By: Andrew Schulhof
Your tenants are the golden geese that provide you with a monthly golden egg, and your investment property is the nest they live in. Whether you manage your own property, are part of a rental pool with professional management or are an individual with property management in place, it’s important to keep your tenants happy and convert them into long-term tenants – what I like to call residents.
Using the term ‘resident’ signifies a difference in the way that both the tenant and the landlord view the property. Generally, residents consider their dwelling to be more like their own home, and with that comes pride in your property.
When I was a tenant (before I was a landlord), I found that when I was considered a resident, I was treated with more respect and, in turn, wanted to stay longer and treated the property with more respect – even though I was just renting.
So, as a landlord, it’s in your best interest to elevate how you view and treat long-term tenants. Having quality long-term residents can minimize wear and tear on your property, as well as reduce turnover and the need to advertise, interview and vet new tenants (thereby saving you time and money).
To achieve this type of relationship, and reduce many of the issues and hassles associated with real estate investment, follow my top 15 tips to keeping your tenants happy.
1. Establish a good relationship from the start. A clear rental/lease agreement supports a trouble-free landlord/tenant relationship. In addition to outlining monthly rent and utilities, your agreement should explain all rules, regulations and procedures you require tenants to follow, as well as what they can expect from you. Effective, clear and timely communication is the bedrock of a good landlord/tenant relationship.
2. Have a comprehensive move-in package. This should specify how and when tenants can contact you (or your property manager) for non-emergencies. It may be helpful to include key numbers for local emergency services or shops, especially if your tenants aren’t familiar with the area.
3. Answer the phone. Once you’ve provided contact information and hours, be available. It’s important to take your tenants’ phone calls and/or return messages within 12 to 24 hours. If you use professional property management, be clear that you expect them to be available and responsive to your tenants.
4. Be professional, not personal. In your direct interactions with tenants, it’s very important to treat them as you would like to be treated. Be polite. Listen to what they have to say. Your property is their home. Use a business attitude – remember customer service is an important part of the landlord role. Your tenants should be treated with respect; don’t gossip about other tenants.
5. Respect your tenants' privacy. Be sure to give proper notice before accessing the property for any reason other than an emergency. Try to establish one or two routine times per year for preventive maintenance inspections and the like, and include your requirement for such access in your agreement.
6. Rent out a clean property. A clean, well-maintained, updated and ‘move-in ready’ property is much more likely to be returned in that condition. Consider providing a voucher for one professional cleaning session as part of your move-in package.
7. Take care of repairs/practice preventive maintenance. Be responsive, and address requests for repairs and maintenance promptly. Work with your tenant to identify a good time to undertake repairs. Consider appropriate upgrades or preventive maintenance that could be done at the same time as a requested repair – it may save you time and money, and you’ll have a tenant who is grateful for the added customer service.
8. Make cosmetic improvements. It’s fairly routine to make upgrades and improvements before a new tenant moves in, but it’s very important to remember your residents (long-term tenants) and offer them items such as fresh paint, a professional carpet cleaning or house cleaning session every two or three years. If you’re making significant improvements to some of your properties, be sure to offer them to your residents, too, ideally on a schedule that works for them.
9. Safety first. Let tenants know when safety-related repairs are being made, or if you’re taking steps to prevent break-ins and thefts. Tenants will appreciate that you’re putting their safety first and that you’re keeping the property up-to-date.
10. Provide supplies and essential equipment. Unless the property is a condo, ensure that tenants have easy access to items such as a salt bucket and shovels in the winter. You should still plan to shovel snow from the sidewalks or property yourself, but providing tenants access to these items permits them to salt down an icy path or dig out their snow-covered car. Your property may have unique requirements and, while you or your property manager will typically take care of them, tenants – especially residents – may appreciate having access to basic supplies or equipment.
11. Deal with disruptive tenants promptly. Respond to tenants’ concerns about other tenants promptly. You will have to use your mediation skills, but if you have obnoxious or disruptive tenants, and you don’t address the situation, you could lose your good tenants.
12. Be realistic when raising rents. It can be tempting to raise rents by the maximum legal amount, but offering good tenants a rent that is slightly below market rates can help retain them as long-term residents, which will save you turnover costs. Consider offering a longer term when good tenants extend their agreement. A note or a small gift to acknowledge their continuity as tenants will always be appreciated. Depending on the Tenancy Act in your property’s jurisdiction, it might make sense to raise the rents to the maximum allowable percentage, but provide a rebate back for signing a lease; for example, rebate half or a full month’s rent. This could help convert a good tenant to a resident.
13. Ask your tenants. Offer incentives to tenants if they provide successful referrals for other tenants. This may save you time and money, and should have the added advantage of placing existing good tenants’ friends in the same building. Conduct an annual survey of your tenants – it should be quick and short, and will provide valuable feedback as to what’s working, what could be improved and what they’d like to have that isn’t currently part of the property. Provide an incentive for returning completed surveys – coffee cards work well.
14. Show appreciation. Everyone enjoys a gift or acknowledgment. Let your tenants know you appreciate them. A note or card on their birthdays or Christmas is a thoughtful gesture that will reinforce your working relationship. Earlier I mentioned incentives like professional cleaning services, but other items like a gift basket or special deals with local businesses are also effective ways to support tenant loyalty or to acknowledge a milestone. (Local businesses will often provide a group discount when you purchase multiple items or services.) Consider holding a holiday party or open house; this works well for larger, multi-unit buildings and has the added benefit of tenants getting to know each other in an informal setting.
15. Make things convenient. In a recent blog, Jennifer McCready noted that “we live in a very fast-paced, technology-driven society, and people everywhere are taking advantage of these modern conveniences. Using tools like property management software that offers an online portal for tenants to use can help you get a leg up on the competition and keep residents happy.” Ted Karch suggests creating a community blog or online newsletter to support a better living experience for tenants. He also suggests using direct deposit to make it easier for tenants to pay their rent. Think about what works for your tenants and for you to will make everyone’s life easier.
These 15 tips will go a very long way toward creating a positive, constructive relationship with your tenants and establishing long-term residents. To quote Scott McGillivray, star of the TV show “Income Property”: “Treat your tenants right, and they’ll treat your house right.” If you want to keep getting your golden eggs, then you need to take good care of your golden geese and help your residents take good care of their nest and your property.
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