to pay a property manager or maintenance service.

  1. Create maintenance agreements with tenants.
  2. Find a way of working a rental maintenance schedule into your routine.

Related: 5 Ways to Save Money by Being Your Own Property Manager

The first alternative is a great idea if you have responsible, long-term renters. But it might not be such a good one if you have a high turnaround rate or unreliable renters.

If you find the buck stopping at your desk, and your lifestyle won’t accommodate a monthly maintenance schedule, don’t despair. You should be able to take care of most major maintenance issues with biyearly visits, preferably in mid- to late-fall and mid-spring.

Fall maintenance

When you visit your rental property in the fall, your goal is to get it ready for winter. Make sure the heating system is in good working order, and inspect the structure for any problems that could be exacerbated in cold and snowy weather.

1. Service the central air system

Fall is the best time to clean and/or replace all the air return filters as well as the filters around the heating unit itself. If the property has a wood stove or fireplace, it’s a good idea to get the chimney swept once a year. This keeps the fires burning brightly and prevents sparks from causing fires in places you don’t want them.

Related: Who’s Responsible for Furnace and HVAC Maintenance?

2. Clean the gutters

Prevent ice dams and icicles by clearing leaves and debris from the gutters. It’s a messy and slightly dangerous job, so you may want to hire a handyman to do this for you.

3. Winterize the garden

Shut down the sprinkler system and then drain it to prevent burst pipes. Mulch vulnerable plants to protect them from frost. You can make great mulch material by raking leaves onto the lawn, mowing the grass, and collecting the cuttings.

4. Check weatherstripping and patch holes

Replace worn weatherstripping on doors and windows, and check around the foundation for cracks and holes. Patch the holes with caulk. If they look inviting for rodents, cover them with galvanized flashing so the renters don’t have a winter pest problem.

5. Do a safety inspection

  • Look for rotted wood, lifting or sinking concrete pads, or anything else that could be a slipping hazard when covered with snow or ice.
  • Check handrails for stability.
  • Check outdoor outlets and light fixtures to make sure they work and that they are waterproof.

Related: Top 10 fall maintenance tips for landlords and property managers

Spring maintenance

Spring maintenance is mostly about troubleshooting damage caused by ice, snow, and freezing temperatures. Because the ground has thawed and the sun is out, it’s also the best time to make improvements that enhance the appearance and habitability of the property.

1. Maintain Drainage

Clear blocked downspouts and gutters, and repair leaks. Look for standing water in the yard or driveway, and improve drainage so puddles don’t turn into floodwaters during summer rainstorms.

2. Look for plumbing leaks and repair them

All pipes are vulnerable to freezing in the winter but especially exterior pipes that are partially or completely exposed. Turn on the water to full pressure, and check all the joints for sweating or active leaks.

3. Stabilize fences, decks, and handrails

Exterior wooden structures take a beating during the winter. Replace rotted wood, and tighten bolts and nuts to keep them serviceable throughout the summer.

4. Power wash

Clean dirty walkways, decks, fences, and sidings to keep them mold-free and looking their best.

5. Test the smoke alarms

Press the test button on each smoke alarm to be sure the alarm sounds. Check the dates on the batteries and replace any that have been in place longer than 10 years.

6. Seal cracks and holes

You did this in the fall, but you should also do it in the spring. Rodent and insect activity are highest in the summer months, and sealing them out is the best way to prevent an infestation.

7. Test the cooling system

If your rental has an air conditioner, make sure that it comes on and blows cold air.

Adding pool and septic upkeep

Some maintenance tasks are property-specific. For example, not every property has a pool or septic system, but if yours does, you need to regularly maintain them.

For pools

Closing a pool in the winter and opening it in the spring are two important jobs. Most landlords contract with a pool service for regular pool upkeep.

Related: A Landlord’s Guide to Swimming Pool Maintenance and Liability

For septic systems

Check the level of the tank in the spring, and pump it if necessary. This is something you should do every three to five years. Don’t let your tenants off the hook when it comes to septic maintenance, however. The way they use the plumbing affects the health of the tank and drain field. Give your tenants clear guidelines concerning septic use when they move in. It goes without saying that tenants should also do their part to dispose of trash and maintain sanitary, mold-free conditions.

Related: How to Educate Your Tenants about Using a Septic System

What to do when your tenant is locked out… again

Written by Kathy Adams on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, key replacement, keys, locked out, locks, Move-in/Move-out, paid

Locked out againIt’s happening again: one of your tenants is locked out and calls you late at night to let him into his rental unit.

Accidents happen. I’ve left my hotel key-card in my room plenty of times. But it could be a major annoyance if the same tenant repeatedly gets locked out.

