Why You Should Be Insuring The Hell Out Of Your Rental Property

I came across this wicked article in the Globe and Mail courtesy of one of our founders, Steve Palmer, who recently purchased a new house in Vancouver. A house that has a basement suite. A lot of people in Vancouver have basement units that they rent out. Know why? Because living in Vancouver is friggin’ expensive. Like an arm and a leg expensive. Supplemental rental income is kind of a way of life out west.

Don Campbell, president of the Real Estate Investment Network (REIN) makes probably what is one of the best points when it comes to real estate investment. Get the appropriate insurance.

The article mentions a bit of an epidemic in Canada. A lot of untrained landlords are under-insuring their rental properties or in some cases, conveniently forgetting to disclose to their insurance companies that they have a tenant. In certain places, like Vancouver, where a large majority of homeowners rent out basement suites, this can spell disaster if the appropriate insurance isn’t in place. Check out this gem:

Last year Aviva Canada insurance company released statistics that show water damage is the leading home insurance claim, partly due to the high number of basements that are being finished to make livable. Nationwide, B.C. had the highest increase in average claim cost due to water damage, at 205 per cent. I’m guessing that increase reflects the fact that almost every homeowner in Vancouver depends on the income from a basement suite to get by. For Vancouverites, basement dwelling is a fact of life. We even forget that’s not the case for every city.

Imagine: The couple renting your basement suite gets hit with some water damage. Loses a bunch of stuff. If you haven’t disclosed to your insurance carrier that someone was “living” down there, you could have a serious problem. Even more, if your tenants didn’t have renter’s insurance, you could really be in a pickle.  There’s more than an awkward situation to be had here. Renting a secondary suite is considered a material change in risk, and it does have the potential to void your insurance policy without the acknowledgment of your insurance carrier. As a matter of fact, Campbell goes so far as to say that you should not only disclose that you have a rental unit and that your insurance company knows what time it is on your place, but that you should get it in writing like the 10 commandments on stone tablets (from your insurance company). In the event of an issue — and a refusal of claim — you can meet your broker for lunch and shove an email in his face.

I’m really summarizing the article here, but landlords need to get intimately acquainted with a few terms:

  • Guaranteed replacement cost
  • Tenants or renters insurance (something Campbell insists he wants to see before he hands the keys over to tenants), and
  • Rental revenue loss or rent loss insurance

In short — cheaping out to save a few bucks on your premium is one of the single worst ideas anyone who rents out a unit can have. Here’s a free tip from me as this is something I like to do once a year: have a meeting with your insurance broker or carrier, and make sure everything is on the up and up. Make sure they know everything, and ask them questions about worst case scenarios, like if there was a total loss on your property. Seriously. It doesn’t hurt.

You can read the full article on the Globe and Mail site.

What do you think? Do you insist on tenant’s insurance before handing over the keys? Do you review your insurance coverage on your property or properties every year? Share your comments and stories!

The Anatomy Of A Killer Rental Listing

You have a vacancy and you’re keen on getting a great tenant in the unit. You want your available unit to stand out from the crowd in a big way. I mean – everyone does – but, you don’t know where to start to create that element of distinction, and the Instagram photos you’ve taken with your iPhone aren’tk as flattering as you thought they’d look. I’m here to tell you how to really create a great listing and what the anatomy of a killer listing looks like. I’m also going to point out listings that suck and that don’t do landlords any favours.

This is an example of a useless apartment listing screaming NOT to be paid attention to. The two sentences make me want to grab my check book, and the typo for “interested” has convinced me the landlord isn’t very smart either.

First of all – there’s a bit of a misconception out there that you need to have an SEO optimized website, dedicated to a single unit, to “properly” market it. Having a full blown website to market a unit is helpful – sure – but it’s not essential. I mean, it’s a bit of overkill. I’m only saying this because I recently met a perfectly nice person who I got into an awkward debate with about this, as they were trying to push a company in California who specializes in creating websites that include a domain that incorporates your address. “100mainstreetforrent.com” enhances the attractiveness of the available unit, and will create more interest, more quickly”, said the web expert.

Sorry buddy – as Joe Biden says, that’s a bunch of malarkey. You don’t need to buy a domain to rent a place. Real estate agents do stuff like that. The return on something like that is significant if they sell a house. Landlords are looking for the most cost effective ways to market properties for rent – not for sale. I’m here to tell you that you can write up a good rental listing and include some good photos without breaking the bank at all. Whether you’re using our great marketing listings feature – which creates a great one off micro page for your place that you can embed into a Kijiji or Craig’s List ad, or whether you’re just doing a write up on a directory yourself, you might find this useful.

