When do you begin showing a property?

We just had a situation where we leased up a unit but were not involved at all with the turnover.  The unit had been picked up at a foreclosure auction, so you had to assume things were “not as they should be”.   The owner (who is a relatively new landlord) got one of his own guys to do the turn but didn’t inspect it himself.

Sure enough, the tenant moved in to a unit that was not ready to be moved into!  Unhappy camper.  Not the best way to start off, that is for sure.  Now we are throwing resources at the situation to limit the damage, restore our credibility as a good property management company, and (most importantly) get our tenant’s unit into great shape!!  We could have (and should have!) had our leasing agent report the situation immediately.  Our leasing agent had show it several times, but he did report that the unit wasn’t up to our standards. (We are making the adjustment within our company to prevent future occurrences!  This is our take-away.)

Our goal is to not show any property until it is in move-in condition.  That is particularly true with vacant units (such as the instance above), and a little harder to accomplish with occupied units.  We find that when a unit hits the market for the first time, that the good tenants are often the ones who have been waiting on the sidelines looking at ads for a week or two waiting for that right unit to show up.  It is incumbent upon us as property managers or landlords to present that unit to the prospects in its best possible light, and that means having it in move-in condition.  Of course, there are always lots of exceptions to this goal, particularly with occupied units, but that is at least what we are striving to achieve.

The flip side to this, of course, is the desire to show the property as early as possible to get it re-rented and reduce vacancy time.  The problem with this strategy is you can burn through your best prospects by showing them a dirty unit.  Even though most prospects will say “Oh sure, I can see past all of the filth.” the reality is that they cannot.  By the time you have it in show condition, you’ve burned through the patient prospects and now you have to wait for a new prospect to come along.  You might as well have waited and done it right the first time.

I know as a private landlord I struggled with this timing dilemma.  But as a property manager it is obvious which strategy is the preferred.

The Fake “Landlord”

This has happened to me twice already — at least I have caught it twice.  It may have happened more than that and I didn’t catch it.

The applicant for a property lists a friend or associate as their current landlord and the friend/associate gives a glowing verification of rent!

The first time was the most remarkable.

I was showing this 4-bedroom house to a couple with no kids.  They showed up in a Lexus dressed to the nines.  They were deacons in their church.  I was salivating over the prospect of this ‘perfect’ couple renting our house.  As perfect as this couple was, something just didn’t feel right.  I couldn’t put my finger on it.  It was just a gut feeling.

They made application and we ran the screen.  Check, check.  All I need to do now is verify their rental references and this baby is locked up!

I called their landlord who I immediately noted was of the same ethnicity as the applicants.  No problem.  So noted.  I spent about 10 minutes on the phone asking, and receiving, all of the vital information to confirm these were great tenants.  At the end of the conversation I asked 2 simple questions — “How much was the rent?” and “Does it include utilities?”

The ‘landlord’ stumbled over both of these questions and as I hung up the phone I thought it was odd that after being in the file mentally for 10 minutes that she would stumble like that.  So I decided it wouldn’t hurt to make just one more phone call.

I looked up the owners of the property and called them.  I introduced myself to them and told them why I was calling.  The first words out of their mouth was “You’ll need to talk to our lawyer about this!”

From that point on the whole file crumbled!  The applicants were in the middle of an eviction and would not leave the house.  They owed a ton of money.  On and on the story went.

Needless to say, they didn’t get our house either.  In fact, I called them back and told them they had a lot of gall calling themselves deacons in a church.  I chastised them as only a good Christian can and sent them on their way to b.s. another landlord.

Not on my watch!!!

You can check out our rental criteria — gleaned from experiences like the one above — at Full Service PM Tenant Screening Criteria.

You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family!

We got a call from a gal on the East Coast a couple of weeks ago.  Seems she inherited a Federal Way, WA house from her father about a year ago.  Her sister had lived in the house rent free for 30 years!!  The father and our client dumped about $75,000 into this house for upgrades.  Remember, this is all being done from 3,000 miles away.  The deal was that the sister would fix up the house in exchange for rent.

That works IF the sister is fixing up the house!  But if the sister is living off the money, well, you get the picture.  All that $75,000 got our client was a laminate floor.  The rest of the house is trashed — a combination of unfinished projects and 30 years of pack ratting.  It is gross.  It will take us another $75,000 just to clean it up and fix it up the way it was supposed to be.

To make matters worse, the sister moved out and her daughter (the niece) moved in.  There is no lease.  There is no agreement.  Nothing.  We were tasked with first getting the squatting niece out of there before tackling the remodel.

So we put together a 1-page lease saying we are going to start collecting rent in 30 days.  We were going to post it on her door except the niece answered the door and so we handed it to her.  She said she would go quietly and could we give her 2 weeks.  We granted her the 2 weeks and are keeping our fingers crossed that she isn’t playing us.  I don’t think she is.  I’ve been at this awhile and have a pretty good feel for when I am getting lied to.  This isn’t one of them.

This story underscores why we decided we would inspect every one of the properties we manage once a year.  Here’s a description of our Construction & Maintenance Services.  That way we can keep tabs on stuff just like this — maybe save an owner a few tens of thousands!!