If you don’t mind being on-call 24/7 to deal with every Mr. and Ms. Forgetful you rent to, don’t worry about it. But if you appreciate peace of mind and wish your tenants would learn to be more responsible, there’s a few things you can do to deal with those lost-key situations.

Add a lost-key clause to the contract

By adding a simple sentence or two to your lease, you could charge for a lost key. Include details such as a minor charge for key replacement or for your time traveling to the rental after business hours. You may want to add a clause charging the tenant for locksmith services if you are unavailable and don’t have another means of getting the tenant back into their rental.

While you’re at it, make sure your rental agreement details how many keys each tenant receives upon renting. The contract should also state whether the tenant is allowed to make key copies. Note that if you generally change or re-key the locks between tenants, allowing copies could help prevent lockouts.

Related: Lock Lock, Who’s There? The Rules for Changing Locks

Change the locks

If your tenant locks their keys inside the rental, that’s one thing; outright losing the keys more than once is another. There’s no telling where those lost keys are or who may have access to the building after finding them. In that case, changing the locks makes sense.

Note in the rental agreement that the tenant will be responsible for the full cost of replacing the locks if they lose the keys. This is a potential security issue.

Install “smart” locks

Every time a tenant makes a key copy or loses one of their keys, there’s a chance a nonresident has easy access to that rental unit. Kwikset SmartKey locks eliminate a lot of stress, allowing you to re-key the locks without a locksmith. Make sure you still have a key that opens the lock, or you won’t be able to re-key it.

Related: Re-key the Locks Between Tenants with Kwikset SmartKey

Go keyless

An electronic keypad system is the perfect alternative to dealing with forgetful tenants. Back when I was a renter, my landlord allowed me to choose an access code for the entry door keypad. It was quite nice knowing I could go for a bike ride or jog without carrying keys.

As a landlord, the keypad system is even more beneficial: no more replacing or re-keying locks between tenants. Even better: no more lost-key phone calls. Electronic keypads are battery powered, so the battery needs to be replaced once a year or so. Basic electronic keypads don’t require internet access or a “smart” home system, so there’s no Wi-Fi required. Keypads fit many types of doors.

Ultimately, re-keyable locks and keypad systems help prevent lost-key syndrome, which means more peace of mind for you and your tenants in the long run.

How to automate landlord responsibilities

Written by Sarah Block on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, Leases & Legal, Maintenance & Renovations, Move-in/Move-out, paid, Rental Advertising, Screening, Software, Step 1 - Perform Research

Landlord automation - life's a beachWhen I became an accidental landlord in 2011, all I knew for sure was that I needed a tenant, and fast.

Over the years, I have learned how to manage my properties through systems and processes that practically automate all landlord responsibilities. Since then, I like to say “life’s a beach” . . . or at least that’s true for my life as an independent landlord. Today, I’ll share my landlord automation secrets.

Step 1: Finding a tenant

The first thing I do with my rentals is to take great pictures that showcase the properties and surrounding towns. I write ads that help prospective tenants see themselves in that environment.

Related: How to Write an Attractive Property Listing in 8 Steps

From there, I create a Google Drive folder and put photos and ad descriptions in it as well as a Google calendar for showings.

This is where the automation comes in.

  • Post your ad through syndication sites like Apartments.com and Cozy’s Property Listing portal.
  • Use an app like Calendly to automate scheduling showings, which populates on your Google Calendar.
  • If you want, you can even automate showings by using smart technology like Rently that allows prospects to schedule the showing from their smartphone and open the door for them. I wouldn’t recommend doing this one though if there are current tenants. Also, there is no replacement for meeting a prospective tenant in person.
  • The rental application can be done online for free with Cozy’s rental application. The application includes a background and credit check, which is always recommended.

Step 2: Set up lease and rent collection

Creating a lease and rent collection system is the most important step. If your lease isn’t legal or your payments aren’t automated, that is potential money out of your pocket.

Have an attorney create your first lease, ensuring that it is compliant with your local area.  This lease can be customized for all other tenants. So, it is a one-time cost that will save you big money throughout the life of your rental.

  • Use DocuSign to have the tenant sign the lease and store on Google Drive or your Cozy portal, providing access to your new tenant.
  • Set-up automatic rent collection with Cozy’s rental payment portal. It’s free for both the landlord and tenant as long as they pay with an ACH. A bonus: Cozy automates late payments.

Related:  The landlord’s guide to rent collection

Step 3: Move-in checklist

Think of a new tenant moving in like a new employee starting a job. There is an onboarding process.

