They had let their units go empty. Some of them seemed to have done it on purpose, to allow more time for cleaning, improvements, and the like (and to prevent the 24 hour maintenance marathon.) Although its a lot of work, I’ve tried very hard to prevent my duplex from ever going vacant, for a variety of reasons:
APARTMENTS SHOW BETTER WHEN FURNISHED
When I first bought my duplex, no one had lived in it for months. The bedrooms aren’t exactly spacious, although they’re plenty big enough for a full-size bed, dresser, and the like. However, without a bed in them for scale, prospective renters had a hard time gauging their actual size. Some even asked me if a bed would fit in the rooms!
Showing an apartment with current tenants in it also helps prospective tenants to get a feel for what kinds of people live in the building. I usually get very good renters, recent college graduates who like funky old houses. They decorate the place nicely, and it tends to attract to people similar to them.
Another thing to keep in mind — without furnishings, all of the flaws of the apartment (cracks in walls, gouged woodwork, uneven floors) have nowhere to hide. They’re out in the open, without anything to distract from them.
A SIXTY DAY NOTICE
I think I would be a nervous wreck with a thirty day notice! My lease calls for a sixty-day notice, which is by no means unheard of in my local market. This way, I have a full two months to find new tenants while the current tenants are still living in the rental unit. I start advertising and showing the apartment immediately after receiving notice. I am very respectful of the current tenants’ privacy, giving them as much notice as possible, and not showing the unit before 10:00 AM or after 8:00 PM. I usually request that they keep the apartment looking as neat as possible during this time, which they are cooperative with — if the apartment shows better, I won’t be parading as many people through their belongings.
GENERAL VACANCY PREVENTION TECHNIQUES
Whenever I’m getting ready to start showing the apartment, I’ll do a thorough walk-through to check for any squeaky doors, leaky faucets, burned-out light bulbs or other maintenance items that make the place appear uncared for. I make sure the front yard is neatly trimmed, and squeeze in any inexpensive curb-appeal projects I can (you can get new mailboxes for $5-$10, and they really make a big difference in the first impression of a house). I also advertise in multiple sources, listing my cell phone (and change my voicemail to mention the apartment for rent). I make sure that I’m very reachable by cell phone, call people back right away if I miss them, and schedule showings as soon as possible (I don’t want them finding another apartment while waiting to see mine).
DOING THE MATH – LOWERING THE RENT TO PREVENT A VACANCY?
My duplex apartment rents for about $1000/month. Yearly, that’s $12,000. If I were to let it (gasp) go vacant for one month, my yearly total would be $11,000 — an average monthly rental income of about $917. That means that if the place isn’t going as quickly as I’d like, I can knock off up to $85 and still come out ahead or equal to what I would have it the apartment were to go vacant for a month. Granted, if my tenants were to stay for five years, it may be better to hold out for the full $1000/month. But my duplex tends to be rented by post-college groups of roommates, not a population that stays in one place for that long. That, and I’d rather not go for a month without ANY rental income at all.
PREVENTING THE DEAD-OF-WINTER VACANCY
I live in a part of the country where it snows all winter, and people don’t move in January if they can at all help it. It’s mostly going to be people moving in from out of town, people who got evicted, people who broke up with their live-in boyfriend over the holidays, etc. My lease is for one year, rolling over to a month-to-month tenancy thereafter. However, if someone were to decide to move out at the end of November or December, it could very well sit empty until April. To prevent this, I include a clause in my lease that prevents tenants from moving out between the winter months of November through March.
It’s all worked for me thus far. Fingers crossed.