Which items regularly top the list of must haves what renters look for year after year when it comes to searching for their new home in the greater Seattle area, and how do the features in your rental stack up? While many new apartment buildings have been marketing unusual amenities lately like pet spas, virtual reality arcades, rooftop yoga studios (and even bowling lanes!) in an effort to stand out from the crowd, a majority of tenants say they are looking for much simpler items in their next rental home to make their stay as comfortable and pleasant as possible.
When it comes down to it, these luxury amenities are just perks, what renters are really looking for tend to be things that upgrade their everyday life. The good news for landlords is that many of these features are affordable upgrades that property owners can provide to help attract excellent long-term tenants and stand out in a sea of other rentals to help get their property leased faster!
- In-Unit Washer & Dryer
Add a washer-dryer to your property for tenants who are looking to stay in their homes instead of using public machines. Tenants love that in-unit laundry means they don’t have to save up quarters, plus, they know who used the machine last – them. They can trust that it’s clean, and available when they need it.
- Assigned Parking or garage parking included
Ensure your tenants have a place to park at your property. Whether that means cleaning out the garage of storage shelves, or helping them with zone parking, your tenants will know they have a spot when they come home. This gives them peace of mind while they’re out and about, and shortens the trip between car and front door after their trip to Costco.
- High-Speed Internet
Access to internet might as well be a utility like electric, gas, and water. If you can’t provide internet services, use the available services as a marketing tool. Be sure to add which providers are available to your property in your marketing.
- Updated Appliances
Updated appliances help tenants know that few things are likely to go wrong and interrupt their daily life. Nothing is worse than a leaking refrigerator, not just for landlords who pay to fix it, but for tenants who lose the convenience of the machine, and have to clean up the mess.
Another reason for updated appliances is aesthetic. When a tenant is proud of their home, they’re likely to stay for a while. Consider matching all your appliances so they look the same, and go with your overall palette. Stainless steel appliances are not only beautiful, but easy to clean. Avoid white appliances, as dirt and stains are easy to spot.
- Outdoor Spaces (rooftop, balcony, community park or yard)
Can you add a patio or yard to your investment property? Tenants are looking for a space outside where they can enjoy nature without having to drive to a hiking trail. Outdoor spaces are also essential for tenants who have pets, especially dogs, who need to be walked daily.
Consider adding a patio to your rental, or finding a spot for a community park. If the yard is private to the home, make sure to include landscape as part of the tenant’s responsibilities. If you’re offering a community space, be sure to add rules of use to your lease as well to make sure the space stays enjoyable for all tenants.
A convenience most people are used to by now, the dishwasher is a crucial appliance for renters looking to save time, water, and their hands. Consider adding one even to your smallest unit it you can, as there are plenty of options for dishwashers in all sizes.
- Additional storage space
Adding a closet or shed to your investment property offers your tenants that extra space where they can store their seasonal gear. Tenants who enjoy outdoor activities like camping or snow sports especially look for extra storage space for their gear.
Offering this extra space saves tenants in storage unit rental money, so they’re willing to pay a little extra a month for the square footage, if they can tell that they’d have somewhere to keep their bulkier items.
- Pets allowed
More and more people are adopting pets, especially now during the pandemic, pets allowed is an essential part of owning a rental these days. When allowing pets, be sure to be clear about the rules of the property, and set up a fair pet damage deposit.
- Security and Safety
This amenity is especially important for landlords who rent out multi-family buildings. Be sure to offer your tenants peace when they live at your apartment building by making sure your building is easy for them to access, but hard to strangers to get in.
Install a call box, and make sure they know not to let people in who they don’t know. Make sure you are getting all the keys back from former tenants by creating a move-out system that ensures you have everything.
For those who own single-family homes, or units that have doors to the outside, change the locks between tenants.
- Natural Lighting
Show off the natural light in your marketing photos. Take photos during the day when the light is best in the unit and keep all the blinds and curtains open so renters who are looking for their next place will see that your property has plenty of natural light.
If you don’t have natural light, consider upgrading your current lights to LED bulbs so the place shines bright. Another great way to open the space is to paint your walls with a warm white color.
