Tag Archive for: landlord

Covid-19 for Landlords: Property Management in the 2020 Corona Virus Crisis

Why Corona Virus Doesn’t Have to Rhyme with Rental Crisis

If you haven’t read the Spencer Johnson’s famous book Who Moved My Cheese, now may be a good time. It’s short. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

Go read it and then come back here 🙂

In one line, Johnson’s point is this. We have a tendency to become over-reliant on using the same strategies for getting our “cheese” (whatever that might mean, metaphorically, think gangtser rap $$$$). When someone or something moves our “cheese”, we panic, become angry, depressed, despondent, hungry, stressed, confused, you name it! When the most effective reaction might be to zoom out (using ZOOM right now maybe), and reconsider our habits in light of new circumstances.

I invite landlords, real estate professionals or anyone else, to zoom out and consider what might be happening to our cheese.

 

The New Normal

Situations in Quebec and across the globe are evolving rapidly. Depending on what sources you listen to – the IMF, our politicians, economists proclaiming the start of the next Great Depression – it’s hard to know which way the economic ball is going to bounce. Will Canada be insulated by early curve-flattening and smart financial stimulus packages, or are we really the tip of the tail of a very large macro-economic dog?

There is no shortage of opinions, and so it’s hard to come up with mental- and economic models that can guide our behavior.

This is perhaps the biggest challenge right now. We have no proper models on which to base our decisions.

 

Mindful Landlording Right Now

If there’s a lot of uncertainty around, let’s look at some of the things we do know. Perhaps if we focus on concrete, local and immediate problems (where is my cheese today), we can navigate our way, and make sure that at least we remain poised for the next few months.

That’s what I tried to do in this interview with the Real Estate Investor’s Club last week. My goal was to offer some concrete and practical ways of addressing the current situation with respect to issue that face landlords, property managers and investors right now.

 

Concrete Problems, Concrete Solutions: Covid-19 for Landlords

So, what are some of the issues landlords and Real Estate Investors are facing right now?

Rent Payment

Lay-offs, confinement, and business closures have posed serious financial problems for many residential tenants, many of who live paycheck-to-paycheck. In April, around 25% of the residential- and commercial tenants managed by my agency reached out to discuss some kind of rent relief.

Our approach was the following:

  • First, to sympathize (in the case where the tenant has always been responsible with payment in the past) and to turn things around. Many tenants called in asking: “What is your policy for rent this month?” To this, we answered : “How would you like to pay your rent this month…?” What resulted, in all but 5% of cases, were payment plans. Many tenants are now receiving government assistance. If a large lump-sum up front is difficult, we allowed them to design their own payment plans (paying by the week for example, instead of monthly), with the proviso that the total rent due needs to be in before the 21st (the magical Regie non-payment date). With this strategy, we’ve reduced out default rate to about 8%, when pre-crisis we were at 5%.

Help ! The Regie du Logement is Closed

Closure of the Regie and a halt to evictions, while understandable, has been trumpeted from the rooftops very loudly by both our provincial and federal politicians (thanks Justin and Francois!). This is a serious problem, because effectively there is no more stick with which to create consequences for non-payments, even as we may have doubts about whether tenants are using the crisis as an excuse.

What to do?

  •  For those tenants who have not reached out to make payment plans, we’re on a “business as usual” policy. The rental board might have halted hearings and evictions, but the Regie’s online services to open non-payment files are working. So are the bailiffs, so is Canada Post, and so are the email services that allow you to serve official notices. (Ever hear of Pronotif ? It’s an online service that allows you to serve notice by email). In effect, we’ve explained to our defaulting tenants that they’re just delaying the inevitable. When the rental board does reopen, judges (I predict) will not look kindly on those who simply stopped paying their rent with no explanations, and who refused to open a dialogue with their landlords.
  • Consequences, I predict, will be delayed rather than erased. Unless banks and the federal and provincials governments begin talking about mortgage forgiveness instead of delays, I don’t see how missing rent will simply be “forgiven” as we return to whatever the new normal becomes.

What About July 1st?

