Category: Uncategorized

Celebrate The Tenant (VIDEO)


Spencer Sutton - Friday, January 8, 2016

In this week’s Periscope broadcast, we discuss our 2016 initiative called ‘Celebrate the Tenant’ and the positive impact we expect to see with our tenants and our owners. Watch the video and share your thoughts!

Celebrate the Tenant





Well…we’ve taken to Periscope (an Android and Apple app) to share our insights, challenges, and lessons learned from managing 1,100 houses. Periscope allows us to shoot live video (completely unedi…

The 5 Most Common Questions Owners Ask Us


Spencer Sutton - Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Choice and decisions: businessman thinking with question marks written on adhesive notes stuck to a brick wall

At gkhouses we have the pleasure of working with two types of owners:

  1. Homeowners who want to rent their personal house
  2. Investors who either have or are building a portfolio of rental houses

Birmingham is a unique market in that there are a lot of opportunities for investors interested in low, middle and high income houses. This coupled with a solid local economy are reasons investors from around the globe have targeted Birmingham as a solid investment opportunity.

As you might imagine, no matter if you’re a homeowner looking to rent your house or an investor familiar with purchasing and renting property, there are common questions we hear owners asking when looking for a professional property manager….you might call them FAQ’s.

nick_blog_shot_2

At gkhouses we have someone who is responsible for all of our new owner calls or web inquiries…his name is Nick Goudreau. I asked Nick to talk about the five most common questions owners ask when we speak with them on the phone. So, here we go!

 

 

 

 

    1. How much do you think I can charge for rent?

With mortgages, insurance premiums, and taxes in mind, the biggest worry for a homeowner who has never rented a house before is how much they will get for rent. Some owners believe all they need to do is add up expenses plus tack a little extra for profit and…presto…there’s your asking rent.

As Lee Corso says on Football Saturdays – Not So Fast, My Friend!

It’s extremely important find your true market rate in order to minimize any losses while marketing your home for a tenant.

So how do we find that market rent?

As previously stated in a more detailed blog post on market rent, there are three great ways to help find a market rent value for your home.

  1. First, we’d suggest taking a look at either Zillow.com or Trulia.com. Both sites can provide an excellent starting point and will also be referenced by tenants when looking for a home to rent. However, from our experience, some of the rental rates these sites give you can be a little bit inflated.
  2. Secondly, search local property manager sites for comparable homes in the area.
  3. Lastly, check your neighborhood for other homes for rent and inquire about their rental rate.

Each of these options should provide your with a good idea of a fair market value and a price point that will help you find a good tenant quickly.

What we’ve come to find out is that if you market your home and you’re not receiving a fair amount of calls or applications, there is either a price or a product issue.

Your house could be overpriced and no calls or applications is the market’s way of telling you you’re not in the ballpark with your price.

Or if you’re getting some interested parties come look at your house but not a lot of applications, it’s possibly a problem with your house (the product).

    2. What happens if the tenant tears up my house?

Even when a homeowner is moving out and deciding to rent their home, they may have raised kids in their home or had other great memories from their time living there. The last thing they want is for a tenant to cause damage to their home. So, what happens if they do?

Of course, the first line of defense is the security deposit. When a tenant signs a lease with gkhouses, we collect a security deposit up front equal to one month’s rent and hold it in an escrow account until the tenant’s lease is up or terminated.

Upon tenant move-out, a property manager will visit the home and perform a move-out inspection. During this inspection, he is looking for any damages caused throughout the tenants stay and deeming what are tenant related damages (which would be paid to repair out of the security deposit we still hold) and what is considered general wear and tear (which the owner can decide if work needs to be done before another tenant moves in).

Once he’s finished this report, it’s then handed off to our maintenance team to give an estimate on the repairs. Any tenant related damage is then deducted from the security deposit and passed onto the owner to pay for the repairs. Sometimes, the damages to the home are more costly than the initial security deposit.

In this case, gkhouses will charge the tenant for any additional damage upon move out and if left unpaid will ultimately be passed off to a collections agency.

Here’s a copy of a recent move-out inspection so you can see what one of our owner’s receives when a tenant moves out.

    3. Can I have a say in who rents my home?

The short answer is no.

It’s left up to the owner to decide whether or not to allow pets in the home, but Fair Housing Laws do not allow owners or property managers to take any of the following actions based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or handicap:

  • Refuse to rent or sell housing
  • Refuse to negotiate for housing
  • Make housing unavailable
  • Deny a dwelling
  • Set different terms, conditions or privileges for sale or rental of a dwelling
  • Provide different housing services or facilities
  • Falsely deny that housing is available for inspection, sale, or rental
  • For profit, persuade owners to sell or rent (blockbusting) or
  • Deny anyone access to or membership in a facility or service (such as a multiple listing service) related to the sale or rental of housing.

One of the most common request from a homeowner is that we only rent their home to a family.

