Do You Appreciate Your Tenants?

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As property managers, we’re all aware of the multitude of issues that frequently arise with unreliable tenants. Late rental payments, disturbing the peace, illegal activity, and a generaldisregard for the property are all problems that typically arise in the property management industry.

Many times, we’re so focused on dealing with the problems prevalent in the property management industry that we overlook the tenants that always pay on time; the tenants that take good care of their property, the tenants that are considerate of their neighbors. How do we make sure that those tenants are happy? That they feel appreciated? That they know that we want them to remain tenants as long as possible?

Chances are those good tenants are feeling unappreciated right now; which means that they will have no reason to stay at your property if a better opportunity opens elsewhere.

It’s so important to remember that a rental agreement is between two separate parties, and just like any of us, our tenants like to know that they’re appreciated.

Here are just a few ways to show your tenants that they are appreciated:

  • Be sure to take their concerns seriously. If your tenant calls to complain about loud music at midnight, or unauthorized vehicles in their parking spot, take prompt action and make sure that you advise them of both the action and the outcome; don’t make them complain more than once about the same issue.
  • Fulfill the promises that you make. If you promise a tenant a new dishwasher or new carpeting, be sure to fulfill that promise. Don’t make them ask you about it. Just schedule a time and do it.
  • Respond promptly to any and all maintenance requests. If a tenant is responsible and takes good care of the property, they shouldn’t have to wait three months to have their stove repaired.
  • Bend the rules – just a little. Should you wave a late fee – due to a mix-up with the post office for a reliable tenant that is never late with their rent? While opinions vary, remember that a good tenant is like a good customer, and it may be appropriate to bend the rules now and then. That’s not discrimination; that’s good business sense.
  • Give them a gift. A gift card to a local store at lease renewal time, or a card on their birthday will make a tenant feel appreciated, and build loyalty in the process.

There are many ways to make a good tenant feel appreciated, with tenant stability and timely rent payments the ultimate payoff. What more could a property manager want?

Having The Courage Of Your Convictions As A Property Manager

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We just finished celebrating Memorial Day. It’s helpful for me to remember that’s the day when Americans honors men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. I want to pay my deepest respect to their memory and to their loved ones. Originally known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official, very significant federal holiday in 1971. It reminds us that in all aspects of our human journey we want to have something bigger than ourselves to live for and to stand for.

If you’ve not thought of it lately let me be the first to remind you that you’re in one of the most exciting and relevant businesses available today. Whether you manage residential or commercial real estate for owners and landlords, you’re providing a vital service. You also serve your residents who need clean, safe and affordable rental housing. They want to pay the rent to a property manager that they respect, who’s responsive, that they can’t push around, and who hasn’t let the nasty side of human nature cause them to be calloused.

Some people say that rent levels have topped out for now. Others see them rising higher in the next year or two. The question is what do you believe and is your belief based on research and careful analysis. An honest, rational and analytical property manager is a highly-valued asset to their clients. In a recent interview with one of my colleagues she was asked why she sells and manages commercial real estate investment trusts (REITs). When asked why she doesn’t get involved in other types of businesses her answer was a good example of standing by your convictions.

“One of the things we like about commercial REITs: Property owners get paid rents” she reflected. “It’s not the same as buying Acme Manufacturing because you like the potential for their widgets. Instead, you buy the stock … [or the property] that rents manufacturing space to Acme.” When the famous bank robber John Dillinger was asked why he robs banks he responded unflinchingly, “Because that’s where the money is.” When I ask Property Managers why they chose their profession they often say, “Because it’s a rewarding way to help other people succeed while I succeed.”

Unlike robbing banks, managing property is good for everyone involved. It will be an especially rewarding career if you’ve taken the time to create a “mission statement” as well as a “statement of purpose” that defines your convictions, goals, and expectations. Whether you make this public on your website or in your promotional literature is up to you. The most important factor is that you’ve taken the time to formally compose these two vital statements that define you as a property manager professional and as an individual.

I’ve often told the clients and professionals that I consult with that people really don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. The same holds true for your values, convictions and courage. When I was a young man making my way in the world one of my mentors told me, “Marc, if you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything.” He encouraged me to define my convictions and my professional ethics carefully and to review them annually. It was some of the best advice I’ve received.

Perhaps it’s especially poignant to remember this when we reflect on the meaning of Memorial Day. Like those we pay our respects to for serving their country, we can utilize the courage of our convictions to be the best property manager we can be. The rewards are not just monetary. Our self-respect and the upholding of our reputations as outstanding, integrity-based professionals are on the line. We’ll enjoy what we do and feel a greater purpose in life, and the value of all these benefits is, as the credit card commercials say, priceless!