In Quebec, we have a fairly serious up-coming issue. The Guardian estimates that about 10% of Montrealers move every July 1st. (The rate is still high, but probably not quite as high in the rest of the province). In April, landlords and property managers in the province are usually renting their soon-to-be-vacant units, just as tenants are out visiting looking for their new homes. The covid crisis has thrown a serious wrench into things. Tenants (rightly) are leary of allowing strangers into their homes. The Real Estate Board (OACIQ) has officially ordered brokers to halt visits. Do rental visits constitute an essential service? Francois Legault has decided for the moment that no, they don’t.

What to do?

  • First, we contacted our non-renewing tenants to propose they extend their leases until September 1st. Basically, this takes the pressure off. We don’t have to show units and they don’t have to visit. Problem displaced if not solved.
  • Some landlords have begun renting with virtual visits. Personally I don’t like doing this. I’ve had problems with a high percentage (over 50%) of units rented this way in the past. Our agency has rented to international students and arriving immigrants based on Skype visits before. Very often, something about the unit displeases them very quickly and they agitate to break their leases.
  • Wait. For now, there may not be a need to panic. As our politicians eye re-opening segments of the economy in the coming weeks, we will have to see what edicts will come down for the 10% of Quebeccers who usually move in July. My guess is that Legault and co. are waiting to see if we can all go back to business as usual in the next month, which would moot the issue of freezing all moves in July.

Imperfect Action is Better than Perfect Inaction

So said Harry Truman. I’m inclined to agree. As time moves on, those who will weather this storm best are those who will act.  Better to be pro-active about where the cheese is now, rather than sitting around like a doe in the headlights watching the news.

My advice: read about past financial crises. Understand the dynamics of pandemics (click the link to see my favorite book on the topic, Spillover). Learn about past Real Estate- and stock cycles. Plan your actions carefully as a function of the data you have now. No one will make 100% perfect decisions at the moment. There is still too much we don’t know, and our mental- and economic models need to catch up. This will take time and more data.

A crisis is no time for perfectionism. It is time for considered action.

It is time to be our best selves right now, on a dark and uncertain day, because the day is dark and uncertain.

How to Avoid Problem Tenants: Have a Good Apartment Screening Process

Good tenants are the best way to protect your investment! Choose wisely

Picking good tenants is almost as important as getting a good deal on a building. Quality tenants will help keep your rental building profitable. They protect your investment and determine the quality of your life as a landlord. All the more reason to choose carefully!

Here are some best practices for stream-lining your tenant selection process.

Without a doubt, the most common question I get asked from students and newbie investors is: “How do I deal with problem-tenants?”

It’s a question I usually answer with a question.

The real conundrum should be: “Why did you rent to problem tenants?”

To avoid renting to problem-people, you need a steam-lined and thorough tenant screening. Your tenants determine the quality of your life as a landlord. So listen carefully! And don’t leave things to chance. This article is the first in a series of 4 that will show you how to run an effective tenant-selection operation.

Advertise in the Right Place

The best way to set up a winning tenant-selection process is to have the biggest possible pool of candidates to choose from. You do this with effective advertising. Onlineis the way to go these days. Forget about newspaper Ads!

Pick the Right Platform

The first thing to do is to determine which platform works best in your area. In Montreal, we use www.kijiji.ca : 98% of our rental are concluded this way. Other platforms  are Craigslist (which also attracts a lot of scammers) and MLS (www.realtor.com). Usually we only use them because a client asks us to. They’re anyway redundant with kijiji.ca in our area.

For MLS, you need an agent to list a property. A professional rental service will cost you one-month’s rent, so you may want to think twice before doing this. In my experience, MLS works best for unique- or very high-end properties.

Facebook posts can yield some leads, but in my experience not very good ones.

A good way to test which platform works is to ask a few people who’ve recently been in the rental market. They’ll know which platforms yield the best results.

Market Your Unit Properly

Unit marketing basics are: awesome photos, the right price, and a clear, truthful description. These are the keys to effective online marketing for rental units. They’re also really straight-forward.

Photos

My advice on photos: pay the 100$ it costs to get a professional to photograph the unit when it is clean and presentable. These photos will serve as a marketing tool for the next 5 to 10 years. They can also easily add 50$-100$ on the value of the rent you can demand. In our high-traffic, saturated media environment, you really can’t attract decent attention without awesome pics.

