Wednesday, August 8, 2007

How to retain good tenants

Good tenants are easy to ignore – until they tell you they are moving out. Why are they leaving? Well, it might be because you ignored them. And when tenants plan to move, it's very, very difficult to get them to change their minds.

The reason you may ignore good tenants is that you spend so much time working on your not-so-good ones; cajoling them to clean up their acts or planning to evict them. When you are always on the phone with Average or Bad tenants A, B, and C, you quickly start thinking of Good tenant D as simply a check that comes in the mail, on time every month, like clockwork. They always say it is the squeaky wheel that gets the oil and unfortunately it’s the same with renters But your good tenants are much more than that. They are human beings who:

� Understand that they are paying good money, and expect good service in return

� Notice when their building seems to be going downhill

� Recognize when they are being B.S.ed or treated disrespectfully or dismissively

On the other hand, YOU may not recognize these feelings in your good tenants, simply because they may be reluctant to share them. The complaints are more likely to come from your poorer tenants, and you may be more likely to dismiss them as a result. The good tenants are more likely to suffer in silence, before deciding to move on.

It's vitally important that you retain your good tenants, not only because they make your landlording more pleasant, but because they are so hard to replace. Once that unit is vacant, you may not re-rent it for months, and you have no idea how the next tenant will turn out. He could be just bad enough to make your life really difficult, or so bad that he only lasts for a month or two before eviction.

Since your good tenants are less likely to contact you, you have to stay in touch with them. Try to get a read on their feelings by calling or emailing at least once a month. Here's a short checklist of questions:

� Does anything need repairs in the unit?

� Are you noticing any maintenance issues in common areas?

� Do you have any suggestions for me?

� How are your neighbors?

Not only have you learned how satisfied your good tenants feel, you've made them feel important and wanted. Now you need to follow up by addressing their concerns, if any, sincerely and quickly. Bear in mind as you do so that you can't get into trouble for being nicer to your good tenants than your bad ones. If a good tenant's got a maintenance issue, generally make it your first priority – the only more important issues will relate to safety or potential for very serious problems, such as fire or water damage hazards. If a good tenant's got a beef with a neighbor, get all the facts and deal with it right away – making sure you get the neighbor's side of the story before making a judgment. If a good and bad tenant are having a dispute, and neither is clearly in the right, it's okay to side with the good tenant. The old adage remember which side your bread is buttered on rings true here.

While you're at it, ask your good tenants if they're thinking about moving. Yes, that's pretty blunt. But it's the only way you'll ever find out if a tenant is planning to move before he or she actually signs a lease for another unit. Once they sign that lease, they're gone – and no amount of cajoling is going to get them back.

If a tenant IS planning to move, ask why and press (nicely!) until you get an answer. Hopefully their decision will be based on a problem you can fix. The unit feels kind of old and grimy? Offer to repaint it. It's too hot in the summer? Get them an air conditioner. It's too small? Maybe you have a larger unit vacant, even if it's in another building – and you'll help them move for free. A very cheap,guarantee,of occupancy and timely rents

Some of these fixes run into some serious money. You need to compare them to the cost of finding a new tenant. That is a certain amount of lost income, plus the cost of marketing the unit, plus any necessary renovations to make it re-rentable. If the unit needs paint anyway, then painting it to motivate a good tenant to stay is much better than painting to get a new tenant. If the money looks REALLY serious, ask them to sign a new lease. Point out that they would have to if they moved to a different building anyway.

You should also make sure your tenant recognizes the cost and aggravation of moving.Yes moving is expensive ,Don’t you agree? They'll have to rent a truck, buy or steal boxes, pack everything, arrange for new utilities, physically transport the stuff, and change addresses for all of their mail. Why should they do all that when you can offer them what they want with much less hassle?

On the other hand, they might be moving for reasons you can't control, maybe because they're getting married or taking a new job in a different city or buying a house. Thank the tenant for being a great tenant, and ask if they know anyone else who might be interested in renting the unit.

You have to be committed to keeping your good tenants happy. That doesn't include letting them break rules or pay rent late. Instead, look for little things you can do to be helpful. For example, when tenants move out, they often leave behind one or two objects of some value; bookshelves, portable fans, and so on. I offer these to my remaining good tenants. I also send Christmas cards each year with a gift card to a local coffee shop in each. It's definitely worth $5 to make a good tenant happy.

While you're at it, invest in a few emergency items you can have available for tenants if they need them. Get a couple of electric space heaters (for use if the heating system breaks) and big coolers (if there's a power failure). Now if you get a call about a heating problem or power failure, you can offer some quick relief until the issue is resolved.

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