Of course this is something we cannot do, not only can we not discriminate against people based their familial status, but we cannot ask whether they are married or have children!

Fair housing laws are a serious issue and we have a zero tolerance policy here at gkhouses. If you should accidentally break one of these laws, you could land yourself in a messy lawsuit.

For your safety, either strictly adhere to these regulations or let a professional property manager handle finding a tenant and the tenant screening process for your home.

    4. How do you make sure you collect rent?

Collecting rent can sometimes be one of the tough parts of managing properties. With that being said, gkhouses has around a 98% collections rate on tenants we place in homes (as of 12/31/15). Our successful collections rate is very dependent on our thorough tenant screening process and our disciplined collections process.

When we first started in business with our own rental properties, collecting rent was not a fun task…especially if the tenant was behind. And that’s typically the only time when a tenant heard from us…when they owed us money.

And the only time we usually heard from a tenant was when they had a maintenance problem.

This created a tension where neither one of us really wanted to talk to the other….and in this business, that’s not good!

In order to defuse this tension we started sending tenants monthly invoices like we all get for bills that are coming due. This helped tremendously.

We also began maintaining an open dialogue with each tenant about the rent they owed when it became past due. This includes emails and phone calls.

We understand that life happens sometimes and a tenant may either be late or miss a month of rent, but we expect them to communicate these issues with us and begin discussing a payment plan with us.

If tenants ever stop communicating with us or cooperating, our collections process heats up. Here’s our collections process in a simple infographic so you can understand how it works.

As you can see, we give tenants multiple opportunities to work out a payment plan with us before moving them to the next “bucket” and ultimately posting eviction.

    5. How does maintenance work?

Portrait of male plumber fixing a sink in bathroom

Maintenance is always one of a homeowner’s biggest worries.

While living in the home, it’s easy for the homeowner to notice what needs to be fixed and either fix it yourself or hire someone to do it…or like a lot of homeowners do, just put it off!

It’s different when dealing with a tenant. When they notice something that needs to be repaired, they won’t hesitate to call that request into the office. And that’s ok…we want tenants to have a safe, secure, and well cared for home.

We rely on these tenants along with our quarterly inspections to let us know when the house needs repairs.

The process works like this:

  • Tenant notices something is wrong in the house (let’s say there’s a leak under one of the sinks)
  • The tenant will either call us or fill out an online form to inform us of the problem.
  • One of our technicians will go out and assess the situation.
  • If it’s a repair that can be made for less than $300, they will take care of it on the spot
  • If it’s a repair that will exceed $300, they will let our Operations department know and deliver an estimate to the homeowner
  • The homeowner can either choose to have gkhouses make the necessary repairs or they can find a contractor on their own.

Either way, the important thing to remember is that the tenant has identified this as an issue and the sooner it’s taken care of, the better this ongoing relationship will be!

Our maintenance team is made up of skilled professionals like plumbers, electricians, HVAC technicians, and general handymen. A majority of our owners enjoy the peace of mind knowing our licensed and insured technicians are working on their home…and not what we call ‘Chuck in a truck”.

Here at gkhouses, we require that our owners carry a maintenance reserve fund of $100 per property or $500 per entity/owner, whichever is greater. This fund is used for any small maintenance repairs that come up during the year while the tenant is in the home.

Ultimately, our goal is to provide quality and attentive service to our owners and tenants in a quick and responsive manner. If our tenants and owners are happy, we’re happy.

If you’re a homeowner and have questions outside of these five, feel free to reach out to Nick at [email protected] and he’ll be happy to answer them for you! As a matter of fact, he’s the one that wrote most of this post today!

And don’t forget that you can always check list of FAQ’s.

Year End Message


Matthew Whitaker - Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Thank You on the blackboard with chalk writing.

We wanted to take some time just to say ‘Thank You’ for a great 2015. We understand that in the world of rental real estate not everything goes according to plan.

  • Things break and need to be fixed
  • Rooms need to be painted
  • Roofs need TLC
  • Tenants move out
  • Finding qualified tenants take longer than expected

Really…the list could go on.
It’s not always an easy business but from our perspective we believe that we have THE BEST OWNERS in the world…literally…some of you live halfway around the world.

  • Thank you for trusting us with your rental property.
  • Thank you for allowing us to care for your tenants.
  • Thank you for your business and loyalty.

We wanted to share a video that Matthew Whitaker made specifically for you.

 

End of the Year ‘Thank You’ from Matthew Whitaker





We wanted to take some time just to say ‘Thank You’ for a great 2015 and what to expect moving into 2016.

Warning: These Rookie Mistakes Can Cost You Bigtime [VIDEO]


Spencer Sutton - Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A sign written Big Mistake on red wood.

If you’ve invested in real estate long enough you’ve probably made some mistakes that cost money.
Real money.

Or heard the horror stories that circulate on the web.

I’ve made several of those mistakes myself.

