Ottawa’s Vacancy Rate Has Almost Doubled Since Last Year

Landlords  in the national capital region – take notice! Ottawa’s vacancy rate has almost doubled since last year according to this piece by the CBC.

John Dickie, chair of the Eastern Ontario Landlord Organization, estimates there are roughly 4,000 empty or soon-to-be empty apartment units in the capital. Last April, the vacancy rate was reported to be 2.1%. This year – it’s 3.7%. That’s a pretty sharp increase. To top that off, the Ontario LTB announced  yesterday that the allowable provincial rent increase for 2014 will only be 0.8%. You can get the lowdown on the guideline from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing website. This is the lowest rent increase since 1975.

In an effort to paint a fair view of the situation, here’s some interesting stats to chew on, courtesy of the Ministry’s site:

  • The average rent increase guideline from 2004 to 2013 was 2.1 per cent. The average rent increase guideline from 1993 to 2003 was 3.1 per cent.
  • The guideline is calculated under the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006, which came into force on Jan. 31, 2007. The calculation is based on the Ontario Consumer Price Index, a measure of inflation that is calculated by Statistics Canada.

The province has committed itself to making a push for affordable housing for Ontario tenants, amid what The Toronto Star reported as a crisis across the province, 4 days ago.

Here’s the kicker with all of this – the rental market vacancy rate is calculated by looking at apartments in buildings that are three units or larger, and does not include condos or homes for rent. Uncertainty in the national capital region’s public service job market is speculated to be lending itself to the rise in the rate. Some analysts also suggest the increase of condo rentals could be contributing to the high vacancy rate as well, as condo units compete with traditional apartments. Kind of hard to dispute this if you ask me. Condo landlords are offering tenants pretty nice amenities and brand new units. This is all kind of upping the game for landlords who enjoyed minimal efforts with marketing centrally located units that kind of leased themselves.

What do you think? Share your comments and thoughts.

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!

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.

Property Investment Project U.K.

Came across this gem of a find, in Property Investment Project. It’s a website/blog dedicated to all of the ups and downs associated with buying, renting (letting as they call it in the U.K.), and managing income real estate. Besides being one of the most informative resources I’ve come across, this is one of the funniest takes on being a landlord I’ve ever found. Seriously. Whether you’re in the U.S., Canada, or the U.K. – there’s stuff to be gleaned here that you can find useful, regardless of the country you’re in.

The website has a comprehensive list of everything you’re going to want to know if you’re a landlord in the U.K. Everything. Their landlord F.A.Q. is an gleefully exhaustive list of topics and frequently asked questions. The landlord guide is chock full of seriously valuable “how-to’s” on a wide range of things, like finding tenants, pets, and even evicting tenants.

The blog is what sold me on reading this all night last. I literally read the entries for a couple of hours. It’s the equivalent of a George Carlin stand up routine, and really puts a human face on the job of being a landlord. I touched on this in the kick off piece we posted on the blog back on December 11th. Being a landlord isn’t easy – really – it’s not.

I really feel that the misconception about being a landlord needs to change, regardless of what country you’re in, and it’s something we’re trying to do with Renting Well. For every assumption that landlords are rich, there’s a slick marketing campaign advertising “how to get rich in real estate”, with a couple on a beachfront somewhere, clearly retired from all of the multi families and duplexes they bought, who assure you that it’s easy to do it to through their beaming whitened smiles. This kind of drives me bananas. I snicker a bit when I watch a lot of these home improvement shows too. As much as I genuinely love them, sometimes I find they present having tenants in a bit of an inaccurate light. Yes, you can invest 50,000 bucks into having a basement ensuite that looks like it jumped out of a catalogue, and yes, you can have your tenants cover your mortgage ( or a large portion of it) – but there’s a whole lot more to it than that. There’s the job. The landlord job. It gives the goods – warts and all. Definitely worth a read – but to be taken with a grain of salt.

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.

Ottawa’s Residential Rental Vacancy Rate Climbs to 2.5%

A few days ago, Ottawa realtor Roch St. Georges sent this my way, courtesy of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. It’s the CMHC’s rental market report for 2012. The Ottawa Business Journal also had a nice little piece about it this morning that sums it up. Bottom line – the vacancy rate is up slightly. There’s a few factors at play here, like condos being snapped up by landlords, low interest rates, etc…but the vacancy rate is expected to drop next year.

Here’s a few choice bits from the report…

  • Ottawa’s residential vacancy rate edged in at 2.5 per cent for the year, up from 1.4 per cent a year earlier.
  • The average cost of renting a two-bedroom apartment also increased by two per cent. That’s lower, however, than the 2.3 per cent increase that took place in 2011.
  • An increase in the size of the rental inventory has played a role in the vacancy rate increase, as many of the new condominium units sprouting up across the city are being purchased by investors and rented out.
  • Nationally, Canada’s overall apartment vacancy rate has risen over the past year, with an increased supply of rental units and a slowdown in household formation by Canadians being cited among the reasons.

Read the article at the OBJ here: http://www.obj.ca/Real%20Estate/Residential/2012-12-13/article-3139634/Rental-vacancy-rate-climbs-to-25-CMHC/1

Read the CHMC report here: http://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/odpub/esub/64423/64423_2012_A01.pdf

The Crazy Awesome Landlord Form

Had this video sent to me recently and I’ve found myself watching it a few times. While not totally my style, it’s interesting to watch. The video is courtesy of J.P. Moses at REI Tips (Real Estate Investing Tips) in Memphis, Tennessee. They offer a variety of free real estate forms for landlords in the United States at Free REI Forms.

The video gives an overview of a form that he uses called “The Way Things Work“. You can watch the video here:

It’s a landlord declaration of sorts – a very clear one. He offers a discount rent program if the rent is paid on time as an incentive, while also indicating that there is a 10% penalty in the event that rent is not received by 6 p.m. on the first of the month. The Way Things Work also goes on to clarify other rules and expectations – specifically the emphasis on communication as an essential component of a positive relationship between landlord and tenant. Again, while not totally my style – it’s interesting, and there’s nothing preventing a Canadian landlord from adopting something like this as an addendum to any written lease.

Check it out and share. What do you think of this approach?