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Get a few property managers together, perhaps mix in an adult beverage or two, and the tenant horror stories will start to roll off their tongues. As entertaining as those stories may be, we would rather avoid them. So, how do you do it?
It all starts here. It may seem like a lot of work upfront, but verifying income, confirming rental history, and a thorough background/criminal/credit check is the single best thing you can do to prevent tenant problems.
Establish a set of policies around pets, late payment dates, late fees, NSF fees (nonsufficient funds fees), payment methods that you accept... and more. Once those policies are set, do not deviate from them. This will also set the tone with the tenant that there are rules, and those rules will be enforced.
Property management is a business activity and should be managed as such. Only answer calls during business hours. Your tenant may be wonderful, but you are still in a business relationship. Don't have the stomach to say "no" after hearing a tenant sob story? Time to hire a property manager.
Why should a tenant care more about the home than you do? Many landlords are overly focused on cost-control when it comes to repair & maintenance. When you have a home with threadbare carpet, spotted walls due to old touch ups, and fixtures that don't work, your tenants are going to be much rougher on the home.
Inspect properties at least once per year. I have found that to be a good cadence - just before renewal time. Knowing how the home is being taken care of impacts whether we will offer a renewal to a tenant and at what rate. When it's 100 degrees outside and the AC stops cooling, a tenant is probably not going to clean up before a contractor shows up. A good network of frequently used contractors that will whisper in your ear can be invaluable.
Tim Hendricks is the VP of Real Estate at Darwin Homes Property Management, a property management company focused on evolving the rental experience.