One in particular was when I bought a 12 unit apartment complex in an area of Birmingham that we believed was going to be revitalized.

A large local church had opened up a center in the area along with a clinic. And just on the other side of the train tracks was a great part of town where young professionals were moving in and changing the credibility of the area.

All positive signs.

However, we underestimated the criminal element in the area as well as the time and attention that these low income apartments required. We ended up selling the complex at a large loss.

I drove by the apartments several months back and they’re no longer there. They were bulldozed and I believe that a non profit organization is going to come back with something better for the community.

In this post we’re going to talk about the importance of doing your homework before you take substantial risk in owning rental real estate…especially in low to moderate income areas of town.

Mistake #1 – Morgan Smith

screen-shot-morgan
I asked one of our property managers, Morgan Smith, to describe a mistake he’s made in his investing career. We’ll also look at how this could have been avoided if he would have done his homework.

Morgan’s been investing for almost 10 years now and he recounted one of his biggest (and earliest) mistakes below:

“I purchased my first rental house for $81,000 in Tuscaloosa in 2006 with 80/20 financing after educating myself about leverage and housing. I was in school at the University of Alabama and I thought this would be a great way to earn some extra income.

Here’s a picture of me standing in front of it the day we closed!

screen-shot-morgan-smith

The house was a really nice foreclosure and was ready to rent soon after it was purchased. It was a 3/2 and we started to try to lease it in the winter months.

As a rookie you can imagine how excited I was to start getting calls on my first rental house. Because I was so excited and anxious to start making some money, I took the first applicant that had enough income to qualify and who could come up with the deposit and first month’s rent.”

This was a BIG rookie mistake by Morgan and one that we see new investors/homeowners make all the time when they’re trying to rent out their house.

Renting a house takes patience and discipline.

It can take as many as 20 showings and 10 applications before we find one solid and approved tenant for a gk house. Morgan wasn’t being especially disciplined and he allowed his emotions to get in the way of solid underwriting practices.

Morgan explains further:

“Some unfortunate highlights of my deal:

  • Thankfully the tenant stayed for 3 years. Unfortunately I had to evict her in order to get her out of the house. It was tough to think that this was my first property and first tenant ….and ultimately, my first eviction. Although we were in the middle of the eviction process, she ended up vacating before the Sheriff had to set out all of her things on the street. An interesting side note…in 2015 she ended up paying us her past due balance via collections (so I collected 50% on the $3,500 balance she owed us).
  • By the time the tenant vacated my property, I had moved to Birmingham. When she left I hired a contractor from Birmingham, who moved into the house in Tuscaloosa and lived so he could fix the property and get it back on the market. That didn’t end up working out like it was supposed to…this contractor ended up stealing all my tools.

In hindsight, I should have never purchased this house because I knew I was eventually leaving the city. Real estate is long term investment and like all hard assets, selling is very costly and time consuming.

I was able to sell this house for $80,000 in 2012. A rough calculation of the numbers (rehab costs, ongoing maintenance, financing, selling costs and commissions, etc.), I would say I lost around $15,000 on my very first rental property.

While it’s hard to stomach a $15,000 loss (especially for a college kid!), it was valuable experience. All of the education I received at Alabama was not as practical as this one lesson. I gained so much knowledge and wisdom about managing property and handling tenants.

One of the biggest things I learned is that failure is guaranteed if you never even try.”

Currently, Randall “Morgan” Smith owns 35 single family rentals in Birmingham, Alabama, manages another 300 homes for gkhouses and continues to purchase property for the purpose of renting them.

So what’s the lesson for you and me?

1. Being extremely disciplined in your underwriting takes patience but will pay off with a solid tenant who may become a long term resident of your rental. This is huge…do your homework and stay disciplined to your criteria and process.

2. Understand the difference of managing property in and out of state. There’s a big difference and Morgan said he should probably never have bought that house knowing that he was going to be moving to a difference city. But if you do buy a rental property or decide to rent your own property and move out of town, make sure you either have a lot of experience…or hire a professional property manager.

Mistake #2 – Not understanding the street scene

screen-shot-wayne

I was with Wayne McGinnis (one of our property managers) the other day filming for some upcoming ‘owner education’ pieces and I noticed an interesting thing.

We were in an area of town called East Lake walking through a house that a tenant had just moved out of a couple of days before.

I noticed a house for rent across the street.

It looked like an investor may have recently purchased it, rehabbed it and was now marketing it with some street signs. Everything looked good at first glance.

But I started looking at the street scene and trying to figure out if I would have bought that house as a rental.

The answer: NO
Directly next door was a burned out house….and next to that burned out house was another burned out house!

 

 

 

 

screen-shotburnindown_the_house
Watch this video as I show you the house and explain the problem:

The Importance of Doing Your Homework





Out of state investors who buy rental property in Birmingham should be careful about the house and street they’re buying on. Many investors don’t take the time to come to the city and walk through po…

What do you think is going to happen to those houses?