You’ve prepared the house or unit for new people to move in, now it’s time to tell them about it. The best place to market your rental these days is online. Keep these considerations in mind when posting to your preferred rental search site.
Be fully aware of how to comply with all pertinent fair housing requirements.
Create a thorough description of the house and the amenities. Focus on the property and local area, do not focus on the type of people you want to attract.
Things to include on your listing:
- Monthly Price (Do your market research. Be realistic. Avoiding vacancy will benefit you more than hoping to get lucky and achieve an above-market price.)
- # of bed & baths
- Square Footage of the house and the yard
- Your preferred length of the contract (typically 12+ months)
- What upfront costs are required.
- If pets are or aren’t allowed.
- If they are allowed, how much is that deposit for pet damage?
- Will you charge a pet rent?
- Any utilities that are included in the rent
- For full transparency explain what utilities the tenants will be paying
- Don’t forget landscaping responsibilities
- Local things
- Where’s the nearest grocery store? What’s the nightlife and commute like? What school district is the home in?
- What’s the walk score?
- Again, don’t focus on the people in the neighborhood, focus on the places.
Take great photos of your property, inside and outside, to attract prospective tenants. There are loads of quick tutorials on YouTube on how to take great Real Estate Photos.
Make sure to show off the space. Use enough light to show off all the details in the room, especially if you plan to leave your home furnished. Take photos from different angles to best capture everything the unit has to offer. If one room leads to another, show off that layout. Make the prospective tenants feel like they’re walking around the unit with you.
A note on that: Put your photos in order of how they will happen at a tour, or in an order that follows these basics:
- Front Exterior
- Living Spaces (Living Room, Dining Room, Kitchen)
- Back Exterior
Try to make the order of photos orient the viewer, as opposed to disorient, as they first see your home online.
Photos and price are the first things to shake up and re-strategize if you notice you’re not getting enough traction.
Hire a Professional
All of the above topics deserve more space than a blog allows. If you’re going to lease and manage your own properties, read up on it. Or consider hiring a professional (like us) to assist you.
So, you’ve decided to rent out your home! Congratulations on this big next step in your financial plan! Owning a rental property can be a rewarding experience; a fulfilling way to earn a little passive income while providing shelter for someone, while hopefully watching your property’s value appreciate.
So how best to end that vacancy and get a tenant in your home with a contract signed?
Prepare the Property
Set your property up for success, both for marketing and for when the tenants live in the unit. It is important to follow local codes and ordinances to prevent future issues and liability.
Here’s a list of things to check on:
- Smoke Alarms in common areas and near/in sleeping rooms.
- Carbon Monoxide detectors on every floor.
- Clean the interior, including carpets.
- If you have pets, fumigate and clean the carpets with a pet enzyme.
- Wash windows.
- Make sure all doors and windows lock properly.
- Check that all appliances are working properly.
- An extra step is to provide the user manuals for all appliances.
- Another is to record all the makes and models of appliances to have on hand if/when maintenance is required.
- Service the furnace/heat system.
- Freshen up the Paint
- Clean up the yard
It’s going to be much easier to require tenants to maintain a property that was properly maintained when they took possession.
If you plan to rent your home furnished, make a thorough and detailed list of everything in the home. Go as far as saying “2 grey spatulas, 1 black spatula, 2 silver serving spoons” to make sure you have everything back when you return. It also makes it easy for the tenants to replace anything that gets broken. (Note- Unless you’re going to make your home primarily available as short term rental, having it furnished will make it harder to rent, not easier.)
Trends come and go, just as tenants rent and vacate, but property investors are in it for the long haul which is why it’s important for property investors to keep their priorities straight for their unit. Each tenant is different, they have different communication styles, different standards of living, and each comes with their own aesthetic. When looking for a new home, tenants are looking for a place where their current furniture can live alongside them.
While some may love a great accent wall, most of them don’t expect to see that in their rental home – mainly because that’s not the typical practice. They’re likely coming from a white or beige rental, looking for the next white or beige rental home.