After having worked at an ad agency for a year, one of the best lessons I learned was that words can often times be more persuasive than images, but if you hit the mark with both words and a great visual, you have the potential to do anything.

1. First things first – let’s talk about your headline. That’s your statement – your declaration! It stands on it’s own to attract a renter to read the rest of your listing. I’m a fan of using attractive words – like “spacious”, “clean”, “bright” and “beautiful”. I also suggest always indicating what kind of unit it is – i.e. a 1 bedroom, or a loft, a basement apartment, or a townhouse. Indicating the unit’s rent is also an essential in your headline. You don’t want to cram too much into a headline, or else it will read like War & Peace – and you’re going to lose the attention you’re demanding. Here’s an example:

“Spacious, clean, and bright 1 bedroom apartment for rent on Main Street – $950 per month”

That’s how you do it.

2. Quality Photos are essential. Having photos with a listing is going to quintuple your chances of interest. I’m serious. Not having them is crazy. I’m not saying go out and hire the best photographer you can find – but I’m also not saying that’s a bad idea either. Cost is important to note – but getting some good photos done is a good investment in my opinion. You can use them for years. You can also take good photos of your units by learning a few tips, even if you’re doing it on your iPhone.

This photo is an example of “terrible”. What did a nuclear weapon go off outside? I need sunglasses.
  • Remove Clutter and ensure you’re working with a clean area. Either ask the existing tenant to tidy it up and make it presentable, or get a cleaning done. If there’s stuff on the fridge, take it off. Temporarily remove anything that can act as a distraction from giving a good sense of the room. The purpose of the photographs are to give an impression of the environment, not the decor or the furniture.
  • Turn your flash off. If you’re using your flash, you don’t have enough light in the shot. Flashes suck. They make the place look crappy and washed out. Ensure there is adequate lighting in a space. Even better – take your photos during a sunny day. The more light in a space, the better the sense of the environment.
  • Use a wide angle. They always look better and produce a better sense of rooms.
  • Don’t take shots that look down on a room. Crouch down, or lower the tripod a bit to give a sense of height and space.
  • Use a tripod, or ensure that your camera is steady. This is a given and I refuse to give an explanation as to why this is important. Shakey and crooked shots aren’t going to do any justice to your perfectly nice spot.
  • Take photos of every room and accessible spot. You don’t need to take 1000 images of your rental, but the more articulated the unit is visually, the better the quality of your listing. Get a good shot of the bedroom, the kitchen, the appliances, the number of windows, and a good shot of the exterior of the building.
  • Organize your photos in a bit of a flow – as if you were giving someone a tour of the unit physically.
  • Your first photo in a listing should be a busy place in the unit – like a kitchen or a living room. If you post your first photo of a bathroom, it’s not exactly the greatest first impression. Bathrooms aren’t busy – unless you’re addicted to laxatives.

3. Details are important. Beisdes the obvious stuff, like the breakdown on utilities or what’s included, indicate the location in your listing. People get peeved when they don’t have an address. Give them details about close by amenities. Restaurants. Banks. Grocery stores. Let them know about bus routes. Give them a sense of how walkable the location is. Include or indicate the walk score of the place. Indicate close parks or green space. Provide a sense of the community and it’s benefits. Indicate whether laundry is available. Articulate as much as possible, so that when someone reads your ad, the possibility of a prospective tenant getting that sense of “home” is high.

What other things do you do to market your vacancies? How do you create a snazzy rental listing? Share with us!

Rethink Your Rental Listings

You have an apartment for rent. It’s awesome. You are going to rent the hell out of it, right? Quickly too! You’re going to hit up Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, Tumblr, every directory you can get your mouse on, and you’re going to print up flyers and put up a sign in the window. You’r aiming for such an overwhelming amount of interest that you’re convinced you’ll have to choose which amazing potential tenant you rent it to. Wait a second.

There’s this company called J. Turner Research in Texas that conducts research specifically for the apartment industry. They released the results of a survey they conducted on over 41,000 people in the multi family market, that aimed to identify preferences that apartment hunters have when finding a new place to live. The results are interesting…you can read the press release here. Keep in mind, this is an American survey, but for the purposes of the point I’m making, it’s pertinent.

a compelling majority (95 percent) of the 41,303 respondents to the initial 29-question survey said they did not visit Facebook or Twitter during their apartment search. However, 74 percent of respondents reported using ratings and reviews sites, and additionally reported on their perception of the trustworthiness of each site used during the search process.