I’ve met many investors who might believe that the owner will have those lots cleared and rebuild a house. I’ve met others who might believe that the lot is worth something.

Both of these assumptions are incorrect.

In certain areas the houses and the lots are worthless. At this point they become a liability for the owner.

And for the investor who owns that perfectly good house next door, it’s not a positive situation. It’s going to be much more difficult to rent that house with a burnout next door. Good tenants who will pay you every month don’t want to live next to a long-term vacant house or a burnout. Would you?

So, what’s the lesson for you and me in this situation?

Understand the street scene. Before you buy in a particular neighborhood, call some property managers who manage in the area and ask them about the street…the good, the bad and the ugly. They’ll let you in on the challenges of owning property on that street and in that area.

Remember that Google Earth images may be a couple of years old. I would ask for recent pictures of the house and the street…and by ‘recent’ I mean a week or two old at the most. Here’s a picture of the house in the video that I found on Google Earth today (12/17/15):

google-earth
Be realistic.

It’s worth noting that these two houses next door may have burned down after the investor bought the good house.

Regardless, this is a problem and an investor needs to know that these houses will never be rebuilt and that the best case scenario is the city tears them down within a few years.

This is all a part of the risks of buying in low to moderate income areas.

I hope this has been helpful for you.

Key takeaways…

  • Do your homework
  • Get good advice from local investors/property managers
  • Know the street scene
  • Understand the risk of buying in low to moderate income areas of Birmingham

Remember, you can call us at anytime if you’re looking for advice on certain area of Birmingham. We would love to help you make wise decisions.

How To Keep a Tenant 20 Years


Spencer Sutton - Wednesday, December 9, 2015

In the Real Estate Investor world there’s a lot of noise.

It seems that everywhere I look on social media or coming through my inbox is THE BEST way to find/buy/flip a house and make a quick buck.

If you want proof just take a look at two of the 30 emails I’ve received in the past couple of months about real estate investing.
screen-shot-2015-12-09-at-10-30-26-am
Did you catch that? “YOU NEED THIS LIKE AIR!!”

And this one…

screen-shot-2015-12-09-at-10-09-05-am

But I’m not here to knock ‘buy/fix/flip’ course sellers or even those who do it day in and day out. I used to be one of those guys.

From 2003 to 2008 I was buying houses and selling them to other investors who either rehabbed them and held them or sold them retail. I owned a Homevestor franchise here in Birmingham and used their system to find investment property around town.

It was a great way to make a living and we ended up picking up several rental houses along the way.

But the owners who use gkhouses.com as their property manager seem to be more interested in the buy and hold method.

So what does a successful rental portfolio look like and how do you actually make money in this business over the long haul?

I had the privilege of sitting down with Robert Locke of Crown Realty in Atlanta one Friday afternoon at his house to find out the secret he discovered to long term wealth in the rental business.

Man telling an astonished woman some secrets

His answer surprised me at first but then as he explained, I began to see his point.

He explained to me that the secret to a successful rental portfolio is simple and straightforward…but that landlords and property managers don’t do a great job of it.

The secret to long term success is this….keep your tenants for 20+ years.

Think about it…when do you as a landlord spend the most money on your rental home? It’s when the tenant moves out for whatever reason. That’s when the turn takes place and you may need to replace carpet, paint the walls, etc.

You’re usually writing big checks during a turn and it’s money that you’re not going to recover easily…if at all.

We see investors often put most of the emphasis on their rental property. That’s good but it becomes a problem when you begin to neglect the true asset – your tenant.

Robert’s been in the business 35 years as both an investor and a professional property manager. He loves helping others succeed in this business and actually speaks at a number of NARPM conventions each year.

How did Robert learn this important lesson? Purely by accident.

He learned it when a tenant who had been in one of his rental houses put in a notice after 21 years! He didn’t start that relationship thinking of ways to keep them that long, it just happened that way.

Imagine that…one of your tenants staying in a rental house you own for 21 years. That would probably end up being one of your most profitable rental investments.

So I asked Robert to lay out his strategy for keeping tenants 20+ years.

That afternoon he gave me 8 keys to keeping a tenant 20 years.

In this post we’ll discuss the first four and in our next post we’ll look at the other four.

1. Buy the Right House

Seems simple, right? But as Robert explained, it’s not so obvious to a normal investor. He explains:

“Many times, investors buy a house because it’s convenient or because it feels like a discounted price when it really isn’t. They’ll buy strange floor plans…maybe something that a bored doctor built for his daughter and he forgot certain things like enough doors or completely left closets out of bedrooms and maybe the windows are in weird places. You know the houses I’m talking about…really strange floor plans. They’re funky, they’re dysfunctional floor plans. And, many times, those houses might look like they’re being sold at discount but they’re really not a discount.

It’s a price adjustment for an irreconcilable defect.

Think about other situations like buying a house on a busy street.