Should a property investor make the mistake of using yearly trends, like Pantone’s Color of the Year, in the home, they are missing out on tenants who are looking for a more basic palette so that their home decor can easily move from their current place to the new one. A homeowner might love Classic Blue and find that it’s a great color for the home, but it’s a mistake to force that upon future tenants who will avoid or turn down a potential home if that color doesn’t work with their furniture and décor.
By adding color to your rental, you significantly narrow your tenant base to the few who just so happen to be okay with a blue wall anywhere in their home. It’s more likely the tenants won’t consider your rental if they feel the space isn’t going to be able to easily mesh their personal style with a bright color like that – especially one they can’t change.
While white might be bland, it creates a blank canvas for tenants to make their own. There are not many tenants out there who will be mad about white walls – as white paint tends to brighten the space, making it feel bigger as light reflects off the paint, and allows them to easily bring in their own things.
Carefully selecting the right property manager is one of the most important steps of owning investment properties. Having the right property manager will impact profitability, risk, and enjoyment of the venture like few other decisions an owner will make.
This is true even for owners that decide to self-manage: they’re still selecting a property manager (themselves) and should still evaluate that choice as though they are one of the agents competing for the job of property manager.
The job of property manager varies somewhat depending on the type of property being managed, but there are some considerations that apply to selecting a Property Manager for all rental types. Here are some things to consider as you search for your property manager.
As in all professions, there is a learning curve. A primary reason for hiring a professional is to not start at the beginning of that curve. There are perhaps 100 issues that routinely arise in the course of managing property and choosing an agent that has been around to have seen, and learned how to respond to, the majority of them will pay dividends. This doesn’t rule out a newer agent, especially if they show strengths in other areas, but it’s wise to then more carefully assess the team and support such an agent would have to rely on.
Another key reason people hire managers is the convenience of having someone else track all of the details involved in managing property. If an agent doesn’t stick around, that loss of continuity usually results in details being dropped and an owner’s time being wasted. Look for an agent, and a company, who you can depend on for the next 5 to 10 years.
As you’re looking for stability, look for someone that you will enjoy working with over the course of years. Some personalities just don’t mesh, regardless of all the other factors. Recognizing and respecting when that’s the case will make life easier.
Finding an agent who will reliably give honest answers, even when it’s not in their immediate self-interest, is crucial. Sometimes the answer to an owner’s question isn’t one they want to hear, i.e.: “How much can I rent this property for?” Too often, the Agent that answers this question with the highest number is simply not telling the truth. Use an agent who is candid and follows through with their word.
One agent can only handle so many properties well. That number varies depending on the type of properties, type of leases, and management structures they employ, and on the particular agent; but there’s always still a number at which an agent is maxed out, and at or over which the quality of the service they’re providing will diminish. So, while experience matters, picking an agent that’s going to be too busy to adequately focus on your property isn’t good either. Ask questions like: ‘How many accounts do you manage?’, ‘How many did you manage two years ago?’, ‘How many more would you take on before considering your portfolio to be full?’.
The job of property manager isn’t that of a salesman, nor of an attorney, nor accountant, nor economist, nor psychologist… but it has elements of all those professions. A good manager has skills in all these areas, all the better to prepare them to avoid disputes. Then, when disputes inevitably arise anyway, they’re excellent at dispute resolution. Look for someone who is not volatile but is good at thinking long-term and is results oriented; someone that sees the value of having all parties go away satisfied rather than one that will engage in and try to ‘win’ every argument.
Artists don’t necessarily need to be organized. Property managers necessarily do. Look for signs. Do they have systems in place to ensure that all details are always covered? Do they show up on time and well prepared?
A property manager is going to be speaking and writing for you. Their communication is therefore a reflection of you, and the devil is in the details. In most cases, you’ll be giving your property manager a limited power of attorney to execute written agreements for you. Make sure they can communicate carefully and accurately. Well-written agreements (and clearly enunciated conversations) will greatly minimize future disputes.
When comparing the prices of each property manager you interview, compare alongside the attributes each one brings. Property Management is a service, not a commodity, but like paying less for that product, you get what you pay for. The higher the price, the higher likelihood that your service will be of high quality, just as the low price would bring about low quality work. Find what is most important to you, then look for someone who is selling that things for a reasonable price.
