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Handling Repairs - The Right and Wrong Way

By Salvatore J. Friscia, San Diego Premier Property Management, San Diego, CA Having to make repairs to your rental property should not come as a surprise. For some reason most owners drop the ball when it comes to handling maintenance requests from their tenants. Some owners struggle to understand the importance of addressing repair issues in a timely fashion. They fail to realize how the lack of maintenance affects the condition of their property and ultimately the quality of tenants the property attracts. The owner, not realizing that every rental property regardless of age will have its fair share of plumbing leaks, electrical problems, water heater issues, and broken appliances will either let maintenance repairs linger or handle them in a poor fashion. Repairs should not to be confused with the normal upkeep such as cleaning, changing light bulbs or plunging a clogged toilet. These issues are the responsibility of the tenant. Repairs can be considered anything a licensed bonded contractor should take care of such as; plumbing, electrical, appliance repair, heating/cooling, flooring, & construction. These types of repairs are best left to the professionals and when handled appropriately, exhibit the owner’s willingness to resolve repair issues properly and in a timely fashion. In some cases a handyman can be useful and worth the small fee to resolve minor repairs. Now, if you normally handle repair issues yourself and have the knowledge and experience to do so then that becomes a judgment call, but most owners would rather sit back and......
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Worse than Drug Dealers?

By Colin McCarthy, J.D., Robinson & Wood, San Jose, CA What do you call 50,000 lawyers at the bottom of the sea? “A good start.” No doubt many of you have heard this joke or a variant. Well I am a lawyer and I am here to tell you that I am also a human being. I have a wife. I have three children. I have the same hopes and dreams for them and myself as you do for you and your family. These jokes are insensitive, unkind, and hurtful. What do you have when a lawyer is buried up to his neck in sand? “Not enough sand.” Hey! Now wait a minute. No one seems to like lawyers. Especially those who have done well for themselves. Entrepreneurs and business persons, who frequently excel in the world of business often lament the presence of lawyers. “Lawyers only take my hard-earned money,” is a common refrain. “Lawyers add no value, all they do is slow me down,” is another. Why does California have the most lawyers and New Jersey have the most toxic waste dumps? “New Jersey got to pick first.” Why I never. It is also true that not a lot of people like landlords and real estate developers. Ever hear the one about the tour group in Egypt? The tour guide is describing a crypt within a pyramid. “This crypt is over a 1000 years old. It has not been touched, altered or upgraded in any manner in those 1000......
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Minimizing the Cost of Vacancy

By Ben Holubecki, STML Realty Group, Glen Ellyn, IL As a professional property management company we have found that one of the most difficult concepts for rental property owners to grasp is the true cost of vacancy.  Investors who have been in the rental game for a while understand that in almost all cases the greatest expense they will experience over the life of their investment property will be the cost of vacancy due to lost rent and preparing the property between tenants.  100% of our managed properties have or will go through a vacancy and prep period.  Based upon our experience in managing this process literally thousands of times we provide the following advice to our property owners to help minimize the costs associated with turning around the property and to expedite the placement of a new tenant to begin collecting rental income again. Get started now.  The worst thing that can be done is to wait for any particular task to be completed before starting on the next.  The game plan should be in place the day the tenant vacates the property.  Vendors should be ready to come in and provide quotes, marketing efforts should be getting put into place, and a firm deadline for completion of the necessary clean-up/repairs should be determined. Get your utilities in order – Make sure your utility accounts are in order as soon as your tenant leaves.  Nothing is as frustrating as having the carpet cleaners or painters show up to an empty......
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Should I Allow Tenants to Make Unit Upgrades?