The top three things that the majority of those surveyed looked for were:

  1. The price
  2. A floor plan
  3. What the neighbourhood is like

When asked for the sources used during their apartment search, prospects reported focusing primarily on Internet Listing Sites (65 percent), drive-by (39 percent), and referrals from friends and family members (24 percent) as the top three search channels for finding a new apartment. Interesting. Hold your horses if you’re about to publish your listing to Facebook or if you’re going to tweet it.

So what does this tell us?

Apparently no one cares about social media when it comes to looking for a place to live. They seem to prefer listings sites. It also indicates the importance of really being thorough in creating an apartment listing – whether you’re publishing to Craigslist or using a service like PadMapper or Kijiji. The more quality information you have on there, the better. The better the info, the easier your search is going to be for a new tenant and the easier it is for a potential renter to determine whether your unit is a good fit for them. “Thorough” isn’t just giving the breakdown on square footage or including a crappy photo you took with your iPhone. It’s putting together something attractive and compelling, and one of the main reasons we created our handy listings feature in Renting Well. If you’re using our service – it’s awesome! (shameless plug).

With that said – let me give you a breakdown. What is a “quality” listing? It’s explained quite well at The Rentables, here. It goes into a few things in the post, but there’s a few items that really jump out here….

  1. Images. This isn’t a classified section from the 1918 edition of the National Post. Not having them is going into a showing hopeful that they like the way a place looks – and that’s a waste of time. Also, if you’re not including them, don’t you think that gives someone the impression that the place is probably not very nice? What are you hiding? Include images – and not just one or two. Include specific images of specific spaces. Bathrooms. Kitchens. Bedrooms. You need a solid set of images that create a serious sense of the unit for people to be able to digest. On the same note, don’t inundate a listing with 50 images – especially crappy ones. That’s not a good idea. 10-15 images is a good basis, and they shouldn’t be photos that simply change the angle of the same space. Differentiate – and ensure they’re good shots.
  2. Think about your headline and the body of listing. You don’t have to be a copy writer for a major advertising agency – but the first few words in a listing will be important in making a first impression.  For the body of your listing, avoid empty words, get right to the point, and sell the sizzle, not the steak as the piece says. Don’t use ALL CAPS. You’re not yelling at people, and it makes you look a jerk. Also, avoid using words like “nice”, “beautiful”, and “great”. Those are so overused. Real estate agents use those words about a million times a day. Here’s an example – instead of saying “Great 1 bedroom apartment for rent” – how about, “Spacious 1 bedroom flat for rent”. That sounds more refined and less robotic. Approach the words in your listing with a question about whether it’s distinctive.
  3. Be specific and clear about expectations. If you aren’t ok with pets, say so. If you’d prefer no smoking in the unit, dont be afraid to say it. Do you want interested renters that are well qualified, or do you just want tons of phone calls and emails looking for clarification?
  4. Details. Include them. Amenities. A walk score. The distance to a laundromat. The proximity to a grocery store or a bank. Bus routes.

The point is…start a search for a new tenant strategically. Market your listings effectively. Have pride in what you’re offering, and put it out there in a way that gets the best return on your time and money, versus the quickest. 

The Stripper With Dirty Feet: A Tenant From Hell Story

Came across this great post by Mike Holman at Money Smarts.

The story is by Rachelle Berube over at Landlord Rescue – who runs a wicked blog that’s both funny and highly informative. Anyone making rental property management humorous deserves a Pulitzer in my books. There’s a bunch of other gems here too – like the Ultimate Guide To Giving Your Tenant Proper Legal Notice To Leave Once Your Property Is Sold or this hilarious post about renting to friends and family.

My Two Cents On Sizing Up A Rental Property Before Purchase….

I’m a strong advocate of approaching property investment as a business first, and as an investment second (a close second) — especially if you’re planning on managing a rental property on your own. These two perspectives are directly associated as far as I’m concerned, but I’ll get further into my point.

Whether you’re renovating a basement suite to have a tenant cover a portion of your  mortgage, or whether you’re looking at a nifty multi unit, understanding what you’re getting into on a management level is a valuable step towards total preparedness in your quest to being an outstanding landlord. If you do a full course of due dilligence, you’re making what is probably going to be a smart move long term — however — just looking at physical condition and expense reports is a very one sided approach in the decision to borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars. You wouldn’t ONLY do that if you were buying an accounting practice right? Or a bakery? Even if you’re using a property manager it’s no different than being an owner of a retail store that you just happen to have a paid fulltime manager working in.