What most investors care about is profitability. Profitability is primarily impacted by minimizing vacancy and litigation while maximizing rental rates through proper maintenance and marketing. So, while the fees paid to a property manager are on the balance sheet too, keep in mind the other balance sheet factors that a property manager influences. They’re much more impactful on the overall profitability of an investment.
A long property management agreement isn’t an enjoyable read for owners any more than a long lease is for tenants. But a stitch in time saves nine. By taking the time to properly address all the pertinent issues covered in these long documents, a good property manager is diligently communicating so that future conflicts are avoided. Beware a 1- or 2-page agreement that leaves unknowns out there. If that’s the level of attention being paid to details with you, imagine what’s missing between you and the tenant.
Consider the level of support their team will be providing and the type of software they’ve invested in. What kind of access will you have to conveniently track your portfolio and that your tenants will have to pay rent.
As technology rapidly expands, is your property manager or their team using great tools out there to make everyone’s lives easier? How do they schedule showings? How do they file their paperwork? Do owners have access to their accounts online? These are great questions to ask to find out how they’re using technology in their business.
Choosing a firm with a good local presence associates your property with that reputation. When potential renters see a reputable brand, they infer that their relationship with such a landlord will be transacted in accordance with the business standards associated with that brand. Many will find value in that level of comfort, and such considerations will help your property achieve its highest market value.
Meet in person with your potential Property Manager to get a feel for the way they work and how you will work together. If you’re interested in talking with our agents, check out our team and give us a call!
Do you have a New Year’s Resolution to de-clutter your life? What about make more money?
Complete both by cleaning out that storage unit you call your rental!
Many of our owners use the garage or shed at their rental as storage for those items that are rarely used. Some owner even use it to store furniture for when they move back into the property. While not every one is on the same page here, it’s something to think about as we head into 2019, when it feels like everyone is trying to live a more minimalist lifestyle. Clearing these storage units out could make you more money from your rental in the end.
If this is something that appeals to you, here are some things to remember:
Give Notice to the Tenants that you’re coming by to clear the storage space out.
Follow your local laws and guidelines to warn your tenants that you plan to spend the day at the property. As a Landlord you have the right to access the property only for inspections, repairs or marketing of the property during tenancy so, be respectful of the tenant’s space. Ask if it’s okay with them for you to spend the time to remove the items. If they say no, which is well within their rights, plan to do it during the next vacancy.
Set expectations with them to make sure that your intentions are clear. If this is a one-day project or will take multiple trips, they need to know. If you have no idea what it will take, be sure to communicate with them when you do know.
Clean as efficiently as possible.
Remember to take the things with you or to the dump, don’t just reorganize. Use this work as a way to clear out the junk. How long has it been since you last needed or used any of the things in there? Would the tenant or rental benefit from anything in there? Ask yourself, and answer honestly, about each item.
Use a junk removal vendor to take the stuff away if necessary.
Does a storage unit make sense for your stuff? While it might come with a cost between $40 and $200, you would have access to the stuff without having to warn the tenants. Not to mention, if the tenants have that space that extra rent could pay for the storage unit.
Raise the rent.
Adding this extra square footage to the property calls for a price increase! At the next renewal period, with enough notice, raise the rent by however much feels fair for the tenants and for you. You can also use these if the tenants don’t plan to renew with you. Here are some suggestions, though if you don’t know what seems fair, you can you’re your local property manager for advice. Note, these might differ for your particular property, but you can use these as guidelines:
Garage: Adding secure, covered parking to your rental is a great value add to your current and future tenants.
Shed (Fixture): Adding storage for the tenant is a great addition, but not every tenant needs it. Plus, they tend to be smaller than the garage so the value add is probably on the lower end.
Shed (Removable): If you can take the shed with you, you would add valuable lawn space to the rental property. This valuable land is perfect for kids or pets and would commend a raise to the rent if you hadn’t had it to begin with.
Basement (Unfinished): Adding this storage space for your tenants that’s attached to the house is a great value add. Having that storage space would widen the net for potential tenants from just new transplants to families remodeling their home and need a place for the extra furniture. The rental price increase depends on how big the basement is, or how much of the stuff you can remove.