8 Ideas for Making More Move-In Day Magic!

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I think it should be a requirement for people who work in the multifamily industry to rent an apartment, at communities they don’t directly work at, for at least 5 years, moving at least once every 24 months. What would possess me to make such an outlandish request of my fellow industry compatriots?

One word: EMPATHY

Empathy goes a long way in making us adequate at our jobs. Without being able to see things from the other side of the leasing desk, we run the risk of not only alienating, but eventually also losing our residents and clients. Personally, I’ve moved twice since relocating to Seattle, and each time was a daunting task, and not just because of the 20+ boxes of books that I have accumulated over the years, but because moving, just the act of planning to move and trying to ensure that the execution goes well, is an incredibly stressful experience!

I’ve been told countless times that residents make their decision to renew with in the first 48 hours of moving in to their new apartment. This means that it doesn’t count how good your tour went with them anymore. If you can’t deliver the goods wrapped up in amazing service when they come toting boxes, you might as well have not even rented that apartment. What you have in that moment on move-in day is a second first impression.

Please don’t confuse my meaning here. I do not mean that you get a second chance to make a first impression. That’s not going to happen. But what you do get is your first real interaction with your resident as their management team, and it will set the tone for their time with you. Come in with a bad attitude and decide that the problems are THEIR problems, and you’ve got an unhappy resident who counts down the days until they can move out. Make the move-in day not only pleasant but memorable and remarkable, and resident retention starts at minute one.

I offer up some suggestions today to make more move-in day magic!

  1. Always offer a pre-move-in appointment with your resident.
    Give them time to sign the lease in a moment that isn’t costing them 20 dollars an hour for the truck rental as you explain lease addenda A through K. Not only does it give you time to thoroughly explain the lease to them so that there are clear understandings and expectations on each side, but it shows the resident that you care enough to keep in mind the stress of moving day right from the start.
  2. Walk the unit with a punch sheet-  Be proactive!
    The steps we take to turn an apartment, and the standards that the apartment should meet to be considered “market ready,” or, “move-in ready,” are the same each time. The day before move-in, grab a checklist and a last minute sparkle kit and take 20 minutes to really walk the unit that will be turning into a home. Better to catch that there is debris on the patio or something in the toilet before you have to quickly react with your residents watching.
  3. Don’t just hand them the inspection sheet.
    Too often I’m seeing this out there. Mr. and Mrs. Jones move in. They sign their lease and it’s a particularly busy day when the phone is ringing and there are people constantly needing attention in the office. The leasing consultant, trying to streamline and prioritize their day, hands the new residents their move-in inspection form and asks them to just bring it back after they’ve filled it out. The problem with this is that there’s no personal touch to it. The first 5 minutes in a new home stick in most people’s minds, and best that you and your excellent customer service are part of that memory. Plus, it’s better for everyone in the end if we can all agree that yes, in fact there is a large stain in the dining room carpet, sign off on it and have a copy.
  4. Information Packs
    I’m not just talking about how to switch your cable over and a couple of coupons for dry cleaning here. Make them personal. In the move-in process, we learn where people work. If we take three minutes and print out a Google map with directions from their new home to their place of employment, and maybe include a few hints about ways to get around the local area traffic, people will remember. If it was mentioned in the tour that they have a dog and love to go to dog parks, take a moment to highlight the dog parks closest to your community on the map. If you know they love seafood, pizza or even little local cafés, point those out. If you just listen, you’ll be surprised what you can remember about their discussions. When you remember the little things, people remember you.
  5. Pets are People too!
    At least they are to the people who have them. Americans spend over 41 billion, that’s BILLION with a B, dollars a year on their animals according to Business Week magazine. Consider adding something like a logo-ed leash or even a small bag of treats tied with some pretty ribbon to your move-in gifts for new residents with furry friends. Learn the pet’s names and take a picture of them on move-in day. Next time there is a cat or dog brought in to the office, you’ll have a better chance of finding which family is really going to miss Fluffy when they get home that night!
  6. One Box
    Take a moment and pick up one box to carry it in to their home. It’s a small gesture, but it’s one that won’t be forgotten because it’s something most people wouldn’t think to do. Get your team past the, “Frankly, I don’t want to carry in my own boxes, why would I pick up yours?” attitude and show your new residents, in one box, how much they’re going to love living here. Have your porter or maintenance tech stop by an hour or two later and repeat the gesture while introducing themselves to the new residents.
  7. Don’t give away every surprise.
    Your resident finding the nice pitcher of Lemonade and stack of plastic cups in the fridge next to the handwritten welcome note will be something that’s not only refreshing, but also memorable, and more importantly, mentionable. If making lemonade takes too much time, try leaving bottled water in the fridge. Take the extra dollar and put some toilet paper in the bathrooms too. There’s nothing more inconvenient as a new move in than discovering that you’re missing toilet paper a moment too late and doing something as simple as just leaving the mini-model as a small move in gift can eliminate this awkward moment. Also, to soften the home upon move in, you might consider leaving your new resident a plant for their home. House plants can run as cheap as $5 at Home Depot, and add a touch of life to what can seem a sterile environment.
  8. Follow up with more than a phone call.
    The day after your new residents have moved in, don’t just call them for the follow up on their move in process. Stand up, leave your office and go deliver their move in gift in person, taking the opportunity to follow up with them face to face so that you have the advantage of reading their non verbal communication as well.

