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As a Landlord You Cannot Afford to Ignore the Internet

Written by Clifford A. Hockley on Tuesday, 08 September 2009 7:00 pm
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The world has changed. There was a time when a landlord rented a vacancy by placing an advertisement in the local newspaper and waited for the phone to ring, or tenants to visit. The classified sections of the local newspapers were packed with ads. You had to be very creative to leap out of the pack of ads.

Apartment properties with more vacancies to fill (due to their size) used additional advertising sources like For Rent and Apartment Finder magazines. These methods of advertising were successful for many years. These companies extended their products by offering on line listings.

They were joined by online competitors such as apartments.com, rent.com, Forrent.com, rentals.com and rentalsonline.com to name a few. Each one promising super results with different pricing schemes and marketing approaches. Of course all properties use some sort of "for rent" signage at the property, ranging from small signs and flyers in windows to large a-frames located close to the main entrance of the property.

Then along came craigslist. This free on-line service was easy for potential tenants to use and free to Landlords. And as they say, free is a very good price. It has been the category killer.

In major cities classified sections of the newspapers are mere skeletons of their former self. Newspapers have suffered and are downsizing as a result. Small towns though are not as impacted by Craig's list and newspapers classified sections are still used as a major marketing source, especially in rural areas. Landlords have benefited. Advertising costs have dropped significantly. Tenants, especially younger tenants under 35, are used to looking for rentals on Craig's list. The use of computer search engines has become integrated in our social fabric.

On the other hand, computers search engines also bring a new product to the table such as online comments.

These comments often appear when you type a property's name in your city. Say you type in Lakewood Landing Apartments you might get the following comments (these are examples only):

"Don't move here! There is a creepy security guard at night that follows you as you are walking to your vehicle."

"Going downhill- this apartment complex is awful. The air conditioning never works. There are always burned out light bulbs in the hallway lights. The onsite manager tries, but is held back by ownership and the property management company. Dumpsters are always full. When it snows there is always ice, it is dangerous to leave your apartment."

"Nice place if you suck up. You pay for heat, which includes the hallways, so you never know how high your bills are going to be."

"Nice but noisy" "I would discourage any women from renting at this place. The maintenance man is a total pervert and a stalker. "

As you can see these would have an influence on any potential tenant.

Property management companies Online comments can extend to property management companies for example, which can be good or bad: An excellent choice by happy tenants August 27, 2007:

"I have lived in a Bluestone Hockley managed apartment for about two years now. Their staff is very friendly and professional, and I'm impressed with how they have a genuine interest in the needs and well-being of their tenants. They are always responsive and immediately address any issues that arise. If you are considering moving to a Bluestone & Hockley managed property, I would jump on the opportunity!

Or the worst: by Upset November 18, 2008:

Don't rent from them - they are the worst. Simple as that. I have put in MANY requests and the only time I receive contact is when they want money. Will never rent with them again. There are so many more options in this city so I would suggest looking around then renting from them. I have rented in many of my days and they by far are the worst. Since they can't seem to even fill occupancy they should work on just keeping their residents; probably too much for them though. They are money leeches.

As you can see all is not rosy on the internet after all.

Other internet issues:

As more and more people have access to the internet (the price of net books have dropped to $200) professionally prepared websites have become more important. Computers are accessible to almost everyone.

Professional prepared websites might include:

  • virtual property tours

  • pictures of the property

  • floor plans

  • floor plans that allow you to place furniture in place

  • Leasing information

  • Screening criteria and applications

  • Contact information

Large apartment properties must have websites which serve not only as a way for a tenant to rent but also for a way to communicate with the onsite property manager regarding property events, maintenance, and rent due.

Onsite staff must have employees designated to receiving messages on the internet and responding to them within 24 hours. Tenants might use email to report property emergencies and property managers need to be prepared to deal with an immediate response.

Property managers need to be aware that not all emails arrive. Spam eliminators might clean your important message off of a tenant's computer. If you don't hear back send a letter. Or, better yet, have the tenant put you on their white list so that you can communicate with them via email.

Much of your communication with your clients and tenants happens via email. How do you know they have received your message? Letters should be used for official notifications.

In recognition of the importance of the internet on rentals, the National Apartment Association (NAA) has developed an internet module for their leasing certification program, to teach leasing professionals the best strategies for attracting potential residents online and converting them to renters.

SummaryThe internet has progressed from an afterthought for our property marketing to a full scale marketing and communication system. As property owners we need to adjust to this change. We need to understand that the internet and web sites are used by tenants to evaluate our properties and make choices about where they want to live. The internet is now the front line of where housing decisions are made.

A good way to be aware of what is going on is to track what people are saying about you or your company is to use of Google Alerts (google.com/alerts). Other services that might help you track activity are: Backtype.com, Blogpulse.com, Boardreader.com or Search.twitter.com to name a few. Effective property owners will invest in understanding the internet, Craig's list and how search engines operate, so they can optimize their access to current and future tenants. This will continue until another innovation makes it easier and less expensive to rent units.

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