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QR Codes for Property Management

By Peter Lamandre, Better By Design Real Estate, Scranton, PA I was out and about this week and while on the interstate I pulled behind a contractor that had a QR code on the back of their tow trailer. While I applaud them for embracing an emerging technology, it occurred to me that that may not be the best application of a QR Code. Some of you are probably wondering, “What the heck is a QR Code?” QR code is an acronym meaning Quick Response code. It seems as though QR codes are the latest rage in advertising. But what are they? Without getting into the computer advantages of using QR codes versus standard bar codes; they are in essence a 2D bar code allowing you to pack a large amount of information in a small space. The QR code was invented by a subsidiary of Toyota in the mid 1990s for tracking parts during shipment. The format of the code allowed machines to quickly scan and track parts on a conveyor belt and route their destination accordingly. Fast forward 20+ years and with the proliferation of smartphones with cameras what was once a way to track machine parts is now the hottest new way to pack more advertising into smaller spaces. Would you rather see this… FOR RENT 3 BR, 1BA ½ double $xxx/mo plus utils call for details XYZ Management, Inc maybe with a picture, a phone number perhaps a website, etc. or A single image that when scanned......
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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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Strategies for Selecting an Effective Multifamily Utility Billing Services Provider

If you own or manage multifamily residential units--apartments, condominiums, student housing, affordable housing, manufactured homes, or military housing--you are probably involved in utility billing in some fashion.  Utility expenses for these types of properties can be substantial so most owners look for effective ways to manage these costs. The Master-Metered Complex Predicament It's common for multi-tenant commercial and multi-residential properties to be "master-metered."  Master-metered properties receive a single utility bill that includes consumption for several tenants.  The problem with master-metered properties is that there's no way to bill tenants for their actual usage. This has led owners to use different methods to divide utility bills so that they can recoup the tenants' share of the overall utility expense.  In fact, transitioning a multifamily complex from owner-paid utilities to tenant-paid utilities can be one of the fastest ways to boost net operating income (NOI). Utility billing is usually managed in two ways: Internally by owners and property managers Externally by a third party utility billing service provider. While some owners prefer to manage utility billing "in-house," billing providers have invested extensively in software tools and technologies to streamline the process so that it is efficient, affordable, and well-supported.  Multifamily utility billing is a task that can successfully be outsourced, saving property owners and managers significant time, effort, and money. Choose A Billing Provider Wisely As with any outsourced service, you'll want to pick a provider carefully.  Common industry problems include: Inaccurate and late resident bills Unresponsive customer service for residents and m......
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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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Welcome Spring to Your Property

Though it may not seem like it quite yet depending on where you live, believe it or not, we’re officially a couple of weeks into spring. Over the past two years, we’ve blogged about winterizing on an annual basis. As with the winter months, you’ll want to welcome the spring season with a bit of property maintenance and some minor adjustments (and repairs, if necessary). Happily, the transition from the cold months to the warmer ones tends to be far more simple than getting ready for winter. Throw open the windows. Welcome the sunshine by opening up those storm windows, which have been shut tightly during the winter months. When the storm windows go up, the screens should go on—make sure that screens are installed properly and are in good repair. While you’re working on the windows, check for rotting along the window sills and make any necessary repairs. Check air conditioning units. Before you know it, it will be time to kick the air conditioning into high gear. Take care of preparation work now by making sure all air conditioning systems (whether it’s central air or window air conditioning units) are serviced and ready to go so that when the first heat wave rolls around, you’re ready for it. A word about window air conditioning units—they can be a bit tricky to install properly (and safely). With this in mind, consider sending out a memo to let tenants know your maintenance team will take care of installations to avert over-anxious......
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Is Your Face Costing You Leases?

I often listen to a local radio show on the way to work.  Today, the host was talking about his recent trip to Europe and something called "face control".  This sparked one of those dangerous brainstorming sessions...you know the ones you come out of wondering how you got from point A to point B without crashing.  Then, because that wasn't bad enough, I called a good friend of mine for some input.  She had never heard the term either so I looked it up.  To my surprise, it wasn't at all related to any of my brainstorm tangents. From "feis kontrol", a Russian klub colloquialism of the English words "face control." Your "face" is your level of wealth, beauty, power, social standing, and overall desirability. - Urban Dictionary Deep right?  Here's how I see it... How does this apply to the multifamily industry, specifically your leasing office?  You might...no should be...familiar with the importance of body language and its effect on prospect buying tendencies.  So what about your face?  Could your facial expressions be losing you leases?  Are your facial expressions a violation of fair housing?  Very possibly yes. We have gut reactions to many things and people are no exception.  The way someone smells, the clothes they wear, piercings or tattoos they have, something they say or just their overall appearance can cause gut reactions - very visible ones at that.  This is not to say that you should become desensitized to appearance, but just gain control of your reactions.......
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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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