November 10, 2012
Drones: A Controversial Eye in the Sky for Property Managers
An act was passed in February that’s ultimately going to open new doors of opportunity for real estate and property management officials. The FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act requires that the FAA “accept and support” drones–or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)–in United States airways.
While awaiting the new stipulations to be defined and take effect (by September 2015), many industries are taking a look at how UAVs can support their
I hear it all the time. “I would never put my critical data in the cloud.” It’s a prevailing point of view. The idea being that putting your personal data, documents, or music on a computer other than your own means that you are somehow more vulnerable to privacy invasions, hacking, and other problems.
There can be no argument that you are taking a risk by trusting someone else with your data. However, I think it’s worth pausing for a moment and asking yourself a question that few ever think about: Is your data really safer if you manage it yourself? Here are a few things you may want to consider.
1) YOU PROBABLY DON’T HAVE A GOOD, ALWAYS-CURRENT BACKUP OF YOUR DATA.
Sure, you run your backup program every so often (maybe even nightly). Perhaps it backs everything up directly to your trusty external hard drive that’s constantly plugged into your computer. Maybe the IT guy comes into the office every so often to swap backup tapes on the server.
Now consider – what happens if your house burns down, your office floods, or someone breaks in and steals your laptop and backup drive? What happens if your computer gets a virus which decides to delete all of the files on your local hard drive as well as any external drives it happens to be connected to? What happens if there’s a nearby lightning strike that results in a power surge destroying your laptop and your backup drive? Taking it a step further, how often do you actually test your ability to restore from the backups you create? Are you sure the tapes created by your IT guy actually contain your critical data?
The reality is that there’s no cost-effective backup strategy the typical home-user or SMB can implement that provides a truly secure, always-accessible solution to protecting against all of the scenarios mentioned above unless you leverage the cloud in some way to create off-site backups.
Cloud-based backup solutions give you a simple, cheap way to keep your important data backed up in a location other than your home or office (the key here being that your backups must reside in a location separate from your computer, so that if one is stolen, damaged, or lost, the other remains intact).
Plenty of online backup solutions today offer fully encrypted backups (the kind that can’t even be decrypted by employees of the company) – so you should obviously do your homework before choosing one. Any (minimal) risk associated with your backups possibly being stolen and decrypted by a (very ambitious) hacker should be mitigated by the fact that your data is actually backed up properly, and not vulnerable to every-day threats.
2) YOUR MOST SENSITIVE PERSONAL INFORMATION IS PROBABLY Continue reading
There’s phenomenal buzz in the property management industry right now about the transition to mobile-based marketing, leasing and resident management, with the expectation that the pervasive tech obsession sweeping America will leave no process unturned.
The reality may be a little closer to the current standard practices of renting an apartment—with a couple of notable exceptions.
Industry insiders tell us that while things are going to change a lot for some high-end apartment communities and their tenants, many of us will still be filling out paper applications. But we may get to pay our rent and submit maintenance requests, online. And while searching for that great new place, expect to be courted with apps and mobile-friendly websites.
Here’s a step-by-step look at the apartment rental process and what’s changing—or, perhaps, staying the same.
Marketing a Vacancy
The transition to online listings from newspaper ads is one of the biggest changes in residential marketing in the last decade. Unless a property is renting to a distinctly senior, non-tech-savvy crowd, there’s no reason to place a print ad ever again. Instead, navigating the wide variety of online listing sites and choosing the best option for your property is the new challenge. Selection of a community apartment listing site should be based in part on user friendliness of the site’s mobile component.
Property management firms now need to invest in things that might not have mattered before—like professional photography that showcases their properties from the best possible angle, website development that displays well across browsers and mobile platforms, and mobile-specific apps that showcase property amenities and allow users to submit requests for more info or to be notified of a newly-vacant unit.
