Hiring a property management firm to rent out your duplex

I haven’t been as active on this blog lately, because I haven’t been as active of a property manager at my duplex. There are a few things that contributed to this step:

  • About a year and a half ago I started an exciting new chapter in my life, becoming a mom! As luck would have it, my downstairs tenant gave me notice that they were going to move out pretty much exactly on my due date, which was not going to be terribly convenient, to say the least. My husband could have fielded all of the calls and done the showings, but his day job is a lot less flexible than mine, so we were kind of in a bind
  • My husband owns another rental property, and is far less into the active management portion than I am (he has his rental property by “luck”, as he was unable to sell it during the end of the real estate bubble). He had already been working with a property management company for some time, and was reasonably happy with the results.
  • I had been getting tired of dealing with the inter-tenant issues that had been popping up since I’d moved out of the duplex anyway. My hope was that if my tenants were dealing with someone that they viewed as a “professional” property manager, they would be less likely to bug them about nit-picky he said/she said things and figure it out for themselves.
  • I own an unrelated business (that’s my “real job”), and things had been getting a lot busier, so I was looking for ways to simplify, streamline, and delegate.

Showing the apartment that you’re living in…

I listed my place on Craig’s list last Sunday, and have had 5 showings so far (no applications yet…) At each of the first showings, I introduced myself as the owner, described the remodeling work that’s been done to the apartment, mentioned that I had been living there (thus facilitating the remodeling), and was moving out. If they asked why I was moving, I told them I was going to be living with my boyfriend, otherwise I would be staying, it’s a great apartment. I realized, though, after a couple of showings, that this situation might actually be weirding some of them out…

Showing the apartment

So far, I’ve had three showings — two groups of two girls, and a couple that’s moving in together. Both of the two-roommate showings were one roommate only, which is always a pain, because it means another showing if roommate #1 is interested. However, it’s looking like neither one of the two-roommate groups are going to bite. One emailed me thanking me for her time, and the other I haven’t heard back from. The couple seemed extremely interested, however, so they may come around.

When life gives you paneling… (you can paint it)

When I bought my duplex, the back stairway was a quite a menagerie: the walls were cracked, the ancient high gloss brown paint on the woodwork was coming off in sheets, there was faux wood paneling going halfway up the walls, and… to top it all off… dark green (argyle patterned!) shag carpeting. Oh, a bare bulb fixture and some stained curtains (those were easy enough to lose). It was only the back stairway, yes, but the trouble is this — every time I did a showing of the upstairs apartment, the tenants would want to see the laundry room. Which required parading them through this claustrophobic catastrophe. I could see on their faces how the stairway changed their impression of the apartment. And so began my first major cosmetic update project. After it was finished, the stairway had been transformed from mid-century tacky to bright and airy 1900s farmhouse — much better for showings.

Inexpensive curb appeal

recently went apartment-hunting for a friend of mine, and found everything I had read about curb appeal to be very true. I formed a very sharp opinion of each property before ever setting foot in the door. I tried my best not to judge a book by its cover; the interiors of some duplexes were better maintained than the exteriors. But most people want to live in a house that they’re proud to drive up to. Somewhere that their mother can visit them and not feel that their son is living in dire straights. A few things screamed out at me as simple, inexpensive things that would have made the outsides of these duplexes much more appealing.

Phone skills for landlords

I recently had the opportunity to go apartment hunting for a good friend of mine who is moving in from out of town. The tables had turned, and I got to experience what its like to be on the tenant side of things.

I scoured the newspaper classifieds, printed out some pages from Craig’s list, and wrote down numbers from for-rent signs in the neighborhood. Monday morning, I started making calls.

And realized why the vacancy rate is so high — hardly anyone answered their phones!

Preventing Rental Vacancies

I recently went apartment-hunting for a friend who was moving here from out of town. As I scoured the newspaper listings, I was aghast at how many times I saw those dreaded words:

“AVAILABLE NOW”

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:

Apartment showings–six in one day!

I had six showings yesterday. This was to be the big day, almost like an open house to sell the place.

STAGING
Having watched a huge amount of HGTV’s “Designed to Sell,” I knew what I had to do to prepare — paint the cracked and marred walls in the front stairway, replace the ugly light fixtures, scrupulously clean the front porch, front door, and mailboxes; rake the yard, sweep the sidewalk, organize and clean the basement, replace all the 60 watt (and/or burned out) lightbulbs with 75 watts and turn on every single one of them, and get out the wd-40 for the squeaky doors. I thought about even baking a cake for good measure, but didn’t have the time. I practically pulled an all-nighter every day last week as it was.

Advertisting (and the traffic counter miracle of 2006)

KNOWING WHERE (NOT) TO ADVERTISE
In past years, I’ve found that I get inquiries from much less qualified persons via my for-rent sign and the newspaper. It makes sense — at least for young people, the most gainfully employed you are, the more of your life you conduct online. That, and newspaper ads are so expensive it makes my head spin.

This year, I advertised on Craig’s List , and on the off-campus housing website for the local university. Both ads linked to a page on my own domain, where I included a thorough description, detailed floor plan, nine interior and exterior photos, and a list of trendy neighborhood spots within walking distance.

Ceiling fan light kits—I can update those ugly pull chain lights without hiring an electrician!

THE PULL CHAIN SOLUTION
I had an epiphany while I was at the store the other day, waiting for them to mix my (Ralph Lauren) paint. I was browsing the ceiling fan aisle; they’re expensive, but I was thinking of putting one in the living room upstairs. It’s mostly pull-chain lights up there, so I thought that was my only option for replacing the ugly, out-dated fixtures. and then…. I found them. Ceiling fan light kits. With optional semi-flush installation! They work with pull chains! They look great, a million times better than what’s up there, and for a lot less than a ceiling fan. I buy them. I’m putting these up before the apartment showings on Saturday. this will be great.

My ad is up, I’m getting inquiries. I never realized that there were so many, er, interesting people in the world.

Hi, I’m interested in seeing the duplex that you have for rent. It would just be me, along with my boa constrictor, two tarantulas, parakeet, three cats, a ferret, five rats, and a miniature pug. Oh, and a termite farm. We’re very quiet and clean. When could I come to see the apartment? (Sorry, it sounds like you exceed my pet-to-person ratio. But thank you for your interest. Would you also like the number for animal control?)