Someone may give an investor a $10,000 ‘discount’ for being on that busy street…but it’s not a discount, it’s a price adjustment for an irreconcilable defect!

So, new investors get tricked into buying something because nobody else will buy it…

Closeup portrait of handsome young man looking shocked surprised in disbelief with hands on face looking at you camera isolated on background. Positive human emotions facial expressions

Sometimes the public are buying houses smarter than investors who will buy things that are dysfunctional for the area. Split foyers are popular in some areas. In many parts of the US, a split foyer is dysfunctional. Nobody wants to walk into a landing and then go up or down or carry their groceries upstairs.

You see town homes with two story steps up to the open door to go into the main level of the house. They learned that didn’t sell very well, so they put the steps on the lower level but the lower level is a garage and a utility room.

They still have to walk up steps to get to the living area and they still walk up another steps to get up to the bedroom. People who live in those houses figure out pretty quickly that they don’t want to live there.

The ‘wrong house’ in my model in Atlanta could mean a steep driveway. Any potential tenant who moves to Atlanta from the North wouldn’t buy a steep driveway because they think about the difficulty of snow and ice on a steep driveway.

We actually had a steep driveway that people parked up the on street and always walked down the driveway and then up steps into the front door. In their third year in the house, the brakes weren’t set and the car rolled down the driveway into the rec room. It went right into the furnace and into the rec room where they were sitting.

So while you might get better prices for these considerations, don’t mistake them for a discount…and don’t let your investors get tricked into buying them.

They’ll buy something that’s been on the market a long time and they think they’re getting a discount. When they get ready to resell it, they’re going to have to give the same price adjustment for an irreconcilable defect.

So, the public is sometimes smarter than investors. They want vanilla. They want floor plans designed by national builders. CalAtlantic Homes, Pulte Homes, D.R. Horton. They have tried and tested floor plans.

They know what the public likes and what the people like to walk and flow through.

In this town, Eastern Airlines used to be strong here. Pilots were making a lot of money and could only work 10 days a month, so they had a lot of free time. And one of the things they did is go out and build houses.

Now we’ve got houses in this town where you’ll walk in and face a wall and you either have to go left to the living room or right to the bedrooms but you’ve got this great big wall in front of you. Crazy!

We’ve had houses where there is a forty foot hallway and eleven doors coming off it. We’ve got them where they call it a bedroom but there’s no closet and there’s no room to build in a closet. We’ve got them with kitchens in the lower level.

So, the first thing if you want to keep a tenant 20 years is buy the right house because if you buy the wrong house, you’re gonna have trouble renting it.

Then, when you turn around getting ready to sell it, you’re gonna have trouble selling it because you’ve got the oddball.

And if for some reason you find a tenant to move into that kind of house, they won’t renew the lease because mom is complaining about walking up the long stairway to get to the main level of the house.

Another big consideration that most of us know instinctively is the that the school system matters. If you have a house that’s identical to the one down the street but the other house is in the good school system, you’ll never get the same rent they’re asking.

You’ll end up accepting discounted rent because it’s in the wrong school system.”

So what about you?

Have you bought or considered a home that probably isn’t the best house because you might get a good discount? So step one, most important…buy the right house.

2. Get the House in Great Shape

A lot of investors like to save money.

Actually, we all like to save money so that our investments give us greater return.

The problem comes when in our effort to ‘save money’ investors put a few bandaids on their house. They clean up the dead dog in the backyard, have the yard mowed and put tape over a hole in the wall.

Robert explained to me that putting the house in pristine condition is critical to getting the right tenant in your house early in the process. If a tenant walks in a house that isn’t really well cared for, their assumption will be “It’s not going be well cared for while I’m living here either.”

“If they don’t put it in great condition before we start showing it – ripping out the green shag carpet or cabinets that came out of a trailer – then the tenants that will be attracted are going to be substandard tenants who just don’t care because they perceive the owner doesn’t care.

The evidence is there because they didn’t even bother to put it in good shape.

And even if you do get it rented, they will most likely not be long time tenants…they’ll eventually move into a house that an owner and property manager actually care about.

A lot of investors say, “I’ll finish the rehab as soon as you get an application.”

That’s probably the worst idea.”

At gkhouses.com our Leasing Agent does a walk through before it can be shown to the public. There’s no sense in putting a bad product on the market because it’s likely not going to rent fast.

Nice one-family house with a porch

The best tenants aren’t just looking at one house…they’re looking at six, eight or ten and they will compare those houses and choose the one that’s best.

So if they walk into your house that isn’t ready, that’s not a good thing. The sink is sitting in the middle of the living room floor. The ceiling fans are laying in boxes in the corner. That isn’t gonna work for them…or you.

3. Put Time and Effort Into Curb Appeal

Robert and his team at Crown have survey new tenants whenever they move into one of their houses. They are always asking, “Why did you rent from Crown? Why did you choose this house?”

