A Little Glimpse Into Why We’re Doing This…

Two years ago, we all teamed up in Vancouver with two things. A revelation and an idea.

The revelation was that we knew that the web could make what we considered to be the thankless job of being a small landlord easier. We also knew that easier and simpler didn’t have to be mutually exclusive.

The idea was to make a nifty web based software that actually achieved this fine balance. We were on our second tour of duty after having sold our first web based app- a little referral marketing product called Hello Referrals. We decided to use the proceeds from the acquisition of that product to develop what would eventually become Renting Well. There was a couple of months of us deciding over names. Rent Well. Rent Cloud. Renting Simple. Renting Easy….the list went on. Besides the fact that we couldn’t secure domain names for any of these, we felt the name Renting Well better suited the vibe of something active and didn’t fall into the dearth of other products that claimed to take years off of your life and seemed to also dwell with Lando Calrisian in cloud city.

One of the first considerations we had when building the app was how we could include less of everything. Less questions and set up. Less complication. Less of a wait to see important metrics. We felt the best course of action was something that you logged into, and essentially “got” within the first 2 minutes. We also knew that there was a necessity for the user to perform data entry in order to get those very things that we wanted quickly visible. Developing a flow to Renting Well that took this into consideration was also high on our list of priorities. Not an easy task. Some people prefer more complex analysis of what’s going on. Some people also aren’t jazzed about back data entry. As the old adage goes, you can’t please everyone – but we were still determined to get this off the ground in a broadly effective way.

We decided to focus on 3 core initial features.

  1. An easy to reference chronological logbook to track events, incidents, problems, and resolutions. 
  2. A bank statement accurate month to month, quarter to quarter, or year to year financial snapshot based on cash flow and profit and loss.
  3. Sexy listings to reduce to vacancies and get prospective tenants amped about renting a unit.

These core features are of course supported by other useful tools, but this made up the essence at the beginning. The reason we chose these cornerstones was because collectively, we knew what going to a board hearing was like without a detailed account of events. We knew how much of a pain in the ass it was to to do a year end with a shoebox full of receipts. We also just knew that landlords needed something to make available units for rent more attractive. We felt these were the most sore pain points.

So here it is – two year old hand drawn wire frames that sketched out what we saw as a simple solution for landlords and property managers – conceived on the table of a Kitsilano coffee bar, between 3 guys who couldn’t stand the variety of perplexing property management softwares that required you to have a masters degree in computer science. Managing income property is already complicated. In our minds, if you’re going to use something, you should want to use it and recognize it’s value.

The software is now actively tracking more than $85 million dollars worth of real estate and almost 2 million bucks worth of monthly expenses and monthly rental revenue. We’ve earned a healthy clip of paying customers so far and we’re getting ready to push out an updated version of the software in the next month.

Are we the biggest or the best property management solution for everyone? No. We’re a flavour in a Baskin Robbins ice cream shop full of other alternatives. We just happen to be simpler and less expensive than most of them. There’s nothing wrong with being the chocolate against the strawberry cheesecakes and caramel tiger tail swirls of the world. We’re landlords. We’ll take a scoop of simplicity.

10 Traits Of A Great Landlord

There are a variety of characteristics that make a leader great, or a manager great, or even a husband or a wife great. We thought we’d look at the important job of being a landlord through that same lens. Here’s a few items to chew on…

  • Great landlords are responsive. They respect the fact that someone is calling one of their units home, and take the job of addressing issues, concerns, and questions in a timely way, treating their tenants like customers.
  • Great landlords aren’t doormats. While treating their tenants like customers, they also stand firm with their expectations with respect to fundamental things – like paying the rent, being respectful of other tenants (if there are other tenants), following the rules, and taking care of a unit that a tenant is renting. When this doesn’t happen, they react appropriately and decisively and aren’t afraid of an awkward exchange or confrontation.
  • Great landlords know the law in their province or state with respect to residential tenancy. Knowing the law doesn’t only include being aware of rent increases. It also includes being familiar with legal dispute resolution, knowing how to do things like serve notices, and being aware of the rules for things like sublets, interest rates on security deposits or last month’s rent, and what you can and can’t do for things like pets. Know the whole law.
  • Great landlords are diplomatic. Resolving disputes with tenants shouldn’t be an emotionally charged exchange. They listen as much as they talk, and they know that you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.
  • Great landlords know that rent increases are important, when applicable. Not increasing the rent for years has an adverse affect on the property you’re managing. Expenses increase often at more than the rate of inflation. On the other side of that note – there are provinces and states that have an absence of rent control. Being a great landlord also includes not being a jerk and increasing someone’s rent by 400%, even if you technically can.
  • Great landlords understand the importance of always doing a good job. Even with a low vacancy rate, it’s important.
  • Great landlords take pride in the property they have. Being a slumlord is so 80s.
  • Great landlords are fair and flexible and expect the same of their tenants.
  • Great landlords don’t subscribe to doing things in the cheapest possible way. They approach everything from repairs and renovations to snow removal in a practical but correct and accountable way.
  • Great landlords aren’t evil. They manage to be effective at managing and operating an income property, while applying common sense to situations. They respect people’s privacy and rights even though they have the ability to enter into a tenant’s unit. They don’t dangle the ole’ “I own this place” statement above people’s heads. They even act politely and ethically when things go south.