  • Start with a move-in inspection with the tenant. Have the tenant sign it. This will be gold when the lease is up if there are any issues. You’ll have proof the tenant agreed the unit met their expectations. On the other side, if an issue needs to be resolved, the tenant can fill out a maintenance request, and the entire process is tracked.
  • You can track any tenant onboarding and maintenance expenses for tax purposes and write them off during tax season using the landlord portal.
  • Build a small team of contractors that you can rely on. You will need a handyman and a cleaning crew for maintenance and turnover needs. Having this team in place from the beginning saves you time throughout the lifetime of the rental.

Related:  The perfect tenant move-in package

By taking a small amount of time upfront to set up systems, processes, and automation, being a landlord becomes much easier. While landlords jest that owning rentals are anything but passive income, it can be much more passive with a plan in place.

How many rental properties are too many?

Written by Sarah Block on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, Income Ideas, paid

How many properties are too many?At my high, I had four rental units and, for me, it felt like too many. My husband and I have two full-time jobs, two kids, and too little leisure time. When much of our spare time was focused on our properties and not our kids, we decided it was time to simplify.

But, that’s my personal story. Everyone is different, and where four units felt like too many for our limited time, 22 units might be perfect for you. Real estate investors need to look at three things when deciding how many rental properties to acquire:

1. Personal finance goals

While some may think of real estate investing as a business, you are still using your personal finances to purchase rental properties, keep them in top shape, and cover tenant turnover costs. So, while rental properties are a business, you are funding it. Here are some things to consider when deciding how many rental properties to have in your portfolio.

Debt

How comfortable are you with debt? There are two types of real estate investors. Which investor are you?

Very comfortable: The first type is building a business. Typically, when someone builds a business, they get a business loan and/or find investors. This type of investor feels comfortable with debt and confident that they will pay it off. They will likely feel comfortable taking on more debt to build a bigger portfolio.

Not at all comfortable: The second type of real estate investor is the debt-free journey investor. They build their portfolio as part of a way to meet their financial goals. This investor is less likely to want to take out mortgages and has a goal of paying down the mortgages as fast as possible. They are more likely to pay cash for a property when possible.

Related:  How to Finance a Rental Property

Hefty retirement savings vs. passive income

When buying rental properties, you likely have one of two financial goals in mind: hefty retirement savings or passive income.

Those whose goal is a great retirement income will likely want a larger portfolio. If you accumulate properties in your 30s and pay the minimum mortgage, they will be paid off by the time you retire. You can accumulate more properties because your goal isn’t paying down the mortgage but rather putting money aside for down payments on more properties. This investor sacrifices a larger cash flow month to month to accumulate more properties and have a larger passive income cash flow in their 60s and beyond.

The investor whose goal is passive income now has a smaller portfolio and focuses on clearing the mortgages off their current rental properties. One way these investors handle their profits is to put them straight to the balance of their mortgages. As soon as the properties are paid off all rental income (other than regular expenses) will be passive income that can be used now.

2. Available Time

When deciding how many rental properties to have in your portfolio, consider the time commitment. Real estate investing is called “passive aggressive income” for a reason. It isn’t completely passive. Time is spent working with tenants, making repairs, and finding tenants. It can be quite time-consuming depending on your property and the tenants you have.

Related: Stress-free Property Management with Paula Pant from Afford Anything

Self-managed properties

If you self-manage your properties, consider the time it takes to manage each unit. While Cozy saves massive amounts of time with rent collection, maintenance tickets, and semi-automating the tenant application process, there are still tasks that need to be done. Cleaning, maintaining the property, responding to maintenance tickets, and tenant showings are done by you. Sit down and determine how many hours each unit takes of your time. Do you have that much extra time to dedicate to another property?

Property manager

Do you have a property manager already managing your rental units? Then time isn’t a factor. A property manager can take care of the time commitment needed for your properties. However, the cost of a property manager does need to be considered. Is your property still cash positive when you take into account the cost of the property manager? If yes, it might make sense to add another property to your portfolio.

3. Real Estate Investment Strategy

When deciding whether or not to add more doors to your portfolio, consider your overall investment strategy. The first item to consider is profit. You are in the real estate investing business for one primary reason, and that is to make money. How can you make the most money with the least hassle?

Profit

Your strategy might include more properties that are less expensive or fewer properties that are more expensive with higher rent potential. Neither option is the wrong one. What is wrong is not doing your homework. Calculate the cap rate, do the research, and learn about the communities before investing. Compare what profit you can make with either choice and don’t make assumptions. You might be surprised what heeds the most profits.

Law

Consider any laws that might make life more difficult with more properties. In Illinois for example, if you have 5+ investment properties, you need to hold security deposits in an escrow account, return the deposit within 30 days, or provide detailed receipts within 45 days of move out. Look for landlord-tenant laws in your state, as each state is different.