Price

Rent is a very price-sensitive. 50$ up or down can make an huge difference. Most tenants shop on a budget.

A tip: start your advertising early. This lets you be optimistic and a bit greedy 🙂 Always post a higher rent amount that you think your unit is worth. If after a week or two you’re not satisfied with the number of responses, lower the price. It’s the best way to make sure you’re not leaving money on the table.

Another tip: if your unit isn’t renting, consider dropping the price by 50$-100$. When you weigh the alternatives with your calculator: major renovations, or having the unit empty for a month, you’ll see how cost-effective it is to adjust your rent downwards. (50$ x 12 months = 600$). Depending on your unit price, dropping the rent by 50$ will probably make more sense than having the unit empty.

Phone Screening Script

Don’t waste time on useless visits. Don’t get into silly conflicts or interminable discussions with bad candidates.

I don’t get off my ass to open a unit unless I’m convinced the people can:

  1. afford the place
  2. speak to me in a courteous and efficient way
  3. tell me a coherent story about who they are and why they want to rent the place

I don’t want to waste my time running back and forth to open doors. And – perhaps more importantly – I don’t want to have fights when I refuse unqualified potential tenants because I let them see a place they fell in love with.

The gate-keeper to useless door-opening is a good phone-screening script. You want to find out:

  • who will live in the unit (how many people | are all adults on the lease) ? is the number of occupants appropriate to the size of the place ?)
  • do they have good credit ? a history at the rental board ? references from a previous landlord ?
  • what type of income do they have (does everyone work? | are Mum & Dad paying the rent? | are they on social assistance?)
  • why are they moving (relocation | divorce | new baby | unhappy with their last place) ?

If any of these answers make you uncomfortable, take down their number and tell them you’ll return a call at a later time. In my experience, it’s a better alternative than the shouting match that can ensure from refusing an application live on the phone 🙂

Set Up A Winning Visit

Sounds self-evident, right? Here are a few things to watch out for. When you’re planning on showing a unit, be aware of what things can turn candidates off a place.

  • bad smells (buy a candle | show up 5 minutes early and open the windows)
  • messy tenants (schedule visits with lots of notice & explain to the tenants that the faster they clean up, the faster you’ll stop your visits)
  • existing tenants who’ve caused problems and who may run off their mouths to new candidates (plan visits when the tenants are not home)
  • big dogs (some people don’t like dogs & they can have a bad visiting experience if one lives in the unit. Ask the tenants to go for a walk while you show the place)

Have a Thorough Application Form

Do

  • request social insurance number & bank account info; if the tenant defaults, you won’t have to hire a detective to get this info
  • get a signed authorization to run a credit check
  • request contact info of the previous landlord
  • ask for a guarantor if the candidate has questionable credit, is from out of town, or doesn’t pay the rent him/herself
  • request employment information
  • take a small deposit while you do your background check. (You can deduct this from the first rent cheque, or else refund it if you refuse). A small amount of money makes the candidates more likely to commit and not waste your time running a check while they decide to rent elsewhere.

Do check all these points thoroughly!! Don’t forgo a credit check because it’s costly or complicated to obtain one. In my experience, credit history is the single best predictor of what kind of person you’re dealing with.

Don’t

  • let the candidates leave out information
  • not give you the deposit
  • get away with anything you wouldn’t want to accept later on in your relationship; the application process is your time to set the tone

Trust Your Gut

As a candidate jumps through different hoops and you have multiple interactions, pay attention to what your gut says.

  • Are your requests handled in a courteous and timely manner?
  • Is this the kind of person you want to deal with regularly for the next few years?
  • Do they quickly return phone calls or force you to make multiple requests for simple things?

Your tenants are your quality of life. If there are behavioral red-flags at the beginning, think twice. Do you really want someone harassing you every 5 minutes with silly requests? Not returning your calls when you have urgent requests? Being unpleasant or incoherent on the phone?

A final word: tenant selection is like dating. If it’s complicated from the start, maybe it’s not meant to be 🙂

Can I Check My Credit Score Without Hurting It? Yes, But….

