Category Archives: Administrator

Common Sense Property Management Software

Property Manager WorkingCommon Sense Property Management Software

I hear all the time the comment, “I thought my previous software was going to make my life easier, but it just gave me more frustration”. Property management is hard enough by itself without having to struggle with slow software, missing data, constant questions, and a difficult learning curve. We hear from rental property owners every day that are still using spreadsheets to manage their property, or they have purchased a program that is way more than they actually need.

Make sure it works the same way you do

First, if you can’t try out the software before you buy it, run the other way! That is the only way you can be sure it is right for you. When you do try the software, start with one task, such as “I want to charge rent to my tenants”. Then, see how long that task takes. If it is more than 10 seconds, it is too long, even if you have hundreds of rentals. Better yet, look for an option to charge rent automatically without user intervention.

How about this? “I want to update the tenant’s rent amount, and then correct an amount that I accidentally posted to the tenant’s accounting”. Many programs make you navigate to multiple menus to do seemingly easy common sense tasks, so make sure it is easy to correct mistakes.

Other things you might want to look for would be the ability to automatically increase rents on a specific date in the future, the ability to either print checks or transfer via ACH, receive rent online, a way to make automatic payments, and a vendor file that keeps important information on all of the vendors that you work with.

Common sense extras that you might look for would be a reminder system for Owners, Tenants, and Vendors, and a scheduler to help keep track of upcoming repairs, vacations, and notices. You might want to use the reminder to keep track of tenant birthdays so that you can maintain a good relationship with your tenants.

Keep your valuable data with someone you trust – you!

If you keep your own information, it will be safer. Find a program that allows you to make a local backup of your valuable data quickly and easily. It should be as simple as clicking a ‘backup’ button then pressing ‘go’. If not, maybe that software is not for you. Some users prefer web based software, so if that is you, be sure that you can download your important data, and that your valuable information is encrypted and stored on servers with redundant backups. Even then, you could be at risk of a hacker attack that could shut down the servers, so you might consider on-premise software if that is a concern.

Don’t get more or less than you actually need

Another common complaint I often hear is that the customer had previously paid ‘thousands of dollars’ for another complex software, yet they only manage a few rentals. Or, on the other side, they manage over 100 rentals and the software they have is just too limited. Ask the vendor their average number of rentals per user, and the market they strive for. Do they work with owners of rental property or mostly with property managers? You need powerful features in your software without paying too much. At the same time, avoid ending up with overly complicated requirements with features you don’t need.

Common sense assistance

With any new software you need a little help. Avoid companies that don’t provide a phone number or any free support – eventually you will need some assistance. The trend is to not provide phone support, which may mean that you will have to either search a knowledge base for an answer, or wait for a return response to your online support request. Make sure that you can get immediate help through paid phone support.

Follow these common sense guidelines, and your property management software investment will help your business run a lot more efficiently, smoothly, and stress free.

A Day in the Life of a Property Manager Post Cyber Attack

Angry Property Management CompanyAs a property manager, you wanted to stay with the latest cloud technology, so you trusted your valuable data to a web-based software company. This scenario could be your company, it is real, and could happen in the near future.

8:00am – Everybody is calm, laughing and enjoying their first cup of coffee. Computers are glowing with the dashboard of your web-based software.  As a property manager you are experiencing just a normal work day.
8:05am – Suddenly all computers show a screen ‘NETWORK NOT FOUND’. No problem, soon it will be back up, just reboot your routers.
8:20am – This is becoming annoying, the computers are still not booting up to the Internet, so nobody can log into your property management software.
9:00am – Tenants are starting to call, they cannot process their rent payments. Still no Internet.
10:00am – The first owner calls and complains that the owner portal is down. They need the data for a meeting. Owner payments are due today.
11:00am – More tenants are calling, some are requesting emergency repairs. Work Orders and repair request are all handled by the software, which dead.
12:00pm – You have 5 office employees on the clock that are sitting around waiting for the Internet to return. Things are getting worse by the minute.
1:00pm – Everyone is watching the TV. There has been a major Internet disruption due to a cyber attack. No word on restoration of services.
2:00pm – No work has been done since early this morning. You have already lost productivity, plus tenants, owners, and vendors are lighting up the phones with complaints.
5:00pm – No answers, no work, employees go home … you’ll have to get everything caught up tomorrow.