Over 35 years they’ve accumulated a database of responses and one of the most common responses they here is, “When we drove up and saw that the house and yard was cared for on the outside, we wanted to see inside.”

Street appeal is incredibly important.

Their research shows that if the mailbox is hanging off its hinges and tilting over, the shrubbery in the front of the house is dead, the lawn not well taken care of and the shutters need painting…you should be prepared to sit on that house a while. And not only that…a tenant who puts an application on that kind of house is likely not the tenant who’s going to stay for 20 years.

Here are some great tips on making sure the outside of your houses are attractive to the right tenants:

  • Use ground cover – You will want those ground covers that don’t require water and will keep weeds down. The more you cover with mulch, bark, gravel, pine straw or wood chips, the more money you will save on water and yard maintenance. These low cost ground covers don’t require much upkeep besides a new layer every year or so. They’ll also reduce the amount of weeds that spring up while adding a nice touch to the look of your yard. It’s the simple things like this that can attract a tenant to your house over the one for rent on the same street.
  • Plant flowers – This is something easy and anyone can do it. It’s best to avoid tropical plants and other non-native plant species. This is simply because these plants require more water, soil additives and greater care to keep them looking their best. This will ultimately eat into your rental income…especially if the new tenants expect you to keep them looking great after they’ve moved in your house.
  • Trim any shrubbery in the front yard – At first glance, unkempt shrubbery can signal that the inside of your home may be unkempt as well. You can easily change that perception by taking the time to prune any ‘out of control’ shrubs.
  • Put out an American Flag – We believe that patriotism is a GREAT thing! At gkhouses.com we are all fans of this great country. It will likely send a positive message to a prospective tenant if you put an American flag on the outside of the home.
  • Cut your grass and repair any dead areas – During the summer months it’s going to be extremely important to make sure that your grass is cut and any bald areas are being addressed with sand/soil mixture. A well manicured yard is a sign to a prospective tenant that you’re serious about giving them a good product and that you pay attention to details. If you arrive to show your house and the grass hasn’t been cut in a several weeks the inner dialogue the prospective tenant has might go something like this – “If I need work on this house, how soon will they get to my request?” or “What kind of things inside the house need to be taken care of if they can’t even take the time to cut the grass every once in awhile.”
  • Lay trim around any flower beds or mulched area – Landscaping timbers are a an inexpensive way to improve the look of your home. These can be bought for as little as $3.50 for each 8ft timber. You could also look at bricks of some kind that would add a nice bit of curb appeal.
  • Regularly pick up any trash outside of the house – This may seem elementary but it’s extremely important…especially if you’ve had contractors working on your house.
  • Pick up any regularly scheduled news or mail service – If there is a regular service still coming to the house – like newspaper and mail – it’s important that you make sure these things are picked up regularly or cancelled. And as we probably all know that piled up papers or mail is a signal to less than desirable folks that a house is vacant and could invite vandalism.
  • If you have a front porch, it’s important that this area be free and clear of debris – This may seem like a no-brainer but we’ve seen many landlords try to rent properties that have previous tenants ‘junk’ dumped on the front porch. We can tell you that this property will quickly slide to the bottom of the tenants ‘most wanted’ rental house list.

4. Create a Strong Maintenance Response System

Now that you have a tenant in your house, let’s shift our focus to keeping that tenant 20 years.

At Crown every tenant is sent a “How did we respond and handle your request?” survey after a maintenance call.

Every tenant.

Robert’s crew sends a standard email that says, “Please rate: How did this maintenance request get handled?”

Their numbers are pretty impressive:

  • 83% – Excellent,
  • 12% – Acceptable
  • 5% – Not Acceptable (you can’t please everybody)

So what does Robert attribute their good ratings to? Simple…a quick response system. Especially on emergency items.

He explains:

“When a tenant calls and air conditioning is out, it’s likely an emergency. Especially if it’s July. If it’s in October, probably not as big of an emergency.

Customer service questionnaire with green tick in excellent box isolated on white background.

If you’re a professional manager or an owner with a lot of houses, you need a maintenance priority schedule. What is urgent? That’s a half day response system. What is important but not urgent? For Crown, that’s a two day deadline.

What if the faucet is leaking but it’s not really affecting your tenant’s lifestyle? That is a one week response time.

And for those times that it’s not a big deal, then it’s usually ok if you take a look at the issue next time you’re out at their house. It’s usually not worth the trip just to repair a crack in the bathroom tile floor.

The last one for issues that just aren’t that important is, “You’re gonna have to take care of it yourself.” Sometimes tenants will call in with silly requests like a bird nest on the front porch. These things tend to they can take care of themselves.

The key to remember is that your maintenance response should always be proportionate to how the problem is affecting the tenant’s lifestyle.

If the air conditioner doesn’t work in December, it’s probably not going to bother them very much. If the furnace is out in December, that’s a different problem.”