Every now and then, a tenant offers to make repairs to the unit he’s living in. Often, such offers are made in exchange for rent (in other words, the cost of the repairs is deducted from the monthly rental rate). In other instances, the tenant simply wants certain upgrades in his unit (a new paint job, removed carpet, etc.) and offers to do them himself. The argument for this is that the tenant can enjoy a place that “feels like home” and you reap the rewards of these upgrades once the tenant vacates the unit. Clearly, there can be benefits to this sort of situation: You receive property upgrades at a reduced (or negated) cost, and your tenant gets to customize the unit to his own preferences. Unfortunately, though, there can also be some pitfalls. All too often in these scenarios, tenants are not qualified to complete these upgrades or updates up to par. The result is unfinished or sub par work that ultimately becomes your responsibility to rectify. Not only this, but such deals can also result in sticky financial situations and—in extreme situations—legal problems. Let’s say that one of your long-time tenants wants to repaint his living room from the standard white all of your units are painted in to a more colorful rustic red. You agree that the color would suit the space well and tell your tenant can deduct the price of paint and labor from his next rent payment. When the first of the next month......
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A Quick Guide to Keeping Property Management Records

Keeping records on hand is important for a number of financial and legal reasons. Just because you’ve paid off an account or a tenant has vacated a unit, it doesn’t mean that you’ll never have cause to deal with these vendors or individuals again. Whether it’s for taxes, future loan applications, or legal issues down the line, you always want to be sure you have access to the information you need at any future point. Following are a few things to keep in mind about keeping records. What kind of records do I need to hang on to? As a business owner you will want to hang on to records that pertain to: Personnel Tenants Financial transactions (both payments received and payments made) Property-related information (both your properties and your clients) Insurance Legal documentation Audit documentation How long should I keep records for? The answer is: It depends. While the default answer for this question tends to be “seven years,” that is only the case in certain instances. Different types of records should be kept for different periods of time. Standard time periods include one year, three years, seven years, and, in some cases, permanently. As it relates specifically to property management, you will want to keep the following information for these specific periods of time: One Year Employee applications Purchase orders Meeting minutes Three Years Banking records Expired insurance policies Correspondence (with clients, tenants, real estate agencies, vendors, etc.) Internal audits Seven Years Accident reports/claims Accounts payable ledgers Accounts receivable......
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Using Smartphones for Property Management

As smartphones rapidly flood the market, businesses are increasingly looking for ways to bring their companies and processes mobile. Androids, iPhones, and Blackberries all allow users to perform a variety of processes straight from their mobile phones by incorporating functionality that was primarily limited to PCs just a few years ago. Though there is conflicting information out there regarding the degree to which smartphones have permeated the market (Nielson estimates that one out of every two Americans will own a smartphone by the end of 2011 while Forrester Research estimated that only 17 percent of Americans had smartphones in September 2010), there’s still no denying that mobile is the wave of the future. It’s important to at least begin thinking about how this technology will ultimately fit into your business plan. When it comes to apps, the sky’s the limit. You can build an app that will allow potential tenants to search your rental listings. Or, alternatively, you can build an app for tenants (this makes more sense for larger property management companies) to communicate with you, find information, file requests, or even make payments. According to BusinessInsider.com, when deciding to build an app, it’s important to consider three main questions: What is the key benefit I want users to get from using this app? What other apps exist that are competitive and why will mine be different? What is this app going to do for my business? For some ideas on how property managers are already using apps, be sure......
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Renovation vs. Rejuvenation

To generate more rental income, it’s sometimes necessary to put a little work into your property. If a potential renter is comparing your property to a similar, less expensive property, the renter will need to be able to easily identify those aspects (whether it’s aesthetics or features) that make your unit worth more than the competition’s. Depending on where you’re starting from and where you want to go, upgrades may consist of as little as some simple “rejuvenation” projects or, alternatively, some larger-scale renovations. Generally speaking, your bathroom and kitchen are two key areas that play a large role in making or breaking the value of your rental unit as compared to competitors’. All other factors being equal (such as size and location), chances are most renters will select the unit with a nicer looking or more upgraded bathroom or kitchen. Many renters will even be willing to pay a bit more if there is a noticeable difference or greater utility in one or both of these two rooms. In other words, these are the first places you should make improvements if you want to command additional rental income for your property. What does this mean exactly? Let’s take a look. Renovation There’s not really any way around it—complete renovation of a bathroom or kitchen (appliances, lighting, tiling, fixtures, etc.) will cost you a few thousand dollars. However, it will also likely pay off in the form of a higher rent rate. Consider a renter who is looking at your apartment......
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Staff Versus Software for Property Management