Property managers have no choice but to invest in all forms of mobile marketing, or risk missing out on prospective residents who have a distinct preference for seeing properties on their smartphones or for searching exclusively for listings online, or can’t travel to view an apartment in person. Additional expenditure on social media marketing and targeted online advertising replaces newspaper display ads and will be increasingly important to drive attention to an individual property in a crowded marketplace.
The often-evoked visual of a leasing agent conducting an apartment walk-through with an iPad and wrapping up the transaction by handing the prospect the tablet so they can fill out their application is happening in some high-end apartment communities in markets like New York City, but don’t expect such an experience in suburban Topeka anytime soon. There are markets that cannot justify the cost.
The less-flashy alternative is the increasing popularity of the online leasing portal, a place to submit application and credit information. These options are becoming widely available as a way to weed out serious prospects from looky-loos, and automated input is a huge time saver for property managers. Expect such submission of details to become common and widespread within the next two years.
And the idea that an apartment could be rented without an in-person visit? The demand for such a service is still growing, and is particularly popular among college students, foreign relocation prospects, and professionals moving for work assignments. Online video tours, detailed and updated photography, and extensive descriptions are three ways to capture this market.
Perhaps the greatest change in how property management and residents interact with the aid of technology comes after the boxes are emptied and the first month’s rent check is cashed.
Site managers are observing that tenants don’t want to talk to their management staff after move-in, preferring to handle rent pay, maintenance requests, and information sharing in a manner similar to online banking transactions.
Both apps and secure Web portals are vital tools for the property that wishes to offer such features for residents, though a majority of properties in the U.S. are still handling rental payments via checks or direct deposit. The financial crisis led to more renters wanting to pay rent via credit card, which influenced some movement toward online remittance options. But future-focused property firms will need all of their resident information, maintenance forms and bill pay in one highly mobile platform to satisfy tenant demands.
The change to a mobile request and follow-up adds a new dynamic to maintenance, allowing for easier tracking and scheduling. It also opens up the opportunity for customer satisfaction input. After an apartment problem has been cleared up, properties can ping the tenant via email and ask for feedback, creating customer loyalty and a record that closes the loop on the complaint.
What are the biggest changes you see coming to the property management market as the world goes mobile for its technology needs?
Photo courtesy of John Snape.
Craigslist is one of the most valuable marketing tools available to rental property owners–particularly because it’s free (aside from brokered apartment rental listings in NYC). Craigslist provides a platform for free advertising, and is one of the most popular databases for prospective tenants.
Maximizing the value of your property’s ad can attract more potential tenants, and save over time in advertising costs (vacancy equals loss of income). Surprisingly though, there’s still quite a few rather ineffective and spammy ads lingering in the Craigslist space.
I’ve gathered insights from a few industry experts to define exactly what it is that makes a winning or losing Craigslist ad. Sounds simple enough, but what do the experts say?
Winning: Write Effective Titles
Andrew Schrage, co-owner of Money Crashers Personal Finance, suggests a “creative and descriptive header” is the most important element of an effective ad. He says, “If you write ‘great amenities,’ that’s unclear. Instead, include one or two specific amenities the property offers. This will grab attention and resonate with people who are attracted to those amenities.”
It’s also frowned upon to title a listing in ALL CAPS, or with lots of explanation points!!! Don’t YELL at your prospective tenant. Instead, write a clear and concise description that draws them into the ad. Once they’re there, the following elements will encourage them to take the next step and inquire.
Winning: Write Good Copy
A Craigslist ad is essentially copywriting, right? Writing an organized, precise ad will boost your credibility as a property owner, and will be more intriguing. Be detailed so most of the prospect’s questions are answered before inquiring. This stirs interest, and ensures your property meets the prospect’s needs before contacting you–saving you both time and energy.
List the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, square footage, in-house amenities (a washer and dryer, for instance), and anything unique the property may boast–including aesthetic details. Also list on-site luxuries. Is there a pool? A vegetable garden? Tell ‘em about it. Be sure financial details are clear, and if you’re willing to negotiate rent, that’s a huge selling point.