I believe we all instinctively understand how important it is to take care of maintenance calls in a timely manner. It’s important for the landlord with one house and as equally important to the management company with 1,000 houses.

For the rest of the tips, take a look at How To Keep A Tenant 20 Years Part Two.

The Best Property Managers in Birmingham


Matthew Whitaker - Monday, November 16, 2015

We’ve been managing homes for well over ten years in the Birmingham area and currently manage over 1,000 homes for others. We meet with hundreds of people every year and many more read our blog articles and eBooks on rental homes and trust our opinion on all things rental.

Because we’ve built this trust, frequently we get asked the question, “Other than gkhouses, who’s the best property manager in Birmingham?” In the past we might attempt to avoid this question, because it required us to be “uncomfortably transparent” about our competitors! Well, we’ve decided to change our approach and be uncomfortably transparent with you in this blog.

So here goes nothing . . .

AHI Properties – The owner of AHI Properties, Bryan Jenkins, is one of the most honest men I know. I’d have to put him at #1, because of the length of time he has been managing homes in the Birmingham area and his membership in the National Association of Residential Property Managers (NARPM) with me. Their office is in Shelby County, off of Valleydale Road.

Alabama Rental Managers – ARM is also found down in Shelby County and specializes in Shelby County rental properties. They manage a lot of houses and have a very good collection of rental homes – mostly in the A and B class neighborhoods.

Decas Group Property Managers – Probably the youngest company in my list, Decas was started by J. Benoit and has grown very big, very quickly. They have good, knowledgeable, people who manage for them. Many of these people have been in the business a long time and have managed in a number of different cities. Decas manages a lot of houses for local and out of state investors and seem to do a good job.

Mega Agent Rental Management – Located down 280, Mega Agent Rental Management, much like Alabama Rental Managers, manages a lot of very desirable homes. The owners are very smart people and have done a great job marketing their services to owners.

Red Rock Realty Group – Red Rock has been around forever. They used to be called The Property Managers, but changed their name a number of years ago when they changed ownership. They manage single family homes, multifamily properties and commercial properties. They have a solid reputation in the Birmingham market.

Rudulph Real Estate – Ok, I said five, but I couldn’t leave this one out because this company has been a staple in Birmingham as long as I can remember…and who hasn’t seen their bright yellow signs? When people think of Birmingham management, this is the name that has the “top of mind” awareness. John Rudulph has really built quite a business and is an excellent manager.

So you’ve asked and now you know. I’d consider speaking with some or all of these. While you are speaking with them, keep in mind two things that we’ve found Owners are interested in – once they sign with a manager – Trust and Communication.

And if you’re wondering what questions to ask a manager once you speak with them, we’ve given you a list of valuable questions to ask any manager.

Four Advantages of a Large Property Manager


Matthew Whitaker - Monday, November 2, 2015

When we started this business we had a big dream of driving around Birmingham and seeing gkhouses.com signs all over the place. We thought the more signs we could get in yards, the more tenants and owners we would attract.

Now that we manage over 1,000 houses, we worry that tenants and owners may be turned off that we are somehow “too big”. While there is validity to the argument that there are certain benefits smaller property management companies can offer their clients – and for some those benefits make smaller management companies a better option – we believe the benefits of a larger company greatly outweigh the smaller alternative.

We think the benefits can be found in all the categories – leasing, management, home maintenance, and communication.

Leasing

Marketing Homes: Marketing homes is like a sales funnel you may be familiar with seeing. Driving prospective tenant traffic to know that a property exists and is available for rent is the beginning of that funnel.

Large management companies have a unique opportunity to drive an inordinate amount of traffic to their website and to their leasing lines.

This is a screen shot of our gkhouses.com website traffic from October 6th to the 29th. We believe the majority (95%+) is from prospective tenant leads.

The largest sources of prospective tenant leads other than our website is Trulia, Zillow, Craigslist and Multiple Listing Service (MLS). While we do market on all those sites, savvy large managers will drive traffic back to their website so they can market that home and remarket other homes, which drives up the number of people that see that the home is available.

Going back to the sales pipeline, more prospects on our site looking for houses means we will receive more applications. See the illustrated sales funnel below:

Application Processing: Large managers are also at a unique advantage with regard to application processing in two areas:

The first is their underwriting skills. Large managers are used to hearing certain stories that don’t add up and are disciplined to lease homes based on their underwriting criteria, not on the whims or “gut feelings”.

The second is the ability to remarket other available homes should the home the prospective tenant applied for be leased while the application is in process. Once approved, an applicant is much more likely to pick from the available inventory of a large manager, instead of going out and beginning the process over again.

Focus:

The last point on the marketing of homes is the focus a large manager is able to devote to leasing.

Small managers typically have property managers that do leasing, managing, accounting and talking with owners. At large companies, they typically have a dedicated leasing person.

At gkhouses.com our leasing department comes to work every day with the goal of leasing homes. They have no other “more urgent” items that take their time away from leasing.