Thoughts? Comments? Share what you think makes a good landlord great with us!

 

Lions…Tigers…and Renovating A Basement Unit. Oh My…

I’m going to share a progressing story with all of you. I’m renovating a basement apartment that desperately needed some attention.

3 weeks ago, I had a tenant move out of said basement apartment. He’d been there almost 12 years. The place was in pretty rough shape to say the least. The drywall was peeling, the lighting was dim and uninviting, and logistically, the layout of the place really didn’t make a lot of sense. It was dank, dark, and the rent that I was getting in the unit wasn’t reflective of the market norm. I was less concerned with that though. I just hated the way this place was laid out, and it looked and felt like an isolation cell on Riker’s island. When I got the tenant’s notice, I felt like this was an opportunity to give the unit the TLC it deserved. I decided to put together a budget to make my basement unit awesome. There are a few challenges with this though…which I thought I’d share with all of you.

Basement apartments are often thought of as problematic. They typically see a high turnover. Many are dimly lit. They often don’t show well because of the lack of natural light. They have a tendency to be colder and less inviting. There’s a reason for that. They’re below ground. I like to look at basement apartments, if done properly, as a place where you can have some of your best tenants. You just have to appreciate that basement units need a bit of a different approach. This is going to be a first in a series of posts dedicated to the renovation. Read on…

First order of business: Height!

This unit had more drywall boxes and creative ceiling and wall shapes than a modern art exhibit. Once I took the drywall down, it revealed a series of entombed obstacles in creating a spacious and well laid out space.

basementBack in the day they used to run humungous pipes made out of iron as supply and returns for water. Basements had all sorts of insane arteries and veins for heating, drinking water, etc. In old radiator systems, these pipes would run through a boiler. Pretty typical, except for the fact that any height that you might have is severely cramped with these massive pipes. One of the old owners of the building decided that just boxing all of these pipes up would do the trick. Well…this is 2013, and most people don’t want to live in a cubby hole. These pipes and their associated boxes did nothing but diminish the natural light out of the two windows, and decreased the height of the unit.

Allowing as much natural light into the unit as possible, is essential. One of the first orders of business was to ditch these pipes, and replace them with updated copper pipe, which was both significantly less stacked, shorter in height, and allowed a whack load more natural light into the unit. Even after putting drywall back up, I’ll have added about a half a foot of height and opened up one of the three windows in the space. At 7 feet and 2 inches of ceiling now, I was still beyond the minmum of 6 feet 5 inches for height, but it’s made a huge spatial difference so far.

In the coming week, we start on the bathroom and begin re-framing. Stay tuned.

 

Scamming Puts Landlords In A Bad Light

I was disappointed to come across this article today.

http://vancouver.24hrs.ca/2013/04/03/online-rental-scams-pose-as-landlords

We’ve covered this topic before. The guy in the piece was caught by the cops in a casino – of all places. Way to get snagged with your hand in the cookie jar, scumbag.

In a nutshell – Michael Burley, the suspect, seemed to have some right of access to the units he was showing to prospective tenants – through advertising on Craig’s List. Through the course of his blatant misrepresentation as the landlord, he’d accept their damage deposits, with the intent it seems, of hitting the slots.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre said online apartment scams are common, particularly ones in which supposed owners on an extended vacation look for renters. We covered this in a previous post.  The phony owners claim they care about a good renter more than money and advertise places well below their value. They convince people to send a damage deposit to a foreign country, promising the keys will be couriered upon payment.

Here’s the kicker. The people who do this, usually duplicate legitimate ads by legitimate landlords looking for tenants.  Victims can usually be the elderly and students. Police said to avoid such scams people need to get identification from the person renting the property, avoid using wire transfer services to pay supposed landlords, and to never rent an apartment without seeing it.

Saskatchewan Kyboshes Rent Controls

The  provincial government in Saskatchewan says it will not implement a system of rent control for residential tenants in the province. This was in response to the plight of a group of tenants who live in a building on Regina’s Robinson Street who received notices of a 77% increase in their rent. Wow.

The province’s Justice minister, David Wyant, explained that he thinks a rent control system would discourage property owners from improving their units.

We believe that it’s a disincentive to improving properties,” says Wyant. “it’s a disincentive to the establishment and for the building of new rental accommodations and we’ve seen that across the province and we’ve seen that across the country.”

Wyant added that he believes most rent increases have been around three to four per cent. He also offered to meet with the affected tenants personally and has also set up a meeting for them with the rentalsman’s office.

Landlords who belong to the Saskatchewan Rental Housing Industry Association have to give six months notice of rent increases. Other landlords have to give 12 months notice. In this case, the property management company who looks after the units did in fact give the required notice regarding the rent increase.