It doesn’t take much to make a move-in remarkable. What I’m suggesting might add some extra time to the process, but it doesn’t add as much time as it takes to turn the apartment and re rent it 12 months down the road, nor does it add as much cost. And remember, make these things standard practice with your residents for all move-ins to avoid any potential fair housing questions that might arise. What we do for one, we do for all, which should be easy when what we’re doing is providing exceptional service!

U.S. Homeownership Hits 17-Year Low

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Homeownership in the U.S. fell to a 17-year low in the first quarter while an increase of Americans opted to rent following the housing collapse. According to the Commerce Department, the seasonally adjusted homeownership rate fell to 65.2 percent, the lowest since the fourth quarter of 1995.

“It’s probably going to drop another point or two over the next three years because there are still a lot of foreclosures. More people are going to become renters going forward,” said Patrick Newport, an economist at IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Massachusetts.

Read More: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/04/30/usa-economy-housing-idUSL2N0DH1RV20130430

Two Rules of Community Engagement – The Secrets of an Evangelist

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Formation of communities is one of the many ways that distinguish humans as social creatures. Communities generate and preserve a common set of value systems that are important to the group. This creates a sense of belonging, dedication and commitment essential to a successful community.

shutterstock_95035678.jpgMembers often need inspiration and a reminder of their shared goals and values. This is why a healthy community builds morale and motivation through consistent engagement. A healthy community, like a family, doesn’t looks to suppress criticism or deny flaws.

Smart companies buy into the importance and value of using online and in-person communities to drive their business and brand. They hire interesting sounding titles like an Evangelist or Community Manager to serve as the main interface. These professionals spend their time engaging and collaborating with the community. They strongly believe that how a company engages with their community is a major factor in long term success.

The truly successful Evangelists and Community Managers live by two simple rules. These rules allow them to tap into the collective energy of a community to improve their company’s brand and market position.

1. Become a Part of the External and Internal Community

Successful Evangelists and Community Managers engage, embrace and extend their external community. Any company that only leverages online community tools enjoys the simple benefits of a push-based social media strategy. However, having a blog or a presence on Twitter, Facebook and Linked in is only good if you are able to support it.

A smart Community Manager starts by finding out where the bulk of their audience is. Once this is understood they can begin investing in a smart engagement strategy. This means you won’t spread yourself thin simplify for the sake of being everywhere your audience may be. True success is going beyond simple social networks and becoming an integral part of the communities where your customers spend their time.

As an active part of the community, Evangelists help to provide a sense of identity, security and a consistent interaction point for all community members. Website visitors need to know that there is someone at the other end of the community who’s listening, who will respond and engage; the Evangelist fills this role.

Successful Community Managers immerse themselves deeply into the community to create lasting and meaningful relationships. This includes bolstering a constant and useful dialogue designed to keep members informed. Not surprisingly this leads to valuable community-driven insights on everything from simple website changes to new products.

Successful Evangelists work towards the long term success of the company through contributions to the internal community. In the near term they provide useful and compelling engagement data and customer feedback. A Community Manager knows if they can’t track an engagement and tie it to the overall goals of the company there is something wrong. They use the data for tracking but also helping the company understand what the right questions may be and delivering what the community needs. They become an essential go-to person for customer feedback.

2. Engage and Engage Some More

An Evangelist knows that dismissing anyone in their audience isn’t going to get their community work very far. Dictating instead of offering choices and acting like the audience doesn’t matter won’t work either. Why would anyone return to a community knowing they are going to be ignored or have their contributions not be appreciated?