Conclusion

While four rental units were too many for me, it might be perfect for you. Maybe it is not enough for you. It depends on your financial goals and available time. Look at these factors and decide what makes sense for your situation. There is no such thing as too many rental properties or too little for that matter. There is only what works for you.

Should you let tenants make improvements?

Written by Laura Agadoni on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, For Renters, Maintenance & Renovations, paid, Step 10 - Repair & Maintain

You have a house that’s, to put it mildly, ugly.

The front porch sags, the exterior paint is peeling, the carpets are stained and worn, and the circa-1960 bathrooms have never been updated. But you have renters anyway, and they want to make improvements. Should you let them?

That’s almost exactly what happened in one Pennsylvania home. It turned out badly for the landlord who gave the month-to-month tenants a notice to vacate … after all the renovation work was complete. The court made the landlord pay more than $11,000 to reimburse the tenants for the improvements they made.

So the question remains: should you let tenants make improvements?

The answer: it depends.

Your tenant asks

Tenants often ask to make improvements to a home they will rent. They need to live there, after all. Common requests are to paint the walls, drill holes to hang window treatments or run cable, replace the flooring, update the light fixtures, create a garden in the backyard, and change the bathroom sinks.

Related: Should I allow my tenants to paint a rental property?

What you should do when your tenant asks to “improve” the home is to calculate how much it will cost to return the unit back to its original condition if need be. That might be necessary if the tenant’s so-called improvements make your rental less desirable. But, on the other hand, the alteration might very well be an improvement you can leave. And that will be a benefit for you and will make your current (and probably future) tenant happy.

If the security deposit will cover fixing the alteration, you might consider taking the risk and say, “Yes.” If the security deposit won’t cover the cost to return the property to its original state, or if you just don’t like the idea of what your tenant proposes, you can—to use Nancy Reagan’s famous line: “Just say no.” This is your investment we’re talking about.

But who pays?

If your tenant makes an “improvement” that devalues your home, and if they did so without your permission, they typically need to pay, and you would use that money to fix the issue. But if your tenant adds value to your house, like the Pennsylvania example above, the situation regarding who pays becomes more difficult.

One option is that you strike a deal where you pay half and they pay half. Another is that you might allow an improvement but only if they pay for all of it. Or you might decide the improvement will be a good value for your property, and you will pay for all of it.

Whatever you decide to do, it’s best if you address the issue of tenant improvements in the lease. If you haven’t done that beforehand, you can add an addendum to the lease that makes it clear who is responsible for paying for improvements or whether they can be done at all.

Related: The differences between repairs and improvements

Here’s a sample of what I have in my lease:

That guards against renters who decide to take matters into their own hands during their stay and allows for some negotiation.

If you decide to let your tenant make improvements, you could include language like this, courtesy of Law Insider:

For work you will do:

That ensures you will be paid for work you do that is requested but not a habitability issue.

For work done by either party:

This clause makes it clear that you get to keep the improvements to the property.

A clause if the alterations devalue the home:

This is the clause you point to if you need to withhold all or part of the security deposit.

What if your tenant makes alterations without your permission?

As soon as you notice that your tenant altered your property without your permission, you need to act. At the very least, send a letter or email letting them know that you are aware of the change to the property and that this change is a violation of the lease.

Then let your tenant know the consequences of their action. The change might be something you like. If so, let them know that they don’t need to restore the property to the original condition but that you will not pay for the alteration since you did not approve it.

If you don’t like the change, tell your tenant to restore the property to its original condition. But if that doesn’t happen, let them know that you will do so and will deduct the money from the security deposit.

If the alteration was unacceptable and the tenant is not cooperating with you, you can choose to evict at that point for violating a lease term.

Related: 4 tips for first-time landlords

When you should consider making improvements yourself

Your rental property is an investment. You should, therefore, protect that investment by at least maintaining and repairing as necessary. It’s also a good idea to know what the competition is like in your area. Most tenants don’t stay in a rental property forever, meaning that you will probably need to re-rent at some point.

It’s good to understand what tenants expect in a rental property for your price in your area. If your rental is lacking, you might want to make upgrades to make it more desirable. Most renters, for example, like stainless steel appliances, renovated bathrooms and kitchens, and central air conditioning.

Related: Top 10 amenities renters can’t resist

The bottom line

Rental properties need improvements from time to time. The best situation is for you to be on top of maintenance, repairs, and possible renovations for your property. But if you don’t do that, or if your tenant has suggestions to improve the space, you might want to entertain your tenant’s request to make improvements. Just make sure you and your tenant completely understand the terms of the deal.

Have you let tenants make improvements? Have you ever improved your rental property? Tell us about it in the comments!

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