I like to call the examination of some of these finer points — the important details. Assuming something will run on it’s own  — cash flow positive, and with tenants as happy as kittens just because you bought — is nuts.

  1. Has the landlord been diligent with applying rental increases? You’d be surprised how many landlords are not. You buy a place that someone has been living in for 10 years, with zero increases in rent, and you’re walking into what can be a very difficult situation if you have expectations to get market value.
  2. How rentable is the property? Historically, how has the current owner fared with renting the units? Is the unit in an end of the city that attracts potential tenants naturally or is it somewhere that’s going to require a little more effort? Location matters, and knowing the chances of getting the new tenants you require when units become available helps with determining the amount of time you’ll spend in marketing vacancies or potentially even sitting on them. Also, finding out how the existing owner marketed available units is a good thing to know. Some landlords are old school, and they sit on  an empty unit for longer than they should.
  3. Meet the tenants if at all possible. This isn’t easy admittedly in the midst of negotiating on the sale of a property, but if you can swing it, do it. Are they happy? What kind of relationship has the current landlord had with the tenants? Knowing that there’s been a venomous relationship with the existing owner is reason enough to get the whole story – and to determine if there’s anything relationship wise that can be salvaged and what you’re prepared to deal with. I personally love sharing the story of when I bought my first rental property, and the seller characterized the main floor tenant as having “a good job and being quiet”. After the sale, I met him for the first time, and he cynically let me know how much he disliked the last landlord, and that there were about 20 different things the previous owner hadn’t delivered on with respect to repairs and maintenance. He called the previous owner “the king of unkept promises”. After 6 months of dealing with him, it became clear the previous owner was a huge flake.
  4. Are the leases legal? Are they month to month? What kind of history have they had with the existing owner or property manager and vice versa? What utilities are they obligated too? What incidents have popped up during their stay? Who’s easy to deal with and who’s not? Get as many details as you can.
  5. Meet your neighbours. I’m not referring to the presentation of a freshly baked apple pie situation with a formal intro. Take the initiative and try to find out what your neighbours are like. Are they difficult? Are they reasonable? Do they have a bad relationship with the existing owner or were there any disputes or conflicts that existed? You’d be surprised how much this can affect you – especially if there are any shared components to a property – like a lane way or common area.

Gauging how well the “business” of the property has been managed is essential in my view, and gives you a much fuller view of what you’re jumping into. Owning an income property is already a lot of work and the time spent goes by fast. Getting a sense of any relationship or management health is equally important as knowing that the rent roll and the expenses are accurate.

Coin-Operated Laundry For Tenants

Whatever you’re doing… stop. We need to talk about something important.

Laundry.

Everyone does it. Some of us are ashamed by it. Some of us do it in private. Whatever way you do it, it’s essential to both you and those that rent from you. The greater point I’m making here is that planning to put coin-operated laundry into a rental unit is a good idea, but don’t do it with an unrealistic expectation of on the immediate return-on-investment. Before you delve into the double-barrelled goodness of laundry machines that run on spare change, consider a few things…

Coin-operated laundry machines are best suited for multi-family properties — as in technically a duplex or more — but in my view they’re really much better suited to 4 units or more. You’re not going to put one into a single family unit because that’s tacky (think about it for a second). That kind of tackiness can put tenants off. Would you raise your eyebrow a bit if you were looking at a single family unit and noticed that the landlord had a coin-operated washer and dryer IN the unit? It kind of gives a bit of a weird and cheap impression. Common laundry rooms are better — areas that can be accessed by multiple tenants, with a likelihood of heavy use, and ideally on a separate meter from the rest of the units (it’s easier to manage and observe the utility expense).

On-site laundry is a convenience for existing and future tenants, and should be considered a feature when marketing the property and when you’re considering investing in one. Laundry facilities count as one of the most popular amenities renters look for, so adding one to your property is generally considered a positive long-term investment. It makes marketing vacancies a little easier, increases the chances of finding the tenants you’re looking for, and adds appraisal value to your property (as a result of the added amenity and the added income).

With that said, there’s an ongoing cost associated with running them utility-wise, and they can obviously breakdown and require repair. It’s possible you might not see a positive cash flow vs. the monthly expense if only two or 4 people are using the machines. The utility costs could outweigh the revenue you have coming in. That’s why I suggest 4 units and above as there’s a higher likelihood you’ll have the laundry volume and revenue — which in turn increases the likelihood of a positive cashflow on the investment and improves the chances of recouping on the machines sooner. However, numbers aside, even if you don’t enjoy positive cashflow from a laundry room it’s still a good idea to have the facilities on-site.