Angry TenantThe next day – The cyber attack has spread, servers are down all over the country. You still need to pay all employees to come in to field phone calls from angry tenants and owners. You are having to call vendors to send them out for repairs, but you cannot process their payments. They are not happy. Tenants are being told to bring in their rent payments in person, but all transactions have to be recorded into a spreadsheet for transfer into the cloud property management software sometime later… if at all.

The third day – No change. You are losing money right and left. Your business cannot do anything but take calls and promise you are doing everything possible. No banking, no property management, a total disaster.

After that – total panic. Your business is totally down. You don’t have a backup of your tenants, owners, or vendors. You call your web based property management software company for hours and cannot get through. Once you get to speak with someone, they tell you their server has been part of the attack and they cannot promise that anything can be restored. Your business is in deep trouble, this could take weeks to restore if ever….

Is this scenario possible or just a scare tactic?

Ben Lawsky, head of New York’s Department of Financial Services (DFS), said he fears a large enough hack on Wall Street firms could “spill over into the broader economy” — not unlike the mortgage meltdown of 2008.

“We are concerned that within the next decade, or perhaps sooner, we will experience an Armageddon-type cyber event that causes a significant disruption in the financial system for a period of time,” said Ben Lawsky, head of New York’s Department of Financial Services. He called such an attack a “cyber 9/11.”

Recently senators that have classified access and infrastructure experts agree on an impending major cyber attack. A recent New York Times article warns that Russia could be planning an attack affecting “almost all global Internet communications, raising concerns among some American military and intelligence officials that the Russians might be planning to attack those lines in times of tension or conflict.”

Think about the breaches in security at Target, Home Depot, Amazon, Staples, JP Morgan Chase, Yahoo, Apple, Google and hundreds of supposedly well protected sights. They are getting worse, not better. No company is safe from this, no matter what the software vendors tell their customers. You are probably using the software as SAAS (software as a service) which simply means monthly payments. That can be cut off at any time. Your data can be inaccessible at any time if the Internet has a problem. That means your entire business could at risk.

Our own national security experts are warning about an impending cyber threat coming from other countries that would target critical USA infrastructure systems. Adm. Michael Rogers, The director of the National Security Agency, told the House Intelligence Committee he expects a major cyber attack against the U.S. in the next decade. “It’s only a matter of the ‘when,’ not the ‘if,’ that we are going to see something dramatic,” he said.

If you think your web based software is safe, think again. Even if you are able to make regular backups from your server, the effects of an Internet shutdown would be devastating to your property management company. You have been entrusted with the most valuable information from your tenants, your owners, your vendors, and all of the companies that you do business with. You might want to think about that before you put everything in the ‘cloud’.

Is Big Data the next Big Thing?

We can all agree that technology has done wonders for the field of real estate. Within seconds, you can have all kinds of data, specifically big data, right in front of you almost instantly. Big data, as its name implies, is basically a huge set of data that requires extensive processing because it’s so big. You’re probably thinking, what does this have to do with real estate?  

Well, the possibilities are endless…

Once a big data set has been analyzed and the relevant information has been extracted (this process is called data mining),  it can be used to show you all kinds of trends that can be very useful for your real estate or property management business.  For example, a big data set that has housing information for your area can show you how the housing market has changed in the past year, while showing which specific factors may have contributed to it.

Analyzing these large data sets can also help you determine the potential value of a property based on data pertaining to similar properties. Depending on the type of data you have, you can develop an algorithm that can tell you which properties are good investments, and which are not so good.

It’s pretty clear that big data will eventually serve a much bigger purpose than predictive analysis and trend examination (even though these are huge in the real estate industry), the question is, what’s next?

 

 

 

Reference Required

Just like with any other application, a reference letter can definitely set someone apart from the rest. Though it’s not necessarily a requirement of the lease application process, asking your possible tenant for a reference letter from their previous landlord is absolutely in your best interest.