Building a stronger community, just like a family, means first being open, honest, transparent and paying attention. For example, user generated site activity (such as a simple count of the number of hits on a site) doesn’t translate into a community. Being able to demonstrate regular, consistent and sustained engagement is the core of a healthy community.

The best communities coalesce around leaders and those leaders inspire leadership in others. Community Managers understand that tools and techniques can help with this. But often the simplest tools are the best.

For example, content curation is one of the most effective techniques to start with in order to maximize company investment. It rewards contributors, identifies influential members, keeps the conversations going, brings in new members and keeps other coming back. An example of this is to assign key engaged audience members to be responsible for specific content generation and upkeep.

6 Easy Ways to Reduce Repair and Maintenance Costs

It’s so easy to take appliances for granted. Sometimes it seems like they just keep running and running. Until they stop.

Any appliance repair expert will tell you that simple maintenance can add years to the life of your appliances and reduce the likelihood of having to replace them.

Plus,these simple maintenance tips can vastly reduce the likelihood of huge repair or clean-up costs when your appliances fail.

And given Murphy’s Law, they always seem to fail at the worst possible moment — like over a holiday when repair costs double.

One of the best times to perform simple appliance maintenance is when your tenants moves out, and you are preparing to re-rent your unit. Below are some simple maintenance tips that can easily be performed without any experience or special tools.

Some of them you may already do — but some may be a surprise!

Refrigerator:

1.  Your fridge is run by a compressor which sucks warm air in and generates cool air. Along with the air that is being sucked in, it also takes in dust and lint from the household. Most people forget to clean the condenser coils regularly. Years of dust and grime can clog the condenser coils and reduce the lifespan of your refrigerator. The easiest way to clean the compressor, coils and any other air intakes where dust can collect is to turn off the fridge and take a vacuum cleaner to these areas. If you do this simple act every time your rental unit turns over, it can prolong the life of your fridge by keeping the compressor running well.

2.  Check the seals on your refrigerator and freezer doors. If they’re not tight you’re losing efficiency. This burns up your compressor, shortens the lifespan of your appliance, and uses significantly more electricity. To check your seal, close the door on a thin sheet of paper. If the paper slips, your fridge is wasting energy. Replace the seal or adjust the door latch, if needed.

Washer and Dryer:

3.  Make it a point to invest the time and money to replace washer fill hoses every five years. It’s a lot cheaper to replace the hoses than the massive clean-up that happens after one of them bursts. If this has ever happened to you, you know exactly what we’re talking about!

4.  Inspect your outside dryer vent (exhaust duct) annually and clean it of any blockage. In cold climates, small animals have been known to nest in or around these events, causing damage to the vent and the dryer.

Water Heater:

5.  Under normal usage, a typical water heater will last eight to twelve years. But some landlords have water heaters that last fifteen or twenty years. One of the best ways to extend the life of your water heater is to clean or flush out your tank, between renters. This will remove any sediment build-up, helping your water heater to run more efficiently.

Drains:

6.  While a drain is not an “appliance”, clogged drains are one of the most common reasons for plumbing maintenance calls. So every time you re-rent your unit, make a point of removing your bathroom sink and tub drains to remove any hair and blockages. It’s amazing how much nasty gunk will coagulate around hair that gets caught in your drain.

This can lead to expensive plumbing bills. But with a simple — and free — cleaning job, they will work like new again.

Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac to Limit Loan Purchases

Beginning January 10, 2014, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will no longer purchase interest-only loans, loans with 40-year terms, or those with points and fees exceeding certain thresholds.

The move is to bring the agencies in line with a final ruling by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The new directive precludes Fannie and Freddie from purchasing loans which are:
Not fully amortizing;
Have terms of longer than 30 years; or,
Include points and fees in excess of 3% of total loan amount.

Fannie and Freddie will continue to purchase loans that are processed through their automated underwriting systems and loans with a debt-to-income ratio of greater than 43 percent. Loans with a debt-to-income ratio of more than 43 percent are not eligible for protection as qualified mortgages under the CFPB’s final rule unless they are eligible for purchase by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac under the special or temporary qualified mortgage definition.

Adoption of these new limitations by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is in keeping with FHFA’s goal of gradually contracting their market footprint.

With AAOA, landlords have resources at their fingertips. Check out our new Landlord Forms Page.

American Apartment Owners Association offers discounts on products and services for landlords related to your rental housing investment, including rental forms, tenant debt collection, tenant background checks, insurance and financing. Find out more at www.joinaaoa.org.