There’s no doubt about it—of all the business problems you could potentially have, being too busy is certainly not a bad option. However, being too busy can become a problem if you lack the bandwidth to stay on top of things. If you consistently find yourself putting off certain tasks or letting them fall through the cracks altogether, it’s time to make some changes. Being overloaded can result in a slip in the quality of the service you provide or oversights, both of which may guarantee you’re not so busy for long. The obvious answer to too much work is bringing more hands on deck. But, of course, just because you’re busy doesn’t necessarily mean you have the budget to hire additional employees. Property management software may give you the extra help you need at a lower cost than an additional salary. Multi-tasking Functionality One of the great benefits of property management software is that it essentially acts as an office generalist. For example, hiring extra staff to take care of accounting work may alleviate that workload, but that same person can’t necessarily take on other tasks such as advertising. Modern property management software, on the other hand, handles a diverse variety of functions. It does accounting, allows tenants to make rent payments online, provides an advertising platform, runs credit and criminal checks, creates reports, and keeps records. Cost-effective Investment Property management software requires only a nominal investment when compared to hiring new staff and adding an additional salary to your......
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Choosing the Right Business Entity for Your Property Management Business

The business entity you choose for your property management company will affect you in very real ways—especially when it comes to taxation and financial and legal liability. This is a big decision and one that you may want to make with the assistance of your accountant or attorney. Following are the four business entities most commonly used by property management companies and some basic information about each. Sole Proprietor The title of this business designation pretty much says it all—a sole proprietorship is a business owned by one individual. Unlike more complex options, sole proprietorships do not have to be legally registered with the state you do business in. Rather, a sole proprietorship’s existence is solely based on the fact that you’ve gone into business. In other words, it’s simple and free to set up. Sounds too easy, right? Well, there is a drawback. Because you are one and the same with your business, business gains and losses are filed on your personal tax forms and, most notably, you are liable for the business, both financially and legally. Partnership A partnership is much like a sole proprietorship, but it involves two or more owners. As with a sole proprietorship, no paperwork or registration is required—you are simply in business. Again, partners claim their share of business income on personal tax forms and are held liable for the business’ financial and legal claims. Limited Liability Company (LLC) LLCs are a bit more complex to set up than sole proprietorships or partnerships, with......
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5 Financial Ratios Every Property Manager Should Know

Whether numbers are your forte or not, there are certain ratios and calculations every property manager should understand. Following is a look at five key ratios that apply to your property management business, how to obtain them, and what they tell you. 1) Vacancy Rate Your vacancy rate demonstrates the number of units available or unoccupied versus the total number of units available for rent on a property. The lower your vacancy rates, the better. The formula for this is simple: Vacancy rate = Total number of unoccupied units in a property ÷ Total number of units in a property This total can then be converted into a percentage. While average vacancy rates vary from region to region, according to a January 2011 article on MHN Online, “[President of Axiometrics, Inc. Ron] Johnsey’s forecasts call for the average vacancy rate to drop in 2011 to 5.8 percent—a solid statistic considering apartment properties aim for vacancy rates of 5 percent for optimal rent increases.” Note that your occupancy ratecan be easily determined by subtracting your vacancy rate from 100 percent. For example, with a vacancy rate of 7 percent: 100% – 7% (vacancy rate) = 93% (occupancy rate)   2) Depreciation Depreciation helps you determine how much value your property has lost over time due to age and wear and tear. Depreciation is considered an expense and will come into play as a write-off when completing taxes. Note that depreciation is completed over a 27.5 year period and applies only to the actual building on the proper......
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