Other parts of the application, like proof of income, and credit history, give you information about the tenant and whether or not they can afford rent, but they don’t really tell you if they’re going to be a good tenant or not. The reference letter is written from someone who was in the exact same position as you, so it’s going to be your best source. This is where their previous landlord can tell you about any specific issues they may have had (that you probably won’t know right away), and where they can also tell you if that tenant was the best they’ve ever had. The reference letter is a way of knowing things that you wouldn’t immediately know about the tenant, but you should consider when making the final decision.

The same wreferenceay that you would expect an honest and detailed reference letter from a possible tenant, you should always be willing to provide your tenants with a reference once they move out. When you’re writing the reference letter, talk about anything that you feel is relevant and valuable to the next landlord. Mention how well your tenant took care of the property, if they paid rent on time, etc. Maybe you want to provide a number where the landlord can reach you at in case they have other questions.

 

Are You Accepting Applications?

Somewhere in the tenant screening process, tenants are usually required to fill out a lease application that will help determine if they are a good fit for the property or not. Lease applications are pretty standard but you can modify the required information if your lease requires you to. So, what exactly is a lease application?

A lease application, like any other application, requires tenants to put down basic information that goes into making the decision about renting your property out to them. Basically, contact information, previous residence(s), proof of income, criminal history, and employment history are all standard on rental applications.

Rental applications are a great tool for weeding out the people who really aren’t interested in your property. If someone who is very unsure of whether or not the home is right for them, they won’t want to waste time filling out an application. Plus, a fee is usually required of the tenant, to be submitted with the application; not surprisingly, this is referred to as the application fee. They aren’t going to want to pay a fee if they don’t think they’ll actually end up living there.  If you have multiple people interested in your property, tell them about the rental application and their responsibility to fill it out and pay the fee; those who are truly interested will be the ones to stick around for the entire process.

application

To Furnish, or Not to Furnish

furniture

Finding a place that comes furnished is a big deal breaker for a lot of people and can really make your property stand out among the rest.  For someone who is unsure of how long they will be staying in a certain town, renting a furnished place is perfect. There’s no need to buy and transport heavy furniture, so the move is made really easy.

The real question is, should you furnish your rental?

Furnishing a rental home may seem costly, but it does pay off. If you offer your property furnished, you’re automatically entitled to charge more for monthly rent. Basically, the large one-time cost will continue to benefit you.

What furniture should you provide?

For bedrooms, you can provide basic things like a bed, nightstand, dresser, and maybe a desk. In the living room, you can provide a couch or two, and a coffee table. For the dining area, find a simple table with at least four seats.

Don’t think that you have to go out and spend tons buying furniture! Check places like Ikea, and even your local thrift stores and garage sales to find affordable furniture that will look nice in your property. When shopping, try to find furniture that’s simple and neutral, this way your tenant can add their own personal touches and make your property feel like home.

Remember the lease! If you do decide to furnish your property, make sure that it’s included in the lease agreement. Make it clear that the furniture is just an extension of the property, and that your tenant is liable if anything is to happen to it.

Relet vs. Sublease: what’s the difference?!

Like many words in the English language, sublease and relet tend to be used interchangeably, even though they are two different things. Though they both are methods of renting out property to a tenant, and involve a third party, reletting and subleasing are totally separate understandings.

Well, where to begin?

Reletting is pretty much the process of voiding the original lease with a tenant and bringing in someone new.  The new tenant is now the lease holder and the old tenant is no longer responsible for the property. There are various reasons properties may be reletted, be it because of the tenant, landlord, or both. If someone has a special circumstance, maybe a new job, that requires them to move from their rental, the landlord can come in and relet it so that the initial agreement will no longer stand. This is also an option if a tenant is evicted from their property prior to their lease ending.

Subleasing, on the other hand, is a bit different. Subleasing is when the tenant who initially signed the lease rents out the property  to another person. The new tenant is responsible for paying rent (this may be less or more than what the original tenant pays) as well as following the terms of the lease. Despite this, the overall responsibility of the lease still falls on the original tenant. If the new tenant damages something in the property, they won’t be liable, the initial tenant will be. With subleases, there is usually an agreement drawn up that states the terms that the new tenant must abide by (i.e. when to move out, how much rent they need to pay, etc.). Sometimes a fee is charged to sublease the property, with the initial tenant being the one liable for paying it.

subleasing

Tenant Safety

Keeping your tenant happy is a huge part of being a good landlord, but even more important is keeping them safe. Because you’re going to have a person living in your home, you want to make sure it’s as safe as possible so that they feel secure living there. Don’t think that we’re suggesting that you need to implement a maximum security system in your property, just make sure the property is equipped for safety the best you possibly can.