Managing

Once a property has been leased the work of a large manager has just begun. The benefits of using a large manager also stand out here.

Handling Tenant Inquires: Whether you manage 1 or 1001 homes, managing tenants is a full-time business. Tenants expect to be communicated with quickly when they have a need. Large managers should have a specific person that is in charge of tenant communication. Small managers don’t have the time or the resources to communicate with the tenant because (again) they are typically handling all aspects of this process – marketing, leasing, managing and maintenance.

Accounting: Tenants are getting loads of bills in the mail, shouldn’t yours be one of them? The “mom and pop” manager expects the rent to be paid on the first and for the tenant to remember – after all shouldn’t they remember to pay their rent? Large managers don’t think that is a good process, because it’s not the service people are used to receiving. Heck, sometimes you might forget to pay a power bill even when you DO get a bill!

Large managers should have an efficient system for billing – most of ours is done through email – the tenant for the next month’s rent and any other charges they may have accrued during the previous month. Again, if the tenant has a stack of obligations, don’t you want yours to be one of them they think about?

Here’s a sample of one of our Tenant Statements.

Services to the Tenant: Don’t you want it to be as easy as possible for a tenant to pay rent or submit a work order? Would it be possible that a tenant would stay longer if the manager offered modern day services such as online rent payment and online work order submission that the tenant would stay longer?

Large managers certainly believe this to be the case. They set up these services and others – perhaps lawn care – to make the tenant’s life easier and make it easier to interact with the manager.

Maintenance

Houses frequently need some TLC and large managers are in the perfect position to provide a tremendous value to their owners and their tenants with regard to maintenance on the home.

24/7/365 Hour Emergency Service: What happens when the oven breaks on Thanksgiving or the air conditioning shuts down on the 4th of July?

Large managers have the unique ability to offer solutions to these types of problems. When you manage a lot of houses, you don’t hope something like this doesn’t happen, you EXPECT it to happen! And…you are prepared for it when it does.

Typically large managers will have someone assigned to handle these types of calls through a rotating cell phone or we have a call service that handles these calls on our behalf. They are able to dispatch emergency vendors to handle these and other emergency situations that may arise. Tenants will remember how quickly you handled these situations and will stick around longer if they are handled appropriately.

Access to Multiple Vendors and Pricing Power: More vendors should mean more options on bigger projects. Large management companies are forced to utilize multiple vendors to get the job done.

Additionally, it makes sense that larger managers have more pricing power with vendors. More work orders should equal better prices.

Communication

Owners want to know what is going on with their home. We recently surveyed our owners (see survey results here), and what stood out to us is how important communication is to an owner. Large managers have the ability to communicate in three ways:

Online Owner Portal:

Large managers have the ability to provide online data and reporting to their owners. Owners have the ability to log in and see an owner statement, paid bills and work orders. Access to this owner portal allows owners to get information from the large manager without having to go through the hassle of contacting them.

The Phone:

Large managers have support staff dedicated to owner communication. Should an owner need something from the large manager, they should have the ability to pick up the phone and either get someone on the phone or receive a call back very quickly. At gkhouses.com we have that person who spends all day tracking answers down for owners and fielding questions.

Support email:

Large managers likely use software in their office where support emails can be tracked, sent to the right department and answered on time. This way an owner is not wondering who he should send the email to in order to get an answer…he/she simply emails the support email and the correct person answers the question. At our office we use Fusedesk as our support ticketing platform. It allows us to even see if anyone in the office has a support email they haven’t addressed. This allows us to make sure that balls don’t get dropped!

Conclusion

We understand that we’re a bit biased, but large managers provide very unique benefits over smaller management counterparts.

When it comes to leasing, no one will get you more prospective tenants to your house than a large property manager.

When it comes to management, a large outfit is well equipped to deal with unique situations that arise in the tenant world.

When it comes to maintenance, a large manager will work with quality people who are properly licensed and insured to work on your house.

And when it comes to communication, having dedicated staff to get answers and relay important information is a must.

Our advice to you is to do your homework on the front end and decide what’s important to you as an owner before you choose your property manager. Like we mentioned at the beginning of this article, there are benefits to smaller managers (we’ve been both)…but not enough tip the scales.

Lightbox – Rent Range


Matthew Whitaker - Wednesday, March 19, 2014

We’re proud to announce that we’ve been awarded a 2013 Visitors’ Choice Award from All Property Management, one of the foremost property management websites in the world. Each year, over 2,000 active property management companies are considered for the award. Out of all of these, only 300 companies receive the recognition – and we were the only company in Alabama to be given this prestigious honor. The same qualities that helped us to win this award – tireless dedication to customer service and greater accessibility to our tenants and owners – have helped us as professional Alabama property managers. We’re just grateful to be able to serve our valued clients and tenants, and are thankful for this recognition. More information about the Visitors’ Choice Award can be found at AllPropertyManagement.com.