Another detail often left unmentioned in rental ads are community or neighborhood benefits. Schrage elaborates, “Sell the street and the neighborhood. Tell them about nearby parks, shopping centers, and freeway access.”
Winning: Include Images or Multimedia
Enough cannot be said for the value of images, particularly because Craigslist offers a query including only listings with photos. Why risk not showing up in results? Provide the prospect with actual images of the property–not of a sample unit. Show them what the bathroom, bedroom, and living areas look like. If there’s a balcony, terrace, or yard, provide an image. Jacob Young, Online Reputation Specialist and founder of Hidden Sky goes on,
“Put yourself in their shoes. The renter is looking for a place to call home. What does it look like in spring and winter? What will their images look like when they send them home for the holidays?”
Some property managers go the extra yard and add additional multimedia, including links to external photo albums, while others include video tours, or even microsites dedicated to a specific rental home. Providing a photo or video tour may seal the deal before even seeing the property in person.
Losing: Post Spam Listings
There’s an unfortunate trend in the Craigslist world often used by leasing agents and big apartment communities posting repetitive ads with ALL CAPS titles, shouting promotions (ONE MONTH FREE or FREE FLATSCREEN!!), and including the same graphic or image–none of which are of available rentals. Instead, these spam ads serve as a broad advertisement, and though they may entice some people to inquire, often turn others away.
These ads are regularly infiltrated with keywords and phrases that renters may search for–many of which do not actually apply to the available properties. Words like “historic,” “charming,” and “antique” are often used in ads for new properties, which are not generally applicable.
Losing: Write Vague Listings or Fail to Include Images
Writing vague, incomplete, inconcise, and generic ads is a waste of time. People searching for a new place to live are seeking enough detail to coerce them to contact the rental owner. Without detail, there’s no incentive. Being vague with adjectives can leave lingering questions that may paint an unattractive picture for your potential tenant.
Furthermore, without the inclusion of photos, viewers have no real idea what the property is like. Milo Shapiro, President of IMPROVentures, who also happens to be a rental property manager, shares an example, “I’ve seen ‘photo upon request,’ which makes one seem like a lazy landlord.”
Shapiro points out another avoidable mistake that listers sometimes make. “I’ve seen spelling and grammar errors galore that make it look like the person may not know enough to contract properly either.”
Losing: Include Unreasonable, Strict Rules
Because prospective tenants will be making your rental their home if they agree to your terms and sign a lease, it’s important to allow reasonable freedom within the property. Having too many rules is a major turn-off for renters.
Schrage provides one example that I actually remember reading a couple years back when its absurdity leaked into the Web.
“One had a list of additional rules and conditions so long it would make your head spin. Among others, your bed had to be made each morning, and this was after mandatory “wake-up” at 5:30 a.m., when all the lights would automatically be turned on since the building would be operated by someone else. No alcohol or tobacco allowed, and unannounced inspections could occur at any time. And as far I know, the ad was legit.”
The bottom line when using Craigslist as a marketing tool is to actually capitalize on its platform and the subsequent exposure. Free tools are highly valuable to property owners, and can alleviate the need for formal advertising. Create a real ad based on a real property. And, within that ad, keep it clean, concise, informative, and appealing. Moreso, take the time to edit your ad and sound like the credible property owner you are.
As Schrage suggests, sell the space from a holistic perspective. Beyond the actual property, what else is appealing about the area? If you have braggin’ rights, use them! Include photos that truly display a property’s character. And, if possible, create additional multimedia that viewers will find encouraging and meaningful. After all, the difference between a winning and losing ad is occupancy versus vacancy.
Photo courtesy of dougww.
Landscaping may seem like a tiresome, tedious and expensive burden for property managers, especially when nature brings drought and other challenges. Factor in organic, all-natural and green landscaping, and it becomes even more daunting. But, environmental issues are at the forefront of public discussion, and tenants have taken notice. Making your rental property greener can make it more marketable–plus, a green landscape generally requires less upkeep, with lower maintenance costs.