A good place to is with windows and doors. Make sure that all windows can be locked properly and cannot be opened from the exterior of the home. Do not make it so that the windows cannot be opened at all, because that in of itself is a huge safety hazard. Make sure that all doors have locks that work and that your tenant has copies of the necessary keys. If your property is one where there are multiple roommates living together, you may want to install separate locks on each bedroom so that each roommate can feel more safe.

safety

Make sure that smoke detectors are in working order and that enough are installed in the home. If you only have one smoke detector in the home, it won’t be as effective in alerting your tenant if there is a fire. Also on the subject of fires, make sure that your home has a working fire extinguisher so that your tenant can take care of small fires if they happen to occur.

Aside from the aforementioned safety measures, there are a few other things you should check on in your home. Inspect any floorboards and railings to be sure that they are in tiptop shape and do not pose any safety hazards for your tenant. A lifted floorboard may not seem very serious, but it can cause a problem if your tenant trips on it and hurts themselves.

 

Accessibility in the Home

Sometimes the set up of a home may not be the most convenient thing for everyone; you need to consider that different tenants have different needs and may have to make some changes to your property. Though we recently we talked about what changes you should and shouldn’t allow your tenants to make to your property, there are some changes that are imperative to your tenant and shouldn’t be up for debate.

If your tenant has a disability that may impair their use of normal household things like showers, doors, or stairs, you should definitely allow them to make the necessary modifications to make living in your home a good experience. For instance, your tenant might have a hard time standing up in the shower and may want to install accessibility items. There should be no debating about whether or not they should be allowed to do this; if they purchase and install it themselves there shouldn’t be any issues. Because everyone has different needs, your tenant may need to make a bigger change beyond installing accessibility items inside. If your tenant has a wheelchair or walker, you should definitely allow them to put a ramp (or ramps) outside or inside the home. A modification like this is a lot larger in scale than adding accessibilityhandles and levers; because of this, you may want to consider keeping it once they move out. Your home may have the perfect set up for people with similar needs and will definitely stand out in the market.

Aside from functionality and comfort, your tenant may need to make changes that are necessary to guarantee their safety. If your tenant has a hearing impairment, they may not be able to hear normal smoke detectors going off if there’s a fire. Let your tenant install the smoke detectors with accessibility devices, like lights that’ll notify them when the alarm is going off.  The safety of your tenant is imperative and you should not overlook it.

Allowing your tenant to make these necessary changes will show them that you care and want them to be happy in their home. If they’re investing their time and money into fixing your property to make themselves comfortable, it’s probably because they plan on living there for a while.

 

Seasonal Rental Preparations

With summer slowly winding down it’ll soon be time for your tenant to move out of their summer home, meaning it’ll be time to prepare your rental for the next seasons tenants.

Since you’ll probably rent out your property again in winter (it is a seasonal rental, after all!), chances are, it’ll stay empty for at least a couple of months. Because your home will be used in two very different seasons, it’s important to make sure you prepare it properly after your summer tenants leave. What should you do?

  1. Clean the gutters! With all the flowering plants and leaves from spring, plus the rain from summer, your gutters are probably more than ready for a cleaning. This way, once the fall leaves start falling and the winter snows begin, your gutters won’t be clogged up.
  2. Check that there are no leaks caused by summer storms. Sometimes the more harsh summer showers may cause leaks that go unnoticed for months. Inspect your roof and see if there are any problems that need fixing, also be sure to check ceilings for stains that may indicate a leak. Fixing leaks now can help you avoid even bigger problems when it starts snowing.
  3. Landscaping. If you have seasonal plants that you’ve noticed may have not made it through summer, switch them out for other plants and landscaping decor that’ll fit with the next season.
  4. Change the A/C filter! With the heat, your tenant was probably keen on using the A/C often. Change the filter, and give it a tune up so that you know the unit will be working well. This will also help to ensure that the heater function will be working for your winter tenants.

seasons