One other thing – it doesn’t have to be coin operated laundry. There’s a variety of alternative laundry solutions that you could consider as a landlord as well, like card operated laundry machines. 

Have you invested in a laundry room? Share your stories with us.

 

Landlord Fumes Over Tenant Damages in Sarnia

Came across this piece in the Sarnia Observer. A local landlord got burned by tenants who had been evicted. I think this really emphasizes the necessity to inspect a unit prior to a tenant leaving as it becomes very difficult to obtain any restitution with the LTB once they’re gone. You can read the article here:

http://www.theobserver.ca/2012/10/18/landlord-fumes-over-tenant-damages

As most Ontario landlords know (or should know), once a tenant vacates a rental property you can’t make an application for damages to the Ontario Landlord and Tenant Board. Jean Guy Lecours, the victim in this case, now faces the only option he has left, which is to pursue damages via small claims court – which will undoubtedly cost a small fortune.

Do you have a story like this? What are your thoughts on Ontario’s landlord and tenant laws?

Dealing With Difficult Tenants

Difficult tenants are a reality of being a landlord. You’re going to have some. It’s inevitable. Defining “difficult” is easy and can include a variety of things. They don’t pay the rent. They don’t pay the rent on time. They’re noisy. A general lack of reliability with the given expectations. Sometimes they’re even belligerent and unreasonable. With that said, difficult tenants can also be time consumers. Tenants who complain incessantly about the most frivolous of things, are unreasonably sensitive, contact you constantly about the smallest of items, or even people who are combative with other tenants in your property for no good reason. Here’s a few tips for dealing with those that make managing your property difficult.

  • Define expectations: I do this all the time when renting to new people. Call it the old “I made it clear” kind of approach. I’m not talking about clearing up when you expect the rent. That’s a given (but a good idea to let them know nonetheless – i.e. a written lease). Let a prospective tenant know about your expectations with respect to noise, civility with other tenants (if you have a multi-unit), property routines like garbage removal and laundry schedules, and your expectations when it comes to issues and resolving them together. I once had a tenant who considered himself to be the Wyatt Earp of a fourplex I own. Besides constantly calling people out on every little thing, he didn’t seem to understand me when I explained to him that I didn’t need a superintendent, and that he was to report an issue that he was having to me directly.
  • Have A Proactive, Reasonable, and Responsive Attitude: Most tenants will tell you, an unresponsive and defensive owner is the main ingredient in what can be a resentful relationship between landlord and leasee. Imagine if you were paying someone rent, and they were constantly unavailable, nowhere to be found, and defensive when it came to addressing a problem that you considered fundamental in your home. As an owner, you have an obligation to be attuned to the needs, within reason, of your tenants. Things happen when you are a property owner, and most tenants will understand that. If you show a keen interest in working with those who rent from you, and are committed to finding a solution, you’ll find your tenants will respond – and this is one of the most effective ways to avoid having difficult tenants in the first place. It is after all, their home. Secondly – always be reasonable. Expect a reasonable attitude from the tenant as well. Be mindful of what you’re saying and how you’re dealing with an issue with a tenant.
  • Learn The Landlord and Tenant Act: Visit the Landlord and Tenant Board, or the equivalent entity or body in your municipality or province. Know your rights, learn and understand the rights of your tenants, and learn the protocols and processes that are associated with incidents and situations – including the non payment of rent and rental deliquency. Follow the rules. Be prepared for a difficult tenant to become a bad tenant.
  • Avoid the board if you can: It’s inevitable that you’ll probably end up attending a hearing at the provincial board. Hence the importance of knowing the act in your province. With that said – avoid the board if possible. Also – I find a lot of landlords I speak with use the “board card” or the threat of court way to early in any dialogue. If you pull that out the wrong way, you can turn what is a resolvable situation into a full fledged problem. You’ll be fronting the costs to resolve an issue or evict a tenant formally and it’s not fun. I’m a big believer that you should be serving notices and following process only in the worst of situations – like refusal to pay rent, habitual late payment, unruly behaviour or damage, or even with someone who is impossible to communicate with. if it’s possible to work out issues in a productive way without being in front of an arbitrator, do it.

Share your thoughts about how to deal with a difficult tenant.