Below are ten critical tips garnered from a property management company with over 15 years of experience in the Northern Virginia apartment leasing market. Of course, entire books have been written on the subject of property management, so think of the below as the start of your education as a property manager.
1) Research comparable rent prices. It is very important to do your due diligence when it comes to what price you’re going to advertise your property for. Price it too low and you’re going to lose out on extra rental income, too high and you might never schedule a showing of the property. Rent price is dependent on a number of factors including, the economy, whether people are buying versus renting, if local companies are hiring and moving people to the area, what current comparable listings you are competing with, and what prices have been obtained recently. For a list of comparable rent prices and average days on market it’s best to consult a local Realtor. In Northern Virginia be sure to research comps from NVAR’s metropolitan regional information system.
2) Clean and prep your rental property. First impressions can mean everything. If your rental property does not show well this can be devastating. You can be in the best area, across from a metro station, and with tons of companies hiring just around the corner, but if the walls are marked with crayon and you can’t pinpoint that certain smell (the not good one) then you’re likely not going to find a tenant. A reliable cleaning company in Northern Virginia is Maid Perfect.
3) List the property on the local MLS. The Multiple Listing Service (MLS) in many areas is going to be a solid source of leads for potential tenants. Real estate agents can list your property on the MLS and then the property is exposed to thousands of other agents who can show the property and find tenants for your unit. In Northern Virginia make sure your property is listed on MRIS.
4) Post your property on free listing websites. 70% or more potential tenants start their search for a rental on the internet. That being said, you want your listing to be posted on as many sites as possible. There are too many to list in this article, but a few Google searches will lead you to a ton of websites willing to host your listing and contact information free of charge. Use these sites to actively market your rental property. In Northern Virginia one of the key sites to be listed on is the Washington DC section of Craigslist.
5) Market your rental unit to local companies. One of the main reasons that people move is for a new job. Companies that are actively hiring are typically the largest source of new tenants in a given metropolitan area. Make best efforts to get in touch with the relocation departments of local companies so that they can actively source new hires to you. These new hires NEED to find a place to live and will be the best source for tenants that are ready to make a decision. In Northern VA, you can find a list of the largest businesses in your area by visiting Fairfax County’s government website.
6) Shoot a short video of the rental property. Pictures are nice, but video is better, especially when dealing with potential tenants that are relocating and can not see the property in person. You can use the video to qualify potential tenants for showings. Simply host the video on your favorite free video sharing site (YouTube, alo video, etc… ) and then point the potential tenant to the video to make sure they are interested in your unit. If they have further interest after the video showing, it might be worth setting up a showing in person. The average tenant looks at over 6 properties before they make a decision, so shooting this video can save you quite a bit of time when dealing with potential tenants that just want to take a look, but are not ready to make a decision. In Northern Virginia you will want to post your video to Fairfax TV.
7) Run a thorough credit check on the tenant. If we lived in a perfect world, everyone would pay their rent on time and there would be no evictions. The problem is we don’t live in a utopia. Have you tenant fill out a rental application which gives you permission to run a credit check on them. Make sure that you follow the latest FCRA (Fair Credit Reporting Act) rules and regulations and get a FICO score for the potential tenant. This score will give you a good idea of whether the tenant is going to pay the rent on time, late, or not at all. A bad score usually means a tenant that will give you problems. It’s better to leave the place vacant than take the risk. In Northern Virginia the you should provide the tenant with the FCRA rules and regulations after running their credit. Legalities are often state specific. Please consult your state’s landlord tenant act before running credit or other background checks on potential tenants.
8) Obtain a rock solid lease agreement. The lease dictates the relationship between the landlord and tenant. You want to obtain a fair lease agreement that protects you as the landlord. If things go well with the tenant, then you will probably never look at the lease again, however, at the first sign of trouble, this piece of paper is all you have to get you out of a bad situation. It may be worth having a leasing specialist or Realtor draft the lease for you, a lawyer might be too expensive, unless you have multiple properties and can reuse the same agreement. In Northern Virginia you’ll want to contact NVAR to obtain a rock solid lease.
9) Find a good contractor. When the plumbing goes out, or the HVAC does not work, who are you going to call? If you’re an expert in these areas then you have nothing to worry about… most of us aren’t. It’s a good idea to get to know an honest, reliable and timely plumber, electrician and general contractor. Timeliness is of supreme importance. Make sure to develop a good enough relationship with your contractor such that they take care of your tenants in a timely and professional manner. If the contractor isn’t contentious, it will hurt the relationship with your tenant. In Northern VA you can obtain a good list of contractors by going to the Washington DC section of ServiceMagic.
10) Consider using a Realtor, property manager or leasing specialist. Hiring the right help can make your life a lot easier. These folks will do all of the above and more for you. However, be sure to do your research. Not all property managers are created equal. Use someone local who has expertise in your community.