Not All Credit Checks Are Created Equal! Protect Your Credit Score

Here’s How to Check Your Credit Without Hurting It

Did you know that too many credit checks can lower your overall credit score? If you’re applying for a phone, a mortgage or an apartment, there are a few things you can do to protect your credit in the process.

Hard & Soft Credit Checks

The first thing to understand is that not all credit checks are created equal. There are “hard” and “soft” credit checks. A “hard” credit check affects your score negatively, docking somewhere around 5 points from your overall score (with Equifax, for example). The more “hard” credit checks you do in a small time-window, the bigger the amount of penalty points. The idea is that someone who does lots of credit applications in a short time is desperate for credit. As a result, you are penalized for too many hits to your credit in a short time. The credit rating agencies do not care that you may be shopping around for a mortgage. Because they don’t take this into consideration, you need to avoid to many “hard” hits to your credit score.

“Soft” credit checks, on the other hand, do not affect your score.

How can you know the difference?

Most third-party credit checks are “hard”. This means, when a landlord pulls your credit it will affect your score. Same thing for a credit card-, cellphone-, or mortgage application. If you sign a consent form for a third-party to check your credit, most likely it will have a negative impact on your score.

Some third-party systems are able to do “soft” credit checks, but the information provided in these checks is less thorough. This is why most companies prefer “hard” checks. Also, most lenders, landlords and phone company employees have no idea how the credit checking system actually works. They simply don’t know what their checking up on you is having a negative effect on your rating.

So, how can you be sure what type of check is being run?

How Can You Protect Yourself & Your Credit?

  • Make sure you ask the third-party to provide some kind of documentation or guarantee as to what type of check they’re running (hard or soft). If they’re running a hard check, they should be able to tell you how many points you’ll lose as a result.
  • If you’re shopping around for a mortgage, loan or apartment, make sure you get the landlord, banker or broker to tell you at what point they will hit your credit. Lenders can give you a quote without running a credit check. As you’re shopping around, make sure you do comparison shopping without a credit hit each time.
  • Check your own credit and disclose it to the interested party. In Canada, a person is allowed to check their own credit without affecting their overall score. TransUnion and Equifax are the two credit rating agencies and they will provide you access to your own credit report for a fee. This helps when you want to check your credit rating for your own information. Most lenders, however, won’t accept a report you pulled yourself. (Photoshop anyone?)
  • This is where third-party sites like http://www.backcheck.net come it. They allow a prospective tenant to request (and pay for) their own credit report, and then share it with a landlord. See the subtlety here? You’re requesting your score, so there’s no negative impact. The great thing about this is that both parties benefit: the landlord gets a third-part copy of your credit report (and so doesn’t have to worry that you doctored it with Photoshop), and you get to protect your score. The downside: it’ll cost you about 70$.

Landlords, Brokers & Investors

Landlords, as a courtesy to your tenants, make sure you know what kind of credit check you’re running and inform the applicant. At my firm, we now give our tenants a choice of which type of check they want. We can run our standard “hard” check for free as part of our application process.

If the tenant wishes to use a “soft” check instead, we refer them to http://www.backcheck.net/tenant-screening/residential/tenant-share.html and require them to assume the cost. Third-party sites like www.backcheck.net are available across the US and Canada. All a landlord needs to do is fill in his or her email, and then send the application to the prospective tenant. He or she then receives a copy of the report in their email inbox.

Tenants & Borrowers

Be warned: lenders and landlords are pretty ignorant about the kinds of credit checks they run.

I was! This issue came to my attention because an investor-client of mine did too many simultaneous mortgage applications and almost wasn’t able to qualify for financing because his credit score tanked! I did some research to understand how credit checking works and figured out how to help others avoid this situation in the future.

As a result, my property management company started offering a third-party “soft” credit check option very recently. Just because a lender or a landlord is a professional, doesn’t mean they understand the ins and outs of the credit checks they are running!

So, investor, tenant and buyer: as you go through various application processes, make sure whoever is handling your credit knows what they are doing. If they sound shaky, refer them to this article 🙂

Maybe they’ll learn something!