Basement (Finished): Not only would your tenants get extra storage space, with a finished basement they could gain another family room, or even potentially an extra bedroom or office (depending on the windows down there). If you can add a bedroom you can increase the price quite a bit. Otherwise, consider the other family or bonus rooms in the house and make the price decision based on the current square footage.
Not sure what you could get for your extra space at your rental? Is it even worth it to free that room up for the tenants? Contact your local property manager for a valuation.
Maybe you have family coming into town or maybe you’re the family going to visit for the Holidays.
Keep your family safe and healthy with this guide. We’re thinking outside the box for you so you can think about what really matters, the food and the beverages.
If the host lives in a rental property, here are some items to think about before setting up the pull-out couch.
Check the lease for what it says about guests.
Do you have to get permission from the landlord for the stay?
Are the minimums and maximums for how long someone can stay at the property?
This is important to make sure you are not in breach of your contract. It’s likely your landlord just wants to know who is in the house at what time. They’ll typically be understanding that it’s the holidays that guests are a normal part of that.
Get the property in shape for guests.
Don’t forget to handle anything that’s the tenant’s responsibility for keeping the property in good condition & most importantly, safe.
Things like cleaning up the moss and de-icing the walk ways will keep you and your guests safe, especially if they’re walking up with luggage or worse – their famous casserole.
If there is something you notice that is the landlord’s responsibility, give them time to fix it before your guests arrive. Check that the oven is working properly, that your dryer is drying, and that your heat is on. Don’t forget the fire alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.
Not that your place isn’t in tip-top shape, obviously. But think deep clean to avoid allergy flare ups and colds spreading throughout the house.
Bleach your towels to stop the spread of diseases and infections, stock up on laundry detergent for the dirty clothes and sheets, clean the carpets with a pet enzyme to clear it out of any pests and dander.
Then tackle the fridge to make room for leftovers and wipe out that oven to avoid smoke and fire. Last but not least, disinfect the door handles and phones (does anyone have landlines anymore?).
Are you staying with your family in their rental? Share this article with them.
Get to know JMW Group agent, Jay LaBrie:
How long have you been in property management? How long have you been with JMW Group?
We just reached 11 years!
What’s the best part about working in Property Management?
Happy Hour with our coworkers! Haha, kidding! I like being able to get out of the office and meet new owners and tenants. I feel like I have a lot to offer owners, and can maximize their profits, while minimizing their costs. We work in a fast pace industry, and every day brings many new challenges.
What’s the best part about working with JMW Group?
We have great support from Windermere as well as our staff! It’s so great to know they have my back and can help me when I need it. Also, the name recognition which helps get your foot in the door to prospective owners.
What’s a question you get asked all the time about what you do?
The question I get asked all the time is: “How much is our cost for Property Management, and what do we offer versus the competition.”
How do you answer that question?
I normally start with why our services are greater than the competition, and the benefits of hiring us/me.
What’s the advice you give all your clients?
I think having a great property manager to work with is an important part of owning investment property. I try and let them know they can trust me and Windermere to take care of their large investment.
What do you wish property investors knew before they talk to you?
How difficult our job is in relations to what we charge. There’s a lot that goes into managing property other than collecting rent. I handle leasing as well as maintenance, which isn’t always cut and dry.
In what neighborhoods do you mostly work?
I work all over! But I like Kirkland, Redmond, Bellevue, Issaquah. I like in Kirkland, so it feels like my backyard. I know the in’s and out’s, which helps especially when tenants are new the area and looking for a little help to feel more connected to their neighbors, and find the best places to go out.
What’s your favorite thing(s) about those neighborhoods?
My favorite thing is that it’s so close to where I live. But besides that, the east side is generally nice and clean, great neighborhoods, and we have a lot of growing businesses.
When you have free time, how do you spend it?
Anything when my kids are in town! That’s something they run for sure! Other than that, I like to go hiking, to the gym, dinners out and travel as much as possible.
Fall Proactive Cleaning for your Rental
Here are some proactive things you can do to your rental property to prepare it for the fall & winter seasons.