Furthermore, a little green TLC can be beneficial to the environment by reducing contaminants in water runoff and providing a toxin-free environment for humans and animals. And it doesn’t require a hefty investment.
The Environmental Protection Agency says that, “Maintaining a wide variety of healthy plants, soil organisms, beneficial insects and animals can keep most pests and diseases in check.” The EPA refers to this as “putting nature to work.” When you restore the natural biological environment, the ecosystem returns to a natural functioning place, where organisms and microorganisms ward off pests, and help maintain nutritious soil. But, how do you restore an ecosystem?
I’ve compiled five inexpensive ways to make your landscape more environmentally friendly, lower maintenance, and safer for both family and pets.
1) Test your soil.
Standard soil tests measure pH levels and the levels of elements like phosphorous, potassium, calcium and magnesium, among other things. Testing lets you know what your soil needs. Otherwise, the fertilizers and mulch you’re using–some of which are quite expensive–may not be meeting the needs of your yard. There are a variety of soil tests that can be performed at home; otherwise, universities are a great place to seek testing.
According to Ohio State University’s Research Area, “Soil testing can boost garden yield and quality. It is a very inexpensive way of maintaining good plant health and maximum plant productivity.” OSU’s Research Area charges $20 for a soil test that can tell a homeowner quite a bit about their ecosystem–and how to create an optimal environment based on their findings.
2) Use grass clippings as mulch.
One of the EPA’s four GreenScapes suggestions is to reuse. One way to apply this is by repurposing your grass clippings as mulch.
Proper grass cutting suggests you keep grass blades at three inches, and leave the grass clippings on your lawn. This limits the ability for weeds to grow. Additionally, grass clippings provide 58 percent of the nutrients your lawn needs.
3) Collect rainwater–and use it.
In a recent article, Times Daily mentions that, “A 55-gallon barrel connected to a 1,000-square-foot roof will fill up during a 1-inch rain. The barrels can be purchased for $50 to $120 each, or constructed out of food-grade drums.”
Going back to the EPA’s principles of reusing, rainwater provides healthier hydration for your lawn and foliage, without the contaminants often found in tap water. The Times Daily article further states, “Many municipalities experience a 30 percent to 40 percent increase in residential water usage in the summer. Rain barrels can help reduce that.”
4) Skip the pesticide.
Each year, American homeowners apply 70 million pounds of pesticides to maintain their lawns. According to the National Audubon Society, much of this usage is solely for aesthetic purposes.
Insecticides, herbicides and fungicides have been linked to a range of illnesses, diseases and birth defects. Furthermore, chemicals can be quite costly. Why not eliminate the use of unnecessary chemicals, allow your yard to nurture itself, and protect communities and wildlife while doing so?
5) Consider xeriscaping.
Xeriscaping involves creating a landscape that’s in alignment with your local climate and indigenous species. For instance, create a desert environment if you are, in fact, in a natural desert climate like Phoenix. Plant cacti, not a lush grass lawn.
Non-indigenous plants, grasses, trees, etc. require far more maintenance and resources, particularly water. It’s far less expensive to maintain natural foliage than non-indigenous species.
Overall, the initial investment of going green and restoring a natural environment may be slightly more than synthetic lawn care. But, over time, property managers can save money by eliminating unnecessary water and chemical use.
Additionally, a natural lawn is somewhat self-caring, meaning you’ll spend fewer hours maintaining it once it’s been restored. The added knowledge of having a yard that’s better for your community, and safer for pets, wildlife, and your family brings the effort full circle. And best of all, it’ll help attract tenants.
Have you undertaken a green initiative in landscaping? What was your experience like? Did you find that the initial investment proved valuable in the end? Has upkeep become easier? Feel free to share your experiences below, or email me at email@example.com.
Photo credit of Rob Friesel.