With the renovation of the fourplex basically done (see before and after photos here and here), it was time for me to find good tenants to fill the building. The only question was how to find good tenants.
Where to Advertise Available Apartments
When my family was managing our 22-unit apartment building from about 2003 to 2010, we would sometimes put ads in the Pennysaver, and we had a big “For Rent” sign out front with the manager’s phone number. We would sometimes post on Craigslist or in some other places, too, if we weren’t getting enough foot traffic. As a result of those efforts, we ended up getting a pretty random mix of people, some qualified, and a greater number who were definitely not.
We had a professional property management company take over the management for us in late 2010. I wasn’t sure quite how they were advertising, but I know it included the Pennysaver and word of mouth. They had a distinct advantage with word of mouth. The management company managed several properties in the area, so they would leave their For Rent sign out in front of all of their local buildings whether there were units available or not, and if they got a call for any one of them, they would direct traffic to whichever buildings were in need of tenants.
When I was renting out my condo from about 2008 to 2014, I advertised primarily by listing in the MLS. I tried Craigslist once, and got a set of Section 8 tenants that way (the rental market was soft, and I was sort of desperate by that point), but the other two sets of tenants I had were from the MLS, and they were great. That isn’t always the case with listing on the MLS. Oftentimes prospective tenants resort to the MLS when they’re having a hard time qualifying for apartments on their own, and they need the schmoozing of a real estate agent to get them in the door. I got lucky with both of my MLS tenants, but my boyfriend was not as lucky with his MLS advertising, and having to pay a fairly hefty commission to a real estate agent is enough to make me not want to use the MLS again.
At some point, Postlets launched, although I wasn’t aware of it right away. Postlets was a way to list your property online, for free or low cost, and to have it syndicated to other sites like Trulia and Hotpads. Postlets has now been purchased by Zillow, and is now known as Zillow Rental Manager.
How to Find Good Tenants
With several different options for advertising the available apartments, I had to think about which methods were most likely to help me find good tenants. I laid out the minimum requirements I wanted: 660 minimum FICO score, gross income at least 3 times the rent (preferably more), no evictions, no judgments, no outstanding collections accounts.
I figured the higher I aimed on the socioeconomic ladder, the more likely the tenants are to take care of the place. This may or may not pan out, but generally speaking, you don’t visit your friends’ houses who are pretty well off and see mice and cockroaches running around the place. Some people are cleaner than others, but there’s a level of filthiness that even the dirtiest middle-income folks never achieve. After having to replace a couple of entire kitchens due to the prior tenants’ filth, I didn’t want to go down that road again, especially after all the money I’ve poured into the property so far.
So where do middle-to-higher income tenants hang out? Online, of course. The internet requires internet access and a computer, both of which cost a little bit of money. With that in mind, I figured that I was going to list the property online only, and see how that went. I had zero signs on the property, and didn’t post in any printed publications. The idea was that I wanted the prospective tenants to have internet connections and to be familiar with computers. I was already getting walk-up interest from area locals who noticed the drastic changes happening at the property, and asked when the units were going to be ready for rent. Some of those folks were qualified, but some of them were definitely not. A lot of folks who are just walking by are hoping to find a naive landlord who doesn’t run credit at all. That’s definitely not me.
Posting on Zillow Rental Manager
So anyway, I created a listing for each of the units and posted them on Zillow Rental Manager between about 6:30 and 7:00 a.m. on a Monday morning. I intentionally did not put my phone number on the listing, because I didn’t want to get a million calls about the property while I was at work, but prospective tenants could contact me by email. Almost immediately, I started getting a flood of responses. I created a stock email response (thank you, No Nonsense Landlord for that idea), letting tenants know about my screening criteria, the application process, and a showing schedule for the property.
That was the other tricky part for me: since I live and work about 45 minutes away from the property, I wasn’t going to be able to pop by whenever it suited a prospective tenant. I was planning to just accumulate responses from potential tenants and to show the property on Saturday morning, but I ended up getting so many interested people that I decided to hold a showing on Wednesday night and Saturday morning. I also asked the prospective tenants to text me about an hour beforehand to confirm that they would be showing up, so I wouldn’t risk driving out to the property and having no one to show it to. To my great surprise, nearly every single person actually followed that instruction.
Scheduling Showings in Groups Helps Boost Demand
As an added bonus, having all of the tenants grouped together like that created a buzz of demand for the apartments. I had so many tenants who fell in love with the place and wanted a particular unit, or who wanted any one of three possible units. Because of that buzz, I was able to tell a prospective tenant with absolute seriousness that someone else said they would be applying for Apartment
I got so many hits off of Zillow Rental Manager that I ended up needing to show the property on Wednesday night, Saturday, and Sunday. In addition to all of the email hits I was getting, many people went by the property to try to take a look for themselves. My poor contractor had to shoo people away from the property so he could get his work done, and he came back from a quick Home Depot run once and found people walking around INSIDE the units! Some people have no boundaries, I swear. It’s a good thing I wasn’t there, because I would have chewed them out and chased them off the property. Can you imagine just walking into a building without permission? Crazies.
My Zillow Hiccup
I did have a couple of hiccups with Zillow Rental Manager. When I first posted all of the listings, they all went live on all of the syndicated websites without any problems. Not long after posting them, however, I wanted to add something to my listing discouraging looky-loos from visiting the property in person, and instead telling tenants to schedule showings. I popped into the listing on one apartment and edited it, and then republished the listing (updating it, not duplicating it). Zillow showed that the listing was rejected. What?
I didn’t panic, but instead emailed their support department to ask what happened. They said that it was flagged as a duplicate by mistake, but that they would refresh the listing so it would go live again. A day passed, and it still wasn’t live. This was a bit of a problem, since it was the smallest unit (2 bed / 1 bath, versus 2 bed / 1.5 bath). The other three units were pretty comparable to each other, so if one of their listings went down, it would be no big deal. But this one was different, and needed its own listing to attract a tenant who really wanted just one bath and slightly cheaper rent.
After emailing Zillow again about the problem, they finally fixed it, and the listing went live again. Fortunately, I was still able to get the unit filled even with the shorter time frame.
All told, I ended up finding good tenants for each of the four apartments within one week!
If you’re a landlord, what do you do to find good tenants? If you’re not a landlord, but aspire to be one, what would you do?
In the next post, I’ll let you know how the application process went. Hint: it was smooooth. I used Properly, and it totally made my life easier.