Your rental lease with the tenants probably lays out maintenance responsibilities along the lines of ‘tenants are responsible for the furnace filter and light bulbs, and the owner is to make sure the home is habitable.’ Part of making sure the home is habitable is preventative maintenance to avert major repair issues later. The plus side is that being proactive can save you headaches and money down the road.
Here’s your to-do list this fall:
|Clean Gutters||Avoid flooding and leaking by clearing out your gutters of any leaves & moss.||$151|
|Cover hose bibbs||Avoid frozen pipes that burst in the middle of winter. Cover the hose bibs on the outside of the house with reusable covers.||$10/each|
|Winterize Sprinkler System||Again, frozen pipes tend to burst causing damage to the pipes and the home. DIY or hire a professional.||$81|
|Replace Faulty Thermostats||This is part of keeping your home habitable, and basic care of a home that’s meant to stay warm.||$25-60|
|Chimney sweep/clean||(link) Avoid damage from build up & pests when your tenants light that fire. A chimney fire could damage not only the chimney, but could spread to the roof and home.||$227|
|Have HVAC system Serviced||Clean the ducts and vents to prevent fire when the heat comes on and is blasting continuously.
Check the filters in the ducts and furnace too.
*Follow links to find pricing information.
Before doing any extra work, make sure to communicate with the tenants what types of maintenance you’re going to do that isn’t listed in the lease. They should understand, all of this is preventative and that you’re doing this so bigger problems don’t arise.
Additionally, if there’s anything that the tenants are responsible for, remind them of the deadlines and suggest your favorite vendors to them to make sure the job is done right. This is another proactive thing you can do to avoid major issues later.
The following are stories from our agents and their experiences with the supernatural. Working in Property Management, we are in and out of homes all day. We work with agents in and out of our office to show units to new tenants, and handling move-in and move-out inspections. We like to say we’ve seen it all.
But what about the things, we can’t see?
Chased Out of a U-District Home
Rebecca did a move-in inspection for our agent Jay LaBrie in the U-District. She had this to say about her experience:
“[It was] just a super creepy house. It’s an old farmhouse style home built in like 1901 and almost all of it is original, hardwood floors, fireplace, banisters, etc. I did a move in there years back and it is the only house that gave me a feeling that I shouldn’t be there. The upstairs was the worst – I wouldn’t even go up with the new tenants after my initial inspection because I felt chased out. I’ve probably been in 1000 houses over the years and it is the only one I wouldn’t go back to.”
A Ghostly Figure
While taking marketing photos for a home, our agent Nicki Callahan had this experience:
“[The other day], I was taking photos of a house and [the day after] I looked at the images for the first time. [Some context], I was wearing a black and white dress with a sort of beige hat. I did not see this white “figure” as I was taking photos – you can clearly see it also has a reflection in the mirror. I am standing facing the wall when I am taking the photo, the mirror is to the left, and considering my outfit, there’s no way this is me. What do you think – I am kind of creeped out – do you think it is a ghost? Is there another explanation? AUGH…….”
Ann shared this story:
I managed a property in Innis Arden. It was held in trust and the attorney hired me to lease and manage the property. The house had been owned by his client’s parents. I met with the daughter to do the initial inspection. Other than that, she wasn’t supposed to have much to do with the management of the property. The daughter was nice, a little odd. She started contacting me a lot and I was having communication problems with her. I called the attorney to explain the problems I was having, with her. He explained that she has mental health issues, due to a childhood trauma.
Turns out, when she was a young girl, she found her parents, dead in the downstairs of the home. Her father shot her mother before hanging himself.
I always felt creepy, in the downstairs and garage. I didn’t like going down there. The rest of the house was okay. I didn’t feel the need to disclose all of that to the new tenant. She ended up living there for a couple years.
One day the tenant came into the office to pay rent and asked about the history of the house. I asked her why she asked. She said she thought the house was haunted. She said candles would light themselves, at night. The entertainment system would turn on by itself, in the middle of the night and other odd things around the house. She would feel like she and her baby were being watched. She felt a presence in the house but it wasn’t a scary/menacing presence. After I explained what had happened in the house, she thought it was the spirit of the owner’s mother. I completely believe her!